Traveling on the ground is a great way to get a general perspective of your tourism destination, but for a truly unique orientation, why not consider the bird's eye view from a hot-air balloon. Many of the world's most stunning landscapes and terrains can be viewed from the air.
Africa: Tanzania, South Africa and Egypt
Your African Safari will take on a totally new dimension with a balloon ride over the Serengeti. Tanzania Serengeti Balloon Safaris (www.balloonsafaris.com) fly daily at dawn from the Seronera Lodge and the $399 price includes the one-hour flight, champagne, a traditional 'Out of Africa" English breakfast and transfers to your lodge. This adventure can fit in with any safari in the Central Serengeti area as long as an overnight stay is included. The Seronera River Valley, the flying area, has excellent resident wildlife populations throughout the year, including lions, leopards, hippos, buffaloes, giraffes, and various antelopes etc. The wildebeest migration is dependent on the rains, with great herds usually passing through the Valley late May and early June and again in late October / early November.
If your viewing and tasting pleasure is more about South African wines than animals, Excape Tours (www.excape.co.za/ballooning.html) has a stunning balloon adventure over the South African vineyards at Boland, about an hours drive from Cape Town. Flights take in the scenic Berg River Valley, outside of Paarl in the direction to Malmesbury. The cost of the one-hour dawn flight including transfers is $284 per person with a four-person maximum.
Egypt's Valley of the Kings takes on a greater mystical presence from the sky and a hot-air balloon ride is the ultimate indulgence of an Egyptian trip. The pre-dawn wake up call is a small price to pay for this surreal journey over the west bank of Luxor, rising to 2,000 feet over the Ramesseum, the Colossi of Memnon, Medinet Habu, Hatshepsut's temple, and the edge of the desert. Egyptian company, Hod-Hod Soliman (tel. +20 95 370116), in Luxor, flies year-round and although you cannot book online, you can make telephone and fax reservations or book through your hotel. Prices start at $170 per person (or $260 per couple) for a one-hour flight, with transfers and insurance.
Latin America: Peru and Nicaragua
Peruvian Andes Deluxe Balloon Adventures (www.globosperu.com) provides itineraries that will allow your spirit and body to soar above the Incan ruins and the sacred Urabamba Valley. Prices range from just $60 for a tethered flight over the Moray Inca ruin to $700 per person for an overnight stay in a local bed and breakfast with meals, transfers and a stunning morning flight over the Valley.
If the thought of flying at low altitude over volcanoes, rainforests and lakes appeals to you, then a balloon ride with Globo Adventures (www.globoaventuras.com) will be the perfect way to see the aerial sites of Nicaragua. The website is in Spanish but is simple enough to navigate through even without any Spanish language skills. The $900 price tag may sound high, but it includes transfers, breakfast, a visit to the historic city of Leon and breathtaking views over active volcanoes. Globo also has a balloon ride over Managua for $95 to $115 per person.
Australia: Cairns and Melbourne
The Great Southern Land has a plethora of hot-air ballooning opportunities, from the deserts to the coastlines, the mountains to the vineyards. The visually spectacular landscapes and panoramas will leave you with lifelong memories and sensational photographs.
Hot Air Cairns (www.hotair.com.au) flies out of Queensland's gateway to the Great Barrier Reef. Prices for flights over the fringes of the Reef and surrounding beaches start at $142 for a 30-minute balloon ride, transfers and a traditional Aussie breakfast. Other ballooning options available include their combination adventures like Balloon and Tandem Sky-Dive for $304 per person, Balloon and Green Island Tour (including Catamaran trip and snorkeling day trip) for $174, and the Balloon, SkyRail and Kuranda Tour for $157, which takes in the best of the Reef and the Rainforest.
Go Wild Ballooning (www.gowildballooning.com.au/index1.html) will help turn your visit to Victoria's premier wine region into a magnificent sky-high adventure. A one-hour hot-air balloon flight over the beautiful Yarra Valley (one-hour's drive from Melbourne) also includes a gourmet champagne breakfast at the five-star Chateau Yering Historic Guest House, wine tasting at the Yering Station Winery, cheese tasting at the historical Yarra Valley Dairy and complimentary wine tasting vouchers for $219 per person.
If you prefer to watch the balloons rather than experience the view from above, then there are a couple of websites that will give you details about all the ballooning festivals held throughout the world. www.launch.net/events/index.html and www.eballoon.org provide comprehensive listings for the hundreds of balloon themed events held each year from Canada to the Czech Republic.
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