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Hot Air Balloon Safari

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In this feature, we are going to tell you how to have a most unusual safari in national parks and reservation areas of Tanzania: that is, by flying atop of the grazing flocks of antelopes and the predators stalking them, over the the lonely giraffes and the herds of elephants. Find out below where one can fly, what one will have to see, and does one arrange this experience.

Hot air balloons above Serengeti
Hot air balloons above Serengeti

Flying over Africa

A hot air balloon flight above savannah where the flocks of zebras and antelopes is one of the most exciting adventures available for those travelling to Tanzania. The classic  off-road vehicle safaris may hardly become boring even if you visit the sam park (which we have tried ourselves for many  years now). But soaring above the wild animals, the acacias and baobabs, the rivers and hills, right on the bird’s flight height - well, this is going to be an event to be remembered forever. 

Once upon a time, the most prominent adventure writer Jules Verne began his career with stories of ballooning. His first novel was called Five Weeks in a Balloon. He described in it a journey that began in nowadays Tanzania, from the coast of Zanzibar through the north of the country past Kilimanjaro towering above the clouds, to Lakes Tanganyika and Victoria. Just between Mount Kilimanjaro and Lake Victoria you can observe one of the seven natural wonders of Africa: the Great Migration of Animals.

Wildebeests are well seen from the balloon basket
Wildebeests are well seen from the balloon basket

Today, the tourists have a chance to soar above the places most worthy of observation. What is there to see with your own eyes, from a height of 320 or even 1600 ft?  How would that be, flying above Africa in a wicker basket? Read on, and find out.  

What Is so Special about the Air Safari?  

Paying Mother Nature a visit  is always worth it. Moreover, when you can get close enough to wild animals without being noticed and still be close enough to see the details of their daily life, you feel happy as a child. A hot air balloon flight over the national parks of Africa offers exactly  such an opportunity.

This exotic method visiting, say, the legendary Serengeti has a number of quite outstanding advantages as compared to a jeep ride:    

  • unusual aspect angle and impressive photographs;
  • widest view angle: the birds-eye height opens the plain to you as it stretches for miles and mile;
  • possibility to get stealthily close to animals while the gas burner has not yet started making noise;
  • an opportunity to see thing you have missed while on the ground;
  • unrestrained movement: you won’t have to follow the routes approved for the off-road vehicles;
  • thrilling experience of soaring in the height. 
A giraffe and a balloon
A giraffe and a balloon

An airborne safari is of course not the same as a drive along the routes laid before. Sure, there are some strong points to a more conventional car safari, such as high probability of coming cross animals, and a longer time of stay in the park. If you have a possibility, we would recommend to supplement a traditional safari with an airborne one, to get the maximum of being in the African Wild.  

For those who have visited the national parks once or thrice and have been to Serengeti many times, a hot air balloon safari is a new experience and an opportunity to add an original aspect to Tanzanian travels. 

How Does a Balloon Flight Happen?  

The best time for rising above the savannah is early morning, and evening before sunset. During these periods of the day, the wind is usually the calmest and the animals are most active as they hide from the scorching sun in the shade during the day and simply sleep at night. Morning is considered the ideal time, because it is at dawn when herds of herbivores are bravely walking around, welcoming the new day, and predators are on the hunt for them. During these periods you can actually observe a lot of interesting things. And seeing the sun rise over the vast savannah is something you can only dream of!

Preparation of a balloon for a flight at pre-dawn hours
Preparation of a balloon for a flight at pre-dawn hours

A takeoff will happen early, at ca. 4 a.m. in the morning. All flights  begin at about 6 a.m. An hour or an hour and a half is the time of pre-flight preparation: all the travellers are picked up from their hotels and brought to the launching site, and in the meanwhile the crew will prepare the balloon.

Standing places for four passengers in one of the four basket sections
Standing places for four passengers in one of the four basket sections

Balloon baskets are designed for an even number of persons, usually up to 16. There is also room for the balloon pilot. All places in the basket are standing. Once everyone is on board, air is pressurized into the balloon. With the help of a burner attached to the overall structure, the air in the balloon is heated and it slowly rises up. The pilot adjusts the height by means of the air temperature. 

Most of the time, the balloon flies about 50-100 m (165-300 ft) above the ground.
Most of the time, the balloon flies about 50-100 m (165-300 ft) above the ground.

Most of the flights take place up to about 650 feet above the ground. The maximum allowed altitude is nine times higher, at 5,900 feet meters, but there is no point in going too high: after all, participants are going to view the animals, not the clouds. The pilot can approach the treetops or move higher away from them. The wind also contributes to the choice of altitude, dictating the parameters of the flight by force and direction.

In general, all balloon flights depend solely on weather conditions, most of all on the wind. Planning your upcoming adventure is directly linked to the weather forecast. Take it into account when booking your dates. We recommend you to plan your trip to Tanzania so that you'd have a few more days to spare after the day set aside for the air safari. This is for the event that the flight might be postponed due to unsuitable weather. In most cases, the flight is simply rescheduled for the next morning.

The balloon safari lasts about an hour. During this time you will see a lot, get a lot of good impressions and travel for at least 6 miles. Or maybe as long as 18 miles. The length of the way will depend solely on the wind, its speed, and direction. This gives the ultimate uniqueness to each flight. The route can never be accurately predicted, much less repeated.

Land crew following the balloon
Land crew following the balloon

Throughout the flight, a land escort group will follow the balloon at some distance to pick it up during the landing and help everyone out. You feel like taking off  skywards over the savannah yet? Let's get ready then.

Preparing for the Flight

In fact, you won’t need anything special to take with you to the balloon basket. It is enough to choose appropriate clothing and bring binoculars to have the best possible view and to see the details. Flying at a height  familiar to birds, you can see those soaring, and lionesses lying lazily on tree branches, families of elephants straying to the water, crocodiles out on the river banks and huge hippos hiding in the rivers with their backs and heads sticking out like smooth rocks.

A gas burner to heat the air inside balloon
A gas burner to heat the air inside balloon

You should dress warmer than usual, as the preparations for the flight begin in the early hours of the morning, around 5 a.m., when the savannah is still cool. You are unlikely to feel cold on the balloon, as the burner that heats the air is close by. And you won't feel much wind at altitude, because the basket flies in the air flow, moving at the same speed.

How Safe Is Ballooning  

Once there were times when people made their first attempts to soar over the savannahs of Tanzania, and then the unforeseen situations would occur. In the beginning we reminded you of a novel by Jules Verne, set in 1862, that ended in a crash. More than 100 years later, in 1975, Alan Root flew over Kilimanjaro in a hot-air balloon and edited his adventures into a film for the BBC, Safari by Balloon.

We recommend that you find this film and watch it from beginning to end. The director's camera captures many interesting scenes that could only happen to true adventurers: here a lioness grabs the end of a rope hanging from a balloon with her mouth; there a basket landing sweeps the crew members off a boat and they fall straight into the river and the boat begins to sink; and here a basket slowly sinks straight into the treetops, entangling the branches with the rigging. Watch this old documentary and get into the atmosphere of the era of pioneering aeronautics in East Africa. It's full of fun and fascinating moments!

A view from the balloon basket
A view from the balloon basket

Since then, everything has changed; professional certified pilots are involved in operating the aircraft, the practice of ballooning has been fine-tuned, the balloons have been modernized, and tourism standards require reliable safety guarantees.

All flights are regulated by the Civil Aviation Authority: balloons and all equipment are constantly inspected, operating companies are licensed, pilots are also tested for flight fitness.

Tourist flights have been taking place since the late 1980s, and in 30 years all the protocols have been perfected. This way of visiting the national parks of Tanzania is popular with world-famous Hollywood actors and members of European royal families. If you want to know details about flight safety or have questions about restrictions, such as weight and age, please contact our managers and they will tell you everything.

An astounding view from above
An astounding view from above

Where the Flights Take Place  

Serengeti National Park is considered the most attractive place for a hot air balloon safari. Here, the Great Migration takes place almost all year round: huge herds of wildebeests and zebras, along with Thomson’s gazelle and Grant's gazelle and other antelopes, migrate long distances in search of food and water. Read more about the migration patterns in different months in our article with the migration schedule.

Lions, leopards, and cheetahs hunt the stray antelopes and zebras. Sometimes wild cats fight each other for territory. Serengeti is believed to be home to the most predators. Just imagine the sighting opportunities for those who fly into places inaccessible to safari vehicles!

Lions lurk in yellow grass, but can be visible from above
Lions lurk in yellow grass, but can be visible from above

In order to cover all parts of the vast Serengeti plain, several launching sites are in operation. Some of them are permanent while others are seasonal, operating in the months when the animals are most abundant.

There is also the opportunity to fly in balloons in other parks and protected areas in Tanzania, such as Tarangire National Park, Grumeti and Ngorongoro Reserves. When planning a trip to Tanzania, ask Altezza Travel managers as many questions as you want  and tell us all your wishes, so that we can work out the best program for you and make your African adventure the most exciting experience of your life.

A balloon flight by sunrise
A balloon flight by sunrise

We wish you rich experience during the flight! 

Revised on 16 July 2022
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