- Hot-air balloon rides aren't cheap - but they consistently appear among the most popular bucket list travel items.
- But you also don't have to travel to Cappadocia in Turkey to experience an incredible flight.
- There are ballooning options throughout South Africa, and several on the continent that are still within reach.
- Here are the hot air balloon flights and destinations that continue to garner excellent reviews online.
- For more stories go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za.
Hot-air balloon rides are for many the very definition of a bucket list item. They're universally pricey and exclusive, and their romance and nostalgia, tinged with burst of exhilaration, only add to their desirability.
Some cities and regions around the world, like Cappadocia, Albuquerque, and Bagan, have built tourism industries almost entirely around the activity - and given the global shortage of experienced pilots, most make their way to these epicentres to ensure regular flying hours.
But for South Africans - particularly those unable to travel further than the African continent during the Covid-19 pandemic - there's no need to travel to such exotic destinations. There are several balloon operators located within the country's borders, and several African countries are also making names for themselves as hot air balloon epicentres.
Skilled pilots aside, predictable wind patterns and dramatic scenery are central to the success of the industry - which are two things not in short supply on the continent. Here are some of the most memorable - and highly rated - balloon sightseeing trips within reach of South Africans right now.
Magaliesberg, South Africa
Bill Harrop, who pioneered hot-air balloon tourism in South Africa, recently died due to Covid-19 complications, but his eponymous company lives on. The passionate pilot cemented the Magaliesberg mountains as South Africa's premium ballooning destination, and his legacy continues in thousands of positive reviews for Bill Harrop's Original Balloon Safaris. The company recently celebrated its 40th year in operation and offers flights above the Magalies River and Mabula Game Lodge.
Cradle of Humankind, South Africa
AirVentures Hot Air Ballooning also offers hot-air balloon rides north of Johannesburg, including a popular safari flight that includes several game reserves within the Cradle of Humankind. The launch site is 30 minutes north of Johannesburg and offers the possibility of seeing four of the Big 5.
Stellenbosch, South Africa
HotAir facilitates flights around the country, including a half-day flight over Stellenbosch that's received 10 five-star reviews on TripAdvisor. The natural amphitheatre in Stellenbosch makes for ideal ballooning conditions, and when the weather plays along flights will take in views of the surrounding mountains and vineyards below.
Drakensberg, South Africa
Drakensberg Ballooning offers scenic balloon flights over KwaZulu-Natal that - if the weather plays along - will offer views of famous natural attractions like Giants Castle in the Southern Drakensberg, and the Amphitheatre in the Northern Drakensberg. Scenic flights depart from Drakensberg Bush Lodge and Backpackers and require at least four passengers from one or multiple groups to confirm a flight.
Serengeti National Park, Tanzania
The Serengeti is Africa's most famous balloon safari destination, and most lodges in the reserve offer scenic flights in their respective regions. In these cases, you are unlikely to have a choice of operator and instead will likely fly with those most conveniently located to your camp. Serengeti Balloon Safaris is one of the most established operators in the reserve - they have been flying people there since the late 1980s, and they fly year-round in the central Serengeti, and seasonally in other parts. Adventures Aloft Balloon Safaris is highly rated and services several lodges with unique flights - including above the Ngorongoro Crater and the Mara River. Flights in the Serengeti are expensive, but they're consistently reviewed with superlatives such as "bucket list" and "once-in-a-lifetime".
Masai Mara, Kenya
Hot-air balloon flights in Kenya's Masai Mara have also become a mainstay of bucket lists around the world, and most camps in the reserve now offer them as an additional activity during a stay. In most circumstances, the balloon company that you fly with will be chosen by the camp you're staying at, but at least six ballooning companies operate throughout the reserve, all with excellent reviews.
Namibia's NamibRand region offers some of the best flying conditions and panoramic views of the desolate surroundings. Namib Sky Balloon Safaris services several lodges in the NamibRand and Sossusvlei region, and with predictable weather conditions, they're able to fly above the dunes almost every day of the year.