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A hot air balloon safari will give you a totally different experience of scenery and wildlife that East Africa has to offer. The spectacles you see from the skies in the Serengeti differ greatly from anything you’ll see on its floors. Many roads are blocked off to safari vehicles so this allows you to see the plains as a whole, without any restrictions. You’ll be floating above the clouds above the most natural of phenomena, the wildlife in their very own environment going about their own lives. This sounds like a dream indeed… but are you ready to pay the price? For the steep price of $550 US + per person for an 8 hour experience, we’ve prepared a little breakdown to help you with your decision.
While being on our Tanzania safari, my boyfriend and I spontaneously decided that we wanted to replace our traditional morning game drive with a hot air balloon safari. We were staying in a lodge in Ndutu, and we had 2 full days planned there. On evening one, since we had already spent a portion of the day game driving in Ndutu, we decided that we wanted to spend the next morning on a hot air balloon to see the plains in a different way.
Within a few minutes of inquiring about this to our hotel staff, a Serengeti Balloon Safari representative came to join us in the lodge lobby to discuss our options. We opted for a small group safari.
Here’s how the day went and what the Serengeti Balloon Safari included:
We paid $550 USD per person for a small group safari of 10 people (prices might slightly defer on availability and seasons). This included transportation to and from the launch site, a guided hot air balloon tour with a certified pilot, a champagne toast as well as full breakfast.
What to wear and what to bring
You’ll be heading to the launch site around 5am, and it will most likely be cool so early in the morning. Don’t forget that wearing earth tone colours is key in Tanzania and whatever you do, keep away from black and blue as it attracts tsetse flies! You’ll be allowed to bring a small backpack on the balloon to carry all of your belongings.
Here’s what I wore and brought with me:
Packing list for the day
- Long sleeve sweater
- Jacket. You can see my “layering is key” pattern here
- My favorite ever shall. You can spot me wearing this in literally almost all of my safari pics, got mine in beige. It’ll get quite windy up there so you’ll be happy to have this
- Sun hat. To protect you from the sun as well as the burners inside the balloon over your head. This is hat is ideal not only for its appearance and price, but it is also foldable (easy packing) and offers UPF 50+ sun protection. I got the SMALL in colour CREAM, it’s the hat you see on all the pics of me in here, I wore it EVERY DAY!
- Long pants to protect your legs from the bugs. Check these ones out for men too
- Walking shoes
- Cell phone or camera for pictures
- Rechargeable battery pack. You’ll be using your phone A LOT for pics!
- Filled reusable water bottle
Waking up and making our way to the hot air balloon safari site
We woke up at 5am, had a quick coffee at the lodge lobby, and were picked up by a Serengeti Balloon Safari driver. It was a 45-minute drive to the hot air balloon site, and was still dark, out so we basically experienced our first night-time safari! We were able to spot those night owl animals, which are harder to spot in the daylight, which was a change of pace from our usual morning and afternoon game drives.
Hot air balloon safari site and training session
We arrived at the site a bit after 6am. While the staff and pilot were getting the hot air balloon ready, we were able to enjoy the sunrise and chit chat with the members of the group we were going to share the experience with. This was the perfect occasion to snap a few pictures of the magical Tanzanian sunrise. When the balloon was ready to go, our pilot gave us a quick training session on safety and conduct to ensure a smooth as butter takeoff.
To the clouds we go
This experience will be unique to the temperature and season you decide to go on your hot air balloon safari. Wind, clouds, humidity and wildlife activity are amongst the elements that will make or break your journey. At times, you’ll practically be touching the grass, and others you’ll be 2000 feet in the air. We had a pretty clear day, with not much wind, and we were often really high up in the air. The landscape was amazing and the fact that it felt like we were hugging the clouds made the experience very fairy tale like. On the other hand, in our case, we did not see many animals. We saw a few scattered wild boars, hyenas and zebras, but we didn’t see the huge herds and prides of various animals we were expecting to see. We were in the air for a total of 2 hours (we were lucky, as it is supposed to usually last 1 to 1.5 hours max).
Champagne toast tradition
As we landed at a spot right in the middle of the wildlife, the staff awaiting us welcomed us with ice-cold champagne and orange juice. Our pilot explained that the tradition of a champagne toast after a hot air balloon ride dates from the 18th century, when the French aristocrat Montgolfier brothers (montgolfière is french for hot air balloon) introduced the floating balloons to the world. In their early days, hot air balloons were a thing of novelty and were still very misunderstood by the average person. In the 18th century, it was mostly an activity practiced by the aristocrats and was still in its very early experimental phase. This meant a lot of trial and error, with oftentimes extravagant landings (big old crashes!) on random non-calculated landing sites. When this would happen, aristocrats always had a bottle of champagne ready to offer to the farmers as an apology for disturbing their land during experimental landings and to convince them that the hot air balloon wasn’t a fierce dragon coming to attack them!
After the champagne toast, we went on a quick car ride to our breakfast spot. This was another beautiful set up. A long communal table showcasing classic china, silver cutlery and crisp linens, right in the middle of the Serengeti plains (drool). We were served a typical English breakfast, with bacon, beans, fresh bread, tropical fruit and juices and of course more champagne. I have got to admit that it was perfect. We had a lot of fun chatting with our pilot who had hot air ballooned the world, from California to Cappadocia, to the Swiss Alps and now right here in Tanzania. After breakfast, we were transported by vehicle to our hotel for the end of the tour.
So… what’s the verdict?
Personally, it was my first time in a hot air balloon so it did make my experience that much better. The feeling of floating so high in the sky amongst the clouds above the Serengeti plains was exhilarating to me. The whole story around it with the little attention they had planned for us were clearly cleverly thought of and executed. I would say my only downfall was the lack of wildlife sightings but that’s clearly something we can’t control. At the end of the day, I would recommend it if you have the budget for it. Again, the experience does come at the steep price of around $550 US per person, but I’m really glad we did it, and we were fortunate to see literally all the animals we had on our list during our usual game drives. As always, let me know in the comments if you have any questions or you may also visit the Serengeti Balloon Safari website for more information.