Is it safe? Is it scary when it ascends? Are there stomach-churning moments? What if it lands in the wrong place? I don’t know how to fly, can I still do it? :-p Were some of the many apprehensions we had before our first Hot Air Ballooning flight over the Hatta Desert in UAE.
2 balloon flights later, (the second one being in Cappadocia with our daughter on board too), we concluded it is one of the most exhilarating adventure sport on our Travel Bucket List with possibly the least adrenaline rush!
Here’s what you can expect on a Hot Air Ballooning Experience:
Unlike many other adventure sports that also deal with heights – like skydiving, paragliding, zip lining or bungee jumping – Hot Air Ballooning does not involve you being suspended in mid air, does not involve sudden ascent and is usually done in a larger group.
Fortunately, you can fly on these magical parachutes in many parts of the world, from Cappadocia in Turkey to Bagan in Myanmar, from Napa Valley in California to Pushkar in India! You can fly over a variety of terrain like caves, vineyards, valleys or deserts. Itching to add a hot air balloon experience in your next vacation?
If you’re nervous about any probable risks, anxious or just curious on exactly how this whole thing works – we’ve got you covered.
While the ballooning experience and procedures vary depending on the site, weather, the ballooning company and even depending on the pilot – here are some common things you can expect:
Early morning rise:
Most Ballooning flights go up just before sunrise, which means you leave your hotel at unearthly hours of the morning. Of course, the flight more than makes up for the lack of sleep!
Prepping for the flight:
You will be allocated a group (group size depends on the capacity of the basket like 12 or 16 or 24). The Company Staff or your pilot will brief you on safety regulations and you will then be taken to the balloon. Watching the Balloon being inflated is almost as exciting as the balloon ride (at least that’s what I thought)… The balloon crew helps you climb into the basket (the basket has notches to step on or footstools are provided as climb-on support). The Basket is usually divided into sections and each section can hold 2 or 4 people (standing) during the flight.
With everyone ‘set-in’ in the basket and ready to fly, the pilot roars up the balloon (not even remotely as roaring as aircraft engines), and you gently ascend. The ascent is slow and gentle and you don’t feel the kind of adrenaline rush that you find in high speed adventure activities. Spectacular views emerge and you struggle to decide if you should ‘enjoy the view’ or ‘capture the moments on camera’! Many balloon flights have photo equipment installed by the company that you can fall back on if you don’t want to take pictures yourself.
While the descent is once again slow and gentle, the actual landing is a bit bumpy and rough as the basket touches down (more like hits) on the ground. You are of course instructed by your pilot before the actual landing to brace yourself. After landing, the company transportation takes you back to where you started (or directly back to your accommodation sometimes).
Dependence on Weather:
Whether your scheduled Balloon flight will take off that day or not, will completely depend on the weather that morning and the pilot’s assessment of winds. In Cappadocia, for example, our flight was cancelled for 2 mornings in a row due to bad weather before we got on board on the 3rd day. (Luckily for us, we had 5 days in Cappadocia).
Some Tips to note before your first Hot Air Ballooning Flight:
- Always book your balloon flight earlier on in your trip.That way,even if there are cancellations due to weather, you still have days left to give it another shot.
- No matter how warm the country is when you visit, you have to dress up in layers on a balloon flight as it gets cold as you ascend (how many layers will depend on how warm or cold the country is, but layers for sure). That way, you will be comforted when it’s cold up in mid air and you can shed off the layers when it gets warm after you touchdown. Wear comfortable shoes too as you will be standing through the balloon flight (usually 45 to 60 minutes).
- Make sure you have a light breakfast before you get onto your flight – as the transportation, waiting, prep stage and the actual flight – can be anywhere between 3 to 5 hours and you dont want to be famished.
- Ensure your cameras/ phone / other equipment that you use for photography have slings that you can put around your hand or neck – not the best memory of your flight if your camera were to slip off from your hand in mid air!
- And finally, take moments to enjoy the breath-taking views (and not just capture them on camera).
Itching to go on your first (or second or third) Hot Air Balloon flight? Add it to your Itch List now!