From the first balloon ride in 1783 over Versailles (passengers: a sheep, a duck, and a rooster)
to businessman-explorer Steve Fossett’s solo circumnavigation of the world in 2002, hot-air ballooning has inspired countless adventurers
to reach for the skies. And rightly so: Whether it’s hearing the initial whoosh of the balloon’s burner, seeing the sunrise from midair, or raising a celebratory Champagne toast back on terra firma, humankind’s original means of air travel has the power to transport like no other form of flight.
Here are five of our favorite destinations in which to get uplifted.
New Mexico: Land (and Skies) of Enchantment
Serengeti National Park, Tanzania: Sky-High Safari
- The view from above: Each October, nearly 600 brightly colored orbs decorate Albuquerque’s skies during the city’s International Balloon Fiesta, the world’s largest. (The festival is also said to be the world’s most photographed event.) For a more solitary ascent, flights over the Santa Ana Pueblo afford secluded scenes of the Sandia Mountains and Rio Grande Valley.
- Advisor Tip: “Dressing in layers will help keep you warm during the cool New Mexico mornings,” notes Albuquerque-based Virtuoso travel advisor George Keller. For the fiesta, he adds, “Be at the park at least an hour before daybreak to visit some of the many excellent food vendors. The vendor with the longest line serves the best breakfast.”
- Experience it yourself: See the fiesta’s opening ceremonies, mass ascension, and “balloon glow” (a nighttime spectacle where all the balloons light up at once) on Globus’ five-day Albuquerque tour. Then head north for a stay at 350-room Hyatt Regency Tamaya Resort and Spa and a ride above the Santa Ana Pueblo’s tribal lands.
Balloons on the Serengeti (Photo Credit: William Manning/Media Bakery)
Cappadocia, Turkey: Turkish Delight
- Advisor Tip: “You’ll fly over an array of animal species and be amazed at how they appear so different when viewed from the
sky,” says Phoenix-based advisor Chad Clark. Look for lions, leopards, and elephants, plus massive herds of zebras, particularly during the Great Migration. More highlights: Masai villages, golden savannas, and a stunning immensity of unimpeded space.
- Experience it yourself: Wildlife adventures at the 77-room Four Seasons Safari Lodge Serengeti include sunrise balloon rides capped with Champagne bush breakfasts.
Tuscany, Italy: Classic Countryside
- Advisor Tip: “This region’s mysterious terrain looks like a Salvador Dalí painting come to
life,” says advisor Shawn Kirschenman of Seattle. “Erosion-sculpted stone pillars known as ‘fairy chimneys,’ rock-cut castles, and ancient dwellings carved into the hillsides create a scene that’s out of this world.”
- Rock On: In the honey-colored Göreme Valley, a favored base for ballooners, travelers can tour the Göreme Open-Air Museum, home to a complex of rock-hewn cave churches dating from ad 900 to 1200.
- Experience it yourself: Big Five Tours & Expeditions’ eight-day customizable Turkey tour takes guests
to Istanbul and Ephesus, along with Cappadocia, to behold the region from both earth and sky.
Hot-air ballooning over Tuscany
Bagan, Myanmar: Spiritual Journey
- Advisor Tip: “There’s nothing so serene as floating over Tuscany’s vineyards, olive groves, and centuries-old hilltop villages in a hot-air balloon,” notes advisor Leslie Bryant of Palo Alto, California.
- Don’t miss: Flights over Pisa provide a fresh
– and crowd-free – perspective of the city’s landmark leaning tower.
- Experience it yourself: Available on a host of European sailings, Celebrity Cruises’ four- hour shore excursion from Livorno for Florence and Pisa includes ample time to ride the prevailing winds above Toscana – and celebrate your landing with a prosecco toast.
- Advisor Tip: A sunrise descent over the ancient city of Bagan, embellished with 2,000-plus Buddhist temples and pagodas, can only be described as “breathtaking,” says Louisville, Kentucky-based Virtuoso travel advisor Christine Collins Bolus. “The pagodas’ golden spires glimmer in the early-morning mist, and the Irrawaddy River shimmers like a silver ribbon, weaving its way through the landscape.”
- Don’t forget: Bring a camera with a trusted neck strap. “So many cell phones and tablets are dropped as passengers lean out from their balloon baskets to get that perfect shot,” Bolus cautions.
- Experience it yourself: A private 11-day journey from Abercrombie & Kent has adventurers ballooning over Bagan, cruising the Irrawaddy, and contemplating Yangon’s 213-foot-long reclining Buddha.
Originally appeared in the June 2016 issue of Virtuoso Traveler
Photo credits: (Bagan) Noppakun Wiropart/iStockPhoto; (Tuscany) Design Pics Inc/Alamy