Those bitten by the travel bug are usually willing to try anything and everything during a trip. They don’t go to a new place mainly for the shopping—that’s just secondary. They visit a destination to get the total experience. They immerse themselves in the culture of that place: the food, taking in the customs and traditions, and of course they’re there to see all the sites, tourist traps and off the beaten path alike. After all, that’s the best way to make a trip well worth the bucks.
One of the more non-traditional ways of seeing a place is taking a hot air balloon ride over the site to be able to get that bird’s eye, panoramic view of the place. Although this type of adventure is becoming more and more popular, so perhaps it’s no longer considered unconventional. Take note, though, while it’s an experience to remember it’s not really for everyone.
First of all, it’s quite expensive, more so than seeing a place on land. Secondly, it usually entails meeting at the spot where the ride commences at the ungodly hour of two or three in the morning. This is so you can catch the sun right at the moment it rises and give you the eye candy you’re craving for. And lastly, if you’ve got acrophobia, you might want to skip the experience.
But most who have gone on hot air balloon rides on their travels say it’s worth every penny, worth the lost sleep, and worth that fear of heights. Here are the best hot air balloon rides in the world.
Napa Valley, California
Seeing rows of grapes planted as far as the eye can see already makes for a beautiful sight. But seeing one vineyard after another from the air is truly something to behold. Napa Valley in California has over 400 vineyards, thanks to the region’s temperatures of warm days and cool nights. Seeing Napa from the sky not only affords you a view of plains and valleys of vineyards, but also the surrounding mountains in the backdrop. For at least $215 per person, you can get a balloon ride plus breakfast and sparkling wine after your tour in the sky.
A safari tour on a jeep is exciting, but seeing the call of the wild from high up in the air is exhilarating. In the grassy plains of Serengeti, you’ll see a myriad of animals running wild and free. Lions, hippos, and zebras are a sight to behold from a hot air balloon, but the experience doesn’t come cheap. For $529, you can get a one-hour balloon ride, followed by champagne, and an English-style breakfast under the breeze of an acacia tree.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
For a place that holds the world’s most photographed event, it may be well worth your time and finances to visit New Mexico during the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. The annual activity showcases the launch of over 600 hot air balloons into a cloudless sky. Spectators get a great view from the ground but an even better view from the air. You can spend as much as $345 to join the massive simultaneous launch of balloons into the air and the package comes with a glass of bubbly champagne after the ride.
Istanbul may be the most visited destination in Turkey. But for those in the know, the European country has so much more to offer in the form of Cappadocia. Rock erosions give the Turkish landscape a surreal atmosphere and the sight is best seen from high up in the air. Fairy chimneys, which are spires and pillars, jut up into the horizon, as well as caves naturally carved from the limestone and these make for wonders from a 90-minute hot air balloon ride that starts at the crack of dawn. And for $242, a prelaunch breakfast likewise comes with the package.
Letchworth Gorge, New York
If the west coast of the United States has the Grand Canyon in Arizona, the east has its own version of this natural wonder in the form of Letchworth Gorge in the state of New York. Located two hours from the US side of Niagara Falls, Letchworth State Park has a 17-mile gorge that’s made up of 600-foot high rock walls and a raging river that runs through it that forms three breathtaking waterfalls. Locals say the best time to take the tour is during autumn when the scenery is ablaze with red, yellow, and orange fall leaves.
Myanmar is just opening its doors to tourism and how. One of its most popular destinations is Bagan, an ancient city located in the Mandalay Region of the little Asian nation. Ancient cities are fascinating to behold, but ten times more fascinating from a hot air balloon. Right when the sun rises, you’ll see the golden rays of the sun hit thousands of pagodas and temples in Myanmar’s former capital. The dawn ride costs at least $320 and includes tea and coffee prior to departure.
Deemed one of the more beautiful countries in the world for its endless deserts, oases, and sand dunes, Dubai has become one of tourists’ most visited destinations. The country boasts of wealth with its 7-star hotels, extravagant resorts, and jaw-dropping shopping malls, but the main attraction is still its natural wonder. For a hot air balloon ride, the wide expanse of desert as far as the eye can see makes for a great photo opportunity and memorable experience indeed.
There’s no comparison to Switzerland’s Alps, which is what the country is most known for, aside from chocolates and luxury watches. The best time to see the snow-capped mountains is on a winter hot air balloon ride over the Swiss Alps that starts in the village of Gstaad. This quaint city is where the International Balloon Festival takes place and there, you can join the launch of dozens of brightly colored balloons from the world over as they flit through the sky.
Loire Valley, France
While California has Napa Valley for its vineyards, it’s quite different in comparison to the hectares of vineyards in France’s Loire Valley. From a hot air balloon, you don’t just see fields of green. The lush greenery is dotted by over 800 castles and chateaus, as well as glistening rivers and moats running between the structures. The most popular manor houses to launch the balloon rides are Chateau de Chenonceau, Chateau de Chaumont, and the Chateau de Azey-le-Rideau and Villandry.
Angkor Wat, Cambodia
Before Angelina Jolie and the Lara Croft movie franchise decided to showcase Cambodia on the big screens, Angkor Wat was virtually under the radar. But since then, thousands of tourists traipse to the compound of temples in the Cambodian city of Siem Reap. The temples that rise into the skyline are best seen from a balloon just as the sun rises over the horizon, not just offering a view of the ancient religious complex, but also the rest of Siem Reap.
Queenstown, New Zealand
New Zealand may be most known for being the location where the Lord of the Rings movies were filmed, but this lush country has so much more to offer than the rivers and valleys of “The Shire.” Queenstown is a resort town and a veritable mecca for those who like extreme sports like bungee-jumping, sky diving, and jet skiing. But it also pays to sit back and see the town from afar on a hot air balloon to see the town’s lakes and surrounding landscapes!
Grand Canyon, Arizona
If you’re looking to avoid tourist traps no matter how beautiful they are, worry not. You actually have a chance to see a tourist spot like the Grand Canyon, but without having to elbow your way through throngs of crowds. The 277-mile long canyon, which encompasses a section of the Colorado River, can be seen from high up in the air on a balloon. The best time to see it is during the winter, when the brownish red stones are dotted with snow, but it can be pretty costly. For at least $1,400, the hot air balloon ride lasts from two to five hours and lets passengers soar up to 18,000 feet above sea level!
Though a site not worth missing, the pyramids and sphinx in Cairo have become somewhat commercialized. It’s a good thing there are other places that are of equal splendor in Egypt such as Luxor, an ancient city that’s often called the “world’s greatest open air museum.” So what better way to see this museum than on a hot air balloon, offering not just views of Egyptian monuments, temples, and tombs of the Valley of the Kings and Valley of the Queens, but also a lovely view of the River Nile?
Wadi Rum, Jordan
Jordan’s main tourist spot is the ancient city of Petra or The Rose City. Throngs of tourists line up to walk through the gorge and the treasury and the rest of the beautiful city. But not very many people have heard of Wadi Rum or The Valley of the Moon, a valley cut into the sandstone rock in southern Jordan. Hot air balloon rides are offered over the beauteous valley, which has been an appropriate setting for many scenic movies. This is definitely a great alternative or added bonus to the usual trip to Petra.
Lake Tahoe, Nevada
Located in between two states that have generally warm temperatures all year long, Lake Tahoe is a go-to especially during winter because the snow-capped mountains surrounding the lake make for great skiing activities. The lake itself is one of the deepest in the US and gives off a beautiful, azure color. On a clear day, Lake Tahoe is at its most beautiful when seen from up in the air on a balloon ride. And on a really good day, you may also be able to see Emerald Bay and Yosemite, which are equally beautiful natural wonders.