Fly up, up and away, and high in the sky on one of these bucket list airborne adventures. It’s a…
Fly up, up and away, and high in the sky on one of these bucket list airborne adventures.
It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience to quietly soar above the treetops or other landscapes, feeling as if you’re suspended in the air. Hot air balloon rides offer a unique perspective of the scenery below, with flights soaring as high as thousands of feet into the sky. Most of the tours launch before sunset, when the winds are calm and the temperatures are cool, but depending on the destination, some sunset options are also available.
While standard flights typically have between 45 minutes to 1 1/2 hours of flying time, plan to allow a total of at least three to four hours for pre- and post-flight activities. These activities include driving to the launch site, balloon setup before and break down after the flight and a customary post-flight celebration. Perks usually included in the price are the celebratory toast with a glass of bubby, a souvenir flight certificate and a light breakfast or snack, but check with each tour company before booking as these amenities can vary. So, grab your camera or GoPro and get ready to soar to new heights with one or more of the 18 best hot air balloon rides in the world.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
Home to the annual Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, this historic city in central New Mexico is known as The Ballooning Capital of the World. More than 300 balloonists live in the city and balloon year-round thanks to mild temperatures, clear skies and calm winds. During the nine days of the event, you can expect to see as many as 500 balloons in the sky at one time. “Missing a balloon flight in Albuquerque would be like going to Paris and not seeing the Eiffel Tower,” according to the website of one of Albuquerque’s operators, World Balloon. The company’s daily sunrise flights travel down the Rio Grande toward the Petroglyph National Monument. Carved into volcanic rock 400 to 700 years ago by Spanish settlers and Native Americans, Petroglyph National Monument is one of the largest sites of its kind in North America. Rainbow Ryders offers daily sunrise flights and private morning options as well as sunset rides from November to February. Prices start at $159 per person for a standard flight. After your trip, plan to visit historic Old Town Albuquerque, try local Southwestern cuisine and browse the art galleries and studios. If you’re interested in the science of ballooning, check out the city’s impressive Balloon Museum.
This bucket list balloon experience takes travelers to soar approximately 1,500 feet above Egypt’s Valley of the Kings as the sun rises and casts its soft glow over the ancient tombs and temples. The isolated valley located between Luxor‘s rugged cliffs on the west bank of the Nile River features the tombs of the great pharaohs, such as Ramses I and the young king, Tutankhamun. You’ll also see the Temple of Hatshepsut and the Colossi of Memnon while learning historical and cultural insights from your guide. Hod-Hod Soliman’s ride begins with a transfer from your hotel or cruise ship and a Nile River crossing. The daily flights range between 45 minutes to 1 1/2 hours, depending on the day’s conditions. The company’s baskets accommodate between four and 20 passengers. Other operators include Sheba Tours and Sindbad Balloons. Prices start at about $40 per person and vary in price depending on the length, type of experience and amenities included. Some companies also have packages combining Nile River cruises or private one-day land tours featuring a sunset cruise along the Nile on a traditional open-air Egyptian felucca boat.
Napa Valley, California
Napa Valley‘s lush green landscapes replete with rolling hills and vineyards make it one of the most picturesque settings in the U.S. for a hot air balloon ride. This region is also known for its world-renowned wines (with more than 400 wineries), luxurious resorts and top-notch dining, so there’s plenty to do while back on the ground. Napa Valley Aloft offers semiprivate flights for eight to 12 passengers that feature the Yountville Valley as the primary itinerary. Balloon rides typically last between 40 minutes and an hour, depending on the wind speed. Napa Valley Balloons, another tour operator, soars over wine country at approximately 2,000 feet in the sky and their baskets can accommodate six to 20 people. Prices start at $250 for adults for a classic balloon ride. Several Napa Valley companies also offer private flights and there are group tours that offer post-flight activity packages. Balloons Above The Valley features a Champagne brunch at a Michelin-star restaurant while Napa Valley Balloons, Inc. has add-on wine or bike tours. Read more about the best hot air balloon rides in Napa Valley »
Dubai, United Arab Emirates
This unforgettable adventure begins with watching the sunrise over the Hajar Mountains as the balloon glides over the Dubai desert. Then, look out from 4,000 feet in the sky over an infinite landscape of golden dunes that contain wildlife such as gazelles, Arabian oryx and camels. Once on the ground, you’ll be transported to an authentic heritage camp in a royal desert retreat by vintage Land Rovers. Then, take a camel ride in the desert before enjoying a full breakfast in a traditional majlis or gathering place. Balloon Adventures Dubai offers this tour, including round-trip transportation from Dubai. Prices start at $340 per person. The company also offers an option to add a safari tour through the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve with a guide. Hot Air Balloon Dubai offers a similar experience with an adventure option that includes dune bashing and horseback riding. The hot air balloon flights run from September through the end of May. Back in the city, don’t miss shopping at the colorful souks and taking an elevator ride to the top of the tallest building in the world, Burj Khalifa, for panoramic views of Dubai.
Asheville, North Carolina
Western North Carolina’s scenery is picturesque year-round, but the best time to see the majestic beauty of the region is to take flight is between the spring and fall. This is the when the winds are calmer for ballooning. You might even want to plan your trip for mid- to late-October to see the spectacular foliage in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Asheville Hot Air Balloon’s one-hour flight travels between Pisgah National Forest and downtown Asheville. During the ride, you’ll soar over the rural countryside dotted with farms and fields, and see forests surrounded by 360-degree mountain ranges. Asheville Balloon Company is another tour operator offering this flight. Standard prices start at $300 per person and private tours run for $400 per person, with a minimum of two people required. Back on the ground, explore Asheville’s eclectic cultural, culinary and brewery scene. If you prefer outdoor adventure, the French Broad and Davidson rivers are two of the best in the U.S. to go fly-fishing for trout. You can also camp, hike, mountain bike and mountain climb in Pisgah National Forest.
Serengeti National Park, Tanzania
The African savannah’s vast wilderness is spectacular to view from above thanks to its 5,700 square miles of plains, forests, hilly woodlands and abundant wildlife. Home to millions of migrating wildebeest and thousands of other animals, such as gazelles, zebras, hyenas, cheetahs and elephants, you can expect to see wildlife throughout the year. To add to this incredible spectacle of life, you might even hear the lions roaring in the distance. Serengeti Balloon Safaris and Miracle Experience both offer year-round safaris in the sky. The route over Serengeti National Park depends on the season, but the Central Serengeti tour is always available. The flight along the Seronera River affords the opportunity to see crocodiles, hippos basking in the water, lions, wildebeest, zebras and even leopards. You’ll be able to view the action from just above the treetops to as close as 500 feet from the ground. Prices start at $549 per person and include a Champagne toast and a full breakfast on the savannah. Both companies offer this experience as their standard flight. For a once-in-a-lifetime experience, book a land tour with one of the luxury safari tour operators, such as &Beyond, which includes sleeping in a tent in the African bush.
Letchworth State Park, New York
Located approximately 40 miles southwest of Rochester in upstate New York, Letchworth State Park is considered the “Grand Canyon of the East.” It’s also one of the most picturesque locales in the Eastern U.S., with the thundering Genesee River gorge running through the park surrounded by cliffs and forests. You’ll also see majestic waterfalls, some towering as high as 600 feet tall. Liberty Balloon Company launches over New York’s scenic countryside from one of the most beautiful sites in the park, Middle Falls. The company’s standard flights are about one hour but allow three to four hours total time. Tours can accommodate four to eight passengers and prices start at $310 per person. The company also offers private flights, romantic adventures (think: marriage proposals) and winter excursions, although the main season extends from May to October. Another option is to book a package that includes accommodations at a bed-and-breakfast in the Finger Lakes region. On the ground, the state park features 66 miles of hiking trails, whitewater rafting and kayaking opportunities and guided walks, as well as history and performing arts programs. For outdoor enthusiasts, tent and trailer campsites are available in the park.
Cappadocia’s otherworldly landscape, complete with 60 million-year-old colorful rock formations known as fairy chimneys and magical hillside towns, is the perfect destination to explore from the sky. Royal Balloon’s tours begin with a hotel transfer and a buffet breakfast followed by a flight floating approximately 1,000 feet over the picturesque valleys and ancient rock formations. Prices for the traditional flight include round-trip transportation, a full breakfast and, after the trip, a Champagne toast, a souvenir gold medal and a commemorative baseball cap (if you book online). These flights have a maximum of 20 passengers. Turkiye Balloons also offers standard flights and can accommodate up to 24 passengers; prices start at approximately $80 per person. For a more intimate journey, choose the Tailor Made experience for just one to four people. Back on land, you can visit multistory underground cities, take a horseback ride through the national park, and afterward, relax and sample local wines. You can even spend the night in a renovated cave house.
Lake Geneva, Wisconsin
Located approximately 45 miles southwest of Milwaukee, this historic resort town sits along the picturesque shores of Geneva Lake. Known as the “Newport of the West” following the Civil War, this year-round vacation destination earned its name from the wealthy Chicagoans that built their summer homes and estates along the town’s shoreline. During your balloon flight, you’ll see the beautiful scenery around the lake, including some of the storied homes and mansions. One of Lake Geneva Balloon Company’s routes affords an incredible sunrise view while traveling down Lake Como. Another itinerary departs from the Burlington Municipal Airport and flies along the White River Valley, which is the body of water that feeds Geneva Lake. During this trip, riders can see various wildlife, such as coyotes, fox, white-tailed deer, red-tailed hawks and the occasional bald eagle. Flights are available daily and year-round, depending on the weather. Prices start at approximately $260 per person. The company also offers private tours for two people. While you’re in town, enjoy another sky-high thrill ride courtesy of Lake Geneva Ziplines & Adventures.
The magical ride soaring through Bagan’s early morning skies is the best way to see the more than 8,000 temples and pagodas of this ancient city. Located on the Irrawaddy River in the central plains of Myanmar, Bagan was once the capital of the first Burmese Empire. After watching the sunrise over the mist with the temples as a backdrop, your balloon may glide over villages where you’ll see locals going to the markets or tending to their animals. Balloons Over Bagan and Oriental Ballooning offer classic flights with prices starting at about $350 per person. Balloons Over Bagan’s premium flight features a smaller basket, with a maximum of eight passengers and a full breakfast following the flight. Flights are available seasonally from October to mid-April. To learn more about Bagan’s history, take a private guided tour of the archeological zone or explore temples and the rural areas of Bagan by bike.
Black Hills, South Dakota
Known for its vast beauty and pristine mountains, lakes, prairies and valleys, South Dakota’s Black Hills is exceptionally breathtaking from the sky. While flying over Custer State Park and the Custer Valley in the southern Black Hills, look for abundant wildlife such as buffalo, mule and whitetail deer, elk and antelope. Depending on the winds, you may also see the Cathedral Spires, Crazy Horse and even Mount Rushmore in the distance. Black Hills Balloons launches daily between May and October from the town of Custer and the cost is approximately $325 per person. The company also offers a memorable trip flying from the Stratobowl for three days in mid-September. In 1934 and 1935, the Stratobowl was a launching area for crewed balloon flights by the Army Air Corps and National Geographic Society. In November 1935, one of these flights reached the stratosphere at a record of 72,395 feet, and the pilots captured the first image to show the Earth’s curvature. Back on the ground, plan to visit Custer State Park and then head approximately 30 miles north to Mount Rushmore for a closer view of this incredible national monument. For another adventure, book a Buffalo Safari Tour to see these majestic creatures from just a few feet away.
Alpine scenery, bucolic villages and pristine lakes are the magical backdrop for this balloon flight over the resort town of Gstaad and the Bernese Oberland region of Switzerland. These tours last up to 1 1/2 hours and feature sunrise views behind the Préalps after takeoff. Once you reach an altitude of approximately 9,800 feet in the sky, you’ll be able to see the Alps, from Mont Blanc to the Eiger, as well as Mönch, Jungfrau and even Lake Geneva in the distance. Depending on the weather, the route may also include the Gruyère valley, Emmental or travel toward the Plain of the Rhone. Ballons Château-d’Oex’s year-round flights depart from the town of Château-d’Oex, about 10 miles west of Gstaad. This small mountain village is home to the annual International Balloon Festival in January each year. Another operator in the Gstaad area is Balloons du Leman, which offers weekend tours only. Prices start at approximately $425 a person and include refreshments after the flight. Back on the ground, continue your fairy tale-like experience with a stay at the Gstaad Palace, a luxury hotel resembling a castle. Then, depending on the season, hit the slopes or go hiking in the Swiss Alps.
Rocky Mountains, Colorado
The majestic landscape of the Rocky Mountains is even more spectacular when viewed from above. Grand Adventure Balloon Tours’ scenic flights typically launch at the company’s base in Fraser, approximately 70 miles northwest of Denver. This site sits at the edge of Rocky Mountain National Park and on the ridge of the Continental Divide. From this vantage point, you’re rewarded with panoramic views of the Colorado Rockies and abundant wildlife, such as bighorn sheep and elk. The company offers year-round flights and can accommodate up to 12 passengers. Prices start at $300 per person and feature a Champagne toast, launch photo, commemorative flight certificate, a guided history of the area and an explanation on the science behind ballooning. Other companies in this region include Fair Winds Balloon Flights and Rocky Mountain Balloon Rides, which has private or shared tours for up to six people. Following your tour and depending on the season, there are plenty of outdoor activities to enjoy, such as hiking, rafting, fishing, skiing or snow tubing.
Loire Valley, France
Stunning castles and the renowned vineyards of the Loire Valley are just part of the setting for this magical balloon flight in the north central part of France. There are also verdant forests, parks along the Loire River Valley and medieval towns boasting timber frame houses with colorful flowers adorning the windows. Touraine Montgolfière’s flights over the valley operate April 1 through Oct. 15 and depart mornings or evenings, depending on the weather, from either the Amboise, Chaumont or Chenonceau. Aerocom Montgolfière departs from those locations as well as the Royal Château de Blois. Its season also runs from April to October, offering both sunrise and sunset tours. Prices start at approximately $230 per person. After your flight, plan to visit a few of the historic chateaux you viewed from the sky. Then, stop by a few wineries to sample some of the Loire Valley’s world-class white wines, such as the region’s sauvignon blanc and chenin blanc. You can even reserve accommodations in a former châteaux at the luxury Relais & Chateaux property, Les Hauts de Loire.
Located in the high desert at approximately 4,500 feet elevation, Sedona is known for its spectacular red rocks formations, some that grace the Arizona sky as much as a mile high. As such, Sedona is the perfect place to splurge on a hot air balloon ride. Flights typically last one hour but it may take up to two to find the proper landing spot because of the area’s rough terrain. While airborne, you’ll fly over the diverse landscape of the Coconino National Forest with its red rocks, desert and alpine tundra, mountains and canyons and ponderosa pine forests. Be on the lookout for local wildlife such as mule deer, coyotes, bobcats and javelina, an animal resembling a small wild hog. Red Rock Balloon Adventures offers tours seven days a week, depending on the weather, and features a post-flight toast. Northern Light Balloon Expeditions also offers daily tours that feature a Champagne picnic. Prices start at about $250 per adult. After your flight, head into town to check out the Tlaquepaque Arts & Crafts Village or sample local wines along the Verde Valley Wine Trail.
Built as early as 400 B.C., Teotihuacan is an ancient Mesoamerican city that covers around 8 square miles, approximately 30 miles northeast of Mexico City. This immense complex boasts plazas, pyramids and the palaces and temples of priests and royalty. Regarded as the most powerful city in the region by A.D. 400, the name Teotihuacan translates to “the place where the gods were created.” Sky Balloons and Flying Pictures Mexico offer year-round tours that include round-trip transportation from Mexico City in the pricing. Prices start at about $150 per person. Flying Pictures also offers an excursion that includes a guided tour and visit to a craft workshop, among other amenities. If you prefer a romantic flight for two, Sky Balloons runs a private tour option. After returning to Mexico City, check out the colorful markets such as the Mercado de Coyoacan or perhaps, take a market tour and cooking class at Casa Jacandara. Other top attractions include El Zócalo, the main public square, and the Museo Nacional de Antropología (National Museum of Anthropology), which houses artifacts from pre-Columbian times (100 B.C.) to A.D. 1521.
Located approximately 7 miles east of Woodstock, Vermont, Quechee Village is a quintessential New England town. It’s home to the annual Quechee Hot Air Balloon, Craft & Music Festival, New England’s longest-running hot air balloon festival. It’s also where you’ll find what’s known as “Vermont’s Little Grand Canyon,” the Quechee Gorge. Quechee Balloon Rides LC offers one of the best ways to see this picturesque region — from the sky. These tours launch from the center of town at the village green. Early on, when the basket is close to the ground, the pilot might do a “splash and dash” in a pond or river. During the flight, you’ll float over covered bridges and farms, verdant rolling hills and the gorge. Views also include Vermont’s Green Mountains, Mount Mansfield, Killington and, on clear days, the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Prices start at $350 per person. This tour company also offers private flights and sunset flights. Plan to stay at The Woodstock Inn & Resort, which is conveniently located to explore the local shopping, dining options, historical sites and farms.
Tuscany‘s lush green landscapes, rolling hills and vineyards, and medieval towns and hillside villages are beautiful on the ground, but it’s even more magical to experience the panoramic views from above. Ballooning in Tuscany’s one-hour flight is available for just two people or up to 12 passengers. The trip launches from Montepulciano or Cortona in the south and travels north toward Florence between 1,000 to 3,000 feet in the sky, depending on weather conditions. Along the way, look for ancient castles, hidden farmhouses and (when you’re closer to the ground) watch as farmers tend to their vines or olive trees. After the flight, celebrate with a glass of prosecco paired with specialties from local purveyors. Tuscany Ballooning launches from the Chianti region and soars over the Chianti Hills, Siena, Lucca and Florence. The standard flight also includes a prosecco breakfast upon landing. For a real treat, splurge on the Exclusive Private Vista Flight. This trip accommodates up to four passengers in a specially designed basket with seats and tray tables. The basket is also lower in the front so that you can float across the sky taking in the 360 degree views of Tuscany while sipping prosecco. Prices for standard flights start at about $300 per person and are available daily, weather permitting.
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