Balloon flight over the Mara

Balloon flight over the Mara

The Maasai Mara balloon flight experience starts well before dawn. Depending on the location of your safari camp, a driver and vehicle will collect you as early as 4am and drive you through the bush to the balloon launch site. This pitch-dark start is itself an adventure, as the headlights pick out nocturnal wildlife en route. At the site, you’ll watch as the enormous, multi-coloured fabric envelope of the balloon is slowly filled by gigantic, portable fans. You’ll receive a safety briefing by the pilot and be given advice about the kind of flight you can expect (every one is unique) and what you might see from the basket.

At about 06:30, as the balloon towers overhead, but with the basket still safely tethered to the ground, you climb aboard. The basket is divided into compartments, each equipped with harnesses and hand holds. You’ll need to be reasonably mobile – but not a gymnast. As soon as all the passengers are on board (and usually after some pictures have been taken by others on the ground), the pilot starts the burner, the lines are released, and you lift off. The sun will be just about to break above the horizon, sending beams of golden light across the landscape.

If the atmosphere is cool, the balloon rises very quickly and you’re at treetop height in seconds, drifting in a generally south-easterly direction with the prevailing wind.

From now on, where you go and what you see depends on a combination of the pilot's skill, the speed and direction of the wind and that permanent safari companion, luck. You may fly at treetop height along the forested banks of the Mara River, peering into vultures’ nests, watching monkeys and baboons as they wake in their roosts, or peering through the trees to see elephants or even potentially a leopard. Or you may fly low across the grasslands, with the pilot using a puff of the burner every so often to lift the balloon above a lone tree or a termite mound. Periodically, the pilot will turn the balloon so that those at the back of the basket are facing forwards.

Wildlife tends to move away at the approach of the balloon’s shadow and the sound of its burner, but you will still see some remarkable sights, from jostling, muddied hippos, to prides of lions and even the occasional rhino, as witnessed by a lucky Expert Africa consultant on a recent flight.

After an hour or so in the air, the pilot lands the basket in a convenient spot close to where the ground crew have prepared a site for the bush breakfast.

A full breakfast is served and you toast the flight with sparkling wine. Everyone gets a certificate and the chance to take photos, before loading into safari vehicles to go back to camp or continue with a morning game drive.

Start location and time: Various launch sites, pre-dawn

Duration of excursion: 3 hours in total

End location: Various locations, depending on the flight

Maximum size of group: Usually 16

Meals included: A full bush breakfast, with sparkling wine, is included after landing

Height and age restrictions: The basket height is 1.2m (4ft). Children need to be at least 1.2m in height and can then fly at the pilot’s discretion, depending on their age and maturity.

Availability: Balloon flights are available every morning, subject to suitable weather conditions. If the flight is cancelled because of poor weather, you will be re-booked on a later flight or your money refunded.