One of the experiences likely to remain in your memory as a tourist of the Masai Mara Reserve is the hot air balloon flight.
Every year, from the month of July all the way till end of October, the endless plains of Masai Mara National Reserve provide the backdrop for Kenya’s greatest wildlife spectacle – the annual migration. From the vast Serengeti plains in Tanzania to the champagne-coloured hills of Masai Mara, hundreds of thousands of wildebeest and over quarter of a million Thompson gazelle and zebra mover in a huge, circular clockwise motion in search of the green grass, tracked relentlessly by Africa’s greatest predators.
For most travelers interested in African wildlife viewing, a trip into Masai Mara during the migration time is enough to quench their safari thirst. Driving through the bushes of this wildlife paradise may itself be an unforgettable experience to some people. And for some others, the ultimate thrilling moment comes when, from the open-sided safari vehicle, they capture irreplaceable still or motion photos of the wildlife, on their camera.
Imagine gliding over, so beautifully atop a hot air balloon while enjoying the fresh early morning air and the panoramic views of the awe-inspiring Mara landscape. The experience of such indulgence is simply out of this world and is guaranteed to make a lasting memory of your safari in Kenya.
The balloon flight, which normally commences at pre-dawn, when the breeze on the plains is still cold, evokes a feeling that is never easy to describe to another person who was not present. One simply needs to experience it to be able to appreciate it effectively.
Tourists are normally picked up from their lodges just before sunrise – around 6am mostly. After your early wake up call, you will take coffee or tea at the lodge before you take off for a short drive leading to the launch site that is normally an hour from most of the lodges. You might just arrive in time to witness the crack of dawn and the inflation of the balloon at the launch site. Every one is then taken through a safety briefing before boarding the balloon for take off.
As a general rule, children under 12 years would not be permitted to take part on hot air balloon flight in Masai Mara. This is not really as a safety measure. It is because some children might not have enough height to allow them enjoy the view from the edge of the balloon basket. In other words, they might not be getting value for their money. However, the balloon pilots may make an exception if, in their judgment, the child can be allow to fly.
The balloon is flown to an attitude of up to 1000 feet for a unique and spectacular panoramic view of the Mara plains below. Then it glides to a lower attitude at a-tree-top or even grass-top level for a closer view of the rich wildlife, flora and fauna below. Spontaneity also comes to play during the trip as the exact direction and duration of the flight depends on the wind and the prevailing weather conditions of the day. Most of the time, the trip would last at least an hour.
Most safari lodges and camps in the Mara (not all) would have a desk from where you can book your balloon flight. It is however advisable to pre-book your seat if you would like to make sure you do not miss a seat. During the migration period, the seats sell like hot cake.