Categories
Adventure Travel Outdoors

The World's 11 Best Hot Air Balloon Rides

There’s no other experience like a hot air balloon ride: waking before first light, watching the sun rise as you drift over the hills and towns below, and then touching down to a Champagne breakfast. Exploring a new place from the basket of a hot air balloon offers a perspective you can’t get any other way.

Hot air balloon rides don’t come cheap, but in these 11 places they’re well worth the money, from the vineyards of Napa to the temples of Myanmar. Read on to discover the world’s best hot air balloon rides.

Editor’s note: Due to COVID-19 concerns, the U.S. State Department is encouraging potential visitors to reconsider all travel abroad, and many of the destinations below have been affected by the pandemic to various degrees. Read more here for updates on the situation and information on when it might be safe to travel again to destinations like the ones below.

Bagan, Myanmar (Burma)

Hot air balloons fly over Bagan, that always recognised as amazing buddhism landmark.

Scattered across the plains of the Bagan region in Myanmar are thousands of historic temples, pagodas, and monasteries, mostly built between the 11th and 13th centuries. You can explore them by bike, taxi, or horse-drawn cart, but to get a true sense of their scope, hop into a hot air balloon. The temple ruins look particularly beautiful by the golden light of sunrise. Recommended operators include Oriental Ballooning and Balloons Over Bagan.

Cappadocia, Turkey

view of hot air balloons flying over the Valley of Love in Cappadocia

Dotted with cave hotels and otherworldly rock formations (called “fairy chimneys” by the locals), Cappadocia’s landscape is best appreciated from the air. Dozens of companies offer hot air balloon rides over the Goreme Open-Air Museum, filling the early-morning sky with brightly colored globes that only enhance the incredible view. Recommended operators include Royal Balloon and Kapadokya Balloons.

Masai Mara, Kenya

Low flying hot-air balloon in the Masai Mara, Kenya

Game drives are one way to check the Big Five off your safari must-see list; hot air balloon rides are another. From your bird’s-eye perspective, you might spot wildebeest running across the savannah, a herd of elephants gathering at a watering hole, or hippos lurking in the Mara River. Recommended operators include Governors’ Balloon Safaris and Hot Air Safaris.

Melbourne, Australia

Hot air balloons passing by Melbourne, Australia.

While most hot air balloon flights travel over scenic countryside, in Melbourne you can enjoy a unique opportunity to get a bird’s-eye view of skyscrapers and streets. You’ll drift over the city’s landmarks, including the cricket stadium, the Shrine of Remembrance, the Royal Botanic Gardens, and the Yarra River. It’s a great way to get an overview of the city before or after exploring on land. Recommended operators include Picture This Ballooning and Global Ballooning Australia.

La Fortuna, Costa Rica

Hot Air Ballooning Costa Rica with Free Spirit

From a hot air balloon, your view of Costa Rica might include lush rainforests, remote mountain villages, and the cloud-shrouded Arenal Volcano. In the quiet of early morning you’ll likely even hear monkeys and birds calling from the treetops. Costa Rica’s hot air balloon rides are operated by Free Spirit.

Luxor, Egypt

Orange hot air balloon riding over the desert and ruins in Luxor Egypt

Drift peacefully over ancient temples, the Nile River, and the tombs at the Valley of the Kings on a spectacular hot air balloon ride above Luxor, Egypt. After landing, you’ll have the rest of the day to visit a few of the sites you glimpsed from the air. Recommended operators include Sindbad Hot Air Balloons and Hod Hod Soliman Hot Air Balloons.

Tuscany, Italy

Vineyards with hot air balloon near a winery before harvest in the tuscany wine growing area, Italy Europe

Walking around Tuscany’s historic hill towns is one travel pleasure; seeing them from the air in the soft morning light is another. Keep your camera ready as you sail over vineyards, stone farmhouses, quaint villages, and fields of sunflowers. Recommended operators include Ballooning in Tuscany and Tuscany Ballooning.

Queenstown, New Zealand

hot air balloon over lake in queenstown new zealand

There are plenty of adventurous ways to see Queenstown from the air, including hang gliding, paragliding, bungee jumping, and skydiving. But if you’re looking for a less hair-raising way to take in the area’s spectacular vistas, a hot air balloon ride might be just the ticket. Sunrise Balloons offers panoramic views over the Remarkables, Lake Wakatipu, and other natural attractions in the Queenstown/Arrowtown area.

Sedona, Arizona, U.S.A.

hot air balloon in sedona, arizona

The famous red rocks of Sedona, Arizona make for a stunning landscape unfolding beneath the basket of your hot air balloon. Keep your eye out for wildlife on the ground such as mule deer and coyotes. Recommended operators include Red Rock Balloon Adventures and Northern Light Balloon Expeditions.

Napa Valley, California, U.S.A.

hot air balloon over napa valley Up & Away Ballooning

While you’re in Napa enjoying a wine tour, why not book yourself a balloon ride and experience stunning views of the vineyards from up in the air? Try Up & Away Ballooning, which offers a post-flight brunch with mimosas to toast the start to your day.

Albuquerque, New Mexico, U.S.A.

Balloons over the Rio Grande

The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta is the largest hot air balloon event in the world. The event takes place in October each year; the highlight event is the mass ascension, when hundreds of balloons fill the sky in two waves. You can hop aboard a hot air balloon in Albuquerque any time of the year and experience stunning views of the Rio Grande. Rainbow Ryders Hot Air Balloon and World Balloon are two recommended operators.

More from SmarterTravel:

Follow Sarah Schlichter on Twitter @TravelEditor for more travel tips and inspiration.

Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2017. It has been updated to reflect the most current information. Noemi de la Torre contributed to this story.

By Sarah Schlichter

Deputy Executive Editor Sarah Schlichter's idea of a perfect trip includes spotting exotic animals, hiking through pristine landscapes, exploring new neighborhoods on foot, and soaking up as much art as she can. She often attempts to recreate recipes from her international travels after she gets home (which has twice resulted in accidental kitchen fires—no humans or animals were harmed).

Sarah joined the SmarterTravel team in 2017 after more than a decade at the helm of IndependentTraveler.com. Sarah's practical travel advice has been featured in dozens of news outlets including the New York Times, the Chicago Tribune, USA Today, Budget Travel, and Peter Greenberg Worldwide Radio. Follow her on Twitter @TravelEditor.

The Handy Item I Always Pack: "A journal. Even years later, reading my notes from a trip can bring back incredibly vivid memories."

Ultimate Bucket List Experience: "Road tripping and hiking through the rugged mountains of Patagonia."

Travel Motto: "'To awaken quite alone in a strange town is one of the pleasantest sensations in the world.'—Freya Stark"

Aisle, Window, or Middle Seat: "Aisle. I get restless on long flights and like to be able to move around without disturbing anyone else."

Email Sarah at sschlichter@smartertravel.com.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *