In Summary
  • It’s a truly magical moment, the ultimate adventure, a wonder that leaves many dumbstruck after watching wildlife from a bird’s eye view as they float silently mid-air in the early morning breeze.
  • Hot air balloon safaris are a show stopper when it comes to wildlife safaris; the scenery from a hot air balloon gives the ultimate safari experience as one views different kinds of wildlife from a comfortable distance.
  • “It is a different mystical experience every time you go up there,” says Peter Mbugua, director of Africa Balloon Fiesta, adding that hot air balloons are universally fascinating regardless of the spectators’ age, income or occupation.

It’s a truly magical moment, the ultimate adventure, a wonder that leaves many dumbstruck after watching wildlife from a bird’s eye view as they float silently mid-air in the early morning breeze.

It all begins at sunrise. Tourists gather at dawn, sipping champagne as they have breakfast in the cool morning Mara plains while watching the pilot and his crew build up what seems like a giant tent.

Soon the balloon is fully inflated, it is colourful, alive and spectacular as it takes off into the air with a handful of tourists on board.

After a briefing by the pilot, they are ready to ascend in order to catch a glimpse of the animals in the vast Mara plains.

Hot air balloon safaris are a show stopper when it comes to wildlife safaris; the scenery from a hot air balloon gives the ultimate safari experience as one views different kinds of wildlife from a comfortable distance.

BUSH BREAKFAST

This is the only true way to experience the whole vista; the beautiful rolling hills and flat plains, a topographical view of the action below with magnificent views of the land features, the great migration, herds of elephant, antelope, giraffes feeding from the tree tops and cheetah, leopards, lions hunting for their meal and of course, a complete bush breakfast.

“It is a different mystical experience every time you go up there,” says Peter Mbugua, director of Africa Balloon Fiesta, adding that hot air balloons are universally fascinating regardless of the spectators’ age, income or occupation.

The view from the air shows the entire animal reserve fading into the horizon and breathtaking differences in terrain and animal activity that is otherwise not visible from ground level.

The Mara is where you will have one of those breathtaking, heart-stopping moments, a crack of dawn balloon ride over nature’s playground.

However, the notion that balloon safaris are way too expensive has hindered most enthusiasts from enjoying the spectacle that awaits them.

The usual cost for a one-hour flight in the Mara is Sh40,800 for adults and half the price for children under 12 years.

The balloon travels 15 to 25 kilometres, depending on wind conditions.

A balloon fiesta to be held in December has given enthusiasts the chance to enjoy a ride at an affordable rate as well as support the ‘Hands Off Our Elephant’s’ campaign.

ECO-FRIENDLY

Africa Balloon Fiesta, in partnership with Brussels Airlines and Kempinski Hotels, launched this initiative to promote the use of hot air balloons as an alternative to game drives as an eco-friendly way to view wildlife.

The event to be held at the Fig Tree Camp in the Maasai Mara Game Reserve from 6th-8th December will see various hot air balloon enthusiasts locally and from Australia, Sweden and Belgium fly their balloons in solidarity with this initiative.

“We are expecting 20 to 50 colourful balloons to lift off in mass ascension, flying banners with conservation and anti-poaching messages and slogans in order to highlight the need for conservation dubbed Unique Shape Fiesta,” says Pierre Declerck, Brussels Airlines country manager, which is one of the official sponsors of the fiesta.

Local companies and balloon enthusiasts will also participate in the festival at a much subsidised rate that will include the transport to the Mara, two nights’ accommodation, controlled game drives and balloon rides.

“We have offered various packages for this event to enable people to participate at an affordable cost,” says Meshack Kuria, logistics and operations manager of Africa Balloon Fiesta.

Corporate companies who participate in the initiative will get eight staff members to ride and brand a balloon with their logo and an anti-poaching slogan to support the conservation efforts at a cost of Sh500,000.

Individual packages for the three days are between Sh18,000 and Sh48,500; which includes the entire itinerary.

Balloon enthusiasts will fill the launch field and walk among the tethered balloons as the propane burners inflate the balloons against a dark sky.

Those who merely want to spectate will also be allowed in the fiesta at an entry fee of Sh4,000 for the three days and they will be allowed to walk among the balloons as they inflate on the launch field each morning – just watching the balloons inflate is, in itself, a captivating spectacle.

Spectators can also ask questions and meet the pilots and even help crew members with the inflation process.

The fiesta will engage participants in various activities, from bush carnivals, corporate team building activities, bush dinners and photography competitions with reward prizes.

Balloon glow and other balloon illumination events will be held in the evenings to give the whole occasion a thrilling aura.

Spectators, crews and corporate teams will take part in wildlife photography competitions in various categories including best wildlife photo, best African sunrise and sunset, best aerial photo and landscape capture.

Balloon pilots will particularly enjoy the competition dubbed Africa Balloon Fiesta precision flying event on the morning of the second day.

The push for balloon safaris also comes in the wake of environmental and animal protection campaigns which hope to create more eco-friendly attractions in the country.

“Balloons are an eco-friendly way of watching wildlife without creating noise and does not distract animals in their natural habitat the same way vehicles do,” says Mbugua.

The number of companies offering the hot air balloon rides in Kenya has gone up to 10, signalling a growth in the number of tourists preferring the balloon rides as a way of viewing wildlife.

The wrap-around view of the earth and sky is one which can be experienced no other way.

Binoculars and a camera are a must on this trip as this is a photographic opportunity not to be missed.

“What other fantastic way is there to end the year than watching breathtaking landscape and spectacular wildlife from 1,000 feet in the sky with your staff, clients, peers and loved ones creating lifetime memories as you support a good cause” asks Declerck.

Tickets to the fiesta are available in all Nakumatt stores in Nairobi.

This story originally appeared in Business Daily. Click HERE to go to the story.