There are few experiences more romantic and breathtaking than gliding over a beautiful landscape in a hot air balloon. It’s just enough adventure without veering into the more heart-pumping extremes of hang-gliding or sky-diving. Any kind of thrill ride that allows you to drink Champagne during it is our kind of excursion. These are some of the best places to take part.
The annual Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta takes place in October and this year will feature 550 balloons. Dawn launches and twilight balloon glows take advantage of the crisp autumn weather and unveil the whole of the Rio Grande Valley as the changing light plays off the mountains and valleys. The highlight of the nine-day festival is the mass ascension, when all participating balloons take off at the same time, filling the sky as far as the eye can see.
Safari from a whole new perspective with a balloon ride over the Serengeti, where you can the large scale interaction of the whole ecosystem of animals from a bird’s eye view. Watch as predators lie in wait for their prey, which is constantly on the lookout to protect the herd. It’s like a game of chess with the ultimate stakes. The endless plains and Maasai villages dotting them are great as well.
Thousands of temples and pagodas built hundreds of years ago sit silently among the trees in the golden city of Bagan, which served as the capital of the first empire to unite the lands that became Myanmar. The Irrawaddy River snakes its way past the city, with islands galore breaking up the flow. It’s the only way to check out all the architecture without spending years trekking from temple to temple.
Those rolling hills look even better from a thousand feet up. The walls of medieval hilltop cities seem so easy to breach by just dropping in from above, and you’ll get a taste of just how many acres of vineyards and olive groves there are discover. The beauty of the region is timeless, and flights usually comes with prosecco, cheese and olive oil tastings. Hard to say no to that.
The Turkish region is littered with “fairy chimneys,” spire-like rock formations that jut out from the earth. Some even houses and churches carved into them. There are also orchards and vineyards to glide over. Cappadocia is so lovely that more than half a million people go ballooning there each year, accounting for most of the world’s annual rides.
Ask anyone who’s been on safari, and you’ll hear all about the transcendent beauty of sunsets, the majesty of the vast open spaces, the thrill of getting up close and personal with exotic animals. It’ll leave you with only one conclusion: You have to go see for yourself. As Richard Mullin said, “The only man I envy is the man who has not yet been to Africa – for he has so much to look forward to.” Now that’s it decided you’re going, the question is which area you should choose for your safari.
Kenya / Tanzania
When most people picture a safari, they’re thinking of East Africa. The great migration of wildebeest and zebras takes place annually across Tanzania’s Serengeti Plain and Kenya’s Masai Mara. Hundreds of thousands of animals make the trek in search of grass to graze on. The Maasai people provide an enriching cultural exchange. Tanzania’s Ngorongoro Crater is rich in wildlife, while Olduvai Gorge is a goldmine for the study of human evolution. Kilimanjaro and Mount Kenya are the tallest mountains in Africa and make for excellent, if challenging, climbing.
Though it’s nearly 1,000 miles long, the Okavango River never does quite find its way to the sea, instead of crashing into the sands of the Kalahari Desert to form the sublime Okavango Delta, a maze of swamp, salt and lakes that provides a staging area for a dramatic interplay of animals large and small. Botswana attracts colorful birds, a huge migration of zebra and large numbers of elephants. The San people, the famed Bushmen of the Kalahari, share insights on their culture and its relationship to the natural world.
South Africa / Namibia
A safari in South Africa offers loads of advantages. First, you can pair it with time in the spectacular city of Cape Town and the surrounding Cape Winelands. Second, malaria-free reserves make it an ideal choice for families with young children. Private game reserves are packed with lions, leopards, elephants, impalas, and zebra. To the northwest, Namibia is a vast wilderness of sand dunes where elephants, lions, and endangered black rhinos manage to eke out a living and thousands of birds, including flamingos and pelicans, flock to the infamous Skeleton Coast.
Zambia / Zimbabwe
Separated by the Zambezi River, these two countries are more or less defined by water, making them excellent venues for abundant wildlife. The main attraction is Victoria Falls, “The Smoke That Thunders,” but each country also offers national parks filled with Cape buffalo, impalas, zebras and elephants, among many more diverse species. Zambia’s Kafue National Park is a great place for leopard-spotting, while Zimbabwe boasts splendid game-viewing along the shores of Lake Kariba.
Uganda / Rwanda
In the highlands of the Virunga Mountains that straddle these two countries, you’ll find an entirely different and rare game: gorillas. Only a few hundred mountain gorillas are left in their natural habitat, and they offer a fascinating study in primate behavior. It is in Uganda that Lake Victoria drains into the Nile River, and Queen Elizabeth National Park is home to traditional safari species. Rwanda is renowned for its wide variety of bird and plant species, including more than 100 varieties of orchids.