One of the best safari experiences in Africa has to be a balloon safari. While it is not a cheap or “local” experience it is without a doubt a once in a lifetime one.
Drifting above the plains, forests, and rivers of the Masai Mara feels like a dream. There is no turbulence and no loud motor – just you and your temporary balloon drifting over wild elephants, lions, and giraffe.
Our First Balloon Safari
All balloon safaris with Governors take off at Little Governors Camp. On arrival to the camp, passengers can enjoy tea and coffee while the balloon is prepared for the flight. Guests are given a briefing and told what to expect on their balloon safari. Each massive hot air balloon can carry 16 guests at a time. The baskets are compartmentalized with four people to a compartment and everyone has plenty of space to take in the views.
Takeoff feels surreal because it feels like literally nothing at all. One minute you’re on the ground and the next you’re drifting above the treetops in the middle of your balloon safari and you don’t even realize it. Unlike helicopters, planes, or an elevator the lift is so gradual it still feels like you’re standing on the earth’s surface while in the balloon. Have you ever flown like a bird in your dreams? Well, that’s what a balloon safari feels like – it’s the closest thing to a flying dream we have ever experienced.
Governor’s Balloon Safaris are considered the best outfit to take a balloon safari with due to their professionalism, experience, and quality. Our pilot, Mike, has been flying balloons for nearly three decades and in conditions much more difficult than the Masai Mara.
In fact, the plains of the Mara with relatively predictable winds are an ideal location to fly a hot air balloon. There are no power lines, no mountains, and no private property you can land on. Allowing guests to rest easy on the flight and get lost in the moment.
A balloon safari leaves you absolutely speechless. Mike was an expert as we floated over the Mara River. He danced over treetops and dipped into clearings, before climbing to dizzying heights that provided all-encompassing views of the great Masai Mara. During all of this you watch antelope, lions, elephants, and buffalo wake up for another day in the Mara.
The average flight lasts about one hour; however, it can be more or less depending on the weather conditions. We got lucky and it was fifteen minutes longer than expected – an expected and rare treat. On landing, be prepared for the balloon to land on its side.
Seats are specially designed and with a great pilot you feel a few bumps before coming to a comfortable stop on your back. After landing the Governors support team quickly scoops guests up and takes them for a bush breakfast in the middle of the Masai Mara. Champagne and mimosas accompany a hot and delicious breakfast while guests celebrate a stunning morning and safe balloon safari.
Preparation For A Balloon Safari over the Masai Mara
Balloon safaris should be booked in advance due to high demand and limited space available. We’d suggest booking with Governor’s Balloon Safaris, the top Balloon Safari operator in the Mara. The night before your balloon safari confirm with your camp what time you will need to depart and get to bed early. The morning of your flight you are required to be at the launch site by 6:00 a.m. or earlier depending on sunrise time.
Ideal flying conditions are early in the morning to see the African plains from high up is utterly romantic and dreamlike. We stayed at Governors Camp in the Masai Mara, where the staff delivered coffee to us at 4:45 for a much-needed wake up before we took off to the launch site for their balloon safari.
Be sure you know what to wear on safari because mornings can be especially cold in the early morning, while quickly getting hot once the sun rises.
Balloon Safari Cost
Starting at $420 a person, the cost of a balloon safari is not for budget travelers. Costs involved in maintaining, purchasing, employing crew, and running support vehicles in the middle of the bush are not exactly cheap.
If you’re already staying at Governor’s Camp like we did be sure to check out a number of their packages that include flights into the Mara, several nights at Governor’s Camp with food, and the balloon safari.
A balloon safari was definitely a highlight of not only our time in the Masai Mara, but of all of our time in East Africa! If you want to experience Africa from a different point of view then I would recommend a balloon safari at least once in your lifetime – you won’t forget it!
Book A Safari in Africa
Traditionally if you wanted to book a safari you’d have to go to a travel agent and have them book your safari for you. They made suggestions for camps and lodges then presented you with a large bill. Most of the industry still operates in this fashion.
However, Timbuktu is a new platform that allows you to select the lodges you’d like and see the pricing per day that way you can select the best itinerary for yourself. They will then contact the lodges and help you through booking your safari. With experts on staff, they can also provide suggestions and arrange the little details much like a travel agent.
Check Out Some Lodges in Kenya
We didn’t know much about the coast of Kenya before we got there. We landed in Mombasa after an epic safari in the Masai Mara and made our way to Diani Beach. Our first stop was Kinondo Kwetu, a small boutique barefoot beach lodge run by a young Swedish couple. The Bohemian lodge is great for both couples and families as there is plenty to do and plenty of places to just relax on this property.
Kinondo Kwetu has not one, but two pools – one for adults and one pool large enough to hold scuba diving lessons. The property has sunbeds, a sauna, and various hideaways used for meals. There’s also a stable onsite to go horseback riding along the beach. As well as kayaks, a slackline, a yoga studio, and a fitness center to stay active. It topped our list as one of the best Diani Beach hotels.
Ololo Safari Lodge
We arrived at Ololo Lodge not knowing what to expect. The location of the quaint country lodge is on the Southern border of Nairobi National Park. The lodge is owned and operated by a lovely Australian couple who were crazy enough to give lodge management a stab.
They have taken everything they know from their two backgrounds – farming and furniture design – to build Ololo Lodge. The lodge used to be a traditional farmhouse that was restored into comfortable stable rooms, Safari tents, and even a tower suite that all compliment the old countryside theme.
Governors Camp Collection
One of our favorite camps in the Masai Mara is Governors Camp. The location of the iconic camp was once the governors of Kenya private safari camp and entertained guests like Teddy Roosevelt. The Governors Camp Collection houses a variety of different lodges around the Masai Mara.
We stayed in their main Governors Camp, which is their biggest camp with 37 tents. Each tent is simply decorated and comfortable. The location is superb in the heart of the Masai Mara with fantastic game density around it.
If you are into incredible game sightings and close encounters then Governors Camp should have your name written all over it. They are also one of the best companies to take a hot air balloon safari in the Mara.
What To Pack For Kenya
There are a few things that one should pack for an African Safari. We help you create your safari packing list and share some of our favorite safari products.
Overland Tour in Africa
Traveling Africa on your own can be daunting to many travelers. However, there is no need to fear with overland tour companies who will show the ropes and a great time. You can check out some of them here to compare the different companies and possibly score a discount.
Travel Water Bottle
Plastic pollution is a problem in Africa so it’s best not to contribute to the problem buying plastic water bottles everywhere. The tap water in Tanzania is generally not safe to drink, but a water purifier, like the Grayl waterbottle, works well!
However, we also love filtered water bottles in areas we’re uncertain of the water supply. Read more about favorite water bottle for travel in our post.
Chances are you’ll want a camera for your trip to Africa. Our favorite pocket-sized point and shoot camera for quick trips are the Sony RX100V. It takes fantastic photos and video and is the size of your palm.
For more professional photographs we use our Fuji XT-3, and LOVE IT.
I used this a lot in the on my Ruaha safari. Early mornings in the park can be pretty chilly so it helps break the cold. Once the sun comes out temperatures climb and things get very dusty. So, I use the shemagh to cover my face and electronics.
If you’re wondering what necessities to bring to Africa then sturdy shoes are perhaps the most important thing you will need before you get to Africa.
I cannot stress a good pair of shoes enough because if you land anywhere outside of South Africa a quality pair of hiking shoes will be hard to come by. If you plan to walk around a lot get thick rubber soled shoes as acacia thorns are prone to stab through thin shoes. Cameron learned the hard way one day when he pulled a thorn out of his foot that went straight through his thin rubber sandals.
Lightweight pants that are made from synthetic material are tremendous to have in your pack. It’s what we wear most days when traveling around Africa as they’re comfortable, antibacterial, and protect our legs from mosquitos (malaria).
We recommend neutral-colored pants as they’re great at hiding dirt and can match most shirt colors. What’s great is they’re useful beyond Africa as they are a travel staple and we pack a pair everywhere we travel.
I like two pairs, one pair is made by prAna and rolls into capris and the other are convertible pants. For men, prAna makes the Stretch Zion Pant, a tremendous pair of hiking pants for a reasonable price.
I love my buff. I usually wear it for keeping my hair back, but it’s also served its purpose as a scarf and wet rag too. Buffs last for years and aren’t only helpful in Africa. I actually wear mine every day when I’m snowboarding in the mountains. It’s been one of my top travel accessory investments ever!
Skin cancer is for real! Don’t forget your SPF when traveling around Africa. We recommend ordering some online before leaving the house as you will need it underneath the sun in the summer.
We highly recommend getting an eco friendly sun cream that does not contain harmful chemicals.
Make sure to protect your eyes from the sun. There are a lot of options for sunglasses and everyone should own at least a pair. It’s best to make sure they do have UV protection for the health of your eyes.
We made our first investment in quality polarized sunglasses with a pair of SMITH Optics Lowdown 2. Truthfully, not everyone needs to invest $150 in a pair of sunglasses, but they do make a huge difference from the crappy $10 ones.
Most hotels will provide you with a towel, but they often aren’t suitable or allowed on the beaches. I like to travel with a microfiber towel because they are light and fold up small, and they also don’t cling on to sand our dirt. Here are a few of our favorite travel towels.
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