There’s not much that gets me up and out of bed before sunrise – even on three hours sleep though, there wasn’t much that was going to stop me venturing out in the crisp early-morning air on a hot air ballooning adventure.
Once the shock of the 3.20am alarm wore off, we clambered out of bed, rugged up warm and ventured outside, awaiting our ride. A 20 minute journey took us back into Luxor where we boarded our felucca (a traditional Egyptian boat) and warmed up with a cup of arabic tea (well I didn’t, but others did!) before setting off on the short trip across the River Nile.
Upon arriving at our departure point (in what appeared to be an empty lot or carpark) we were briefed. Safety was paramount and a fair bit of time was spent preparing up for landing – we’d never really considered how one would land a balloon but as they’re guided by the wind, it’s understandable that they don’t just touch the ground and stop (hence the need for a landing position).
As this was our first hot air ballooning experience, we didn’t really know what to expect. We toyed with the idea of going up in Kenya but at USD500 per person, it was well and truly out of our budget. Having seen amazing photographs of hot air balloons in Luxor online, I had hoped the experience might be more affordable than in Eastern Africa and fortunately, we were right. At USD50 each (+ tips) hot air ballooning is within the reach of the majority of tourists in Luxor.
As the balloon slowly but steadily rose above the ground, a touch of nerves set in. I’ve done all sorts of silly things (bungy jumping, sky diving, white water rafting, jumping off buildings; most of which a number of times) but the sensation I experienced in the balloon was unlike anything else. The balloon moves effortlessly through the air with an almost unnerving silence which is broken only occasionally by the sound of gas being released by the pilot.
The hot air balloon initially rose to approximately 3,000 feet which was much higher than we’d expected. I don’t generally have an issue with heights but Nathan did feel a bit uneasy about being that high and even I felt a little funny about it. Although it’s peaceful up there, you suddenly become very aware of your own mortality; the realisation hit home that we were floating in a cane basket, a kilometre up in the air, with flames above us and a number of gas bottles beside us.
With that said though, the view from up there was incredible and Mohamed, our pilot was experienced and professional.
Before long, we descended to a more comfortable height (I would estimate more like 1,000 feet) where we stayed for the majority of the flight.
There were five balloons up that morning and it was a treat being able to watch the other balloons move so beautifully through the sky – if you’re considering booking a hot air balloon ride, I’d recommend doing it in an area where there will be other balloons too. #1 (chances are) your flight will be cheaper due to competition and #2, watching the other balloons really adds to the experience.
From the balloon we enjoyed the glorious sunset (seriously, check out those photos!) and floated our way slowly away from the Valley of the Kings, over the Nine and past Luxor, before finishing up over the beautiful Egyptian farmland. The Egyptains have long been known for their ingenious irrigation and it was fantastic seeing the result of this from above. We were surprised by just how diverse the scenery was from above and would certainly recommend seeing it for yourself from the air in Luxor – mountains, desert, cityscape, farmland, the River Nile – it had just about everything!
Altogether our balloon ride lasted approximately 45 minutes which felt very generous. It allowed us to move through our nerves and enjoy the views in a more relaxed manner and before we knew it, we were arriving back at our accommodation ready to enjoy breakfast (at about 7am).
A tick off the bucket-list for sure!
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If you’re interested in hot air ballooning in Luxor (and why wouldn’t you?), we’d suggest getting in touch with Sindbad Hot Air Balloons. We checked out the reviews on Trip Advisor first and asked Mohamed, our driver, to book us in with Sindbad as they had by far the longest history of reviews. Upon arriving, however, we realised that all the companies depart from the same area and they all appeared to be as safe and professional as each other. I don’t think you could go too far wrong either way.