Maasai Mara National Reserve is an area of preserved Savannah wilderness in southwestern Kenya, along the Tanzanian border. Its animals include lions, cheetahs, elephants, zebras and hippos.
Wildebeest traverse its plains during their annual migration. The landscape has grassy plains and rolling hills, and is crossed by the Mara and Talek rivers. The area nearby is dotted with villages (enkangs) of Maasai people.
Until you have floated above the glory of the Masai Mara, and looked down on the drama of the wildlife theatre below, it’s hard to appreciate just how magical a balloon safari in Kenya can be. The essential ‘once-in-a-lifetime experience’, a balloon safari has it all – drama, adventure, euphoria and fascination.
Every flight is different: you might find yourself sailing past eagle chicks in their nests; or above snorting, chortling hippos in their pools. Floating along in silence, you will look down on the mosaic of patterns created by galloping zebras, leaping antelope, and browsing buffalo. A silent observer, high above them, you present no threat to the wildlife.
So, you may catch a cheetah in pursuit of its kill, a pair of antelopes with their horns locked in combat, a pride of lions at play. Drifting through the cool of the morning air, you can track the wildebeest as they career across the plains or look down on the giraffe as they browse the tree-tops.
Dipping low over the churning waters of the river, you’ll have a bird’s eye view of the huge basking crocodiles. Finally, you can descend to partake of the ultimate luxury – breakfast served against the majestic backdrop of the cloud-shadowed plains.
The balloon take off early to catch the breeze, so you’ll leave camp at around 5 am. Arriving at the take-off point, you’ll meet your fully-qualified balloon pilot. Now is the time to watch as the massive multi-colored balloon is slowly filled with hot air.
At first the balloon lies prone so as to allow the burners to fill it with hot air. Eventually, however, it will rise slowly into the pink-grey of the dawn sky. At a signal from the ground staff, you will be invited to clamber into the balloon’s stout wicker basket (a typical balloon carries around 8-16 passengers and is equipped with seats and safety belts).
When everyone is settled into their seats, the sandbags will be cast off; the lift-off team will stand back. And the balloon will rise into the cool of the morning air. It’s an awe-inspiring moment.
Driven by the wind, and guided by jets of hot air from its gas-burners (which allow it to rise or fall according to the pilot’s direction), the balloon will fly for a period of around 45 minutes (trailed by a team of ground vehicles).
Then, as the morning sun rises, it will descend to a gentle ‘controlled-landing’ on the plains. Celebrating your flight with a glass of sparkling wine, you will receive your individualized ‘flight certificate’ before sitting down to a full English breakfast.