Sunday, November 1, 2015

Uganda Balloon Safari

Flying over Queen Elizabeth NP
It was barely light when we climbed into the large woven basket.  As we surveyed our surroundings, the pilot blasted the burners above our heads a couple of times.  The lead member of the ground crew smiled at us and said “you’re flying by the way” I looked over the edge of the basket and we were indeed floating a few inches off the ground.  Another few blasts of the burner and we were a few feet off the ground.  This was just the beginning of an hour floating over the beautiful savannah of Queen Elizabeth National Park.  This new activity that has been recently introduced to Uganda, takes watching the sunrise and looking for lions to a whole new level, literally.

Our experience began in the dark.  The ground crew met us at the Kasenyi gate at 5:30am and after some tests to determine wind direction and speed, a takeoff location was determined and we followed the crew there.  When we arrived, we met our Egyptian pilot Mohammed, who briefed us on what we were about to experience.  As we sipped our steaming cups of coffee, the crew unpacked the balloon and began the cold inflation process using large fans.  I was quite surprised at the size of the balloon, it was much larger than I expected with a capacity of 300,000 cubic feet. 

Inside the balloon
Once the balloon was mostly inflated, we were invited inside, which was pretty amazing.  We learned about the internal workings of the balloon and about the ropes used by the pilot to control the balloon during flight.  Next the hot inflation began, with the burners blasting hot air into the balloon, it slowly started to rise up off the ground in a vertical position.  Once fully inflated, it was time to get in for our flight.

Once inside the basket, we slowly began to lift up off the ground and could hear lions in a nearby thicket.  Our pilot Mohammed was a friendly guy with incredible piloting skills.  Using varying altitudes he navigated us over the thicket several times in hopes of spotting the lions that we could hear.  Although they were very vocal, they were well hidden and eluded us.  As the sun rose, we enjoyed views of the savannah and Lake George while elephant, hippo, and antelope wandered below us.  Our flight varied between a few feet from the ground to an altitude of 2000 feet.  The sensation of flying in a balloon is hard to describe as it’s like nothing else.  Floating above the park, the silence of the savannah below is only periodically broken by blasts from the burners.  The perspective from the
Inflating the balloon with hot air
balloon is truly unique.  We are so used to seeing our surroundings from the ground, however this bird's eye view gives a new appreciation for the entire ecosystem.  Small veins of dark green vegetation carrying water to depressions in the earth where water collects intersected by trails made by wildlife.  Flying just inches over the tops of Euphorbia trees and seeing the thickets from above was the most fascinating part for me.  Flights generally last approximately an hour depending on winds and the availability of a suitable landing site.

After the flight we were met by the ground crew and celebrated the traditional way with a glass of bubbly before sitting down to a delicious bush breakfast.  Fresh juice, tea, coffee, cereal, yogurt and a selection cooked items were served by Mweya Lodge.  Dining in the bush and discussing the details of the flight made for an unforgettable finale to our adventure.

Uganda Balloon Safaris is fully certified by the Civil Aviation Authority and has over 10 years of flying experience in Egypt, Turkey and now Uganda.  Their expertise is evident by the professionalism of the entire crew.  Hot air ballooning over Queen Elizabeth NP offers a unique way to start the day on safari.  As no two flights are the same, you are guaranteed an exclusive experience that you’ll never forget.  

+256 (0) 759 00 2552  

Sunrise over Queen Elizabeth Natrional Park as seen from the hot air balloon

1 comment:

  1. Awesome post, I’ve a wish to see mountain gorillas for a long time. So I can’t wait, I will have a Gorilla trek in Rwanda this year.