Long before the mechanised, industrial-scale carriages that crowd our skies today, mankind was flying with a little less sense and a little more style. The very first successful aeronautic endeavour was the hot air balloon, and the iconic original remains the vehicle of choice for romantics, if not airlines. The heady combination of adrenaline, altitude and astonishing panoramas builds a sensation of pure exhilaration, truly unlike anything else you’ve felt.
Exodus already takes you to many of the world’s most beautiful places. Sometimes, though, the only way to truly absorb the essence of a place is to take a step back (or in this case up) and view it from a loftier perspective. We’ve compiled a list of our all-time favourite hot air balloon rides, to give you a better idea of what’s on offer.
The North Pole
At the pinnacle of the globe, the whiteness disappears into infinite horizons on all sides. The scene is remarkable, but though you’ve reached the top of the world, you can always go a little higher. There is no doubt that the most impressive way to see the near-mythical, ever-changing snow-scape of the North Pole is from above. As you soar on the cool northern winds, drifting ever upwards and away from the bindings of gravity, the true vastness of the Arctic becomes apparent. It is endless, incomprehensible, and possessed of such beauty that it’s almost impossible to process. One thing is certain: the memory of this ride will never leave you.
Humanity’s aspirations and creativity rarely manifest in a more moving, surreally graceful form than our works of architecture. The ancient city of Bagan, in times gone past the capital of the Kingdom of Pagan, is the archetypal example of this principle; its myriad temples convey with their very form and structure an overwhelming sense of spiritual wonder. As you glide serenely above them, drinking in the vivid morning sunlight and watching it filter through the snaking tendrils of mist that dance amongst the pagodas and stupas, you may be struck by the same all-consuming awe that inspired the ancient builders.
The expansive plains of the Masai Mara are teeming with diverse animal life. This is a fact that becomes readily apparent as you drift ever skywards, your trajectory mirrored by the rising sun and the world shrinking below you. Regal lions recline in the spreading light, as elephants march across the grasslands and giraffes amble from one tree to the next in search of sustenance. Zebras, impalas, hyenas and buffalo each call the open wilds of the Mara home. The majesty of the natural world is epitomised by this ecology, and seeing it from above, all at once, is the best way to fully comprehend that fact.
In Cappadocia, the rock appears alive. Towering, warmly-coloured spires are scattered artfully over the terrain, and ancient towns and temples are built into the cliff-faces. The stone takes on shapes that seem to suggest it was left by gigantic sculptors, experimenting with the boundaries of form. Far from being inanimate, the sweeping curves and winding structures imply motion. Seen from a great height, in the basket of a gently gliding balloon, you could be forgiven for thinking that the Cappadocian landscape was a living thing. As you ride the currents and updrafts, you’ll be uniquely poised to appreciate this phenomenal place.
The tall sides of the Ngorongoro crater surround an isolated pocket of abundant wildlife. Within the huge geographical landmark almost all the animals of the plain live side-by-side; the crater is a self-contained ecosystem, home to a staggering variety of species. One in particular is extremely rare, found in very few other places on earth: the black rhino. The crater itself is a spectacular expanse of flat grassland and lakes, surrounded by a ring of comparatively small yet extremely steep mountains. The combination of these natural wonders makes for a balloon ride you’ll never forget.