By the end of my Tanzania safari with , I thought I’d seen it all. The week was extraordinary as we visited some of the most beautiful regions of the country, spotting more animals than I thought possible. Before leaving on the trip, we had coordinated a hot air balloon ride on our final morning with Abercrombie & Kent, what I thought would be a perfect final experience and a chance to get some nice aerial shots. What I didn’t anticipate though was that the Serengeti balloon safari would be one of the most extraordinary experiences on a trip full of them.
The Serengeti is a special place but it’s also massive, encompassing large swathes of both Tanzania and Kenya. Our safari experience with Abercrombie & Kent highlighted the best of this famous reserve though, staying in a more remote and secluded portion at Sanctuary Kusini Camp and then at the Four Seasons Serengeti in the more commonly visited Central Serengeti region. It was from there that on the final morning of one of the best travel experiences of my life that I awoke at the far too early hour of 4am for the chance to fly high above the grasslands of Tanzania.
I like hot air balloons but from my experience, getting up into the air can be a chore sometimes. All too often I’ve gotten up at an ungodly hour, been driven to a field in the middle of nowhere in the dark to be told that wind conditions wouldn’t allow a hot air balloon flight. It’s disappointing, but understandable and yet is the reason why I always hesitate a little before joining in on these experiences. As with all aspects of my Abercrombie & Kent experience though, I needn’t have worried and sure enough, the balloon captain was just as excited as we were that morning to lift off and see what we could find.
The sun was slowly rising as we too rose above the Serengeti. Sunrises seem bigger in Africa and that was definitely the case that morning as the rays seemed to envelop us all in a warm glow. As beautiful as that was, the real magic was about to be seen when we looked down at the newly lit Serengeti and saw an explosion of wildlife. Right below the balloon was a lone lion, eating a freshly caught wildebeest in a bloody show unlike anything I’d ever before witnessed. I couldn’t believe it, we had spent a week touring Tanzania and saw any number of amazing wildlife experiences, but this was different. As I soon realized, floating above the grasslands in a hot air balloon gave us unique access to the animals impossible to replicate in any other way.
Lions, hippos, elephants and more birds than I thought possible; the gentle winds carried us above all of them with a little help from the captain. Taking us down low, very low, the balloon floated a few feet above the heads of hippos, curious and confused about our intrusion into their pond. The best moment though occurred near the end of the hour-long flight when we were fortunate enough to find herds of zebra and wildebeest on the move, all part of the Great Migration that passes through every year. We were lucky; it was the end of the Migration season in that section of the Serengeti and no one was sure we’d find them, so when we finally did the moment was that much more memorable. Not liking the balloon soaring above them, the herds zigged and zagged to get away from us as we went in for a closer look.
More than an hour in the air felt like only a few minutes, the experience so special no one wanted it to end. Landing with near-perfect precision, while the active portion of the morning had come to an end, the hospitality was far from over. Driving us over to a “dining room” set up under a massive tree in the middle of the bush, the staff treated us to a white linen breakfast with all the trimmings – by far the best experience I’ve ever had with a hot air balloon company.
After already being awake for several hours, we were on an adrenalin high as we bid our goodbyes and thanked the captain and staff for the experience. I knew that it would be a nice morning, but I had no idea just how important to the overall safari experience it would be. That Serengeti balloon safari gave us access to wildlife and landscapes impossible to see in any other way and is yet one more example of the amazing services and offerings we enjoyed throughout our safari experience.