A hot air balloon trip has been on our bucket list for many years now, so in mid-December we finally took the plunge and booked ourselves onto an early morning trip with Balloon Adventure Emirates.
Balloon Adventure Emirates are currently the only company to offer hot air balloon trips in the UAE (though a new Egyptian-based operator is said to be starting flights soon). All trips must be undertaken early in the morning before the air becomes to hot… So we found ourselves waiting outside the Dubai Outlet Mall on a cold December morning at 5:50am.
As promised we were picked up by our captain (the hilarious captain Peter) and shuttled out to the desert launch site at Margham, close to the Skydive Dubai desert campus on the Dubai to Al Ain highway. As we approached the site we could see two large balloons being filled – as sudden bursts of flames punctuated the pre-dawn landscape. It was quite a surreal sight to behold as the balloons inflated to become our morning form of transportation.
Before boarding the balloon we were given a short safety briefing, in which it was explained to us exactly how to board the balloon and how to prepare for landing. We were also provided with safety belts to attach around our waists and before we knew it… it was tome to go!
The balloon basket itself is made up of four compartments, each of which can hold five people and is surprisingly snug! Just as the balloon is about to launch into the skies, just so happens to be the time to enter the basket – making for a mad scramble as everyone tries to clamber aboard before the inevitable lift off! It is a lot of fun and makes for an exhilarating start to the adventure.
Within seconds of everyone entering the basket we were airborne, which is the most bizarre feeling as the movement of the balloon is so steady and smooth, that it is difficult to believe that you are actually moving at all. The first thing we noticed about being in the balloon, was that overtime the fire was released to project more hot air into the canopy – it is HOT! You can feel the intensity of the heat when the flame fires and it is a little uncomfortable. Being a desert launch you must also prepare yourself for sand particles falling onto you from the recently inflated balloon – so wear sunglasses to protect your eyes!
As we steadily rose away from the ground, the sun began to slowly creep above the horizon, casting away the shadows and bathing the desert landscape with warm hues of orange. Our captain told us that because it was a rare cloudy day, that we would go above the usual altitude of 2000 ft so that we could view the cloud formations from above! He checked with air traffic control and before we knew it we were sailing at a breezy 4,500 ft above the Dubai desert. It must be noted that at no point did it feel particularly high, nor did it feel unsafe to be in the balloon – so those of you who are unsure about heights, should rest assure that this is an amazing experience that you certainly must try. Being exposed to the elements was actually quite a calming and serene experience and surprisingly it was much warmer in the air than it was at ground level (what with hot air rising and all that).
As Dubai awoke far below us, all we could feel was a sense of stillness and of absolute quiet – a completely different world from the busy metropolis just a few kilometres away in the distance.
The hot air balloon travels at approximately 40kmph, but in all honesty you don’t even feel as though you are moving. The captain would rotate the basket for us so that we could get panoramic views of the desert and the clouds – which can only be described as awe-sinpring and one of the most memorable experiences of our lives.
The balloon is guided via the assistance of an iPad which maps the route and also the air pressure and wind speeds. After an hour or so in the sky we were contemplating landing locations – needing to find somewhere that was relatively flat, free of obstructions and somewhere that the sand was not too deep (so that the balloon could be easily retrieved).
We travelled over a number of palm groves and livestock farms as we took in the surrounding scenery – it was actually very green for the fact that we were in the middle of the desert and the geometric patterns of palm groves and camel feed fields gave us a greater appreciation our aerial vantage point. The area over which the balloons take flight is in fact a nature reserve, though unfortunately we didn’t see any Oryx, but we were rewarded with a number of camel sightings.
The slow descent and landing was actually our favourite part of the experience as we glided just above the endless sand dunes, providing us with a real opportunity to take in the expanse of sand that seemingly spread out in all directions. It really did make us realise how lucky we are to have the opportunity to live in such a beautiful country with its natural beauty to perfectly complement those futuristic cityscapes.
As we prepared to land, there were a few occasions when it seemed plausible that we might hit an obstacle en route – these included sand dunes, a bush and even a fence! Yet Captain Peter knew exactly what he was doing and settled us down on a nice flat section of sand… only for the basket to tip up and send us all horizontal! It was an exhilarating bit of fun – though certainly not for the faint of heart!
After we clambered back out of the balloon’s basket we were deep in the desert surrounded by dunes and camels, the sun still hadn’t fully risen and there was a thin layer of mist in the air – providing the whole scene with a magical quality. Within seconds the balloon was tethered and deflated, ready for the next day and apart from the flight certificate that we were awarded – it was almost as though the whole experience has never happened!
We can’t recommend the ballooning experience enough. There are many locations worldwide where you can participate in such an activity – but we loved the experience of travelling over the desert and its ever changing landscape of shifting sands! Ballooning Adventures run flights seven days a week from September until May – so get you booking in now! Further details available are at: http://www.ballooning.ae
All views within this blog are our own and all photographs are © Out & About UAE, unless otherwise stated.