One of the options that I have planned for my 2016 safari schedule is a hot air balloon ride across the Masai Mara in Kenya, and so when I was on safari scouting our locations, I took the flight myself. Oh, my goodness what a fun and amazing adventure.

I’ve never been in a hot air balloon before, and while I thought it would be fun, I assumed that photographing from the balloon would not be that great. I was wrong, mostly because I didn’t realize how precise these flying machines are. We soared to several thousand feet and then back down to perhaps 50 feet or so to get a good luck at the wildlife. The cheetah cub photograph is among my favorite images of the entire safari! It was very smooth sailing; I have been on way worse airplane rides. The flight is eerily quiet until the pilot hits the burners and then it is hot and loud.

Cheetah cub staring at our hot air balloon as we flew over them in the Masai Mara. Photographed by Jeff Wendorff

Cheetah cub watching us fly over in the hot air balloon.

After taking the trip, I am very excited to travel on a more exciting trip during the great migration. Imagine the plains filled to the horizon with millions of migrating wildebeest and gazelles. Too cool!

The trip itself is simple enough although I will say that getting in and out of the basket was not that simple. You climb the 3-foot tall basket that has holes that you can place your feet. Perhaps I didn’t do it right, but I didn’t think it was easy.

The pilot/guide was a lot of fun in a Disney Jungle Cruise sort of way. And you already know I love that ride. He did a super job of spotting wildlife and explaining what was going on during the 2-hour flight. The landing or as it is more correctly called, the “controlled crash” was bumpy, but we didn’t drag very far, and we didn’t tip over (a possibility) either, so I’d say it was very successful!

You can’t use a tripod, it’s tight flying in the 12 person basket, and they are fussy about things that my puncture the balloon or the person next to you! I highly recommend a neck strap for your camera. One girl apparently dropped her phone overboard, so keep that in mind.

My flight was nearly 2 hours because we had abnormally light wind. In fact, we had to climb to over 8000 feet to get favorable flying winds. I kept a GPS track, and so I know that our average speed was 7.8mph, and the max was 23.5mph. We flew 15.77 miles, and our max altitude was 8075 feet. Here is what it looks like on Google Earth. If you would like to see it live on Google Earth you can download the kmz file…HERE.

Masai Mara Hot Air Balloon Flight Route from Google Earth

Masai Mara Hot Air Balloon Flight Route

I am sure this will be offered on my 2017 safari schedule which will be up soon. Let me know if you’ve gone ballooning in Africa, I’d love to see what you thought!