If you’re a sucker for panoramic views and you don’t mind heights, hot-air ballooning is a great way to see a place from a totally different angle in (almost) total serenity. It’s much cheaper and quieter than a helicopter ride, and those who don’t like flying might even appreciate the open-air basket and overall tranquility of the experience. Although every single inch of this planet would probably look amazing from above, these seven spots, from Mexico to Turkey, might be the most jaw-dropping.
1. Teotihuacan, Mexico
Teotihuacan is an ancient, holy Mesoamerican city located northeast of Mexico’s capital. Its earliest pre-Columbian relics are believed to have been established around 100 BC, and the area has been recognized by UNESCO for its cultural and historical values. When you aren’t busy climbing to the top of the Temple of Quetzalcoatl, take in the pyramid complex from over a thousand feet in the air. There’s no better way to get a full-on view of the Sun and Moon Pyramids; plus, the balloons themselves look like works of art, so you’ll actually enjoy sharing the sky with other riders. On average, standard tours in Teotihuacan start at $100 per person and kick off with a coffee reception or pre-boarding breakfast.
2. Luxor, Egypt
Luxor is often called the largest open-air museum in the world given how packed it is with ancient Egyptian sites, but it’s also known for being a top spot for hot-air ballooning. Riders will float over the Valley of the Kings opposite Luxor on the West Bank of the Nile where pharaohs once ruled, getting great views of the temples and tombs left behind. Book with Sinbad Hot Air Balloons, the largest operator in Egypt, and you’ll find great deals on standard and deluxe flights for around $90 and $100 per person, respectively.
3. Vilnius, Lithuania
Vilnius is steadily climbing the ranks of European hotspots, but there’s still a lot that travelers don’t know about the Lithuanian capital, including its reputation for hosting killer hot-air-balloon rides. For a twist on a more traditional tour of the Old Town, consider flying over the Gothic towers and Roman Catholic cathedrals that fill the baroque city center. Another option is to explore nearby lake town of Trakai, which sits fewer than 20 miles west of Vilnius, via balloon. Smile Balloons, Hot Air Lines, and Ballooning Centre Lithuania have all perfected the Lithuanian ballooning experience and offer a variety of unforgettable packages.
4. Albuquerque, New Mexico
Albuquerque plays host to one of the largest hot-air balloon festivals in the world. Every October, pilots take to the skies above the Sandia Mountains in creatively patterned aircrafts as part of the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, earning the city its status as a premier hot-air-ballooning destination. For your everyday ballooning needs, World Balloon — whose founder also started the annual fiesta — has been offering tours for more than 40 years. Wake up with the sun and set out over the Rio Grande Valley, studying every inch of the namesake river and surrounding mountains from above. Group tours start at $99 for kids and $159 for adults. You can also arrange private flights if you’re willing to pay extra.
5. Yarra Valley, Australia
Located just outside Melbourne, the Yarra Valley is one of Australia’s most coveted wine regions, making it a particularly scenic place to check out from above. Admire swaths of vineyard and the Yarra River, which cuts across the patchwork landscape, from the basket of a balloon, and you’ll find a new appreciation for just how beautiful wine country can be. You can also double up with a joint hot-air balloon and wine-tasting tour. Book a one-hour ride with Global Ballooning Melbourne and enjoy watching your balloon get inflated before you head out.
6. Bagan, Myanmar
Bagan is an archaeological city that is home to thousands of ancient temples. There’s no wrong way to see the ruins, but getting a bird’s-eye view is one of the most memorable ways to take them in. Ballooning season in Bagan starts in October and ends in April, and most rides take off at sunrise when the temperature is cool and the landscape is aglow in dewy morning light. There are several notable operators in the area, including the pioneering Balloons Over Bagan, and classic tours will run you around $350 per person across the board.
7. Cappadocia, Turkey
Brightly colored balloons can almost always be seen floating over Cappadocia’s rocky landscape. On any given day, you might think that you stumbled upon a major festival, but the region is just that popular for hot-air ballooning. In fact, half the fun of taking to the skies here is gazing out at the neighboring aircraft, their rainbow designs offset by the stone cones, pillars, pinnacles, mushrooms, and fairy chimneys below. Most balloon tours of Cappadocia last between one and three hours, and many operators offer breakfast before the flight, as well as snacks or Champagne on board. Butterfly Balloons and Royal Ballon are both excellent choices for your aerial excursions over Turkey’s Central Anatolia.
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