Crash-landing in the Desert
Riding in a hot air balloon has been on my bucket list for years. I've waited for the perfect moment and finally got a chance to check it off the list while vacationing in Dubai.
We booked our trip through Hot Air Balloon Dubai, a company we found only two days before the tour. The call time for the tour is 5am, so the night before the tour, we made sure to get back to our hotel in enough time to get some rest. By 4am, we were up showering and getting dressed and made it to the lobby by 5.
Our driver arrived on schedule. Because of COVID restrictions on tour vehicles' capacity, there weren't many other stops to make. There was one other family in the van with us. It was early morning, so we didn't utter much more than a grunt and nod of acknowledgment to one another.
We drove for about 45-minutes before arriving at a rest stop where several other tour vans were waiting. During the pit stop, the vans fill up on gas, count their passengers, and ensure the safety waivers are signed. After a short period, we were back on the road for another 20 minutes before driving through bumpy sand dunes to our hot air balloon starting point in the middle of the desert.
When we arrived, the balloons were being laid out in the sand and prepped for inflation. There was tea and coffee for us to warm up while we watched the balloons being setup.
Tip: I didn't notice any bathrooms, so be sure to use the restroom during the pit stop.
As the sun started to rise, they began to inflate the balloon. The burner's heat helped to warm us up, which was much appreciated because the desert is freezing in the morning! Tip: wear warm clothes!
The loading process is a bit chaotic: we had to climb into the basket while several men held it down so it wouldn't float away. Once we were in the basket, there was a lot of yelling and movement as they continued inflating the balloon. At some point in all of this organized chaos, and after a short safety briefing, we started taking off into the air.
The balloon goes around 2,700 feet into the sky, the same height as the tallest building globally, the Burj Khalifa. We were able to see the sunrise over the mountains of Oman and wild gazelle walking in the desert. The sand dunes have a rhythmic pattern that shows their natural beauty.
Spot two wild gazelle walking in the picture below:
We were in the air for about an hour when we had to land because of the winds. As we landed, our basket bumped the ground twice and then flipped on its side. We had to climb out of the basket sideways, which was totally unexpected.
The balloon's captain kept constant radio communication with the ground crew, so they knew where we were at all times. After the hot air balloon landed in the desert, several pickup trucks came to our location to pick us up. We had a very turbulent drive dune bashing to our tour's final stop, where we met up with our original van driver.
The tour price includes a "gourmet breakfast," which is really a continental breakfast of eggs, fruit, pancakes, and toast. After breakfast, we were able to ride camels and take pictures. You can also take a picture with a hawk. In the past, these birds helped the bedouins hunt in the desert.
The guide did not rush us, and we were able to spend as much time as we needed getting pictures and riding the camels. After everyone from your tour van is ready to leave, the guide drops everyone off at their respective hotels. All of this happens before 11am, so you still have the rest of the day to enjoy more of Dubai.
Riding hot air balloons is a great bucket list activity. Dubai is the perfect place to have this memorable experience!