One of the most serious bucket list activities I’ve had on my list forever is hot air ballooning. It’s up there with the usual: sky diving, climbing such and such mountain, paragliding (now checked off in NZ) and other wild adventures. I’ll be honest I actually had no idea ballooning was a popular thing to do in Luxor and it wasn’t even on our radar until the day before when our tour guide mentioned it as an add on experience. When I thought of taking a ride soaring over Luxor with sunrise on the Nile river slowly lighting up the monuments of the west bank including the valley of the kings we couldn’t turn the experience down.
*It’s also a pretty mild price compared to similar experiences in the US.
About our experience
Pickup was ungodly early at 3:15 and we needed to have all our luggage ready to go and checkout of the cruise ship. We met our tour manager for the morning who escorted us via van to pick up another group for the morning, and then on to a boat that would ferry us from the east bank of Luxor to the west bank.
Once at the boat we “signed in” and were given tea or coffee and small cookie while we waited for clearance from the river police to cross the Nile. This took almost an hour but we learned about landing positions for the balloon (very important safety info) and could see monuments on the west bank hill lit up nicely.
We also learned the layout of the basket which has 4 sections around one with the pilot in the middle. There would be 15 of us in total on our balloon– 2 families each that had 2 kids, another group of 4, the pilot, and then Braden and myself.
Once we had clearance to cross, it was a short boat ride to the other side, followed by another van that took us to the airfield. The airfield was pretty mindblowing and pretty indescribable unless you’ve visited other balloon festivals. So many giant air balloons filling up and expanding toward the sky at once. It was still dark so the light from the jets was even more stark and the roar was almost deafening amidst the silence of the early morning. We were lead to our specified balloon and instructed to get in while the balloon was almost full height and still on the ground.
In the air
Then there was a couple adrenaline filled moments as the ground team started releasing the ropes and the balloon began to drift upward above other balloons still filling and below still others that took off earlier. All around there was silence apart from the sound of the hot air jet punctuating the air as we drifted high and higher. It. Was. Magical.
Our pilot began to point out the significant monuments we were flying over including the windy path that snakes through the tombs in the valley of the kings, the stunning mortuary temple of queen Hatshepsut (right photo above), and the temple called Ramesseum (in honor of Ramesses II)(left photo above).
Slowly our pilot would turn us about so we could get the best view of everything in the valley and watch as the sun rose above the horizon of the Nile and the lights of the memorials flickered off. We were in the air over 40 minutes, taking in all the beauty you can only experience during flight. Between the sights of the other balloons too far away to hear over the sound of our own jet, silently lighting up as they drifted around us, and the cooler crisp air of the high altitude, it was an experience to remember.
After our specified time in the air, we made our way over the many agriculture fields of the west bank passing houses and canals. Our pilot steered us as close as he could to the edge of a field close to a road and the grounds crew came along to help pull us down and guide us into a good landing spot. While the description of landing earlier in the morning was a little scary, it was surprisingly easy and no cameras were harmed in the landing of the great balloon.
We waited around while the ground crew got everything brought down and got our certificates of flight. We tipped both the grounds crew and the pilot and were then ushered into a different van to meet up with the rest of our tour. (There were, of course, kids running around while things were packed up asking for money so that is where the peaceful experience ends).
The new van brought us and one other group from our flight to a café on the west bank to wait for our cruise ship tour guide and tour friends to meet up with us. We had around 15 minutes to have a coffee, dig in to our breakfasts packed from the cruise, and use the bathroom before we were ready to venture groundside- to the tombs and monuments of the west bank in Luxor.