During our self drive trip through Namibia in 2018, my wife and I decided to try scenic hot air ballooning over the Namib desert.
Here are the facts, 11 FAQ’s about hot air ballooning and most importantly – the pictures. First though here are my key takeaways.
IS A NAMIBIA HOT AIR BALLOON TRIP WORTH IT?
A once in a lifetime experience and without doubt the highlight of our trip YES it is definitely worth it. Ensure you do the following to get the most out of your hot air balloon flight:
- Dress appropriately for the weather – it is several degrees warmer in the air than on the ground in winter but wear a warm jacket as you leave at sunrise.
- Take a good camera with a 50 mm or 35 mm focal length. A 24 – 70 mm lens is ideal.
This truly romantic adventure begins before dawn and ends with cheese and sparkling wine as you enjoy a celebratory breakfast before you drive back.
You will also be presented with a flight certificate to commemorate your flight over the highest dunes in the world.
Where is Sossusvlei Namibia?
The Sossusvlei area is a salt and clay pan surrounded by high red sand dunes, located in Namibia’s Namib Desert, the oldest desert in the world.
Can I take a Camera on a Hot Air Balloon Safari?
A balloon trip provides incredible photographic opportunities. The answer is of course yes you can – but perhaps the question should be – is it safe to take a camera on a balloon Safari?
If you are like me, you don’t use a camera strap. I stopped using one a long time ago as it used to get in the way.
Some of the shots you will see here were taken by me leaning out over the balloon basket and shooting straight down.
I didn’t have a strap on the camera and I had a couple of nervous moments I can tell you!
I would have felt a lot more comfortable if I had a camera strap around my neck but didn’t drop my camera so all is well that end’s well.
You can take great photographs from a balloon with your mobile phone camera and some of the other passengers were doing exactly that.
I must say I got a bit queasy watching one guy leaning out over the basket and shooting downwards with his phone.
I am not entirely sure but I don’t think that even the toughest phone would survive a 1 km drop to earth.
I have never seen a neck strap for a mobile phone but maybe I missed something.
Anyway – take a camera strap!
Once the balloon is airborne you get a great opportunity to watch the sunrise as you drift along silently.
All of the images in this article were taken by me with the following equipment:
Nikon D850 DSLR
Nikon 70 – 200mm f2.8 lens
Sigma 50mm f1.4 lens
In hindsight I should have taken a wider lens with me and I would suggest that as long as you can cover 20mm to 85mm you will be able to capture all of the images that you need.
If you go too wide you will get the basket and passengers in shot so 20mm or 24mm would be the widest you want to go in my opinion.
Where to stay in Sossusvlei
We stayed at Kulala Desert Lodge in the Sesriem area, which is 350 kilometers south of Windhoek and easily accessible with a 4 x 4 vehicle.
You could probably make it in a normal sedan but I would advise against it.
The price is about USD 500 per person per night and this is full board including nature drives and walking trails but excludes hot air ballooning.
Other popular lodges served by the same balloon operator:
Le Mirage Desert Lodge
Sossusvlei Desert Lodge
You will be collected at your lodge and taken over to the meeting point at the launch site.
The Hot Air Balloon trip operator
The Sossusvlei balloon trip is owned and operated by Namib Sky Balloon Safaris.
They have been operating balloon Safaris in Namibia since 1991. Their pilots are all highly qualified.
How much does it cost for a Namibian Hot Air Balloon Safari?
The cost is USD 425 per person as at fall 2022.
When is the best time to go Hot Air Ballooning in Namibia?
Hot air ballooning in Sossusvlei is closed on 25 December and 1 January but is otherwise open for bookings all year other than a short break from mid January to mid February – the hottest time of the year there.
We went in early August in order to avoid the freezing cold winter and the blazing hot summer months.
Is Hot Air Ballooning Safe?
Namib Sky have a 100% safety record and have flown over 100 000 people in 30 years.
They only fly in perfect weather conditions and will not take off if the pilot feels it not safe.
How many people can go on a Hot Air Balloon Trip?
The baskets in Namib Sky’s balloons accommodate either 12 or 16 people excluding the pilot.
There is a lot of room to move around and take photographs even though the basket is divided into distinct compartments.
Are children allowed on a Hot Air Balloon Safari?
Children are allowed as long as they are over 1.2m tall. This is to ensure that all passengers can see over the basket.
Smaller children are welcome to follow along with the ground crew in the retrieving vehicles. They will meet up with you at the landing for the champagne breakfast.
How high does the Hot Air Balloon Fly?
You reach an altitude of about 1 000 meters (0.6 miles) over this vast desert before descending.
Depending on the weather the balloon flight can be as much as 10 kms (6 miles) before you land approximately 45 minutes later.
How does the Pilot control the Hot Air Balloon?
The morning we went up, there was hardly any breeze at all but we still seemed to drift along at a fair pace.
The pilot navigates by adjusting the heat coming from the burner, particularly when ascending and descending.
The balloon travels with the wind, at the same speed and direction.
A skilled pilot can use the air currents to change direction while flying and it does seem as though the flight is not totally random.
Landings are often accomplished directly onto the back of a low bed trailer.
There was a second balloon up with us and they attempted a trailer landing which wasn’t quite successful but an impressive display of piloting none the less!
More often than not the basket makes contact with the ground and then tips over when you land.
This is called a ‘sport’ landing. You have plenty of time to brace yourself in the correct position so it is not as scary as it sounds.
At the time of booking our Namibia safari I was unsure whether to book a hot air balloon trip or a short flight up the Skeleton Coast in a small plane to photograph the ship wrecks.
I am very pleased I chose the balloon trip as it was not only exhilarating it is also very easy to get great photographs.
The landscape in the area needs to be seen to be believed. The view of the 80 million year old Namib desert from 1 000 meters up is awe inspiring, almost indescribable.
The champagne breakfast afterward wasn’t bad either!
The balloon trip is pricey at USD 450 but I would suggest that it is definitely worth it.
Thank heavens for cameras!
Do it. You won’t regret it.