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GET HIGH ON WILDERNESS

The Maasai Mara is Kenya’s most impressive landscape- its great game rich plains are iconic Africa at its best. For any visitor to the Mara, the best way to appreciate the Mara is from above, on a dawn balloon flight.

A balloon is the perfect safari vehicle- able to glide silently across the plains without disturbing the herds below, and at the flick of a hot air burner the basket can be whisked from a high altitude viewpoint to skim low across the grasslands.

The Mara has long been considered the ultimate ballooning location by hot air enthusiasts- and its easy to see why. Perfect flying conditions are matched by expansive big sky, incredible views to enjoy whichever you turn, and Kenya’s world famous big game below the basket.

The Mara is over 200 sq miles of open plains, woodlands and riverine forest. Contiguous with the plains of the Serengeti, the vast grassland plains are scattered with herds of Zebra, Giraffe, Gazelle, and Topi, preyed upon by Africa’s largest population of lion, cheetah and leopard. The Acacia forests abound with birdlife and monkeys, while elephants and buffalo wallow in the swamplands.

One of the longest established balloon bases in the Mara is Keekerok lodge- which remains a base for Transworld Safaris, who operate daily balloon flights servicing numerous lodges and camps in the area.

Keekorok has recently undergone a major renovation undertaken by its new owners Wilderness Lodges. The lodge offers comfortable, well appointed rooms with views of the surrounding plains.

The lodge has a raised boardwalk surrounding a waterhole that is regularly visited by game and is home to a resident family of hippos.

Balloon Safaris not booked in advance can be booked directly at Keekorok and other lodges. A balloon flight means rising earlier than the usual time for a morning game drive- but it is an early start that is richly rewarded.

Guests are driven to meet their balloons which are inflated with the gradual release of hot air from the burners, the balloon slowly taking shape and rising high above the darkened plains, their illuminated core matched by the first rays of sunrise on the horizon.

Following a briefing by the pilot, passengers board their basket (some of the world’s largest carrying up to 16 passengers). Take off is a very smooth gentle affair, with a rapid ascent high over the plains to enjoy a spectacular Mara sunrise.

Dawn reveals a remarkable range of life on the plains- as grazing herds spread out to take in the warmth, and predators return from their nocturnal hunting expeditions. Balloons descend on the plains with the new day, and the flight crosses the plain at treetop level.

Game viewing from a balloon depends on the whims of the wind and the season, but in wilderness like the Mara, there is always a rich and varied selection on offer.

From the spectacle of a cheetah kill to the vultures crowding treetops waiting for their share- a balloon offers a new perspective on the bigger picture of dependence and harmony of species on the savannah. Low passes over rivers give a unique vantage point for viewing hippos and crocodiles, and treetops reveal raptors, rare birds and primates.

On occasion, guests are lucky enough to see the “Big Five” (Lion, Elephant, Buffalo, Leopard and Rhino) in a single flight. The recent increase in Rhino populations in the Mara has meant an increase in sightings of these rare creatures, which are often more visible from the air.

Once a year, the Mara plays host to the world’s greatest natural spectacle, the Great Wildebeest Migration from the Serengeti. From July to October, the promise of rain and fresh life giving grass in the North brings more than 1.3 million Wildebeest together into a single massive herd. Balloons offer a front row seat for this spectacle as they skim over the herds.

The end of a balloon safari is always followed by a champagne breakfast served al fresco on the plains, letting guests relax and enjoy themselves in the morning sun, becoming part of the great life cycle they have witnessed from above.

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