Many destinations are known for the unique modes of transportation travelers can use to explore them. There’s rickshawing your way through the hutongs of Beijing, taking a tuk tuk tour of Bangkok and traversing the Great Indian Desert of Rajasthan on camelback. These seven destinations are best experienced from above via the basket of a hot-air balloon. The open-air, subtle pace and, let’s be honest, the white-knuckle nature of riding in a balloon only add to the already stunning landscapes of places like Myanmar, Turkey and the Serengeti.
1. Cappadocia, Turkey
Photo via Flickr / by Arian Zwegers
The colorful hot-air balloons over Turkey’s Cappadocia region create an extraordinary sight when paired with the lunar-like landscape that make it so famous. You’ll sail over honeycombed rock formations and fairy chimneys that are the result of ancient volcanic eruptions. The UNESCO World Heritage is worth exploring on foot as well, but getting the aerial perspective is not to be missed. Balloon tours vary in size and length, but most depart from Göreme.
2. Bagan, Myanmar
Photo via Flickr / by Christopher Michel
The only thing that can make a visit to Bagan any more enchanting is to see it by hot-air balloon. The ancient city and current UNESCO World Heritage Site is home to more than 2,000 temples, which are all that remain of the 10,000 that were built there between the 11th and 13th centuries. The 26-square-mile Bagan Archaeological Zone can be explored by bike, foot or horse and carriage tour, but ballooning over Bagan means seeing it in full. You’ll be granted views of the seemingly endless expanse of temples dotting the horizon without having to experience the back-breaking bumpy dirt roads that are a part of seeing the temples on land.
3. Serengeti National Park, Tanzania
Photo via Flickr / by David Berkowitz
Experiencing an African safari is high on many travelers’ bucket lists and one of the most quintessential places to do that is Serengeti National Park. At nearly 6,000 square miles and home to one of the largest herds of grazing animals in the world, witnessing the massive migration of thousands of mammals is an experience to lust for. You could walk it or take a jeep tour, but the unobstructed panoramic views of the expansive savannah and the lions, leopards, giraffes, zebras and more that call it home can’t be beat from the basket of a balloon. Rides go up with the sun and last around an hour.
4. Albuquerque, New Mexico
Photo via Flickr / by David Herrera
Dubbed the Balloon Capital of the World, it should be no surprise that Albuquerque is home to the International Balloon Fiesta. Each fall, the world’s largest hot-air balloon festival draws spectators from around the planet who watch as hundreds of balloons take flight over the city. A combination of near-perfect ballooning conditions and a stunning landscape make the area a great year-round destination for those who have riding in a balloon on their bucket list.
5. Luxor, Egypt
Photo via Flickr / by Naka Kei
A balloon ride over modern day Luxor (ancient Thebes) will present the land of pharaohs and its archeological wonders painted in sunrise hues. Tours depart at dawn and take you over a considerably large open-air museum. You’ll soar above the Nile, Coptic churches, mosques, temples, tombs (including King Tut’s), monuments and more after lifting off.
6. Napa Valley, California
Photo via Flickr / by Ali Hamdany
For a unique perspective on Napa Valley see its famous vineyards from the air. Balloon tours offer panoramic views of the northern California wine country and surrounding sights. Some tours even promise glimpses of Mount St. Helena and Yellowstone National Park’s Old Faithful. Aim for a sunrise tour that starts with coffee and ends with a champagne toast.
7. Chateau d’Oex, Switzerland
Photo via Flickr / by Sam Nabi
Crisp air and the snowy landscape make Château d’Oex in the Swiss Alps a ballooner’s paradise. An annual balloon festival is held in January and makes the perfect time to to plan a trip. The only thing truly hot about your visit will be your balloon ride, but an aerial tour of the region offers all-too-cool views of iconic Swiss images like Mont Blanc and the Matterhorn. Chateau d’Oex is also home to Espace Ballon, a museum dedicated to hot-air balloons. After you visit the permanent exhibit you’ll have all the inspiration you need to board a basket and take flight.
Paste Travel’s Bucket List columnist Lauren Kilberg is a Chicago-based freelance writer. Her travels have found her camping near the Pakistani border of India and conquering volcanoes in the Philippines.