We soared high above the Empty Quarter, the only sound the hiss of the propane gas releasing hot air to keep the balloon aloft. I had never been hot air ballooning before and neither had my friend Ellen (although friend Dorothy had been on several and assured us there was nothing to be afraid of, and indeed she was right).
The Empty Quarter is the desert between the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, and it stretches for miles in all directions – the perfect serene environment in which to soar. As if the bird’s eye view was not enough, the company we chose flies falcons from the balloons, which is poetically beautiful. Falcons are gorgeous and elegant creatures.
The hot air balloon requires cooler air around to achieve flight, and so the tour took off very early one morning (5:30am pickup) and we stayed up long enough to watch the sunrise. We were in a smaller balloon with only 8 people (plus the falconer and the pilot) aboard. When booking a hot air balloon ride, consider asking for a smaller balloon as we did – some of the larger balloons can hold dozens of people, and as you can imagine the ride would not be nearly as serene and peaceful. The only way into the balloon is over the side of the basket, so we were not so elegant getting in and out – but the ride was well worth it.
The Empty Quarter is the largest continuous sand desert in the world so the view stretches far. We did fly over some villages, which was itself fascinating, but for the most part what you see is sand and sky. It is too hot in the summer for hot air ballooning, so rides are only offered from about October to March. A great time and place to give hot air ballooning a try….