Nick Watkins

Riding High: The Ultimate Hot-Air Balloon Experience

A sunrise hot-air balloon trip over the desert is a bucket-list experience like no other.



They say if you win the morning, you win the day and that’s certainly how we felt after getting up for this.

Away from the hustle and bustle of Dubai’s hotspots – Downtown, Marina and Palm Jumeirah – lies a little-known spot offering the ultimate in peace and tranquility. It’s here, in the desert, where adventure awaits… a hot-air balloon ride over the glorious red sand dunes.

The ballooning experience starts with an early wake-up call, and while we understand that getting out of bed at 4.30am isn’t always ideal, at least this time it’s for good reason – after all, the only way to see the sunrise from a hot-air balloon is to get up in the sky before daybreak.

About an hour’s drive inland along Al Ain road brings us to the launch site, where the world’s largest balloons are already being prepped and filled with hot air. One thing to note is that this far in the desert, and at this hour in the morning, it is very cold, so be sure to wear trousers and long sleeves.

After a brief induction, we’re hurried into the basket, which holds around four people in each compartment. Then, lift-off. When you’re in the air, the views are absolutely breathtaking; you experience stillness like no other. There’s no sound, no smog, just peace and calm as the sun comes over the horizon. Words are hard to describe the feeling.

Usually when you’re 4 000ft up in the air there’s something between you and the elements, but not with a hot-air balloon. You’re literally floating among the birds. If you’re brave enough to peer over the side of the basket (which we recommend you pluck up the courage to do), you’ll see nature at its finest: miles of desert sand, free-roaming camels and herds of gazelles.

In total, the ride itself lasts an hour but the adventure doesn’t stop once you’re back on the ground. The hot-air ballooning experience is completed with a trip to an authentic Bedouin camp for a five-star breakfast of caviar, smoked salmon, eggs benedict, and fruit.

Hot-air balloon packages start from AED 1,200. Visit ballooning.ae for more information.