We are standing in the cool morning air of a pre-dawn Sahara. We can just make out the colored patterns on enormous balloons that lie deflated on the ground. Men scurry about, lighting fuel tanks that first roar into life, then send bright orange flames into the mouths of the balloons, which slowly begin to assume their shape. The fiery air lights the balloons from within, and they glow like Christmas tree ornaments.
We are gathered together for a pre-flight briefing. Mohammed, our pilot, explains the procedure: how we will climb in, where we will stand, and then, the most important part of all.
“I will tell you the different kinds of landings,” he says. “We have British landing.” His hands mime bumping and tumbling, with a rousing clapping smash at the end. “We have American landing….” he mimes a slightly less turbulent descent. “And we have Egyptian landing…” His hands glide smoothly to a gentle stop. “Which one do you want?”
All 24 of us unanimously declare a fervent interest in an Egyptian landing.
In Your Bucket Because…
- You’ll have a bird’s eye view of sunrise over the Sahara
- You’ll see the green-fringed life-giving Nile and understand a little more about how this river’s ability to turn desert into farm changed history.
- For adventurers, history lovers, and photo buffs.
“Inshallah, we will have an Eypptian landing,” he declares, not entirely reassuringly (“Inshallah” means “if God wills it” and there’s never any guarantee about that). He proceeds to show us the landing position we must take, holding onto a rope, leaning back toward the center of the basket, feet braced against the outer wall.
We’re divided into four groups — one group of six for for each compartment of the basket — and we climb in and take our assigned positions. It’s a bit cozy, and the photographers in our group are agitatedly moving about trying to position themselves for the best shots.
The balloon moves, bumps backs down, rises again, bumps a few more times, then finally after a more ups and downs, starts to float for real, rising into the slowly reddening morning light. Around us, we see other balloons also lifting into the air, some faster, some slower.
We are not entirely sure of where we will go, or what we will see, or where we might land: It all depends on the winds. Far below us, our ground crew is tracking our progress and following us. Wherever we end up, they will be there to help us down.
What to See on a Hot-Air Balloon Ride Over Luxor, Egypt
The wind determines how fast we move. We get a good view of the Valley of the Kings to one side of us, and a bird’s eye view of the monument to Hatshepsut, Egypt’s famous female Pharaoh, directly below.
To one side is a sandy ridge of Saharan mountains; the Nile runs alongside it, and on the other side are irrigated emerald fields. It is as clear as black and white what this water does: divide green from beige, life from death. You see this, and just begin to understand the importance of the Nile. The river of life.
We watch as villages wake up, and people start to move about. For them, the daily morning sighting of dozens of shining colored balls in the sky is merely ordinary. To us, it seems like magic.
Too soon, our time is up, and we descend slowly. We’re lucky: The winds are calm, and we get the Egyptian landing that God, apparently, has willed for us.
Wake up calls are early: About 4:00 — in order to be in time for sunrise. Rides are about 45 minutes long, depending on conditions. Note that balloons do not operate in summer (June through September). Rates are about $100 U.S. per person — a price most visitors agree is a bargain as they sail above the legendary Egyptian landscape.