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Best Hot-Air Balloon Rides

By Kimberley Lovato
5/4/2014 2:10:38 AM

Delayed flights, long lines, TSA pat downs-flying isn't what it used to be.

But stepping aboard one of these hot-air balloons is a guaranteed way to rekindle a love of air travel. It's an opportunity to revel in the world's most beautiful landscapes, high above the fray. And it's the kind of worthwhile splurge that you'll be talking about long after you're back on solid ground.

There's nothing quite like floating over the yellow grasses of the Serengeti while lions and zebras frolic just a hundred feet below. Or watching the first rays of sun paint Myanmar's ancient pagodas and temples in hues of gold. On average, baskets carry four to eight people, so the ride can be as intimate and romantic as it sounds.

Festivals also celebrate ballooning as a lofty spectator sport. Fans turn out in droves each October to watch as hundreds of jaunty balloons ascend en masse into the cerulean skies above Albuquerque, NM, making it the world's most photographed event.

Although ballooning is now popular in all corners of the globe, it began in France as the whim of two brothers, Jacques-Étienne and Joseph-Michel Montgolfier, who, in 1793, wowed Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette by sending a hot-air balloon aloft over Versailles with three passengers: a sheep, a duck, and a rooster. A month later, the brothers invited two Frenchmen to board, launching our love affair with exploring the wild blue yonder.

Whether you choose the birds'-eye view over a French château à la the Montgolfiers' original flight or prefer to skim the treetops of the Costa Rican rainforest, your spirits are destined to soar.

For the full list of best hot-air balloon rides, click here.

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Aurora Photos / Alamy

Melbourne, Australia

Greet the day, and Australia's second largest city, from high above the glistening skyline with a one-hour Balloon Over Melbourne flight. You'll take in views of the city's central business district, its parks and gardens, and notable landmarks like Melbourne Park and Rod Laver Arena, site of the Australian Open. Back on terra firma, toast your adventure with an optional champagne breakfast. From $320 per person; balloonovermelbourne.com.au

Courtesy of Napa Valley Aloft

Napa Valley, CA

The Kimball Family and Napa Valley Aloft were floating people above the Napa Valley long before it became a world-famous food and wine destination. Weather is best between April and October in Yountville, the launch site and picturesque town that's home to the French Laundry restaurant. Soar over green rolling hills and small and large family vineyards-with views to the Sierras and San Francisco on clear days. Individual flights from $200 per person; group flights and private tours available; nvaloft.com

AfriPics.com / Alamy

Serengeti, Tanzania

Lions, hippos, leopards, giraffes, and zebras thrive on the grassy plains of the Seronera River Valley, as you'll witness on a Balloon Safari. Flights also catch sight of the estimated 2 million wildebeest that migrate from Kenya to Lake Victoria each year, often passing through the valley between May and early June and again from late October to December. One-hour flights are followed by champagne, an English-style breakfast under an acacia tree, and more amazing photo ops. $529 per person; balloonsafari.com

Raymond Watt

Albuquerque, New Mexico

Each October, more than 500 colorful balloons take flight during early-morning mass ascensions at the International Balloon Fiesta, the largest such event and the most photographed event worldwide. The dedicated 365-acre Balloon Fiesta Park just north of Albuquerque also hosts special-shape balloon rodeos and the popular evening balloon glow, when pilots fire up their burners at the same time and leave the balloons tethered. If you're feeling inspired, Rainbow Ryders operates flights from within the park during the fiesta. Prices range from $299 to $499 per person for a 60-minute ride; rainbowryders.com. Advance-purchase festival admission for adults, $12.

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