UP AND AWAY!

RIDING A HOT-AIR BALLOON

People travel to Bagan in Myanmar to enjoy a once in a lifetime hot-air balloon ride. While the trip up into the clouds lasts 45 minutes, the memory is bound to last a life­time. Similarly, at Antalya in Turkey among other sites, the balloons take off at the crack of dawn so that travellers can glimpse the landscape below in harmony with the sunrise – indeed, a mesmerising sight.

But when one pictures a holiday in Sri Lanka, isn’t it more about relaxing on the sun kissed beaches, touring tea estates and plantations, and soaking in the island’s World Heritage Sites?

While that is true, Sri Lanka is gaining a reputation for adventure sports like hiking and rafting. And hot-air balloon experiences are also making their way onto the bucket lists of visitors.

WHEN The best time to ride in a hot-air balloon in Sri Lanka is between November and March due to climatic conditions. While the island isn’t known for four seasons or even two for that matter, the months leading up to ‘spring’ are usually pleasant thanks to relatively lower humidity levels.

WHERE Due to its mild and dry climate, some areas in and around the Cultural Triangle – Dambulla, Sigiriya and Kandalama, for instance – are flagged as being the best places from which to revel in the ballooning experience. Hot-air balloon flights typically start in the morning – because ballooning is a weather dependent activity, low to stable wind speeds (ideally less than 16 kmph) and good visibility are a pilot’s prerequisites. The air is said to be cooler in the hours shortly after sunrise to scout out those calm winds.

SCOPE In Sri Lanka, hot-air balloon rides float from anywhere between 150 to 600 metres, which allows you to marvel at the colourful landscape below. Marvel at the green hills, giant rocks, gushing rivers, serene lakes and textured plains below – and if you’re lucky (and thanks to Sri Lanka’s diversity), you may spot a large herd of elephants or an entire forest spread out beneath. Another critical factor in being guided by the direction of the wind is that no two hot-air balloon rides will ever be the same. Flights take off in an area of between five and 25 square kilometres.

PRICE A hot-air balloon ride costs anything from US$ 150 to 225 dollars for an adult depending on flight duration, tour company, location and add-ons. The hot-air balloon flight takes around an hour but the experi­ence may last up to four hours from the time you’re picked up until you are dropped off at your hotel. Most hot-air balloon tour companies also throw in a complimentary Sri Lankan breakfast or glass of champagne before or after the ride. Photographs and videos of your experience are also available for an additional fee.

TRANSPORT Transportation to and from the launch site is usually included in the price of the ticket.

ATTIRE Light, comfortable cotton clothing and flat shoes are recommended but it never hurts to pack a cardigan as it can be rather chilly up there.

KIDS Children under 16 must be accompanied by an adult.

BOOKING A Google search will provide you with several licensed tour companies and hot-air balloon operators in the island. And you’d be pleased to know that while prior reservations and advance payments are necessary, refunds are offered if a flight is cancelled due to bad weather.

Compiled by Monita Pesumal

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