Floating over Luxor’s ancient temples at sunrise in a hot air balloon left us speechless, and was undoubtedly the most exhilarating experience we had during our recent trip to Egypt.
It all began at dawn. Yes, it was early morning and we got a wake-up call at 4 a.m. Gulp! But trust us, it is worth it just this once. After a quick snack and a nice cuppa thanks to Ali, our butler aboard our Dahabiya cruise ship, we took a small motorboat, then a minivan, to our take-off spot on the western bank of the Nile River.
It was still dark when we joined dozens of other tourists and soon-to-be-balloonists of various nationalities waiting for the big moment. Excitement was in the air and soon we were too.
We watched silently as a crew unfurled the huge colourful balloons and an attached them to baskets. The gas burners roared to life and lit up the inky dark skies. We could feel the air heat around us. As the air inside the balloons slowly heated, they began to straighten up. We counted at least 25 colourful orbs, looking like glowing Chinese lanterns on Egypt’s ancient landscape.
As the first rays of the sun began to light the east, our pilot gave us the final security instructions and we were ready to go.
Up! Up! And Away!
We climbed into baskets that dangled from the bottom of our balloons like charms. Each holds about 20 passengers. As we quickly gained height, we soon realised, to our surprise, that no one felt vertigo. Our attention soon turned to spectacular scenery glowing in the morning sun. The show was both in the air and on the ground. It was really beautiful to fly among so many other balloons floating at different altitudes.
But of course, the best part of it was admiring the ancient sites below. Ancient Thebes is now regarded as the modern city of Luxor, though originally it encompassed both Luxor and Karnak. Luxor, the ancient capital of Thebes, is nicknamed “The City of a Thousand Gates” due to its many temples and historic sites, and the splendour of seeing them from a hot air balloon was breathtaking.
Along the west bank of the Nile was mortuary Temple of Queen Hatshepsut, the Deir el-Medina site, an ancient craftsmen village- the Ramesseum, the memorial temple (or mortuary temple) of Pharaoh Ramesses II, the house of Howard Carter, the man who discovered the tomb of King Tut.
Also in view were the Colossi of Memnon, two massive stone statues of the Pharaoh Amenhotep III, the majestic Theban Mountain, the vast sugar cane fields, and of course the legendary Nile River.
As the sun climbed into the sky, a rose gold light blanketed these historic sites, and made the experience even greater.
The flight lasted about 40 minutes and it all seemed too short.
Thanks to the skilled pilot we enjoyed a soft landing and every passenger got a flight certificate as a souvenir. But waking up with the sun over the land of the ancient Pharaohs is something you’ll never forget, and the memories with family and friends are the best souvenirs you’ll take with you when you return home.
BeSeeingYou In: The skies above Egypt
Good to know: There are many companies that offer balloon rides, so find one that suits your needs. FYI: They will all depart very early in the morning.
WOW! Factor: Hot air ballooning is possible any time of the year.
Tip: While there are plenty of balloons departing daily, it’s a good idea to book with a reputable company, for obvious reasons.
Author Bio: Annick Dournes
Photos ©Frederic de Poligny