Ballpark Estimate: $400 to $500/person
If you’re planning to vacation in East Africa, there’s one excursion that, without question, must be placed on your itinerary – witnessing the annual migration of the Wildebeest from a hot-air balloon. Usually, the best time for viewing this spectacle in the Serengeti of Tanzania is between June and August. In the Masai Mara National Park in Kenya, the best time will be around late August to late September.
Motivated by the desire for the lush grasses that await them for grazing, the timing of the migration between Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park and Kenya’s Masai Mara National Park depends, to a large degree, on the timing of the annual rainfall and for that reason the migration is NOT predicable.
Generally, in Tanzania, following the January/February calving season on the plains that border the Serengeti and the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, the Wildebeest enter the short-grass plains of the Serengeti near Naabi Hill Gate, around March. On these lush plains of southeastern Serengeti the herds will remain until June.
Then, usually in the June timeframe, the thundering herds of Wildebeest, zebra, and antelope, traveling in a clockwise motion, fan out westward through the Seronera area of the Serengeti than north toward the Mara River. After crossing the crocodile infested river, the thundering herds will finally arrive on the plains of the Masai Mara National Park in Kenya between August and September.
Towards the end of October, the Wildebeest will start their long trek down the eastern corridor of Tanzania, passing through the Serengeti once again to begin a new cycle the following year.
The Viewing Experience
Just riding in a hot air balloon itself could be both an exhilarating and a somewhat frightening experience. But whether you’re over the plains of the Seronera Valley in July or over the plains of the Masai Mara in September, nothing in the world compares to the awesome and indescribable sight and deafening sounds of grunting Wildebeest by the millions moving en-masse in their annual migration.
It doesn’t matter if you’re flight is over the Serengeti or over Masai Mara, the itinerary is the same. Your cost will include pick-up at your hotel or lodge at the crack of dawn, between 5 and 6-a.m., for a drive to the take-off site. (One exception – in Masai Mara there is an additional charge ranging from $10 to $50 p/p for pick-up from a selected number of lodges and camps.) Your balloon will lift off shortly afterward, gradually rising to some one-thousand feet while drifting to the whims of the wind. Following one-hour of an indescribable journey the flight is over and breakfast in the bush is served, with an optional champagne toast. Following breakfast, certificates of completion are handed out and it’s back in the Land Rover for the ride back to your accommodations by 9 or 10 a.m.
Final Note: Some companies may charge passengers weighing over 250 pounds for two spaces in the balloon basket!