My hands-down favorite activity when we were staying at Al Maha Desert Resort and Spa was a private hot air balloon ride to watch the sunrise. It was my first hot air balloon ride, and it was the best adventure I didn’t know I wanted.
On our third-to-last day at Al Maha, we opened the curtains in the morning and walked onto our deck, gasping as we saw a bevy of hot air balloons drifting over the sky. It was the first time we had seen them during our stay, and I immediately wanted to take one.
Our hotel informed us that the provider was Platinum Heritage, a tourism company owned by the royal family and therefore the only company aside from Al Maha that is allowed to operate within the nature preserve.
Platinum Heritage picks you up from your hotel – most people start around 4 am and come from Dubai – and drives you to the launch site.
We started watching an interesting but incongruous drone show with some tea and dates. It was still dark and cold, but it was a lovely way to distract from the waiting time as our balloon was being readied.
We then waited at a safe distance with our pilot, Mariya, who was knowledgable, hilarious, and kind. She talked us through what we would be doing, and introduced us to the only other passengers who would be joining us that day – a falconer and his bird.
On private balloon rides like ours, the company gives you the option to have a falconer join you and do a falconry demonstration, which also serves as a training opportunity for the birds, who then join larger group tours later on.
At first, I was hesitant to have the falconer join us, because we had already seen a falconry demonstration during our trip and I didn’t want anything to distract from the private experience.
However, I am so glad we agreed, because he brought so much color to the day, sharing facts about falcons, the area, and our hotel that we never would have known otherwise. And to see the falcon soaring around the balloon, high in the sky, made it feel like we were truly experiencing life from its perspective.
Getting into the balloon basket was an adventure. The teams have to time things just right so that the balloon is ready to ascend but so you’re not jumping into the basket. It is chest high, so you have to climb quickly up the steps and tumble into the basket…and get out of the way so the next person can join you. I admit I was not very graceful getting into the basket, and I dropped my phone on the floor. I was very grateful to have not dropped it out of the basket, where it would have waited for us until we landed!
Once up in the air, our pilot explained anything we wanted to know about balloons, the industry, and where else ballooning is common. We flew for about an hour, watching the sun rise over the mountains in the distance and marveling as the sand dunes changed from dusty brown to brilliant orange in the morning light.
In total, the flight lasted about an hour. We landed in a different place than we took off, and our driver met us at the landing site. Landing in a balloon is a bit of a bumpy ride, and you get a harness attached to your waist to keep you from falling out as the balloon gets dragged on the ground. You end up with the basket on its side, and you on your back, suspended above the ground until someone comes to help you unhook and exit the basket.
After getting our bearings and once on our feet, our driver had sparkling cider and strawberries set up for us to enjoy before we got back in the SUV for our trip back to the hotel.
What to Wear for a Hot Air Balloon Ride in Dubai
Hot air balloon rides in Dubai happen in the very early morning, partly so you can see the sunrise, but also because the heat and other barometric factors impact when it is safe to fly. For this reason, even though it is the desert, it is cold! Wear a jacket for sure. I had a cardigan and I was still chilly – not enough to ruin the trip, but I noticed it the whole time.
You will also want to wear pants for the trip, partly because of the temperature but also because you will have to quickly climb up and into the balloon basket. It would be difficult to do this modestly in anything other than pants. For a similar reason, you will want secure shoes – flip flops are not a great choice for entering and exiting the basket.
I brought sunglasses but did not need them, and I would recommend leaving them at the hotel. The less that you carry with you, the better, so think hard before bringing along a purse or backpack. Choose pants and jackets with pockets and zippers, and bring only the essentials with you.
Tips for your Hot Air Balloon Ride in Dubai
Tip 1: If you’re looking to save some money, consider a group balloon tour. Balloon baskets range in size from 6 people to upwards of 30 people (including the pilot), so there will be an option for everyone. If you can swing it, a private ride was absolutely the way to go. We got uninterrupted access to our pilot, we had room to move around the basket, and we got the falconer to join us.
Tip 2: Be sure to tip your pilot! They work hard to give you a great experience and while tips aren’t required, we could tell they were appreciated. A good amount is 5-10% of your activity cost. You may also tip your driver, who acts as a bit of a host and emcee to coordinate things during your visit.
Want to learn more about planning an amazing trip at Al Maha resort? Check out our Insider’s Guide for tips and reviews to make your trip the best ever.