Up, up and away…
Once the long-haul flight to your destination is over there are still plenty of opportunities to take to the air on your holiday….
“Arriving at a safari lodge in a tiny plane is magical.”
Small aircraft, big adventure
When I had my first safari experience – a fabulous Tribes trip to Tanzania in 2013 – I was nervous about two things: 1) seeing creatures killed by predators and 2) all the flying involved…
By a happy twist of fate, in spite of some incredible wildlife viewing, all the animals I saw over that two-week period remained unharmed, though there was plenty of evidence of the ones who had been less fortunate; usually as scattered bones and once, memorably, in the form of the hollowed-out shell of a giraffe torso, fur still intact and looking rather like something you might find in a contemporary art gallery.
The flying, however, I couldn’t avoid. I got through the flights from the UK with my normal coping mechanism of eating everything I was offered and burying myself in books. But the small planes still loomed – it’s simply not possible to make effective use of your time on safari without hopping around in light aircraft and I was dreading it. But here’s the thing – I loved it! Me, Mrs Nervous Passenger, was delighted by the experience.
Sometimes my travelling companion and I were the only passengers in craft the size of a Mini with wings, which gave us the chance to chat away to the pilot and hear their (usually fascinating) life story. On other occasions we flew in slightly larger machines with 10 or 12 fellow passengers. And in all instances the low height and slow speed at which we travelled meant that we got a truly wonderful view of the terrain over which we flew – and when we flew over incredibly clear, turquoise water dotted with golden sand islands, it was just unforgettable.
Arriving at a safari lodge in a tiny plane is magical, particularly if you spot elephants or a large herd of zebras from the air. Then the plane gently bumps along a grass landing strip and you’re met by a friendly face from the safari lodge – sometimes with a welcoming drink!
On that very first safari trip I was longing to see elephants. As we landed on my first-ever small craft flight, at my first-ever safari camp, there was a young male elephant standing on the end of the runway. It doesn’t get much better than that. And yes, I did cry!
The silent stunner
There is something almost other-worldly about travelling in a hot air balloon. Yes, if you’re taking a morning flight you may have to get up at silly o’clock and, as you pull your clothes on and gaze around with bleary eyes, you do wonder if this was such a good idea, particularly if it’s a bit chilly.
But then the excitement starts to kick in as you get to the departure site as the pink sky of dawn starts to lighten, and you watch the balloon being inflated before you are helped into the basket, the burners make that distinctive ‘whooshing’ sound and up you go…
And suddenly there you are – sailing silently above the Serengeti, drifting over the 2,230 temples and pagodas of Bagan , or gazing down into walled compounds and fortresses in Jaipur, almost as transfixed by the shadow your balloon casts on the ground as you are by the views.
You see things in a way that’s not possible from a plane, as you fly so silently and slowly that the people and animals below, going about their daily lives, are completely unaware of their audience above. Was that early start worth it? Oh yes, absolutely!
“This is a great way to travel!”
OK, so you’re not flying in the strictest sense, but you’re still sailing above the ground, enjoying remarkable views and seeing things in a new way. Whether it’s the Table Mountain cable car in Cape Town, the Santiago cable car in Chile or the Sugar Loaf mountain cable car in Rio, this is a great way to travel! You can even take a 20-minute cable car ride to the iconic Kuélap walled Chachapoya fortress in Peru.
Strapped safely into a harness, you ‘fly’ along, above rainforest or through cloudforest, at one with your environment. You do whizz along and it’s exhilarating. You’re unlikely to take many photos unless you have a Go-Pro strapped to you but, for a while, you know what it feels like to take flight!
Costa Rica is a fabulous place for ziplining, with tours varying from one to even three hours, sometimes combined with Tarzan swings and hanging bridges. If this appeals, our Active Costa Rica trip could be right up your street!
Mashpi Lodge in Ecuador offers some wonderful ways to leave the earth beneath you. This stylish cloud forest lodge is set on a high plateau so you’re already above the clouds! From the lodge you can explore the cloud forest from the two-person sky bike – one of you pedals alog the 200m route over a gorge while the other gets to sit back and enjoy the views. Mashpi’s Dragonfly open-air cablecar takes you on a 40-minute, 2km journey below and through the rain forest canopy at 50m per minute, and the on-board guide can stop it whenever you want to get a longer look at something; fantastic!