Take an unprecedented ride in a balloon, soaring silently through the skies of San Pedro de Atacama and taking in the desert from an altitude of 700 meters. Balloons Over Atacama and its hot-air balloon rides have become the latest tourist attraction in one of the most popular destinations in northern Chile.
“There is no other place like the Atacama Desert to take a hot-air balloon ride,” says Barry Birch, the Irish pilot who is about to begin another flight through the Tulor sector, a clear and flat area on the outskirts of the town of San Pedro de Atacama.
Just like when traveling by airplane, passengers receive flight instructions before getting in the hot-air balloon. The giant red balloon with the gold logo is slowly inflated with hot air. The pilot is in charge and everyone must listen closely to his directions in silence. Flights are safe and the only thing you have to worry about is enjoying the ride and the 360° panoramic view.
Balloons Over Atacama is part of an Australian company that began to run this type of trip in Bagan, Myanmar, in 1999. The company’s pilots have traveled the world, flying hot-air balloons over places such as Kenya, the Napa Valley, Spain, France, the United Kingdom, and, currently, in the Atacama Desert. Company owners claim that the rocky formations, the setting of the Antes Cordillera, and its volcanoes make up part of an awe-inspiring landscape that is hard for any visitor to forget.
Hot-air balloon rides last between 45 minutes and 1 hour and 15 minutes, depending on weather conditions, which are generally quite stable. Balloons can reach a maximum height of 700 meters and a maximum speed of about 18 kilometers per hour.
After landing, the balloon is received by ground personnel in the same way a plane is taxied to the airport gate. In a matter of minutes, approximately 6-7 people dismantle the basket where the passengers traveled and they gather the fabric that comprises the top part of the balloon; all of this is done while riders get ready to toast their trip with a glass of champagne.