There are some truly incredible hot air balloon rides around the world—bobbing above the fantastic rock chimneys of Cappadocia, Turkey; cruising over the shifting red desert in Sossusvlei, Namibia; ascending with the crowds at the annual Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque, New Mexico—but a new Northern Lights–focused adventure might just take the cake. The four-day, three-night Aurora in the Sky experience offered by the U.K.-based company Off the Map Travel combines hot air ballooning with Northern Lights chasing in Swedish Lapland.
“This is a first,” notes Jonathan Cooper, the Arctic travel expert who founded Off the Map Travel. “We’ve never heard of anything like this before.”
The ballooning operation was conceptualized by Jonas Gejke and Fredrik Broman, the founders of the Aurora Safari Camp in Sweden, and created with help from aeronaut Andrew Peart, who has been flying hot air balloons over the African savannahs for over 25 years. During the evening balloon flight, guests will ascend about 130 feet into the dark Arctic skies. There, anchored to the ice below for safety, the balloon will stop and float in silence while those in its basket gaze out to see the celestial phenomenon.
“Often, with your feet on solid ground, you will join a Northern Lights hunt around a fire, with the warm glow of the flames keeping you warm as you search the skies for the aurora,” says Cooper. “Up in the balloon, it will be the warmth and occasional burst of heat from the balloon’s flame that will frame your experience.”
After their airborne adventure, guests spend the night at Gejke and Broman’s Aurora Safari Camp, a glamping experience at the edge of the Råne River in Gunnarsbyn, Sweden. There, they can relax in a floating sauna that is frozen into the bank of the river, and fall asleep in cozy lavvus, Sámi tents reminiscent of tepees.
The Aurora in the Sky itinerary also includes a stay—with snowmobile excursions included—at Aurora Safari Camp’s sister property, The Outpost, which is just below the Arctic Circle line.
Off the Map has long been a master of the aurora travel game and offers a number of similarly epic experiences, including overnights in a bubble sled or glass hut, and the most recent addition: a Northern Lights hunt on eSnowmobiles.
The Aurora in the Sky itinerary, which starts at $2,999 per person excluding flights, will run from December 2020 through April 2021. As with many Off the Map Travel experiences, the trip is completely customizable and easy to tack onto longer Arctic or Lapland excursions. But because balloons need good weather to fly—and because the aurora borealis is so unpredictable—you’ll want to opt for the full four-day stay, allowing you the flexibility to go up on the best night. Keep in mind, the Northern Lights are elusive and you aren’t guaranteed to see them. Booking will start in May 2020, but availability is limited, so you’ll want to jump on this one quickly.
The Lapland balloon operation will run unanchored expeditions during the day and outside of the aurora season, too, giving intrepid travelers the chance to see the area from above. It will be especially beautiful when the seasons change in October and November and the trees turn shades of yellow, orange, and green. Did someone say hot air balloon leaf peeping?