Up, up, and away! Magnificent views of safari animals roaming and rolling hills await when you embark on the Balloon Safari at the San Diego Safari Park. The Balloon Safari is an add-on experience that I had a chance to experience in late March on my birthday. Located in the picturesque San Pasqual Valley area of Escondido, California, the San Diego Safari Park, which is associated with the San Diego Zoo, offers an idyllic setting to experience animals from all over the world.
The San Diego Safari Park sits on approximately 1,800 acres and houses over 2,600 animals representing more than 300 species of animals, including elephants, gorillas, lions, and zebras. Some of the animals can be viewed from aviaries and smaller enclosures, while others are in dedicated enclosures like the Tiger Trail that opened in May 2014. One of the highlights of a trip to the Safari Park is a ride on the Africa Tram where you will be able to see animals like giraffes, rhinos, and camels wandering in their spacious open habitats. The Safari Park also has over 3,500 plant species.
Opened in May 1972 with a mission of species conservation and offering educational experiences for visitors, the San Diego Safari Park has an average annual attendance of two million people. Many of these visitors take advantage of special admission offers like the Go San Diego Card or become Zoological Society Annual Members. The Safari Park is open year-round, with summer and winter hours, and has several unique add-on opportunities in addition to those included with general admission.
Since the Safari Park is in north/east San Diego County, it is generally sunny and mild to warm weather on most days. You will do a fair amount of walking, so plan on taking rest breaks if your travel group includes little ones or adults who may not be accustomed to walking several miles. In addition, it is best to come prepared with hats, sunglasses, sunscreen, and good walking shoes. Overall, the Safari Park is ADA accessible with ramps, elevators, and smooth pathways throughout most of the park.
With your general admission 1-day ticket (or membership), you will have access to the general park, Africa Tram, Cheetah Run, and all regularly scheduled shows. Multi-day and multi-park tickets are also available. Be sure to check out the official San Diego Safari Park website for the current list of events, operating hours, tickets, and additional guest services when you are planning your day. In addition, the Safari Park offers shopping and dining experiences, as well as areas for kids to play, including a unique carousel.
In addition to the included experiences, unique add-on experiences are available at the San Diego Safari Park. Many of the add-on experiences have the name “safari” in them and are designed to enhance your visit. These add-on items and safaris range from a few dollars to feed the Lorikeets to much more to do the Jungle Ropes or Flightline Safaris. A list of additional safaris can be found on the official Safari Park website, including ways to save some money by purchasing the add-on experiences in advance. Per the website, prices vary on select days and will be higher if purchased same day at the Park. Safari Park admission is separate and required.
On our most recent trip to the Safari Park in late March, we experienced the Balloon Safari and it was amazing! The focus of our visit in March was to experience Butterfly Jungle, which is an annual event where you enter an aviary that is full of colorful butterflies fluttering and flying about. However, since it was my birthday, we decided to check out the Balloon Safari first. Modeled after the hot air balloon tours of the Serengeti, the Balloon Safari offers unbelievable views shared only by the birds that soar over the Safari Park’s grounds!
The operating hours of the balloon are typically the same as the Safari Park’s hours, however the balloon can be closed at any time due to weather and/or wind at the higher elevations. Prices for the Balloon Safari are subject to change and are not available in advance, so you should inquire when at the Safari Park. In the waiting area, there are informational signs that share some interesting facts about the Balloon Safari.
- How wide is the balloon? It is 72 feet wide, almost as wide as a blue whale is long.
- How tall is the balloon? It is 110 feet tall, the height of 6 giraffes.
- The winch cable that pulls the balloon down to earth is strong enough to lift 45 tons, the weight of 6 African elephants.
- What a gas! Non-flammable and lighter than air, helium is the perfect gas for the balloon and it holds enough helium to lift half a million party balloons.
When it was our turn, we boarded the basket of the balloon and the guide instructed us to spread out so we were all evenly spaced around the basket. The Balloon Safari can hold up to 30 passengers as the tethered helium balloon rises silently up in the air. After a brief safety overview, the guide started the balloon’s ascent. He was very good at making announcements about what was coming next, such as there would be a small bump as the cable becomes taut. The climb up was very smooth and did not go too fast. The main motion we felt was a little bit of swaying as the balloon got to its highest point.
When we got to the full height of 400 feet, we had several minutes to look out over the countryside and see the animals roaming down below. It was a little bit windy and cool, which felt refreshing because the weather was unseasonably warm for late March. When it was time for our descent, the operator continued to give announcements as needed, and then we disembarked from the basket. Overall, the Balloon Safari is 10 to 12 minutes long.
The views from the balloon were spectacular! I am so glad we took this mini-adventure during our visit to the Safari Park. Later in the day when we happened to walk near the Balloon Safari again, it was closed due to winds at the higher elevations. If this adventure is on your list, be sure to try to do this first in your visit in case it closes later in the day. Splendid views of the San Pasqual Valley and the San Diego Safari Park await when you experience the Balloon Safari.
What safaris at the San Diego Safari Park seem exciting to you? Which ones have you experienced? Looking forward to hearing from you in the comments!
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Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”