Soaring Beyond Barriers: A Journey in a Hot Air Balloon in a Wheelchair Over Teotihuacan, Mexico City

by | Nov 27, 2023

Tanzila Khan shows you can ride a hot air balloon in a wheelchair
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Last updated on November 29th, 2023

Featured image: Adventure awaits as Tanzila proves you can ride a hot air balloon in a wheelchair | Photo by Tanzila Khan

Making her mark in the sky in a hot air balloon

by Tanzila Khan

It was late at night and I was looking for a fresh dose of inspiration. My friend and I had finished watching the classic film ‘Around the World in 80 Days’, Jules Verne’s story of traveling the globe. It was then I decided to not just set high goals but also be ambitious and claim my space.  This time I made my mark in the sky above Teotihuacan, Mexico City in a hot air balloon.

A hot air balloon ride not only allowed me to experience Teotihuacan from a unique and accessible perspective, but it also gave me a renewed sense of wonder and appreciation for the beauty of the world. It was a reminder that, regardless of physical limitations, adventures are waiting to be had, dreams to be fulfilled, and barriers to be overcome. In Mexico City, and at places like Teotihuacan, the sky is not the limit – it’s just the beginning of a thrilling journey that knows no boundaries.

The search for the sky begins

Mexico City is a vibrant metropolis that seamlessly blends ancient history with modernity and that is home to numerous treasures that await exploration. But does it welcome explorers in a wheelchair? I had to find out so I headed there with a friend for a five-day trip.

I had never seen a wheelchair user manage to take the ride, but after speaking to the company and getting a green signal from Volare Globus I decided to go ahead and take the chance. The entire experience would cost me almost USD 150, which included pick and drop from my hotel, breakfast, and the ride itself.

While searching on the internet I emailed a couple of companies about their accessibility support for wheelchair users. The beauty of being a wheelchair user is also the diversity of our experiences every wheelchair user will experience disability and need support in a different way. 

Though Volare Globus did not mention on their website about being accessible but did reaffirm their support when I asked them about their experience. But I have to confess, I was anxious until the point I had actually gotten into the balloon!

Arriving at the balloon port

I woke up at 3 am to be picked up at 4 am because the journey to the balloon port from my hotel was almost an hour long. Also, it was important that we start the journey a little after sunrise so we could see the landscape from above. It also depended a lot on the weather that day so we had to ensure our punctuality. 

But like a bad dream, I snoozed the alarm and went back to sleep only to have the driver call me once they had reached the hotel. This time I woke up, got ready in 10 minutes and reached the car with my friend, Dema. The van had other guests too who were excited to take this journey. I quickly did my makeup in the dark because I definitely didn’t want to look like a zombie in the sky!

Once we arrived at the port, it was like an early morning party. There was an amazing crowd getting coffee and warming up. We registered ourselves with our passports and paid the remaining fee. We got coffee and they gave me a small badge that said, ‘Happy Birthday’ to be placed on my shirt. I had just turned 33 and celebrating my birthday in the air is a reminder to everyone to cherish every moment and every year.

As we waited for the balloon to inflate, the excitement was palpable. The vibrant colors of the balloon, the hustle and bustle of the preparation, and the hum of the propane burners all added to the overall atmosphere. For the first time, I realized that this adventure was not just about seeing Teotihuacan from the sky; it was about being part of a larger journey, a collective experience of excitement and wonder and we shared that spirit even though we all were strangers.

Tanzila prepares for her ride in a hot air balloon in a wheelchair in Mexico City

Tanzila and Jiovanni who helped her / Photo by Tanzila Khan

Ground staff prepare to help a woman ride a hot air balloon in a wheelchair

Ground staff handling the wheelchair down / Photo by Tanzila Khan

Riding a hot air balloon in a wheelchair: The Flight

It was now time for me to get inside the basket. The door of the basket was not wide enough for my wheelchair, so I had to quickly strategize and ask for two chairs. One chair on which I sat inside the basket and the other one to hop over inside the basket. They even kept two crates underneath so that I don’t stay sunken in the basket and can see a little view from the neck above. 

The entire team stayed patient with me as I managed to get in and not even once tried to overshadow my understanding of my disability with their own intelligence. Only if other travel agencies and tour operators could follow this value and allow the person with a disability to lead the way. I successfully got in and left my wheelchair in the safe hands of the team and now it was time to fly!

As the balloon slowly rose into the sky, the sensation of floating was like no other. The ascent was gentle, and I marveled at the precision with which our pilot managed the balloon. I immediately thought of the lines by Erin Hanson, ‘There is freedom waiting for you, On the breezes of the sky, And you ask “What if I fall?” Oh but my darling, What if you fly?’

‘There is freedom waiting for you, On the breezes of the sky, And you ask “What if I fall?” Oh but my darling, What if you fly?’ Erin Hanson

The views of Teotihuacan from the air were breathtaking. The Pyramid of the Sun and the Pyramid of the Moon stood majestically below us, surrounded by an intricate network of balloons floating above them. Seeing these ancient structures from such a unique perspective was awe-inspiring. Being in a hot air balloon offered a different kind of accessibility for a wheelchair user. It allowed me to transcend physical barriers and believe that everything was possible only if we put our hearts into it.

Views from riding  a hot air balloon in a wheelchair in Mexico City

View from the small window high above the ground / Photo by Tanzila Khan

Tanzila Khan and the captain of the hot air balloon she rode

Tanzila and captain of the Balloon / Photo by Tanzila Khan

A group of participants after riding a hot air balloon in Mexico City

Participants and the team with our post-ride certificate / Photo by Tanzila Khan

The Journey’s End

After an unforgettable journey, we slowly descended towards a designated landing spot. I saw my wheelchair was brought there before me. My strategy to get out was the same as getting in. The ground crew was ready to assist, ensuring that my transition from the balloon’s basket to my wheelchair was seamless. The camaraderie and teamwork of the entire crew were commendable, making the adventure not only accessible but also enjoyable.

My hot air balloon journey over Teotihuacan in Mexico City was not just an adventure; it was a testament to the boundless possibilities that exist for individuals with disabilities. It illustrated that with careful planning and the right partners, there are no limits to the experiences that one can enjoy. The ancient city of Teotihuacan, with its awe-inspiring pyramids, became more than just a historical site; it became a symbol of inclusivity and the power of human ingenuity.

Read More on Accessible Travel

Tanzila Khan is an entrepreneur, activist, and public speaker from Pakistan. She was born with a deformity and has been a wheelchair user since then. She initially traveled for her disability advocacy, networking for business and speaking engagements but then learned cracking accessibility across the travel industry and helping companies become more accessible through feedback across 20 countries. She picked up the rucksack and became a solo traveler across the world to document and share stories and make the world more inclusive. Along with this, her other work includes an award-winning menstrual healthcare startup in Pakistan and a board game company in Sweden.

1 Comment

  1. Patricia Svitak

    Thank you Ms. Khan for your article. I am learning to use a wheelchair and have been afraid to travel anywhere.
    You are an inspiration.


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