The Thrill Of ADVENTURE ? Meet Captain Smiles: Kenya’s Only Female Hot Air Balloon Captain

By Duchess Magazine

Captain, Joyce “Smiles” Beckwith is living her ultimate dream and gets paid for it!

Although a hotelier by training, her love for ballooning kicked off right from childhood as she was breed in a ballooning family, in turn it opened up an entire world of super awesome unforgettable adventures for the trailblazer who stands tall in a predominantly male industry.

Captain Smiles Kenya's Only female hot air balloon captain

“I got married into a ballooning family. My husband’s grandad was a balloonist, and my father-in-law and husband are both balloonists. It was just time. You wake up everyday with someone and go to work with them, and one day you’re just ready to fly by yourself. I’m a Hotel & Tourism Management graduate and came to Mara in 2007 as an intern, and to-date, I still run my own travel agency and do hospitality marketing so I never really left the job.” Captain Joyce Beckwith says.

On how long she had to study before becoming a certified air balloonist, she explians:

“We had moved to Germany and were living there but decided to come back to Kenya in 2012 after my husband got a job here. I was flying with him a lot as a passenger whenever there was room for an extra person in the basket, and I loved it so much that I decided to go for it. First, I went to Albuquerque, New Mexico, to study both commercial and private flights for 5 months. There are no schools for ballooning in kenya.

It was a struggle. Coming back to convert your foreign license into a kenyan one wasn’t instant. All companies here do commercial rides so it wasn’t easy…”

Thankfully she joined Albuquerque Balloon Flight School in the USA for her four months training before returning to Maasai Mara where she got a job with Sun Africa’s Balloon Adventure at Keekorok Lodge.

What’s a typical workday like:

“I meet my guests the night before a flight then start the next day at 4:30am. I pick them up so we’re building a rapport as we drive to the site. I check the aircraft and make sure everything is all good, then ensure all the passengers are at ease. Flights are only in the morning and last 40 minutes to an hour…it’s great because tourists are always happy and excited to be flying, and the experience never disappoints. I have been on a hot air balloon anywhere between 600 and 700 times. I finish with the office stuff at about 11:30am to midday, and that’s a full workday for me…every day of the week. We’re in a tourism destination so no weekends. I do this for 10 months then go on holiday for two months.” She says in a chat with Nomad.Africa.


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