There are some places too vast, too unique, too magnificent to appreciate from ground level. To fully grasp their majesty, you must take to the sky.
Or maybe you just don’t fancy joining the sweaty tourist masses as they jostle for position in ticket queues and brawl for the best selfie spots. You’d rather hover above the riffraff, safely ensconced between landing skids and whirring blades.
Helicopter rides offer a heart-stopping thrill and a jaw-dropping perspective most people never see. Able to fly low, hover, and maneuver gracefully around points of interest, choppers are the ultimate experience for travellers seeking an exclusive vantage point.
These nine once-in-a-lifetime helicopter adventures are worth the splurge. You’ll never see Earth the same way again.
Great Barrier Reef | Queensland, Australia
Diving here is a bucket list goal for many travellers, but it’s not the only way to see this incredible natural wonder. The Great Barrier Reef is the world’s largest coral reef system, stretching for more than 2,300 km (1,400 mi) over an area of approximately 344,400 square km (133,000 sq mi). Only from the air can you comprehend its scope, or see the heart shape of its most famous reef. Look for a tour company that includes snorkeling or a longer flightpath over the Daintree Rainforest for a more well-rounded excursion.
The cosmopolitan splendour of Hong Kong is apparent from the ground, but it reaches a whole new level from an aerial angle. The famously vertical city is home to more than seven million residents and over 1,200 skyscrapers, including the 118-storey International Commerce Centre. Most tourists ascend Victoria Peak via tram to get a view of Hong Kong’s iconic skyline. For an even better perspective, book a helicopter flight that provides a bird’s eye view of the cosmopolitan action.
Grand Canyon National Park | Arizona, USA
The Grand Canyon is a sight worth experiencing as many ways as possible: from the rim, from the floor, from the vertigo-inducing Grand Canyon Skywalk, and of course, from above. At 446 km (277 mi) long, up to 29 km (18 mi) wide, and 1,857 m (6,093 ft) deep, it’s impossible to see it all with your feet on terra firma. A helicopter tour of the Grand Canyon may also pass over nearby Las Vegas, Lake Mead, and the Hoover Dam. Book a sunset flight to see the canyon at its most charming.
Glacier Country | South Island, New Zealand
The beauty of New Zealand’s natural scenery is legendary, and you probably can’t go wrong soaring over any of it. But if we had to pick a single flight, we’d suggest an outing over glacier country. Either the Franz Josef Glacier or the Fox Glacier / Te Moeka o Tuawe is a suitably impressive sight, and if you choose your tour right, you’ll see both. Some also offer upgrades to New Zealand’s highest peak, Aoraki / Mount Cook.
Okavango Delta | Botswana
The Okavango Delta is one of Africa’s last remaining great wildlife habitats. The land is home to some of the world’s rarest species of large mammal, including the cheetah, white rhinoceros, black rhinoceros, African wild dog, and lion. It’s a top choice for big game safaris as a result, typically in luxurious private safari camps. Most explorations of the area are conducted by car or on foot – experiences that are plenty exhilarating in their own ways – but soaring over this natural oasis is its own kind of extraordinary.
Everest Base Camp | Nepal
Because you’d like to cross it off your bucket list, but really, are you gonna walk it? We thought not.
Maui & Hawaii | Hawaii, USA
Opinions vary on which Hawaiian island makes for the finest aerial adventure. The fourth largest, Kauai, has untouched scenery so spectacular it has starred in Jurassic Park, Indiana Jones, and Pirates of the Caribbean. The Big Island is more than twice the size of the other islands combined, and includes the fascinating Kilauea volcano, which has been erupting continuously since the early 1980s. Some companies offer tours that cover both islands for the most comprehensive view of Hawaii’s unique terrain.
Victoria Falls | Zambia & Zimbabwe
Upon setting eyes on Victoria Falls, Scottish missionary and explorer David Livingstone wrote that “scenes so lovely must have been gazed upon by angels in their flight.” We can’t speak for celestial beings, but we can say with certainty that flight offers the best possible human view of this colossal natural phenomenon. The falls stretch 1,708 m (5,604 ft) across and 108 m (354 ft) high, making it the world’s largest sheet of falling water. Locals call it Mosi-oa-Tunya, or “the smoke that thunders.”
Rio De Janeiro | Brazil
Rio de Janeiro has one of the most impressive cityscapes in the world – a mix of high rises, lush hills, sea, sand, and the instantly recognisable Christ the Redeemer statue. As the most visited city in South America, Rio’s landmarks are constantly swarming with eager tourists. The crowds could be part of the fun, or they could be all the more reason to see Rio from the sky. Copacabana, Ipanema, the Tijuca Rainforest, Sugar Loaf Mountain, and Cristo Redentor are just as beautiful – if not more so – seen in full panorama.