Helicopter rides reward the traveler with an incredible aerial perspective, thanks to their ability to fly lower than planes and hover over points of interest. And you don’t need to travel far from home—or shell out a small fortune—for this experience. Helicopter sightseeing excursions can be surprisingly reasonable, considering their bucket-list nature and the bragging rights that come with them. Here are our top picks among the World’s Coolest Helicopter Rides:
Na Pali Coast, Kauai, Hawaii
Spanning 17 miles along Kauai’s North Shore, the Na Pali Coast is a sacred place defined by extraordinary natural beauty. These emerald-hued cliffs with razor-sharp ridges tower above the Pacific Ocean, revealing beautiful beaches and waterfalls that plummet to the lush valley floor. The rugged terrain appears much as it did centuries ago when Hawaiian settlements flourished in these deep, narrow valleys, existing only on the food they could grow and the fish they could catch.
Aerial tours, most lifting off from Lihue Airport, are the best way to grasp the magnitude of the Napali Coast. You’ll also get a front-row seat to scenic areas that are largely inaccessible by land or water, like majestic Manawaiopuna Falls, a backdrop in the film “Jurassic Park.” Whichever tour you choose, the natural splendour of the Napali Coast will leave a deep impression on your soul.
Great Barrier Reef, Queensland, Australia
The Great Barrier Reef is one of the seven wonders of the natural world, and pulling away from it, and viewing it from a greater distance, you can understand why.
One of Australia’s most remarkable natural gifts, the Great Barrier Reef is blessed with the breathtaking beauty of the world’s largest coral reef. The reef contains an abundance of marine life and comprises of over 3000 individual reef systems and coral cays and literally hundreds of picturesque tropical islands with some of the worlds most beautiful sun-soaked, golden beaches. Because of its natural beauty, the Great Barrier Reef has become one of the worlds most sought after tourist destinations.
It’s the largest coral reef on the planet, consisting of over 3,000 individual reef systems and 900 islands. It’s the only living thing on Earth that’s visible from outer space. It’s the largest organic structure in the world. Seen from the sky and its tremendous size becomes realized, while its bone-white beaches and aquamarine waters prompt us to recall just how much of our planet is made up of the sea. Cross your fingers: Rays, sharks, and turtles are occasionally seen from the eagle eye’s perspective on board.
Circle of Fire, Big Island, Hawaii
Fly high above Hawaii’s only active volcano on one of the must-do activities during your trip to Hawaii! You’ll see many sites that are inaccessible by land, making this a truly remarkable experience. It’s an impressive and dramatic way to take in the full majesty of the largest active volcano on the planet.
There’s viewing the poignant beauty of an ancient, timeworn landscape, and then there’s seeing a portion of the world being shaped right before your eyes. Experience the latter from the skies above aboard a tour of Kilauea—an active shield volcano on the southern edge of Hawaii’s Big Island. With trips that glide over fields of barren lava and smoke-hazed craters—not to mention tropical rainforests and pockets of the Pacific—you’ll feel like a part of history in the making.
Kilauea Volcano is the most active on earth and has been continuously erupting since 1983. During your flight, you will see the massive active volcano Kilauea, molten lava, lush tropical rainforests, and sparkling waterfalls.
Grand Canyon, Arizona
Grand Canyon National Park, in Arizona, is home to much of the immense Grand Canyon, with its layered bands of red rock revealing millions of years of geological history.
The Grand Canyon is easily Arizona’s most distinguishable landmark – and a natural wonder that you simply have to see to believe. Stretching 277 miles from end to end, steep, rocky walls descend more than a mile to the canyon’s floor, where the wild Colorado River traces a swift course southwest.
Fly up, up, above the Grand Canyon to see views previously only seen by California condors. The panoramic sights will leave you breathless, while the exciting ride will get your heart pumping. Several companies offer bird’s-eye views of the Grand Canyon, with most trips embarking from outside Grand Canyon National Park.
Part of the allure of scenic flights is to get a true sense of scale—and nowhere is this more true than when you take a chopper above the Grand Canyon. Two billion years of geological history unspools before your eyes as the canyon gapes below—all 277 by 18 heart-stopping miles of it. Press your face to the glass and keep your eyes peeled for The Painted Desert—a petrified forest in the Canyon’s Four Corners that holds hues ranging from ruby-red to lavender.
Amalfi Coast, Italy
Deemed an outstanding example of a Mediterranean landscape by Unesco, the Amalfi Coast is one of Italy’s most piercing destinations. Here, mountains plunge into the sea in a nail-biting vertical scene of precipitous crags, cliff-clinging abodes and verdant woodland.
George Clooney might have become the face of the Amalfi Coast in the last few years, but there are far more reasons to visit the southern edge of Europe’s most famous boot than a chance star spotting. The real celebrity here is the shoreline’s sexy beauty, where coastal mountains slice into the eternally-blue Mediterranean Sea and villages perch on the cliffs as if painted. Seen from above and you’ll discover just how serpentine this romantic gem truly is, while forested valleys and unique rock formations evoke the sort of awe that stays with you for a lifetime. With notable points of interest in the vicinity—from Positano to the island of Capri—heli-tours of Italy’s glamourous coast will have you saying “wow” more times than you can count.
Cape Town, South Africa
With one of the most enthralling harbors on the globe, Cape Town, South Africa’s third largest city, is flanked by thoroughly fascinating geography, from flat-topped summits to an accordion of peaks that give way to expansive, golden-sand beaches. The World Design Capital of 2014 and enormous port city is a mecca of mesmerizing sights. Hovering above its heavens, one can witness its awesome diversity and tremendous natural beauty, including the Twelve Apostles Mountain Range, the Indian and Atlantic Oceans, the remarkable Table Mountain, the notorious Robben Island, and the city’s expansive urban sprawl.
Table Mountain National Park defines the city. The flat-topped mountain is the headline act, but there are many other equally gorgeous natural landscapes within the park’s extensive boundaries. Cultivated areas, such as the historic Company’s Gardens, Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens and Green Point Park, also make exploring the city a pleasure.
Victoria Falls, Zambia
Taking its place alongside the Pyramids and the Serengeti, Victoria Falls (Mosi-oa-Tunya – the ‘smoke that thunders’) is one of Africa’s original blockbusters. And although Zimbabwe and Zambia share it, Victoria Falls is a place all of its own.
As a magnet for tourists of all descriptions – backpackers, tour groups, thrill seekers, families, honeymooners – Victoria Falls is one of Earth’s great spectacles. View it directly as a raging mile-long curtain of water, in all its glory, from a helicopter ride or peek precariously over its edge from Devil’s Pools; the sheer power and force of the falls is something that simply does not disappoint.
Whether you’re here purely to take in the sight of a natural wonder of the world, or for a serious hit of adrenalin via rafting or bungee jumping into the Zambezi, Victoria Falls is a place where you’re sure to tick off numerous items from that bucket list.
Victoria Falls presents the largest sheet of falling water in the world. Known as “the Smoke that Thunders,” this theatrical display of Mother Nature’s power is located at the intersection between Zambia and Zimbabwe in southern Africa. Lined by sandstone banks and possessing tree-studded islands, water from the Zambezi River spills in a spectacular vertical drop. With two national parks comprised of woodland savannah, the outer acreage of Victoria Falls provides riveted riders with views of wildlife down below, from zebras and cheetahs to leopards and antelopes. Glide above the falls’ booming spray—which, during flood season, extends up to 1,300 feet into the sky—and understand just what staggering actually means.
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
Book a window seat for your flight to Sydney: day or night, this city sure is good-looking. Scratch the surface and it only gets better.
The capital of New South Wales and the biggest city in Australia, Sydney is a veritable Down Under wonder, possessing the largest harbor in the world and possibly the most spectacular—and identifiable—opera house on Earth. As if that weren’t enough, this city of five million and coastal basin on the Tasman Sea is bordered by the Blue Mountains to the west—a string of sandstone ridges carved by deep gorges and topped by eucalyptus forests—and blessed with more than a handful of sun-soaked beaches. Hovering above this pulsating city gives you a bird’s eye view of the Hawkesbury River, the Sydney Harbour Bridge, and the oh-so-impressive Olympic Park, which was home to the 2000 Olympics.
National parks ring the city and penetrate right into its heart. Large chunks of the harbour are still edged with bush, while parks cut their way through the skyscrapers and suburbs. Consequently, native critters turn up in the most surprising places. Clouds of flying foxes pass overhead at twilight and spend the night rustling around in suburban fig trees, oversized spiders stake out the corners of lounge-room walls, possums rattle over the roofs of terrace houses, and sulphur-crested cockatoos screech from the railings of urban balconies. At times Sydney’s concrete jungle seems more like an actual one – and doesn’t that just make it all the more exciting?
Dubai is a stirring alchemy of profound traditions and ambitious futuristic vision wrapped into starkly evocative desert splendour.
Ascending from the desert floor like a glossy mirage, the city of Dubai on the Persian Gulf is hands-down one of the most compelling metropolises on Earth. Seen from the ground and it’s absolutely reeling in architecture and size; seen from the sky and it’s nothing short of outstanding. With the Hajar Mountains, Palm Jumeirah (an artificial archipelago), temples, mosques, and Burj Khalifa—the tallest skyscraper in the world—Dubai is a place where modern aspirations meet ancient sensibilities, resulting in a city that’s utterly captivating. Buzz above it and get a sense for why this hub is considered one of the top global hotspots on Earth.