Got a head for heights? If you’re craving a new perspective on your travels, the best thing to do is get up high. From mountain-top panoramas to cityscapes, here are 19 of the world’s most incredible aerial views.
No amount of documentary watching can prepare you for the view of the famous Maasai Mara at dawn. As you float up in a hot air balloon and the sun slowly rises, the savannah awakens below you: wildebeests, zebras and impalas graze on the undulating grasslands, impossibly graceful giraffes stride across the open plains and lions and cheetahs stalk their pray.
Follow the stench of dye, leather and pigeon dung to one of the many shops that double up as vantage points over the ancient tanneries Chouwara.
Brave the smell and the views are worth it. Below you, among the city’s rooftops, stretched out leathers bake in the sun and myriad dye-filled pits awash with colour make a striking mosaic of mustard-yellow, ochre, deep purple, indigo and teal.
Think of Machu Picchu and one image springs to mind: crumbling ruins poised atop a vivid-green terraced mountainside, with Huayna Picchu’s horn-shaped looming peak in the background.
But there is another, equally impressive, yet far-less famous viewpoint: the one from Huayna Picchu itself. The trek up the mountain is hard but the view over the ruins below, the densely-forested mountains and the meandering Urubamba River are worth it.
You have to see the Grand Canyon from above. Yet even swotting up on the statistics (more than a mile deep and, in places, 18 miles wide) cannot prepare you for the experience of staring down into this vast abyss.
How you decide to get your dose of vertigo is up to you: hike to a viewpoint, fly over it, or try the Skywalk, a glass-bottomed platform lets you glimpse the canyon between your feet – if you’re brave enough.
5. Trekking in Bac Son valley, Vietnam
Hike through the paddy fields of the Bac Son valley in northern Vietnam and you’ll see some of the country’s most stunning vistas.
But the best views are from the mountains themselves. From here you can see the river lazily twist through a patchwork quilt of acid-yellow, bright-green and ochre fields, dotted with stilt houses and flanked by imposing mountains.
The “coat hanger”, as it’s affectionately dubbed by locals, was the longest single span bridge in the world at the time of its construction. Those with a head for heights can climb the bridge’s 503m-long, 134m-high framework, scaling the steel arch to the summit – an excursion that’s rewarded with 360-degree views of the city, from the glittering harbour to the iconic white-fins of the Sydney Opera House.
7. Admire Bagan from a hot air balloon, Myanmar
It is only from the air that you can truly grasp the sheer scale of this place; the ancient capital, now a copper-coloured, 26-mile-long stretch of dusty plain studded with 4000 temples.
The dawn views from a hot air balloon – when the honey-coloured, ornately sculpted stupas slowly shake off a low slung mist in the morning sun – are unforgettable.
For the most extreme view of one of the world’s most extreme cities, you’ll need to fling yourself out of a plane. As the adrenalin rush hits you, prepare to be transfixed by the view: 13,000ft below you futuristic Dubai displays its wonders, soaring skyscrapers, harsh desert and the sandy-edged fronds of the Palm Jumeirah stretching out into the turquoise ocean.
There’s no shortage of places to get high in Hong Kong; in a city of soaring skyscrapers lofty views are a given.
Yet one of the best has to be the view from The Peak, Hong Kong’s highest mountain. A circular walk around the wooded mountain offers the best views of the skyscraper-packed cityscape, as well as vistas of the bustling harbour and Outlying Islands.
10. Paraglide through Wengen, Switzerland
Ditch the skis for an exhilarating paragliding trip over Wengen, a mountainside village in Switzerland famed for its celestial views. This is picture-perfect alpine scenery: charming chocolate-box houses and frozen, glacial mountain tops.
In summer the lush slopes contrast with the ice-capped tips of the Jungfrau massif; winter vistas are even more breathtaking, revealing an impossibly photogenic snow-dusted landscape.
Visible from space, the Great Barrier Reef is made up of 2900 individual reefs, 900 islands and countless sandy cays. Seeing it from space may be out of reach for most, but helicopter flights give equally as impressive views of this natural wonder.
Hop on a flight in Cairns, from where you’ll glide over the endless indigo-stained ocean and the Whitsunday’s dreamy swirls of golden sands.
12. Hiking rice terraces in Longji, China
In a country full of beautiful rice terraces, the Longji mountain range, or “Dragon’s Spine” is perhaps the best example.
Trekking here will take you to heights of around 880m, from where you can gaze down over the intricate terraces. Etched into the earth in ribbon-like layers of rice, soil and water, they mark the landscape like contours on a map.
13. Fly over Angel Falls, Venezuela
Nineteen times the height of Niagara Falls, the 979m-high Angel Falls is the highest waterfall in the world. The cascade plunges from Auyán-tepui, one of the tepui (table top mountains) that dominate the jungle landscape here, and the best way to see it is undoubtedly from the air. Watching the Churun River surge over the mountain edge, its easy to see why locals call it the “falls from the deepest place”.
14. Look down on London from the Shard, England
Dramatically piercing the London sky, the 1017ft Shard is Western Europe’s tallest building. With viewing platforms at a lofty 800ft above the capital, the Shard easily trumps other vantage points in the city. And with those dizzying heights come 40 miles of jaw-dropping views – a panoramic sweep of London that ticks off its biggest sights, from Tower Bridge to the London Eye.
Unsurprisingly sun-worshippers flock to the Turquoise Coast – but this area has more to offer than blissful beaches. The resort of Ölüdeniz has been consistently ranked as one of the top spots in the world for paragliding, with paragliders regularly launching from the 1960m-high Babadag (Father Mountain), swooping slowly down to the golden arc of sand that curves around the resort’s famous azure lagoon.
16. Climb across a stone forest, Madagascar
Remote and otherworldly, Tsingy de Bemaraha national park, the largest stone forest in the world, lies a five-day journey from Madagascar’s capital. It’s worth it: a bizarre labyrinth of razor-sharp spires, narrow ravines and hidden caves await.
This seemingly inhospitable landscape teems with wildlife, too: lemurs, parrots and lizards can be spotted amid the serrated rock towers.
If you’re feeling flush, take to the skies for one of the world’s most famous views: Rio de Janiero from the air. As well as admiring the concrete jungle squeezed between the mountains and Atlantic ocean, there’s plenty to look out for: the golden swathes of Copacabana and Ipanema beaches, the rounded hump of Sugar Loaf mountain, and possibly most famous of all, the glorious statue of Christ the Redeemer with arms outstretched over the city.
The world’s largest sinkhole lures many divers into its inky depths; this indigo abyss plunges to over 100m. However, it is from above that the Blue Hole really comes into its own. Flying over this natural phenomenon in a glass bottomed helicopter allows you to truly grasp the magnificence of the collapsed cavern.
An awe-inspiring tower of cascading water, the “Smoke That Thunders” (as Victoria Falls is locally known) can be seen from 30 miles away.
On the ground it can be hard to grasp its sheer size – a true giant at 1.7km wide and 110m deep – yet from above, soaring in a microlight, its true magnificence is unveiled. Below your dangling feet, torrents of water plunge over the precipice and iridescent rainbows form in the billowing spray.