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The secret to great travel experiences isn’t just knowing what to see, but how to see it. Bangkok’s street markets demand to be seen on foot; the Scottish Highlands call for a road trip in a vintage Land Rover. And some places simply must be seen from the air. Take to seaplanes, helicopters and hot air balloons to get the best out of the destinations on our “flightseeing” list, which range from the heights of the European Alps to the warm waters of the Indian Ocean.
‘Underwater Waterfall,’ Mauritius
The Indian Ocean’s island destinations have a jewel-like appearance from above, looking like white-fringed emeralds in a sea of blue. But the southwest coast of Mauritius hides an extra surprise: here the movement of silt and sand beneath the waves creates the illusion of an underwater waterfall. Helicopter tours offer the best views of this strange and beautiful phenomenon, and also take in the island’s majestic Le Morne Brabant peninsula.
Why does it make the list? The ‘underwater falls’ is one of the world’s most stunning sights, but you can’t swim out to it or see it from a boat – the illusion only works from the air.
Great Barrier Reef, Australia
While there’s nothing quite like diving the Great Barrier Reef, it takes a sightseeing flight to truly appreciate the scale of this vast natural wonder. The connected reef system covers almost 345,000 square miles, creating intricate blue-green patterns that stretch as far as the eye can see. Crystal Cruises’ shore excursions program offers a seaplane flight over the reef, including views of Heart Reef and a landing at stunning Whitehaven Beach in the Whitsunday Islands.
Why does it make the list? The Great Barrier Reef is the largest living thing on Earth — so large in fact, that it can be seen from space. A flight over this magnificent area puts its beauty and fragility into perspective.
Bagan Plain, Myanmar
Picture the scene: a quiet, misty morning on the plain of Bagan in Myanmar. You watch as your balloon pilot fires the burner. Slowly the balloon begins to rise above the trees and little by little, one of the world’s most remarkable sights comes into view. The ornate spires of more than 2,000 temples pierce the mist, their earthy brickwork and stucco decoration glowing gently in the early morning sun. You can easily pick out Dhammayangyi Temple, the largest of the group, but it is the collective power of these ancient buildings that will take your breath away.
Why does it make the list? Pure atmosphere. The silence, the early morning light, the mist and the temples combine to create an almost spiritual sightseeing experience.
The lakes-and-mountains landscapes of the European Alps are legendary, and Austria’s Salzkammergut region showcases them at their best. Sightseeing flights here take you over glacial lakes, soaring limestone mountains and deep green forests. Alpine villages dot the landscape, adding toy-town medieval churches and traditional wooden chalets to the panorama. Helicopter flights often include a mountain landing and a gourmet lunch overlooking this spectacular corner of Europe.
Why does it make the list? This is the Europe Alps as you always imagined them – dramatic peaks, shimmering lakes and quaint little villages.
Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe/Zambia
At Victoria Falls, the wide Zambezi River plunges into a long and narrow chasm, creating a sight that is routinely cited as one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World. From the air, the view is astonishing. The river, dotted with vivid green islands, spreads out as it heads towards the mile-long edge. From afar, you can see clouds of mist rise from the canyon below. Visit between February and May to see the falls at its strongest.
Why does it make the list? Only a sightseeing flight can show you the falls in its full glory — and you’ll also get panoramic views out over Zambezi National Park, which is home to many large mammals including herds of elephants, lions and buffalo.
– The Tully Team