Monday newsletters always feature top 10 travel lists to inspire.
Today: Top 10 most scenic & spectacular flights in the world
Flying is one of the best ways to see the world. Whether you are a frequent flyer or not, nothing is better than glancing out of the window to be wowed by spectacular landscapes and otherwordly sights you have never seen before. Observing majestic mountain peaks, thundering waterfalls, gorgeous islands, massive glaciers, and deep canyons from a bird’s-eye perspective makes you appreciate even more the vast and often remote wilderness areas left on our beautiful world. And the best flying experience styles are as varied as they are exciting, from small aircraft to hot air balloons and helicopters to large jets. So be sure to request a window seat on one of the following 10 scenic flights, which I consider to be the most spectacular flying journeys on our planet.
There is more information (with YouTube videos) below the slide show. Think I missed one? Share your favorite scenic flight in the comments section.
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10. FLIGHT TO THE SOUTHERN AURORA
In April 2017, the first ever commercial flight to view the Southern Lights took off from Dunedin on New Zealand’s South Island. The Boeing 767 – operated by Air New Zealand – had more than 130 photographers and aurora enthusiasts on board and traveled south to the Antarctic circle to see the natural lights phenomenon up close. The eight-hour flight crossed the international dateline twice, with the plane flying in large circles so that passengers on both sides could get a good view of the spectacular lights. The special Aurora Australis mission was the bold idea of Otago Museum director Dr Ian Griffin, but caught the imagination of aurora photographers with the flight selling out in less than a week, with some passengers even flying in from Australia, South Africa and Spain. Several flights are planned for 2023 (operated by a Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner) and can be booked here.
9. FLIGHT OVER THE OKAVANGO DELTA IN BOTSWANA
The Okavango Delta in Botswana is one of the most pristine wilderness areas in the world. The largest inland delta in the world offers access to the spectacle of wild Africa with the heart-stopping excitement of big game viewing, the supreme tranquility and serenity of an untouched delta, and evocative scenes of extraordinary natural beauty. A scenic flight over the delta gives you a bird’s-eye perspective of the golden-grassed floodplains, framed by lush palm islands, that are inhabited by a staggering variety of wildlife. You can keep a look out for hippos in the waterways and elephant and buffalo in the shade of the trees. You also observe how the water channels meander their way through the delta in ever-changing paths as this dynamic water system evolves. Transport within the Okavango Delta is primarily by light aircraft – mostly single engine airplanes – although helicopter services are also available.
- Other accolades: the Okavango Delta also features in my top 10 lists of the most spectacular ways to arrive at a hotel, the most stunning safari lodges in Africa, the most luxurious glamping sites in the world, and the most epic trips of a lifetime.
8. HELICOPTER FLIGHT OVER THE GRAND CANYON, USA
A powerful and inspiring landscape, Grand Canyon National Park is one of the USA’s most popular tourist destinations. Unique combinations of geologic color and erosional forms carved by the Colorado River decorate a canyon that is 277 river miles (446km) long, up to 18 miles (29km) wide, and a mile (1.6km) deep. The Grand Canyon reveals nature’s sheer force with its towering buttes, pinnacles and mesas, and its immense size leaves many visitors weak in the knees. One of the most exciting ways to see the Grand Canyon is on a helicopter tour, with departure from either Las Vegas or near the entrance of the Grand Canyon National Park. Flying above and beneath the rim of the Grand Canyon will offer views you can’t see from any viewpoint on the ground.
- Other accolades: the Grand Canyon also features in my top 10 lists of the most beautiful national parks in the USA, the world’s most iconic sunrise & sunset spots, the most spectacular waterfalls in the world, the most magnificent scenery in the world, and the most epic trips of a lifetime.
7. FLIGHT OVER MILFORD SOUND IN NEW ZEALAND
The flight from Queenstown to Milford Sound in New Zealand is an unforgettable insight into a natural realm at its unspoilt best. Home to some of the most dramatic scenery in the world, these remarkable views can only truly be appreciated from above. As you cross over into the Fiordland National Park, you’ll discover an untouched world of peaks and valleys, where mountains reach into the sea – a landscape forged by the rapid retreat of glaciers. Soaring above Milford Sound you’ll spot cascading waterfalls hidden amongst towering peaks, and the icy blue channel that flows into the Tasman Sea. From the luxuriant mosses and ferns clinging to sheer rock faces, to immense peaks rising straight from the ocean depths, the entire experience during the scenic flight is truly awe-inspiring. Fly across the mountain ranges and beech forests of the Southern Alps, above the famous Milford Track and over the Sutherland Falls before you reach the striking Lake Wakatipu and land at Queenstown Airport, rated one of the world’s most spectacular landings.
6. HOT AIR BALLOON FLIGHT OVER NAMIBIA’S DESERT
If you want to ponder how insignificant we really are, then hop into a hot air balloon and quietly absorb the unparalleled bird’s eye views of Namibia’s phenomenal landscape. One of the best places for a scenic hot air balloon flight is the Namib desert, where Namib Sky Balloon Safaris has been operating for the last 25 years without any accident or incident. Awake just before dawn and venture out to the launch site, then float up peacefully into the sky as the sun rises. Enjoy spectacular views of jagged mountain tops that emerge from shifting dunes and soar over a landscape that has remained untouched for millions of years. After a gentle landing, as is customary with any balloon flight, an “Out Of Africa” style Champagne breakfast is set up in the middle of nowhere. Your pilot will also present you with a flight certificate before you take a leisurely nature drive back to the meeting point.
- Other accolades: soaring in a hot air balloon over Namibia also features in my top 10 list of the best things to see & do in Namibia.
5. LANDING AT (OR TAKING OFF FROM) BHUTAN’S PARO AIRPORT
Travelers visiting the kingdom of Buthan have no other option but to fly to Paro Airport, the sole international airport of the four airports in the Kingdom of Bhutan. Located 2,4 km (1.5 mi) above sea level and with surrounding peaks as high as 5,500 m (18,000 ft), it is considered one of the world’s most dangerous airports. So treacherous is the landing, that only a select number of pilots (from Bhutan Airlines, Buddha Air, and Drukair) are certified to land at the airport. Flights to and from Paro are allowed under visual meteorological conditions only and are restricted to daylight hours from sunrise to sunset. Planes have to weave through the dozens of houses that are scattered across the mountainside – coming within feet of clipping the roofs. But if you are not too nervous about the perilous conditions, you will be rewarded with breathtaking views over the clear blue waters over the Paro river, the lush green foliage of Bhutan’s landscape, and the majestic peaks of the Himalayas (including Mount Everest).
- Other accolades: landing at (or taking off from) Paro Airport also features in my top 10 list of the best things to see & do in Bhutan.
- Review: read my review of my flight with Bhutan Airlines here.
4. HELICOPTER FLIGHT OVER SANTORINI, GREECE
The Greek island of Santorini is arguably one of the world’s most idyllic islands and ranks among my favorite destinations on earth. Perched high above the deep blue Aegean Sea, Santorini’s whitewashed villages are clustered atop dramatic cliffs, with black sand beaches resting at the bottom. The island was shaped some 3,600 years ago by one of the largest volcanic eruptions in recorded history, which left a giant water-filled crater measuring about 12 by 7 km (7.5 by 4 mi) and surrounded by 300 m (980 ft) high cliffs on all sides. One of the best ways to appreciate the island’s natural splendor is to fly over the world-renowned caldera by helicopter, especially around sunset time. Peak Helicopter Service offers a choice between two scenic flight tours, the standard 20 minute or the extended 30 minute tour.
- Other accolades: flying in a helicoper over Santorini also features in my top 10 list of the most fabulous things to see & do in Santorini.
3. SEAPLANE FLIGHT IN THE MALDIVES
For most people, thé iconic image of the Maldives is that of a deep blue ocean interspersed by tiny palm islands surrounded by ridiculously clear lagoons and sugar white beaches. The only way to see that breathtaking view of 50 shades of blue is from the air, and although you will catch a few glimpses of the islands from your plane upon landing or departure at Male airport, the best vantage point for the breathtaking panoramas is offered by the seaplanes that transfer guests to their resorts. Seaplane transfers in the Maldives are operated by either Trans Maldivian Airways or Manta Air. A flight onboard a seaplane in the Maldives and admiring the picture-perfect archipelago from a bird’s eye perspective is one of the ultimate scenic experiences that the destination has to offer.
- Other accolades: flying onboard a seaplane in the Maldives also features in my top 10 list of the most fabulous things to see & do in the Maldives.
- Review: read my review of a Maldives seaplane transfer here.
2. HELICOPTER FLIGHT OVER THE ISLAND OF KAUAI, HAWAII
Kauai was the first of the major Hawaiian Islands to rise from the ocean floor and it was the first to become extinct some 5 million years ago. Sculpted by nature for millions of years, Kauai’s legendary and sensational natural beauty is epitomized by the Na Pali Coast – 14 miles (22 km) of sea cliffs ascending 3,000 feet (900 m) above untamed shoreline, with sheer-walled valleys and cascading waterfalls—and spectacular Waimea Canyon, the ‘Grand Canyon of the Pacific’. Kauai also boasts the wettest spot on the planet at Mount Wai’ale’ale and the tremendous rainfall has produced the most remarkable sheer valleys, razor sharp ridges descending to the sea and most amazing array of waterfalls to be assembled anywhere in the world. Most of Kauai’s awe-inspiring sights are inaccessible from the ground and can only be seen and appreciated by helicopter.
- Other accolades: Kauai also features in my top 10 lists of the most scenic islands in the world most beautiful beaches in the world, the world’s most epic hikes, the most spectacular waterfalls in the world, the most magnificent scenery in the world, and most epic trips of a lifetime.
1. A PRIVATE FLIGHT TO ANTARCTICA WITH WHITE DESERT
White Desert is the first and only operator taking guests into the rarely seen interior of Antarctica. The flights from Cape Town, South Africa, to Antarctica are operated in privately chartered jets – either a Gulfstream G550 or an Airbus A340 – and take around 5 hours. Both planes have wide oval windows, which offer incredible views of the icebergs of the Southern Ocean. The last part of the flight is extremely scenic as the giant aircraft slowly descends over the magical Antarctic landscape on its way to Wolf’s Fang runway, a blue ice runway which is privately operated by White Desert and which takes 22 hours to be groomed and prepared. Guest can book the flight as a day trip (with three hours on the ground in Antarctica) or opt to stay at one of White Desert’s luxury camps in Antarctica (with activities including hiking, abseiling, fat biking, and trips to the South Pole & Emperor penguins).
- Review: read my review of White Desert’s A340 flight to Antarctica here.
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no 1 should be helicopter tour to everest base camp
A flight seeing trip around Denali with a landing and takeoff from one of its glaciers would have been a very good addition to this list. Took it twice and was blessed to have had clear blue, non-windy skies both times.