Although virtual tourism has been around in various guises for the better part of a decade, technological advances have made it easier and more fulfilling than ever to roam Machu Picchu or the neighborhood around a hotel without ever leaving your desk. Take Google Earth and Bing Maps, which let you zoom in on a satellite view of any address in the world while overlaying it with traffic patterns, weather, and historical satellite photos. Google Earth even offers 3-D tours of ancient Rome and the moon. Similarly, Google Street View lets users virtually stroll through composite street-level images of (mostly) cities around the world, from Hong Kong’s Canton Road to Amsterdam’s Red Light district—without the risk of pickpockets. (Street View has even inspired a pair of homage sites, 9eyes.tumblr.com and googlesightseeing.com, that collect intriguing images caught by its cameras.)
But virtual tourism consists of more than just tricked-out maps. The user-generated cyberworld of Second Life now offers 3-D renditions of Kowloon and Pompeii, among other places. Recently launched vizerra.com has built downloadable 3-D versions of 20 unesco World Heritage sites, including Angkor Wat and Mount Vernon, while the Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood video game painstakingly recreates 15th-century Rome. The game lets you climb over buildings and get rooftop perspectives with complete fluidity. The best part, according to Marcello Simonetta, the game’s historical consultant: “No tourists.”
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