Veteran helicopter pilot Chip Kalvin refuses to retire. After clocking 10,000 hours above Alaska’s glaciers and ice fields, he’s still hooked on the thrill of helicopter flying. And he’s not alone. “People often come back from one of my flights and say, ‘That was the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen or done in my life.’”
That’s hardly surprising. 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.
Take thundering Victoria Falls, for instance, which stretches 5,600 feet between the Zambia and Zimbabwe borders. It’s a site that’s literally too big to appreciate at ground level. So rather than trekking around this awe-inspiring natural phenomenon, New York photographer’s agent Emily McNeil booked her first helicopter ride. “I had no idea the scale of the falls until we flew over,” she says. “Seeing how the Zambezi River winds through the landscape, nourishing the land and then falling over the rocks…. I may not have taken a breath again until we touched down.”
It’s not only natural sights that have the ability to take your breath away when seen from a chopper. In Hong Kong, a chaotic metropolis of skyscrapers and jet-setters, you can indulge the impulse to rise above it all by taking a helicopter ride on the Peninsula Hotel’s whirlybird. You’ll soar over the world’s tallest hotel (the Ritz-Carlton Hong Kong) and the lavish homes studding Victoria Peak, as ships ply the harbor far below. This 15-minute joyride may well be the most thrilling part of your entire vacation and the story you can’t stop sharing. And to take advantage of this opportunity, you don’t even have to be a guest of the hotel.
The common denominator? Once you’ve taken one of these amazing helicopter rides, you won’t see the earth in the same way.