Technological advances have made virtually touring the world both easy and fulfilling.

By Tom Samiljan
January 13, 2011
Illustrated by Leif Parsons

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, and, 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 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.”