Wanderlust

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Flying High: Best Helicopter Tours In The World

By GeoEx Staff | 12/15/18

Sun setting during a helicopter adventure from Nimmo Bay Resort

We dream of epic adventures, of reaching that ultra-distant corner that feels completely unexplored, of beholding jaw-dropping natural landscapes from a whole new perspective, of experiencing cultural wonders so remote that most people have never heard of them, let alone seen them. Helicopters can be the key to realizing this dream—and doing so with efficiency, ease, and exclusivity. According to GeoEx’s adventure travel specialists, certain destinations are especially prime for exploration by chopper, and with carefully chosen pilot-guides at the helm to share the most amazing sights and landing spots, travelers are in store for over-the-top experiences in these locales. Below are our favorite helicopter trips across the globe.

Kenya: Wildlife & Wild Lands From Above

The extraordinarily varied landscapes, cultures, and wildlife of Kenya make it especially suited for helicopter exploration. By air, you can link and discover the most exciting and beautiful locales, from the lakes of the Great Rift to the deserts of the north to the plains of the Masai Mara and the Chyulu Hills.

You might fly to Lake Turkana, known for attracting thousands of nesting flamingos, which turn its surface into a radiant cloud of pink. Experiencing the spectacular colors of Lake Turkana while witnessing the flamingos at sunset is not to be missed!

Flamingos in flight over Lake Natron, Kenya

After a night at the luxurious and wonderfully remote Desert Rose, a lodge with five guest houses carved out of living rock with open-air bathrooms and spectacular views, you could heli to Silale’s vast crater and over the sand dunes and painted rocks and hoodoos of Suguta Valley, possibly landing to meet Pokot people.

Two helicopters landed in the Suguta Valley in Kenya
Photo by Paolo Parazzi

Another day you can fly over the northern part of Samburu country, landing by the Singing Wells, where Samburu herdsmen draw water for their livestock from deep wells in the riverbed while singing traditional songs. If you’re drawn to Mount Kenya, iconic in shape and size, you can be whisked around its twin peaks of Batian and Nelion and alongside its sheer cliffs and glaciers, gazing down at the plains sprawling some 12,000 feet below. Its crystal-blue crater lakes offer excellent trout- and fly-fishing.

Canadian Rockies & Rain Forest

In western Canada, untamed ranges with snowcapped peaks explode above the earth and primordial forests tumble to the sea in a maze of islands, fjords, and bays. This spellbinding part of the planet dazzles visitors with magnificent mountains, ancient glaciers, enormous cedars, and a panoply of active wildlife. Helicopters and sea planes make it accessible, whisking you into luxurious wilderness lodges from which to base your explorations.

Helicopter at a remote fishing spot in British Columbia's wilderness, Canada
Photo by Jeremy Koreski

Choppers are on hand each day to carry you farther in, to get a bird’s-eye view of deep-blue crevasses and the towering granite cathedrals of the Bugaboo Spires, to reach phenomenal hiking atop sprawling ice fields and wildflower-dotted meadows perfect for picnicking, and to arrive at isolated rivers rushing with rainbow trout in the Great Bear Rainforest, one of the world’s last great tracts of unspoiled temperate rain forest. With or without heli assistance, you can also tackle a high-alpine fixed climbing route; interact with native Kwakwaka’wakw people; paddleboard; kayak; watch for seals, eagles, whales, and bears; and simply soak in the breathtaking surroundings from sensationally sited hot tubs.

Chad: Wildlife, Deserts & Nomads

With few roads and limited tourism infrastructure, Chad remains far off the travel radar—but the intrepid sorts who venture into this North African nation are rewarded with sensational mountain and desert scenery, incredible wildlife sightings, and fascinating cultural encounters. For the ultimate, most all-encompassing look, opt for a 13-day helicopter trip adventure. On safari in Zakouma National Park, you spot elephants and hear an inspiring conservation success story. Then spend time exploring the breathtaking, volcanic Tibesti mountain range, which splits up Chad’s massive deserts and is dotted with freshwater springs, palm trees, and ancient rock art, some of which dates back 8,000 years.

Helicopter at the base of a natural arch formation in Chad's Ennedi Plateau
Photo by Tropic Air

After flying over its highest peak, 11,200-foot Emi Koussi, you move on to the Borkou region, which sits at 200 feet above sea level and forms the middle ground between the Sahara and the fertile lands of central Sudan. Zip over sand dunes and the spectacular Ounianga Lakes before touching down on the Ennedi Plateau, where you wander among wind- and water-carved sandstone canyons, arches, spires, and pillars and study UNESCO-acclaimed prehistoric rock paintings. Along the way, you may meet nomads watering their camels at Guelta d’Archei or some of the last remaining Toubou people, semi-nomadic pastoralists from the Tibesti mountains.

Nepal: Himalayan Peaks & Monasteries

Mountain lovers have been beckoned by Nepal's sensational Himalayas for centuries. Today, the most technologically advanced form of trekking is probably the heli trek.


Video by Beyul Experiences

Going by chopper gives us the chance to live the excitement of being at the top of the world without going through the physically challenging and time-consuming experience of getting there the traditional way. Using the most high-tech mountain helicopters, you can fly very close to many of the Everest region’s major peaks, including 27,940-foot Lhotse, 27,838-foot Makalu and 26,864-foot Cho Oyu.

Helicopter at Everest Base Camp in Nepal
Photo by Beyul Experiences

You also get to set foot at Everest Base Camp (16,900 feet) and have breakfast at nearly 13,800 feet sitting face to face with the great peaks of the Himalayas. For a more cultural twist, it’s possible to stop in at Tengboche Monastery and to spend time in the village of Pheriche, meeting locals in its teahouse.

Australia: Diverse Landscapes & Wild Creatures

A mega-diverse island-continent, Australia astounds travelers with its distinctive wildlife (like wallabies and kangaroos) and its range of stunning landscapes, from tropical rain forests and thriving coral reefs in the northeast to red deserts in the center to mountain ranges in the south and vineyard-laden valleys and balmy beaches in the west. It’s a vast country and helicopters come in handy to cover the miles and offer unusual perspectives. Iconic Ayers Rock (Uluru), for example, is especially impressive when approached from the air. After a stop there, you can fly to the remote Pitjantjatjara Lands at Cave Hill to behold magnificent cave paintings and explore the Aboriginal Songline (stories).

A small plane flies over Australia's Great Barrier Reef

In Queensland, you might fly over the gorgeous blue-green waters of the Great Barrier Reef, the planet's largest living thing, putting down to snorkel with colorful schools of fish. From Melbourne, you might fly along the stunning coast to the Mornington Peninsula for a sustainable farm tour, cooking lesson, sampling of local cheeses and fruits, and lunch with area winemakers. And from Sydney, helicoptering into the Emirates Wolgan Valley gives unique access to the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Wilderness Area. To expand your travels to Tasmania, board a private helicopter in Hobart and fly to the sublime Saffire Lodge on the Freycinet Peninsula, beloved for tempting white-sand beaches and rambunctious geology, and then continue to the Cradle Mountain Lodge for more sensational explorations and relaxation.

Ethiopia: Rock-Hewn Churches & Desert Marvels

Ethiopia is home to striking geography and an immense history, spanning diverse religions and philosophies. To appreciate its most-astonishing and least-visited wonders of Ethiopia, hop in a helicopter and fly north. First to the Tigray region, where ancient rock-hewn churches perch high on steep hilltops or hang off cliff faces. By land—with long, rough drives and challenging hikes up nearly non-existent footpaths—you’d be lucky to see one of these sacred sites in a day, but by air, you can reach a few of the top sites in one afternoon, not to mention revel in spectacular aerial views of stratified mountains and sharp peaks rising from the plains. Touching down and going inside the churches gives you the chance to meet their priests and take in colorful, centuries-old frescoes.

A view over the Tigray region in Ethiopia, known for its rock-hewn cliff churches
Photo by Tropic Air

Next, fly to the Danakil Depression, an otherworldly realm of acid lakes, colorful sulfur springs, active volcanoes, and giant salt pans set on a geographical fault within the Great Rift Valley. You can hover above the bubbling lava lake of Erta Ale’s southerly crater and land nearby in the Danakil to see what it feels like to stand at one of the lowest points of earth and one of the hottest.

A helicopter near the sulfur pools of the Danakil Depression, Ethiopia
Photo by Richard Roberts

If you wish, camp overnight to watch bright orange and red sprays of lava shooting into the dark sky. En route back to civilization afterwards, keep an eye out on the inhospitable land below you for huge camel trains of the Afar nomadic people, snaking their way across to collect salt.

New Zealand: Glaciers & Volcanoes

New Zealand is known for its natural majesty and stunning bio-, eco-, and scenic diversity, and helicopters can treat visitors to some of the country’s most dramatic and breathtaking views. On the South Island of New Zealand, don’t miss the chance to fly to the nation’s highest peak, 12,313-foot Mount Cook—or Aoraki, as it is known in Maori. You move over rolling farmland and stunning turquoise lakes before reaching the magnificent, glacier-draped Mount Cook. After setting down to get acquainted with the glacier and enjoy a gourmet picnic, you may take back to the skies and make your way to Queensland along the western side of the Southern Alps, gazing over high ridges and a gorgeous, untouched landscape.

A helicopter lands on Franz Josef Glacier on New Zealand's South Island

Another Southern Alps highlight destination is Minaret Station, a family-owned and -run ranch and luxury lodge set in a pristine glacial valley that’s accessible only by helicopter. After you've arrived there, you can relax on your private deck with views of Mount Aspiring National Park and sparkling Lake Wanaka, or you can take back to the skies for a range of wilderness experiences, including heli-hiking, -skiing, -fishing, and -biking. You might also fly to Fiordland’s remote beaches to feast al fresco on barbecued crayfish or to meet lounging sea lions.

Aerial image of White Island in the Bay of Plenty, North Island, New Zealand

Of the North Island’s many volcanic marvels, White Island—or Whakaari—may be the most impressive. Popping 1053 feet out of the Bay of Plenty to the east of the North Island, it’s one of the world's few accessible active volcanoes, with sulfur-lipped fumaroles and roaring steam vents creating a stark wonderland amidst the mud- and ash-soaked crater, which almost bisects the isle. To see it for yourself, take a helicopter tour from Rotorua, savoring aerial views before landing on its lunar-like surface. Your pilot-guide leads you on foot to carefully explore the crater floor, observing active steam vents, hot streams, vibrant sulfur formations, and the steaming crater, and learning about the island’s history and geology.

Botswana: Astonishing Wildlife & Waterways

After traveling 1,000 long miles and cutting through the bone-dry Kalahari Desert, the Okavango River miraculously dissolves into the earth’s largest inland delta—one that supports a dizzying variety of flora and fauna. It’s a top thrill for nature lovers to visit this UNESCO World Heritage Site, taking mokoro boat rides, game drives, and bush walks to spot hippos, giraffes, crocodiles, lions, leopards, rhinos, hundreds of bird species, and much more. To broaden your appreciation of the Okavango Delta landscape and its denizens and to provide incredible photographic opportunities, lift off by chopper from your luxury safari lodge and soar over the elegantly winding waterways, lush marshes, riverine forests, and grassy plains.

Aerial image of a herd of Cape Buffalo in the Kwedi Concession of Botswana's Okavango Delta
Photo by Dana Allen

From above you might spy an enormous herd of cavorting elephant, an astonishing line of wildebeest migrating across a spillway, a group of gracefully grazing gazelles, or dozens of giraffes ambling along the horizon. Following the game and the lines of the landscape, your pilot may touch down and lead you on a bush walk for a closer look or may wing you to a remote palm island in the delta that you have all to yourselves for a champagne toast.

You might also fly from the delta to the Tsodilo Hills, located in the northwest corner of Botswana and a UNESCO site for its 4,500 rock paintings. This ancient art has unique religious and spiritual significance to the local people and provides a rare record of human settlement over thousands of years.

Cambodia: Ancient UNESCO-Acclaimed Temples

One of humanity’s greatest architectural achievement nestles amid Cambodia’s dense jungles: the temples of the Khmer Empire. Reaching them by helicopter offers a vantage point and ease that few travelers have the privilege of experiencing. As you fly over thriving countryside, verdant rice paddies, and bustling villages, you gain a new perspective on the vastness of the once-great kingdom.

You might touch down at the seldom-visited, UNESCO-listed Preah Vihear, a Hindu temple complex near the border with Thailand that predates Angkor Wat by 100 years and has one of the most spectacular settings of all of Cambodia’s temples: atop a 1720-foot cliff. Then return to the skies and helicopter to the jungle-engulfed Beng Mealea (the Lotus Pond Temple), built early in the 11th century by Suryavarman II. Clambering over large sandstone blocks to reach the inner sanctuary and eerie worship corridor may give you the feeling that you are the first to discover it.

Prasat Beng Mealea temple ruins in Siem Reap Province, Cambodia

Monks at an active pagoda nearby may grace you with a personal blessing before you reboard the chopper and make your way to the Koh Ker Temple, former royal capital of Jayavarman IV and location of Prasat Thom, an imposing seven-tiered pyramid and temple complex. All this before returning to Siem Reap, where a private visit to Conservation d'Angkor, not normally open to the public, can be arranged for the following day.

Guatemala: Mountains, Villages & Jungle-Tucked Ruins

Rich in tremendous scenery, Mayan glories, colonial grandeur, and warm-hearted folks, Guatemala is one of our favorite places in the Americas for a full-on cultural immersion—yet it’s often overlooked by travelers. If you’re ready for a good look over its highest lights, we recommend using helicopters. First, zip from Antigua to the top of Pacaya Volcano, a grumbling, smoke-belching, 8371-foot spectacle, where you can step out onto a barren moonscape of loose rock, watch steam vents billowing, and take in a panorama that stretches to the northern volcanoes, the Pacific lowlands, and all the way to El Salvador.

Helicopter flight over volcanoes in Guatemala
Photo by Viaventure

Next on your tour of Guatemala's highlights by helicopter, fly to Lake Atitlan via the world-famous Chichicastenango market (avoiding more than four hours of driving). After a couple days enjoying the rugged hills and traditional highland villages around Lake Atitlán (with opportunities to shop for hand-woven textiles, hike volcanoes, kayak, bike, and go zip-lining), continue to the country’s remote, jungle-clad north. Get a lift by chopper to the super-isolated Mayan archaeological site of El Mirador, accessible only by air or multiday trek. This site thrived during the Mayan Pre-Classic Era, but was completely abandoned in 150 CE for unknown reasons. As you wander among its mysterious ruins and ongoing excavations—much of what's here remains shrouded in dense foliage—consider that El Mirador comprises the largest cluster of buildings (and the biggest pyramid) of any Mayan site, even Tikal.

Alaska: Glaciers, Braided Rivers & Bears

Although it’s best known for Denali, which at 20,310 feet is the highest point in North America, the Alaskan Range’s southern portion is rugged, wild, gorgeous, and so remote that it receives very few visitors. This quintessential Alaska wilderness can be experienced by flying into the family-owned, supremely comfortable Winterlake Lodge and then exploring the surroundings with the on-site R-44 and A-Star helicopters. While soaring up above the evergreen forests, you can watch braided rivers spread out before you, running with spawning salmon and traced eagerly by brown bears. You can spot moose standing in meadows and clumps of fuchsia fireweed accenting the ridgelines.

Winterlake Lodge helicopter excursion to a remote picnic spot in the Alaska Range, United States
Photo by Tyrone Potgieter / Within the Wild

You might land on Trimble Glacier to visit a team of sled dogs at their summer camp, go cross-country skiing, or observe glacier moulins, where pristine runoff spins into icy aquamarine holes and disappears. You might fly instead to the Happy River, where you’re dropped for a Class III rafting trip or fly-fishing excursion—always looking out for bald eagles, Dall’s sheep, and brown and black bears. If you’d rather hike through this alpine wonderland, get a heli lift to the summit of Wolverine Ridge or Lupine Falls and ramble to your heart’s content, savoring the sight of snowcapped peaks, blooming wildflowers, blueberry patches, shimmering lakes, and no development.

Go Farther with Helicopter Adventures

What you see above is just the tip of the iceberg. Other wonderful destinations for helicopter excursions include the safari destination of Namibia, where you can soar over the world's highest sand dunes and watch for hardy wildlife, and the emerging South American country of Colombia, where you can take a chopper to a jungle-tucked lost city that would otherwise take five days to trek to, and then fly down to a Kogi tribe village for a rare and authentic interaction.

Aerial view from a helicopter excursion over Tayrona National Park, Colombia
Photo by Galavanta Colombia

In Chile's mountain paradise of Patagonia, you can savor spectacular Lake District views, fly to thermal springs, go heli-biking on lava fields, as well as go heli-fishing and -rafting, and in the geothermal wonderland of Iceland, you can reach astonishing and isolated volcanoes, glaciers, waterfalls, and black-sand beaches by chopper. If you'd rather helicopter among fjords and awe-inspiring peaks in Europe, head to Norway and choose from a wide array of outdoor activities. The possibilities and destinations are endless.

Scenic helicopter flight over the Villarica Volcano in Chile's Lake District
Photo by Vira Vira

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Give us a call to learn more about these and other exciting possibilities in any of GeoEx's adventure travel destinations, give us a call at 888-570-7108.

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