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10 Most Stunning Air Tours in the World

Whether by plane, helicopter or hot air balloon, everything’s better from the sky, and here’s a selection of the very best air tours on (or above) earth.

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1. Maui, Hawaii

In a destination best known for its sun and sand, a company called Blue Hawaiian helicopters offers thrills. Swooping over the blue water and breathtaking mountains that make up Maui and its surrounding islands, these choppers also take in the state’s highest waterfalls and whisk riders up and over the world’s tallest sea cliffs (the ones featured in the original Jurassic Park), which sit on the island of Molokai.

(Photo courtesy of Blue Hawaiian Helicopters)

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2. Kluane National Park, Yukon Territory

The views offered at Kluane are unparalleled-endless mountain peaks (including Canada’s highest, Mount Logan), crystal-clear lakes, and dramatic, immense ice fields that cover much of the surface area in this 22,000 square kilometer park. You can hike for days without seeing another person or, for a whole different experience, take in the vastness from above, in one of the planes or helicopters that fly from the nearby village of Haines Junction.

(Photo courtesy of Colleen Nicholson)

3 / 10

3. Himalayas, Nepal

Flying from Kathmandu’s small, chaotic airport, a number of companies (including perhaps the best known, Buddha Air) take passengers on small planes from Nepal’s bustling capital, out over the front range of the Himalayas-the famed “ceiling of the world”-buzzing past a series of soaring peaks and very close to one of the most majestic sights on earth, the slouching, snow-capped summit of 29,035-foot Mount Everest.

(Photo by Tim Johnson)

4 / 10

4. Coromandel Peninsula, New Zealand

Often missed by foreign tourists, the Coromandel-just a couple hours outside of Auckland-is truly a wonder, a place of hidden coves and hot springs. One company-Coromandel Helicopters-lets you see it all from above, including Hot Water Beach (a place where geothermal waters under the sand bubble up into homemade hot tubs), Cathedral Cove, and the beautiful shooting locations from the Narnia movies.

(Photo by Tim Johnson)

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5. Hong Kong

Hong Kong’s skyline is absolutely iconic, a classic symbol of east Asia: the glassy towers of this financial capital, with the city’s busy harbour before them and the outline of Victoria Peak behind. You take a ride around town or, even better, catch a lift from here to nearby Macau, which is fast emerging as one of the world’s top destinations for gambling and good times.

(Photo courtesy of HerryLawford/Flickr)

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6. Churchill, Manitoba

Although most Canadians learned about our nation’s northlands-Hudson Bay and tundra and polar bears and beluga whales-few have actually seen these natural wonders with their own eyes. In Churchill, a town set on the shores of Hudson Bay, a company called Wings Over Kississing makes all of these things accessible, flying a handful of passengers in a classic Beaver float plane over the place where the boreal forest of the south meets both tundra of the vast north and the gunmetal grey waters of that great Bay.

(Photo by Tim Johnson)

7 / 10

7. Albuquerque, New Mexico

Straddling the Rio Grande and fringed by the picturesque red Sandia Mountains, New Mexico’s largest city is a great place for a hot air balloon ride. Fortunately, they host the biggest festival on earth dedicated to these floating aircraft, the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, which takes place each October. If you happen to miss it, don’t worry-a number of companies in town offer tours, year-round.

(Photo courtesy of 7263255/Flickr)

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8. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

A visit to Brazil’s beach paradise is a place of unquestionable beauty, whether you’re ogling the breathtaking vistas of Christ the Redeemer and Sugarloaf Mountain, or the tanned bodies playing footvolley (a homemade sport) out on the sands of Ipanema. Get an overview from one of the chopper companies that offer brief but dramatic tours, then put on your swimsuit and jump into the middle of the action.

(Photo courtesy of Charlie Phillips/Flickr)

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9. Victoria Falls, Zambia/Zimbabwe

Deep in the heart of Africa and shared by two countries, Victoria Falls is truly a sight to behold-5,600 feet of gushing water, the place where the mighty Zambezi River tumbles more than 350 feet, forming the world’s largest waterfall. Unforgettable from the ground, it’s even grander from the air, as anyone who has taken one of the local helicopter tours (available from either country) will tell you.

(Photo courtesy of Jurvetson/Flickr)

10 / 10

10. Tokyo, Japan

The largest metropolitan area in the world, home to many millions, Japan’s capital is a city that, for the casual visitor, can be tough to get a handle on-it just seems to go on and on and on. But you can get a great overview by catching a ride with a company like Excel Air Service, which flies over the city’s futuristic buildings and green spaces by day and the lights of places like the famous Shibuya Crossing by night.

(Photo by Taga Morio)