Countries are increasingly introducing the vaccine passport — an app that proves you have been inoculated and are, thus, safe to travel. Created in a bid to bring back the hard-hit travel industry on its feet, the vaccine passport is still in its initial stages and there will be a lot of debates till it, hopefully, becomes widely acceptable. So, reaching the pre-pandemic travel status will take time. But if you still want to take a trip or two without any restrictions and visit some of your favourite destinations, thanks to technology, you can get a 360-degree, interactive virtual travel experience from your home. All you need is a smartphone or laptop and, better still, Virtual Reality (VR) sets.
View the Mona Lisa up close at Louvre, hike on the Great Wall of China, feel the thrill of a roller coaster ride in an Orlando theme park or take a look down from the edge of a precipice at Yosemite. And, if you’ve done all this, you can even walk the surface of planet Mars. Here are some of the best virtual travel experiences you can indulge in from your living room.
See the entire collection of Louvre, Paris
The world’s most visited museum has put its entire collection of more than 480,000 artworks for free online viewing. This means that you can see the Mona Lisa up-close from the comfort of your home. Among the sculptures are the Winged Victory of Samothrace, a 2nd century BC marble sculpture of Greek goddess Nike, and Venus de Milo, a sculpture by Alexandros of Antioch. There are paintings, jewellery, textiles, furniture and numerous other historical objects for you to see.
Not only those on display but the items in storage or on loan to the museum can also be viewed. Besides items of Louvre, the works at Paris’ Musée National Eugène-Delacroix and the gardens of Tuileries and Carrousel, too, can be visited. Musées Nationaux Récupération’s collection recovered following World War II is also at your viewing disposal. There is an interactive map to guide you through different galleries and rooms. The entire database will continue to be updated with new works and research.
Take the tour here.
Watch wildlife at Tembe Elephant Park
The Tembe Elephant Park is spread across 300 square kilometres in a remote region of Maputaland, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. Like other major national parks in the continent, Tembe is home to a diverse range of animal species including the Big Five — lion, rhino, leopard, buffalo and elephant. There are more than 340 different types of birds who either drop by Tembe along their flying route or live here.
What is so unique about this live feed, you ask? The camera is placed strategically at one of the waterholes in the park, which means that animal visits are frequent and you get to observe their behaviour in the wild very closely. You might be amused to see tiny Suni antelope waiting for their turn at the waterhole with a slight degree of trepidation as they watch a huge herd of elephants, some of whom are the largest in Africa, drinking water.
The feature is brought to you by Africam.com — which is known for live camera services from waterholes across Africa. Tembe lies within a transition area between tropical and sub-tropical climates, which is why its vegetation is more diverse and richer than others in the northern part of Africa.
Watch the animals here.
Go to the highest point at Yosemite National Park
Yosemite National Park is a place guaranteed to take your breath away. Spread across 3,107 square kilometres of California’s Sierra Nevada mountains, the park is famous for its waterfalls and camping grounds. But equally enthralling are its ancient giant sequoias, valleys and meadows. And which intrepid mountaineer wouldn’t want an opportunity to scale the world-famous granite cliff of El Capitan?
The high-resolution virtual tour of Yosemite will take you through more than 250 different locations in the park and some areas around it. You can zoom in to see every detail of whichever corner of the park you are in. Crosshairs on the screen lead to the various sites of the park from any point; all you have to do is click and you’d be immediately transported there. Throughout the interactive experience, you also get to hear the sounds from the place. So when you are at Glacier Point, there will be the distinct chatter of tourists and the “ka-chick” of the cameras. Sounds of birds, gushing water and even the flowing wind can be experienced through this virtual tour.
You can be at the top of the Half Dome or look down from the dizzying heights of the Yosemite Fall. You can admire the interiors of the Ahwahnee Hotel or seek solace in the Ahwahnee Meadow. And yes, you can also see how the surroundings look when one is climbing El Capitan. There are several points to explore including neighbourhood attractions such as the abandoned mining town of Bodie State Park and the Merced River Canyon, where spring wildflower grows.
Every location is explained with a caption and a map is available for easier exploration.
Enjoy the experience here.
Take your kids to the virtual San Diego Zoo
One of the world’s most famous zoos has been live-streaming the activities of their residents for quite some time now. Meant especially for children to learn more about wildlife, environment and animal behaviour, the cameras are placed strategically in and around the enclosures of animals. They capture every moment of the creatures — you can see the elephants and the pandas frolicking around, the wild antics of the apes and baboons, or the majesty of the polar bear and the tiger.
You can access the live feeds through the official site, where the cams are listed by the type of animal. There are also educational videos on wildlife for kids. These include lessons on ocean invertebrates, animal camouflage as well as how zoos are designed.
Access the videos here.
Travel to Austria
The virtual 360-degree tour takes you through some of Austria’s most scenic spots and places of immense historical significance including the Ice Caves of Werfen and the residence of Mozart in Salzburg.
Be ready to be astounded by the grandeur of the Schönbrunn Palace — the trip starts from the magnificent dining room of Emperor Franz Joseph and Empress Elisabeth. A visit to the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna gives you a chance to admire the works by masters such as Titian, Rembrandt and Raphael just with a few clicks. The museum also houses the largest Bruegel collection.
If you opt for the interactive hikes in Saalfelden Leogang, you will be able to see the sunrise over the awe-inspiring landscape as well as feel the peace at the 17th-century hermitage built into the rock over the Lichtenberg Castle. If you have virtual reality headphones, you should check out the entire city of Innsbruck and all of its cultural sights.
One tour you must take is of the 48-kilometre Großglockner High Alpine Road (pictured). From Alpine Meadows to massive rock formations, this route completely encapsulates Austria’s natural charm. It is here where you can see the Pasterze glacier and the stunning view from the top of the 3,798 metres tall Großglockner — the country’s highest mountain.
Begin your Austria tour here.
Visit the Incas at Machu Picchu
This is a guided virtual tour of the 15th century Inca citadel which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the New7Wonders of the World. The 360-degree experience will delight anyone who loves ancient buildings, high mountains, Incan history or even Peru in general. Following a quick rundown of Machu Picchu’s history, the tour starts from one of the overlooks from where you can see the Urubamba River. You are led to the ‘heart of Machu Picchu’ where you get to see the burial grounds and some residences. Take a close look at the stones and the structures; the engineering of the Incas was so outstanding that Machu Picchu survived earthquakes that can flatten modern cities.
The tour goes to the highest point of Machu Picchu citadel — Huayna Picchu. Authorities allow 400 visitors to the point on any given day. But the amazing thing about a virtual tour is that you don’t have to worry about a crowd or waiting time. Oh, and don’t miss the gentle alpacas grazing in one corner of the site.
Start your trip here.
Tour of Orlando
There are just too many things to do in Orlando. From music to food to entertainment, the city is one of the best places to be in. You can take interactive virtual tours of everything on offer to visitors. From the top hotels to classiest restaurants and entertainment districts to globally famous theme parks, there is no dearth of entertainment and leisurely activities — all for your pleasure from behind the screen. There is the wonderful Walt Disney World Resort and all of its magnificent destinations including Magic Kingdom Park, Epcot, Hollywood Studios, Animal Kingdom Theme Park and Blizzard Beach Water Park. Head to the Universal Orlando Resort for a trip with your favourite movie characters at the Universal Studios Florida or just take the Universal City Walk for a delightfully pleasant feel.
Some of the experiences that a virtual tour of Orlando has on offer can be best enjoyed with a VR set. These include zip-lining over alligators at Gatorland and roller coaster rides such as LEGO Kingdoms, Fun Spot, Manta and Mako — thrills you have probably been missing for a long time now. You can also choose to ride the waves of the speedy river of the Aquatica’s Roa’s Rapids at the Aquatica Orlando water park or take the more relaxing float down the winding lazy river in Four Seasons Resort Orlando at Walt Disney World Resort.
Become a tourist in Orlando here.
See the Great Wall of China
The longest man-made structure in human history is unsurprisingly one of the world’s biggest tourist draws. The Great Wall of China is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the New7Wonders of the World. Officially measuring 21,196 kilometres, only a few thousand kilometres of the Wall remain intact today. While many sections of the wall have been restored, there are some which have been left in a wilder state.
The virtual tour of the Great Wall is breathtaking both because of the significance of the site itself and also because you would be undertaking it crowd-free. You can use your VR set for a more immersive experience and better appreciate the spectacular natural vista around the Wall. Among the sections you can explore are Mutianyu and Jinshanling, the latter of which is also renowned for being a scenic hiking destination. Part of the tour is free; the full version for any section costs US$8.
Begin the trip here.
Tour the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, Netherlands
The Rijksmuseum has a long and glorious history and holds priceless art pieces such as Rembrandt’s Night Watch and Johannes Vermeer’s The Milkmaid as well as the iconic self-portrait of Vincent Van Gogh.
There are around one million items housed here but only 8,000 are on display at any time. And this is why the virtual tour seems like a better deal because you get to see over 700,000 works across different floors. If you want to feel like a real tourist taking a guided tour, check out the video tours among which is an insightful one about the arts by the Dutch masters. You can also learn about the secrets of the museum, its collections and history in the Rijksmuseum Unlocked section. Opt for Rijksstudio if you want to see and read details about works of art neatly categorised into collection, artist or theme among others.
The tour also allows you to create a personalised gallery of your own. And the Masterpieces Up Close is the interactive virtual tour that lets you walk in the corridors of the museum and see each painting displayed there, including the masterpieces.
Start you visit here.
Walk on Mars
If Earth has become too boring for you, how about Mars? We do not know when Elon Musk’s Martian dream would become reality. So until then, take solace in virtual reality. On November 26, 2011, NASA sent the Curiosity rover to Mars. The car-sized rover landed on the Red Planet on August 6 the next year and has since been exploring it to determine if it ever supported microbial life. Curiosity has been beaming pictures back to Earth, which has helped researchers know more about the future home of humans.
NASA teamed up with Google to turn the footage recorded by Curiosity into a virtual tour of the Martian landscape for Earthlings. It is quite like the Google Earth feature that we are aware of. The tour is exciting for those who want to get a feel of walking on the Martian surface. Animated icons pop up on the screen to guide you and provide all the necessary information about what you are seeing. You will also hear the voiceover of Katy, a scientist at NASA JPL research centre, to help you with the controls and the features. You can travel to wherever Curiosity has been to. In case you feel lost, just click on the Map icon that appears like a beam in the sky.
Take the tour here.
Go back in time at Angkor Wat
Angkor Wat is one of the world’s largest religious structure. It was constructed as a temple dedicated to Hindu god Vishnu in the 12th century AD by Khmer ruler King Suryavarman II. The temple was later dedicated to Buddhism during the Khmer rule. The Angkor complex, which the temple is part of, was recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1992. The temple is the prime historical attraction in Cambodia — one that is also featured in its flag. Though much of the original architecture was destroyed over the centuries and particularly during the country’s tumultuous political strife in the 20th century, the structure is nevertheless astounding with magnificent spires, life-like stone statues and awe-inspiring bas-reliefs.
So, a virtual tour of this place would certainly be exciting. But this is unlike any other. Why? Because this takes you back in time. Created in collaboration among academics SensiLab at Monash University, the University of Texas at Austin and Flinders University, the Virtual Angkor reconstructs the temple and its surroundings as it would have been in around 1300. Designed for educational purpose, it drops you among people who lived at the time and lets you witness things such as elaborate processions and exchanges at marketplaces. You can see animated people walking a large thoroughfare, rice fields of the empire and Khmer stonemasons crafting the sculptures at workshops. If you have a VR set, the experience is incomparable.
In 2019, the project received the American Historical Association’s Roy Rosenzweig Prize for Innovation in Digital History. The Medieval Academy of America honoured it with the 2021 Digital Humanities and Multimedia Studies Prize.
Travel back in time here.
(Main image: The China Guide)
(Featured image: Eric TERRADE/@eterrade/Unsplash)