Technology can be a wonderful thing – and rarely has that been truer than in 2020 when so many of us are hunkered down at home, dreaming of far flung destinations, staring at bucket list trips and wondering if and when we’ll get the chance to tick them off.
The global lockdown and travel hiatus has compelled many travel companies and tourist destinations to get creative and in many cases, they’ve used technology and creativity to come to us rather than the more traditional route of us going to them. Which is why Official ESTA has compiled eight of the world’s most extraordinary, remote, inspiring places open to explore from the comfort of home without the crowds, the flights, the costs – or the exotic stomach upsets. What’s not to like?
Using a variety of technologies, from Google maps to 3D interactive panoramas, it’s worth taking a few minutes to play around with the tools each destination has employed to make sure you get the most of it, whether that’s stumbling upon a blue-footed booby in the Galápagos’s Isabela Island or exploring Ernest Shcakleton’s hut, frozen in time on Antarctica’s Ross Island since 1909.
So, buckle up, bypass your passport and prepare to hit the road, sort of.
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The world’s largest desert and home to 90% of the world’s fresh water, most of it frozen, a virtual trip to Antarctica is about as far from the comfort of your couch as you can get. Explore the frozen wilderness, its extraordinary wildlife and landmarks, from the rookeries of chinstrap penguins to the ceremonial flags planted at the South Pole by brave explorers. See too the legacy of man’s attempts at conquest, including Earnest Shackleton’s beautifully preserved Nimrod expedition base on Ross Island.
Few places offer such natural abundance and diversity as Galápagos. Born only five to ten million years ago from exceptional volcanic activity in the heart of the Pacific, they are mere youngsters in the grand scheme of things yet remain one of the most entrancing, exotic destinations to visit.
Take a tour through two billion years as you dive one mile deep into the Grand Canyon. Layers of rock and fossil laid bare in the rock tell the story of a changing continent and the animals that once roamed these lands. While you do admittedly miss the grandeur of seeing it with your own eyes, with options to hike or kayak through the gorge you may get to experience more virtually than you would in reality!
Great Barrier Reef
The largest coral reef system on Earth is made up of close to 3,000 individual reefs and covers around half the area of Texas! Thanks to Google’s collaboration with the Catlin Seaview Survey, we can now dive below the waters virtually to explore some of the Great Barrier Reef’s top dive sites. No snorkel required.
Better known as the Northern Lights, this spectacular light show isn’t guaranteed to appear even if you travel to the most remote destinations. No such luck needed here, as this virtual tour through Norway’s Lofoten archipelago marries the wildest landscapes nature can muster with the world’s most spectacular light show – no wonder the vikings loved to call it home. Best enjoyed with the drapes drawn and the lights off.
In the far northern reaches of Scotland lies the Black Isle peninsula (not, in fact, an island then), beset on all sides by the true majesty of the Scottish Highlands. Climb Ben Nevis, the UK’s highest peak, dip a toe in the frigid waters of Munlochy Bay and spot dolphins in the Moray Firth – it’s all there for the exploring!
This comprehensive virtual tour walks you through the history, story and glory of Peru’s most famous landmark, UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the New Seven Wonders of the World – Machu Picchu. Opt in to the commentary that takes you past the views to give you context, point out important areas and introduce you to its longtime residents, the alpacas.
Great Pyramids of Giza
Egypt, the Nile and the largest of the true Seven Wonders of the World, the Pyramids of Giza need no introduction. Vast and inexorable, an old Arabian proverb encapsulates them well: “Everything in the world is afraid of time, and time is afraid of the pyramids.” Here you can explore them in detail – and it’s worth taking five minutes to read the story of how the team created this tour, which involves the military, police, politicians, the Egyptian Prime Minister and no small amount of money changing hands!