Take to the skies: the world's greatest airborne adventures

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To mark Lonely Planet’s sponsorship of the iconic 1917 Curtiss JN-4 ‘Flying Jenny’ Biplane’s commemorative air tour this summer we’re exploring aviation's history and continued impact on travel. Here are 10 ways to soar into the ether in some of the world's most inspiring locations, adapted from Lonely Planet's 1000 Ultimate Adventures.

You can find out more about the Jenny’s progress around the USA, and this history of this beautiful plane at www.friendsofjenny.org.

Paragliding at Pokhara, Nepal

Paragliders over Pokhara, Nepal by momo. CC BY 2.0.

You lift off from Sarangkot Hill, spotting the mammoth peaks of the Annapurna Range as you glide across the sky. Sweeping over the lake you have time to contemplate the magical vista of Pokhara Valley, a streak of greenery nestled between the mighty mountains like a hidden Shangri-La. Of course Pokhara’s delights are no secret these days. Once you’ve got your land legs back, this Nepalese centre of outdoor action is the perfect base from which to take on the world-class trekking of the Annapurna range – those mountains you saw while cruising across the sky are definitely beckoning.

The best season for paragliding in Pokhara is between September and April when near-perfect conditions mean flights take off daily.

Heli-hiking at Franz Josef, New Zealand

Franz Josef is one of the greatest destinations in the world in which to combine aerial views and adventure activities. The helicopter takes off from the tiny West Coast settlement of Franz Josef, giving you supreme views of the surrounding rainforest before it climbs up into the white-topped mountain peaks beyond. Like a massive frozen waterfall, the bulk of Franz Josef Glacier comes into view, sliding down the slopes, then you land on the glacier itself and it’s time to traverse this icy world by foot. With Franz Josef’s deep crevasses and blue-tinged ice needles, this is glacier hiking at its best.

Glacier heli-hikes depart up to three times daily (depending on season) and last for about three hours. Get further details at www.franzjosefglacier.com.

Skydiving in Kamchatka, Russia

Helicopter on landing pad in the 'Valley of Geysers', Kamchatka by Einar Fredriksen. CC BY-SA 2.0.

Known as ‘the land of fire and ice’, this remote territory is an adventure just to get to. You’ll need to be a licensed skydiver for the jumps into foreboding volcano calderas – they’re not beginners’ territory. Soaring above a steaming crater, its jagged pinnacles rushing up to meet you, is the stuff of skydiving heaven. Once you’re back on terra firma, soak away the aerial rush in the local hot springs, then strike out into this moonscape of active volcanoes, glaciers and geysers, which holds enough outdoor activities to satisfy the most serious thrill seeker.

The Kamchatka Travel Group (www.kamchatkatracks.com) organise volcano skydiving tours (for qualified skydiver groups) in addition to a range of other outdoor pursuits in the region.

Hang-gliding in Interlaken, Switzerland

A few running steps along the slope and you’re off. With the wind roaring in your ears and the glistening blue of Lake Brienz and Lake Thun below, you glide across the sky with a couple of daredevil dives and spins thrown in for good measure. Interlaken’s buildings look like a miniature toy town from this height, surrounded by the towering mountains of the Bernese Alps. This is Switzerland’s adventure capital – with rafting, kayaking and mountain biking all on offer when you hit the ground – but the best way to capture the phenomenal beauty of this region is from the air.

Hang Gliding Interlaken (www.hangglidinginterlaken.com) run daily tandem hang-gliding tours costing €195, with the average flight taking around 25 minutes.

Hot-air ballooning over Wadi Rum, Jordan

It’s the desert, but not as Lawrence of Arabia saw it. In the early morning the subtly changing light washes over the craggy peaks and vast sand seas of Wadi Rum, dappling the rock in shades of soft orange and pink. You gaze out of the balloon basket to see the serrated sandstone mountains thrust dramatically out of the desert and realise why this place is known as the ‘Valley of the High Places’. After your flight, opt for a more traditional view of Wadi Rum by exploring the desert TE Lawrence-style with a camel trek through the sands.

Hot-air balloon flights over Wadi Rum usually take one hour and cost about €145 per person. See www.rascj.com for details.

Helicopter ride in the Grand Canyon, USA

Inside the cockpit of a helicopter over the Grand Canyon by big-ashb. CC BY 2.0.

The rocky jaws of the Grand Canyon rise up as the helicopter angles over the cliffs and dives into the canyon’s deep hollow. With the Colorado River snaking through it at the bottom, the Grand Canyon fissures more than a mile into the earth’s surface. It’s only hovering over the orange-hued rock outcrops with a bird’s-eye view that you can properly appreciate the sheer, overwhelming size of this natural phenomenon as it carves across the Arizona countryside. Once you’ve landed in the dusty rock landscape, continue your adventure with the more down-to-earth activities of hiking or river rafting within the canyon itself.

Helicopter tours of the Grand Canyon cost from about US$300 per person and fly from Boulder or Las Vegas airports.

Paragliding in Ölüdeniz, Turkey

You swoop across the clear blue sky, arcing away from the forest-clad coastal cliffs, a tiny presence high above the sparkling blue of the lagoon. The golden sands of Ölüdeniz may be one of Turkey’s prime tourist beaches but this resort also lays claim to being one of the best places in the world to paraglide. The jumping-off point is nearby Baba Dağ (Mt Baba) and the treacherous, twisting road up to the summit is a fitting prologue for this dizzying adventure. Powerful thermals allow for near-perfect flying conditions here so there’s nowhere better to test out your own wings for the first time with a tandem flight.

Paragliding flights are run daily from April to November in Ölüdeniz and cost between €40 and €60, including transfer to Baba Dağ.

Hot-air ballooning in Serengeti National Park, Tanzania

Ballooning over trees in the Serengeti by Brandon Daniel. CC BY-SA 2.0.

You’ve ticked off the safari box and viewed the animals close up. Now take to the sky for a different perspective on wilderness watching. As the balloon glides across the acacias you spy herds of zebra grazing and gazelles leaping across the plains. If you’re lucky, you may see cheetahs, leopards or lions stalking their prey. As the propane-hiss of the balloon guides you higher, the landscape unfurls and you can appreciate the immensity of this African wilderness.

Hot-air balloon companies operate year-round dawn flights over the Serengeti at an average cost of US$500 per person.

Skydiving at Victoria Falls, Zambia

Is this the ultimate adrenaline rush in Africa? Fly up close to the gushing immensity of Victoria Falls, then jump from the plane to have the mighty Zambezi River rush up to greet you. The town of Livingstone first hit the tourism map because it’s close to the falls, but it has since crowned itself Africa’s adventure capital. There’s bungee jumping, canoeing, rafting and safaris on offer but for those with a risk-seeking streak nothing can beat the thrilling, immense panoramas of skydiving over the town itself.

Tandem skydive at Livingstone (www.skydivevicfalls.com) from US$230 per person for a 10-second minimum freefall.