Balloons, Gondolas, and Chairlifts: In the Air on an Odysseys Tour Posted March 29, 2017
This is the second in a series of posts covering the different types of transportation we use on Odysseys Unlimited tours. Our first post is here.
When visiting another country, one of the best ways to experience the local culture is through transportation. You can learn a lot about a foreign country by walking its streets, but it’s always fascinating to see a destination from another perspective—to let yourself be taken away from the center of the activity and allowed to see it all from afar. Whether this means floating above Egypt in a hot air balloon, riding a cable car in South Africa, or boarding a funicular in Chile, our small group tours offer a variety of ways to see some of the world’s most famous destinations from on high.
Central & South America
On our Colombia Rediscovered tour, we enjoy a ride aboard the highly acclaimed Medellín Metrocable—the city’s airborne extension to its public transportation system. The first Metrocable line was put in service in 2004 and connected the city center with Santo Domingo Savio, a disadvantaged hillside neighborhood that had been blighted by drugs and gang violence. Shortly thereafter, the ultra-modern Parque Biblioteca de España opened in this neighborhood, offering books, recreation areas, parkland, and free internet access to residents formerly cut off from the more privileged Colombian neighborhoods. We visit this library on our tour, and are able to see for ourselves how public transportation has transformed a barrio once considered one of the world’s most dangerous districts.
The colorful port city of Valparaíso, Chile is often called “Little San Francisco” for its steep hillsides and labyrinthine streets. To ease the pain of hiking up and down these inclines, the city offers a system of wooden funiculars—essentially, outdoor elevator cars set parallel to the hills. We board these traditional cars on our Patagonian Frontiers and South American Tapestry tours, where we gain an appreciation for the painstaking (and treacherous) work that went into creating this unique city.
Our South American Tapestry tour is chock full of stunning views, but one of the best comes from something you might not expect to ride in Argentina: a chairlift. We spend a full day in the mountain town of Bariloche, perched between the glacial Nahuel Huapi Lake and the foothills of the Andes Mountains. A short drive west of the town center, we take the seven-minute chairlift ride to the peak of Campanario Hill, and are greeted with a fabulous panorama of glassy lakes, snowcapped mountains, and green hills stretching away as far as the eye can see.
Asia & the Far East
On Mysteries of Myanmar, we explore a land of rich traditions, strong Buddhist faith, and fascinating architecture. Our journey takes us to Bagan, “city of four million pagodas,” where we have the option to view these temples from above on a hot air balloon ride. The scene is breathtaking, with thousands of tiered temples stretching across the plain beside the Irrawaddy River. Though four million is an exaggeration, some three to four thousand pagodas still stand, many of which were built nearly a millennium ago.
Africa & the Middle East
Among the many Biblical sites we visit on our Israel: Timeless Wonders tour are the ruins of Masada. This lofty fortification sits at the edge of a towering mesa, looking out across the dusty plains of the Judean Desert towards the Dead Sea. Masada is well known as the site where, after a three-year siege by the Roman army, nearly 1,000 Jewish rebels took their own lives rather than surrender. It’s a fascinating and sobering place, and our cable car ride to the 1,300-foot-high plateau gives us time to reflect on the history present here.
Speaking of cable cars, we ride another one at the very opposite end of Africa, as we ascend 3,500 feet to the top of Cape Town’s Table Mountain. This thrilling ride, which you can take either on our Southern Africa Odyssey or the extension to our Africa’s Wildlife tour, is one of Cape Town’s most popular attractions. From the summit, it seems that the whole of South Africa’s capital is spread out below, with Robben Island to the north and the vast Atlantic all around.
Courtesy Kelsey O
As an optional excursion on our Egypt & the Eternal Nile tour, we have the opportunity to see Luxor, dubbed “the world’s greatest open-air museum,” from high above on a hot air balloon ride. This early-morning excursion shows us a truly unique perspective on this living piece of history, as we watch the sun rise over the Nile and Luxor’s enormous collection of ancient Egyptian monuments.
Australia & the South Pacific
The Great Barrier Reef is the main attraction for visitors to the northeast Australian city of Cairns. But on our Exploring Australia & New Zealand tour, we add to our adventure in this region by riding Skyrail, one of the world’s longest gondola cableways. Gliding just feet above the rainforest canopy, we enjoy spectacular 360-degree views encompassing both the dense rainforest and the deep blue Pacific.