Courtesy Digital Domain / Can't surf? Never been to Tahiti? VR can make it all happen.
Can’t make it to your dream destination anytime soon? Strap on a VR headset for a realistic, virtual trip.
Virtual reality (VR) is rapidly transforming a range of industries, from gaming to filmmaking to avant-garde art. But travel, though an obvious angle, is still a largely untapped market. Some innovators however are beginning to experiment with how we plan, book, and relieve our wanderlust. Once complicated and prohibitively expensive, VR hardware is now widely available from companies such as Google, Samsung, HTC, and Oculus VR—meaning immersive, cutting-edge technology that instantly plunks you into an ultra-realistic, three-dimensional world of far-flung, exotic locales is now more accessible than ever. Along with the headset, a phone and a few apps are all you need to enjoy the best of this trend, which allows you to intimately explore the minute details of a series of destinations or go on a previously off-limits adventure. Here are five VR experiences, currently available, that we're most excited about.
Courtesy Sólfar Studios / Climb the world's tallest mountain with EVEREST VR.
It’s safe to say most of us won’t be hiking the summit of Mount Everest anytime soon. But this thrill-seeking experience, developed by Iceland’s Sólfar Studios and RVX, is the next best thing. Using an advanced game engine and digital cartography, the hyper realistic graphics were stitched together from a database of over 300,000 high resolution images of the mountain. Starting at base camp, you’ll virtually undertake the dangerous climb through the Khumbu Icefalls, Lhotse Face, Hillary Step, and eventually, the final stretch to the top of the world’s highest peak—all while feeling some of the exhilarating intensity of the real thing. (When we tried it out for the first time, we felt our knees go weak several times.) In addition to the adrenaline-inducing climb, and an almost too-vivid fear of falling, EVEREST VR offers God Mode, which includes sweeping, bird's-eye views of the mountains at up to 1500x resolution, allowing you to follow in the footsteps of 18 real expeditions, such as the famous ascent made by Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay in 1953.
Available on: Oculus Rift, HTC Vive
Google Earth VR
Reinventing the popular (and recently revamped) Google Earth in virtual reality, this is the perfect tool to explore destinations before you plan a trip, or just appreciate places from a brand-new view, while whisking yourself across the world with the flick of a controller. Using the app’s basic ability to zoom in and out of anywhere, the blend of aerial, satellite and 3D-mapped 'Street View' content now allows you to fly, or walk if you prefer, across landscapes and into space itself, instantly transporting you from places like Hong Kong's Victoria Harbor to the Grand Canyon to Cape Town's Table Mountain. Want to see your favorite destination by moonlight? Just grab the sun, give it a spin, and watch as night falls anywhere in the world.
Available on: Oculus Rift, HTC Vive
Digital Domain Teleport Tahiti
If you’re thinking about traveling half way around the world, you might as well get a solid preview. This short, five-minute experience places you in the middle of a blue-soaked paradise of water and sky. Fly over the mountains, waters, coral reefs, white sand beaches, and lush jungles of this Polynesian island—then immerse yourself in a diving expedition and (almost) feel the wind in your face as you surf the swells.
Available on: Google Daydream, Samsung Gear, Oculus Rift, HTC Vive
Under the Canopy
Conservation International and Jaunt created this journey to remind us of the fragile beauty and endangered ecosystems of the Amazon rainforest. Beginning with a descent down a 200-foot Ceiba tree, your adventure is narrated by a Surinamese guide, who helps you intimately examine the trees, wildlife, and rivers which are threatened by climate change. In addition to three-toed sloths, a 15-foot anaconda, and an army of tropical butterflies, you’ll most notably focus on the impact of deforestation and how the over 350 indigenous communities rely on the Amazon for food, water, and income.
Available on: Samsung Gear, PlayStation VR, Google Daydream, Oculus Rift, HTC Vive
The Grand Canyon VR Experience
Float into the heart of the Grand Canyon with this immersive experience, which also functions as a game. Control the speed in your choice of a motorized kayak or stand-up paddle board—notice how the platform engages motion control to tip along with your head adding an extra touch of reality. But the main feature is the detailed and accurate rock formations, cliffs, waterfalls, and animal life that you can explore in either 'day' or 'night' mode.
Available on: Samsung Gear, Oculus Rift, HTC Vive