As the world slowly returns to normal after the pandemic, we’re all on the look out for new ways to explore our planet in safer, more sustainable ways. Jumping on a crowded plane for a quick weekend getaway somewhere just isn’t as appealing as it was once – and that’s OK. It doesn’t mean that we can’t still dream of exotic destinations, plan more thoughtful journeys, or just indulge in some serious armchair travel.

Here’s some good news for the more conscious traveler: during COVID-19, a number of institutions, museums, public places, parks and landmarks opened their doors to the world virtually. Using mediums like live-streaming, immersive soundscapes or virtual experiences, it’s actually possible for viewers anywhere to experience some of these majestic destinations, from the comfort of their computer. Whether you’re looking to sate some recent wanderlust or maybe even do some on the ground recon for a future trip, here are five of our favorite virtual travel experiences that you can check out right now.

Explore Machu Picchu

Nestled high in the mountains of the Andes, the ancient Incan citadel of Machu Picchu is a sight that everyone should experience at least once. Shrouded in cloud cover and steeped in history, this Peruvian landmark was named one of the New 7 Wonders of the World and for good reason. If you’ve always wanted to go this South American gem, but balked at the high costs and long flights, you’re in luck. There’s a virtual tour of Machu Picchu available on Google Arts & Culture, the tech giant’s online platform that provides free access to art, culture, and historical collections from around the world. Check out the the virtual tour of it here.

Go wild on safari

From the “Big Five” (lions, leopard, elephants, rhinos and buffalo) to zebras, flamingos, giraffes, hippos, and much more, Africa’s super-diverse animal kingdom is on display – even if you’re a million miles from the Serengeti! There are numerous wildlife webcams at nature reserves around Africa where you can watch live footage of animals in their natural habitat at popular sites like watering holes and grazing plains. Most are free to use, or you can choose to subscribe and help support the conservation work at the parks. WildEarth, a 24/7 channel broadcast from Djuma Game Reserve in South Africa, even offers Wildlife Conservation NFTs, which contribute directly to maintaining the habitats of their resident animals.

Soak up culture at the Louvre 

Home to the world’s most famous painting, the Mona Lisa, the Louvre is synonymous with fine art. If a trip to Paris isn’t on the cards in your immediate future, however, you can still explore the adorned hallways and galleries of this storied museum. The Louvre offers virtual tours of many rooms, giving viewers the chance to remotely appreciate masterpieces from Delacroix, Titian, Raphael, and of course, DaVinci, as well as breathtaking antiquities and sculptures.

Catch the Northern Lights 

Also known by their more scientific name of aurora borealis, the Northern Lights are an out-of-this-world experience that should be on everyone’s bucket list. The best place to catch a glimpse of this majestic natural phenomenon is up near the Arctic Circle, in places like northern Canada, Finland or Norway. Don’t feel like braving the sub-zero temperatures? Non-profit conservancy project Polar Bears International offers a live cam via, as well as raw, unedited footage of polar bears and beluga whales living in Tundra Buggy Lodge in Churchill, Manitoba.

Watch an opera performance 

Get all the theatrics and excitement of live theatre without ever needing to leave your sofa. The Berlin Philharmonic offers live and on demand performances, via their subscription-based Digital Concert Hall. In the UK, The National Theater offers unlimited or single-play streaming to its trove of stage productions, while the Royal Opera House streams live events via ROH Stream. Stateside, the Metropolitan Opera in NYC offers monthly free live audio streams of operas. Lastly, you can stream many Broadway shows through Amazon, iTunes, or YouTube, but for the serious theatre-goer, you might also want to consider BroadwayHD, a streaming service ($8.99/month, with a first trial month for free) with an impressive library of hundreds of musical theatre productions.

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