Your safari or scuba trip may be on hold for now, but there’s still a way to travel the world and immerse yourself in nature without leaving home. All you need is a virtual reality (VR) headset, a smartphone, and some apps.
No need to blow your hard-earned dollars on a high-tech system. The simplest, most affordable option is Google Cardboard, a viewer that works with a smartphone ($15, store.google.com). A popular, middle-of-the-road headset is the Oculus Go ($149, bestbuy.com). You can download free apps from Google Play, iTunes, Oculus, or the Apple app store.
1. The Hidden Worlds of the National Parks
Follow park rangers through five stunning US national parks. In minutes you can be climbing into a crevasse in Alaska’s Kenai Fjords, flying over a volcano in Hawaii, trekking in the Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico, horseback riding through Bryce Canyon (above), or diving in the Dry Tortugas. Available on Google Arts & Culture.
2. The Okavango Experience
Journey waterways in a canoe with the sights and sounds of the African wilderness all around you. Get close to elephants, lions, and zebras as you follow a scientific expedition into the Okavango wetlands in Botswana. The six-minute episode is part of National Geographic’s 360-degree video miniseries. Available on National Geographic VR and YouTube apps.
3. Machu Picchu 360 degree VR
Surround yourself with the wonders of Machu Picchu, the 15th-century Inca citadel high up in Peru’s Andes Mountains, without having to make the climb. Enjoy panoramic views and interactive exploration of the ancient city’s ruins, and learn about the history of this mysterious marvel. Available from Cypha/360Fly and on YouTube VR.
4. Galapagos Islands in 360 degree
If you’ve wanted to visit the Galapagos Islands ever since you learned about Darwin’s theory of natural selection, jump right into this episode of the Planet Earth II miniseries. Renowned British natural historian David Attenborough guides you along as you get up close to blue-footed boobies and marine iguanas. Available on YouTube VR.
5. Under the Canopy: Experience the Amazon in Virtual Reality
Conservation International takes you deep into Amazon wetlands and rain forests — often referred to as “the lungs of the planet.” You’ll experience the deafening sounds of cicadas and enjoy close encounters with sloths and other wildlife. Available on YouTube VR.
6. Access Mars
While humankind has yet to set foot on Mars, you can be beamed up to the Red Planet for a tour thanks to the Curiosity rover and this immersive experience produced by Google Expeditions in collaboration with NASA. Available on Google Expeditions.
7. Quark Expeditions Antarctica: 360 degree — Virtual Reality Experience
Embark on an enthralling polar expedition through Antarctica in this series of short films by Quark Expeditions. Explore icy landscapes, encounter wildlife, and navigate your way through icebergs on a Zodiac cruise. Available on YouTube VR.
8. Arizona Canyons in 360 degree
You might even work up a sweat as you explore the Arizona desert and its mesmerizing slot canyons. David Attenborough is your guide in another stunning VR film from the BBC Planet Earth II miniseries. Available on YouTube VR.
9. GoPro VR: Diving with Sharks — The Truth Below the Surface
Experience the high-adrenaline thrill of swimming with hammerhead sharks from the safety of your home in this aquatic adventure. Face your fears as you get right up to these intimidating creatures, in this mini-documentary that attempts to changes people’s attitudes toward them. Available on YouTube VR.
10. Capturing Everest
Join three mountaineers on an extraordinary climb from the base to the summit of Mount Everest, the world’s most famous mountain and the highest point on earth, in this four-part virtual reality documentary that will leave you mesmerized. Available on the LifeVR app.
Janine Clements is a freelance writer based in New York. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.