Doing A Doors-Off Helicopter Tour in Kauai, Hawaii? (Read This First) [2022]

Doing a doors-off helicopter tour in Kauai is a must for many visitors to the island.

Kauai is the most beautiful Hawaiian island to many people and every inch of it seems to be filled with lush landscapes, towering mountains, and dramatic canyons.

Perhaps the best way to admire all of the stunning scenery is from a helicopter.

In this article, I’ll tell you everything you need to know about booking a doors-off helicopter in Kauai.

I’ll give you specific tips for how to prepare for the doors-off helicopter ride in this unique location and also give you some insight to think about when it comes to things like photography and scheduling.

Preparing for your doors-off helicopter in Kauai, Hawaii


The most important advice I could give to someone is to schedule their doors-off helicopter tour in Kauai at the earliest part of their trip to Kauai.

The reason? Weather.

Kauai is one of the wettest places on the planet and rain showers can arrive in a hurry.

It’s not uncommon for helicopter rides to be canceled because of the weather.

In fact, this actually happened to us.

But if you plan your helicopter tour at the beginning of your time in Kauai (like we did) that will give you more time to re-schedule.

Be sure to talk to your tour company about how the re-booking process might work.

Looking to book the ultimate doors-off helicopter tour in Kauai? Click here to book a tour today!

Be flexible

This relates to the first tip but try to be as flexible as possible with your overall travel schedule in Kauai.

If you are putting your helicopter tour towards the beginning of your stay in Kauai then consider staying near the airport for those days so that you can quickly get there.

In our case, we were staying in Princeville on the north side so it was a bit of a drive but it’s not that bad if you have to do it.

Just keep this in mind: you may not know for sure that your helicopter ride has the green light until a few hours before your scheduled departure so flexibility really is key.

The helicopter tours usually last about 50 to 60 minutes and they will probably ask you to be there about 20 to 30 minutes prior. Therefore, you can expect the total experience to last about 90 minutes.

Related: Allerton Garden at Sunset Tour Review (Kauai, Hawaii)

Shoot for the afternoon or late afternoon

Everybody has their own personal preference on what type of lighting they prefer when getting photographs and video.

Personally, I would prefer to do this helicopter tour in the mid or late afternoon as the sun is shining on the Nepali coast.

Initially, we had booked a helicopter tour for the late afternoon but because of the storm mentioned above we had to reschedule it for the next morning.

While the sites were still absolutely stunning, the morning light on the Nepali coast is not ideal and can be pretty difficult to photograph due to the extreme dynamic range, which brings me to my next point.

Photography tips

I’ve now done a handful of helicopter tours with the primary focus of getting great photographs. Sometimes I’ve been successful, other times… not so much.

One thing I will say is that getting good photographs from a helicopter is not easy.

A lot of it has to do with the lighting (dynamic range) and topography.

I once did a doors off helicopter tour in Cape Town, South Africa around the middle of the afternoon.

It was a clear day and the lighting was optimal for pretty much all of the terrain which included ocean, mountains and cities. Getting quality photographs on that tour felt like a walk in the park.

On another helicopter tour we flew at sunset around Chicago and with all of the skyscrapers and the sun sitting so low on the horizon, it was a major challenge to get properly exposed to shots. I got some good photos but lots of bad ones.

So how does Kauai compare?

I would say that the terrain around Kauai is so dramatic that mid-day or late afternoon lighting would probably be optimal.

If you have a fast lens and/or are a skilled photographer you can probably deal with a sun closer to the horizon but for an average photographer like myself, dealing with the morning lighting conditions and dramatic topography at the same time was quite difficult.

It was actually much easier to get photographs with my iPhone than it was with my DSLR because I was having to change settings so often and so quickly.

By the time I would get my settings right, we would be moving on and it was time to change the settings once again.

I tried to shoot bracketed exposures which helped some but overall I really struggled to get properly exposed photos with my Canon 6D.

However, with the iPhone or another smart phone with a great camera, you don’t have to worry about constantly changing your settings.

So while you might think you’d be crazy to use a smart phone on a photography tour over your DSLR, your lighting circumstances might dictate otherwise.

Also, you might want to focus more on getting video.

With a smart phone, it will be very easy to get high quality video and the footage you’ll get from the helicopter with the doors off will be absolutely stunning.

This is often the case even if you’re dealing with tricky morning light.

The videos I took turned out better than many/most of my photographs and required virtually no effort to shoot. Take a look yourself:

Prepare to work with your pilot

A good helicopter tour will allow you to speak to the pilot while in the air via a head set.

And on a photography tour, a pilot should be more than willing to help get you the shots you want which sometimes means circling back for better angles.

Try to make sure that you will have communication with the pilot and don’t be shy about making requests.

Pilots have some limitations with altitude and with urban areas they can fly over but if they can comply with your request they usually will happily do so.

Looking to book the ultimate doors-off helicopter tour in Kauai? Click here to book a tour today!

What to wear

When you’re a few thousand feet up in the air, the temperature will drop several degrees. Often, the temperature drops about 3° for every 1,000 feet.

And more importantly, winds can kick up and the cabin of the helicopter can get very chilly even in a warm place like Hawaii.

For that reason, I would recommend you to wear some type of windbreaker jacket. We brought our Patagonia Jackets which were perfect.

We still wore shorts and while it got a little bit chilly up there we were never extremely uncomfortable or anything.

Although you might think sunglasses and hats are off-limits, you should have a tight headset on which will keep those items secure as long as you don’t stick your head out of the helicopter.

Sunglasses can be iffy though for a couple of reasons.

First, they can make it harder to get photographs due to the different exposure you’re seeing. Second, in some cases, if there are a lot of shadows you’ll be missing out on some of the finer details.

For those reasons, I usually don’t wear sunglasses on doors-off helicopter tours.

Stay safe (aka don’t be stupid)

Before you board the doors-off helicopter tour you’ll have to go through some type of safety briefing. This could take place at the airport or at another remote location.

It’s usually pretty short and goes over some pretty basic stuff like “Rule #1: don’t jump out the chopper.”

At some point you’ll also be issued a snazzy belt containing a life jacket since you’ll be flying over water.

Something that no safety video can really prepare you for is how strong the wind can be when you are flying around in the sky.

Sticking something out of the doorway on a doors off helicopter can be a very bad idea because the winds can be fierce. Something could easily fly out of your hand even if you have a good grip on it.

One of the most important things to keep in mind when doing the doors-off helicopter tour is that if something falls out it could potentially fall on somebody from great heights and inflict serious harm.

Moreover, if something falls off it could potentially cause damage to the helicopter which could put your own life in danger.

So be sure to follow all of the rules about not bringing loose items up there with you. Hopefully, you’ll be issued some type of device to secure your smart phone so that you don’t have to worry about losing it.

Different types of doors-off tours

I’ve done doors off helicopter tours configured in a few different ways.

Sometimes the front doors are removed, sometimes only one door is removed, and other times it’s both back doors that are removed.

In Hawaii, it seems customary to just remove the back doors for these type of helicopter rides, which means that you’ll be seated in the back.

Personally, I enjoy sitting in front the most but you can still get plenty of great unobstructed views from the backseat.

Dealing with heights

If you have a true fear of heights you might want to think twice about a doors-off helicopter.

Consider that you’ll be flying thousands of feet above the ground with only something like a car seat belt holding you in. Sometimes you might also encounter some turbulence especially in a mountainous place like Hawaii.

(Some doors off helicopters offer more restrictive harnesses to keep you in but most of the ones I have done simply provide a basic seatbelt.)

Personally, I love the thrill of the doors-off helicopter and once we get going up in the air in the heights don’t really bother me but on occasion I look down and have a “Holy S***!” moment.

The doors-off experience in Kauai, Hawaii

Most of the helicopter tours on Kauai follow the same general route of going clockwise around the island.

From the airport, you head west towards Waimea Canyon, then make your way to the beautiful Nepali coast.

From there you’ll hit some spots along the north side of the island and then you might cruise around the middle of the island before ultimately heading back to the airport.

Each specific route will likely be a little bit different depending on the requests you put in.

Also, the weather will likely dictate where exactly you can go.

With that said, here are some of the amazing sites that we saw on our doors-off helicopter tour.

We started off flying over the Marriott Kauai Beach Club which is actually one of the hotels that we stayed at during our trip to Hawaii.

This particular hotel was used by the Jurassic Park filming crew in 1993 and it is where they hunkered down when the big hurricane hit.

The jetty extending out in front of the hotel was actually used in one of the scenes in the movie, too.

Related: Jurassic Park in Hawaii: Filming Sites & Tours Ultimate Guide 

From there, we traveled over the Huleia National Wildlife Refuge and southwest towards Kipu Kai Beach.

Huleia National Wildlife Refuge
Kipu Kai Beach

We then flew over the Kipu Ranch — a site that’s been used in many movies like The Descendants, Hook, and Raiders of the Lost Ark. It’s also well known for its adventurous ATV tours.

We then did a flyover near Jurassic Falls which was cool but we did not get as close as we did the day prior whenever we did the Jurassic Falls helicopter tour that actually lands at the base of the falls.

Getting that close to Jurassic Falls is a truly exciting moment and bucket list worthy.

However, that tour is NOT a doors off tour and the standard tour stuffs six people inside so if you get one of the interior seats or even one of the seats in the back you might not find the ride as enjoyable due to obstructed views.

We passed up other waterfalls but it’s almost impossible to keep track with all of them on this type of helicopter tour!

Once you start entering the Waimea Canyon territory it’s really exciting how quickly the transition happens and how vast the canyons appear.

They don’t call it the Grand Canyon of the Pacific for nothing.

One specific spot we went over was Olokele Canyon which is actually where they shot the scene from Jurassic Park where the kid, “Timmy,” gets electrocuted by the fence.

You can book a helicopter tour that lands at that spot but once again that is NOT a doors-off experience and we truly wanted to have a doors-off experience in Hawaii.

Olokele Canyon

The morning lighting in the Waimea Canyon helicopter tour was pretty good although I think I would’ve preferred it at around noon to reduce some of the shadows.

This is a 3,000 foot deep canyon though so it’s pretty hard to eliminate all of the shadows.

Related: Red Dirt Falls in Kauai, Hawaii (Waimea Canyon) Guide

Waimea Canyon helicopter tour
Waimea Canyon helicopter tour
Waimea Canyon helicopter tour
Waimea Canyon helicopter tour
Waimea Canyon helicopter tour

After you get blown away by Waimea Canyon scenery it’s time to head to the famous Nepali coast.

Like I mentioned above, I think it would be much better to visit this area later on in the day. Also, I think the coastline is probably best appreciated from a boat ride.

Nepali coast helicopter tour

But don’t get it twisted — seeing this coastline from an aerial view is still jaw-dropping.

We had just flown over the same stretch of coastline the day before with a doors on helicopter and I have to say that it was a much better experience doors off.

There’s just something special about looking directly out at this beautiful, carved-up terrain with no glare or windows in the way that feels much more enthralling.

Nepali coast helicopter tour
Nepali coast helicopter tour
Nepali coast helicopter tour
Nepali coast helicopter tour

if you’re lucky, you might be able to spot some wildlife in the ocean such as whales.

Nepali coast helicopter tour

Eventually, we started to round the corner and come up on the north side of the island.

Nepali coast helicopter tour

We got to admire some beautiful reef scenery from above Haena Beach, which is found on the north side.

Our pilot then decided to turn inland towards Mount Waialeale also known as the Weeping Wall (elevation 5,148 feet). It’s one of the wettest spots in the world. In fact, in 1982, 666 inches (16,916 mm) of rain were recorded on the peak!

The summit of this area is usually covered in clouds and our pilot said it was a pretty rare occasion for it to be so clear which was kind of cool.

Mount Waialeale helicopter tour

It was really cool to see this spot because only a few hours later we would be off-roading down in this valley to check out the Jurassic Park Gates & T-Rex Paddock.

I have to admit that looking straight down was pretty dizzying in the spot; I could only imagine how beautiful the valley is when the waterfalls are running from a recent rain.

Also, because it was clear we were able to go on top of the summit which they call the “Top of the World.”

This area is also home to Alakai Swamp — the highest “swamp” in the world which I would say is something that you don’t come across every day.

After exploring the top of the world we descended and started to make our way back towards the airport.

But before calling it quits we had one more amazing site to see which is Wailua Falls.

We just visited the falls on the ground the day before so it was really cool to get a new perspective of it from above (which offered a much better view).

Wailua Falls from helicopter

Final word

It probably does not take much convincing from me to realize that a doors-off helicopter tour in Kauai is an absolute bucket list experience.

To me, the highlights were flying over Waimea Canyon, soaring over the jagged coastline of the Nepali coast, and elevating above the highest point on the island.

Although the lighting conditions were not optimal for much of the ride, at the end of the day this was still one of the most memorable helicopter rides I’ve ever taken.

8 Things You Must Do in Cape Town, South Africa

Cape Town, South Africa is a special place and high on the list for many travelers. It’s got a little bit of everything to offer, including stunning natural landscapes, beaches, adventure, history, and plenty of culture. On my recent visit to Cape Town, 8 things stood out to me that I think everyone should at least consider doing while they are there.

1. Table Mountain

No visit to Cape Town would be complete without a visit to Table Mountain. Recently named one of the new 7 wonders of the world, this imposing mountain standing over 3,550 feet tall is probably the most iconic landmark in South Africa and its cliffs create an imposing, yet breathtaking backdrop to the city.

Table Mountain -- Cape Town, South Africa
Table Mountain — Cape Town, South Africa.

You can visit Table Mountain either by cableway or via long hike. The hiking route is known for being one of the most dangerous hikes (some have even died attempting it) and so you probably only want to attempt that if you actually know what you’re doing. The cableway on the other hand is built for the less intrepid and within a minute or two, you’re zipped up to the top to enjoy the view. Read about my experience on the cableway here. 

Table Mountain -- Cape Town, South Africa
Table Mountain — Cape Town, South Africa.

The views from atop Table Mountain are, as you would hope for, spectacular. You can see the entire city of Cape Town sprawling beneath you and you get sweeping views of the surrounding peaks and ocean. I recommend trying to time your visit with the sunset for some stunning photographs. Clouds blow over the top of Table Mountain, which also help add drama to your photographs but be prepared for it to be a bit chilly up there, since those winds don’t let up.

Table Mountain -- Cape Town, South Africa
Finishing up a sunset photo shoot at Table Mountain.

2. Cape of Good Hope

The Cape of Good Hope is a rocky promontory only about an hour and 15 minute drive from Cape Town and marks the south-western most point in Africa. The first European, Portuguese explorer Bartolomeu Dias, reached the Cape on March 12,1488, and named it the “Cape of Storms” but the more aspirational title of the “Cape of Good Hope” eventually caught on. Ever since then it’s served as a significant navigational landmark for sailors, as it marks the east-turning points for ships setting out for Europe.

Cape Town
Cape of Good Hope

The drive to the Cape of Good Hope from Cape Town is extremely scenic. On your way there you’ll likely spot some wildlife, such as ostriches, turtles, and maybe even some baboons (keep your distance from the baboons). I recommend you take Chapman Peak’s drive on your way there or back to soak in one of the most scenic stretches of highway in the world.

Cape Town
Scenery on the way to the Cape of Good Hope.

Once you’re at the edge of the African continent, there’s some beautiful waters and rocky seas to explore and you might encounter more wildlife like the African oystercatcher. You might also notice the wind, since this area is known for its stormy seas. The Cape is situated where the warm Mozambique-Agulhas current from the Indian Ocean converges with the much cooler Benguela current which flow from Antarctica. It’s also near where the Indian Ocean meets the Atlantic, although that’s hotly debated.

Cape Town
Scenery near the Cape of Good Hope.

3. Boulders Beach

This destination often goes hand in hand with the Cape of Good Hope since you can visit it on your way from Cape Town. Boulder’s Beach was one of the highlights of our trip to South Africa. If you’re not aware, this beach is home to thousands of “jack-ass” penguins who sought refuge from the nearby great-white infested waters near Dyer Island. Read here about my experience visiting Boulders Beach.

Boulders Beach Penguins South AfricaPenguins headed right toward us.

Some of these little penguins are highly curious and not very shy so they’ll waddle right up to you to see what you’re about (just don’t feed them or touch them). They’ll go in and out of the water, alternating between darting around like little torpedos in search of food to just floating around in the cool waters. In addition to just being flat-out adorable, these penguins provide endless entertainment as they mingle with one another and hop about the rocks.

Boulders Beach Penguins

They state that during September and October their numbers are limited since they are mostly out fishing in the sea. However, we visited in the middle of September and we were greeted by plenty of penguins (though it wasn’t like some of the photos I’ve seen with hundreds of them hanging out on the beach).

Boulders Beach Penguins South Africa
Boulders Beach Penguins in South Africa.

The best time of day to see the penguins is apparently early in the morning or in the late afternoon. Our morning visit just after opening (8 am) was perfect as we didn’t run into any other visitors and the penguins seemed to be out and about in good numbers.

Boulders Beach Penguins
Brad with penguins on Boulders Beach.

4. Cage diving with great whites in Gansbaai

Have you ever considered getting up close and personal to a great white shark? If so, Cape Town is the perfect place to make this happen because South Africa is thought to be home to the largest population of great white sharks in the world.

Gansbaai South Africa Great White Shark Cage DiveGreat white shark with the open jaws! My favorite shot I took.

After a short boat ride out, you’ll drop into a steel cage where you’ll bob in the cool murky waters as you await for sharks to appear. You never know what you’ll come across. Some sharks are big and powerful. Some are small and quick.

Gansbaai South Africa Great White Shark Cage DiveInside the shark cage, waiting for great whites to arrive.

You can choose to go out from Cape Town or depart from Gansbaai, which is about 2 hours away. Gansbaai is my recommendation since it seems like you stand a better shot of actually seeing the sharks and they take you to or near Shark Alley, which is where Discovery Channel films for its infamous Shark Week.

If the sharks come out, which they usually do, prepare for one of the most exhilarating experiences. As you can tell from the clip below, we came only inches away from one great white as it almost mistook our GoPro for an appetizer.

Very close encounter with a great white!

5. Green Market Square

Green Market Square is a great place to find cheap souvenirs. They’ve got a bit of everything. Woodworkings, art work, bowls, clothes, jewelry, table pieces, and plenty of other items. You can haggle the prices if you want, but many of the prices were very cheap to me so I didn’t feel the need to bargain them down.

Cape Town

One warning: you will likely run into people begging for money. Some will tug on your heart strings. Some will do the opposite. Some of them can get very aggressive and will not hesitate to follow you for blocks and blocks. So try to look less touristy/wealthy and avoid taking out cameras or otherwise giving the unmistakable impression that you’re a tourist. Also, avoid arriving near closing time as that it apparently when it gets worse and the area actually becomes unsafe at night.

My strategy is to have a small amount of cash/change to give to these people. If it gets really bad, you can find a local merchant and tell them that you’ll buy some items from them to keep them away and they often are willing to help.

Cape Town

If you want to avoid this possible situation, you can also stick to the V&A Waterfront for your souvenir needs. It’s a major tourist area in Cape Town, so it will likely be more expensive but it’s also more patrolled and we didn’t get hassled by people in the street. If you’re really into markets, check out the V&A Waterfront on market day, held on Saturdays. There’s also a lot of shopping and eating to be had at the V&A Waterfront.

6. Helicopter ride over Cape Town

While this may not be in everyone’s budget, I highly recommend you trying to get on board a helicopter while in Cape Town. Cape Town is one of the most stunning places in the world, in terms of natural beauty, but it’s hard to appreciate the magnitude of that beauty from the ground.

Cape Town South Africa Helicopter Ride
Cape Town as seen from a helicopter.

Once you get up in the air, it’s a different story. You get a bird’s eye view for Table Mountain and all of the surrounding peaks, such as Lion’s Head. You’ll also see the dozen of other peaks and hills that tower nearby and stretch into the ocean.

Cape Town South Africa Helicopter Ride
Cape Town, South Africa helicopter ride.

My one suggestion with helicopter rides is to always request doors off. This is a much more exhilarating way to experience the scenery and you’ll get much better photographs and video by not having to contend with a window. You can read more about our helicopter experience here. 

Cape Town South Africa Helicopter Ride

7. Bo-Kaap

Located on the slopes of Singal Hill, the Bo-Kaap is an area of Cape Town once known as the Malay Quarter. That name stems from large influence of Malaysian, African, Indian and Sri Lankan descendants on the area, who were originally brought over as slaves by Dutch imperialists in the 16th and 17th centuries. Today it’s home to a large Muslim community but is perhaps best known for its colorful buildings and cobblestone streets.

Cape Town
Colorful buildings of the Bo-Kaap.

It’a a cool place to wander through and take photographs and may tourists go on walking tours to learn more about the architecture and history of the neighborhood. There’s also a Bo-Kapp museum, mosques, boutique shops, and plenty of restaurants you can check out as well.

Cape Town
Colorful buildings of the Bo-Kaap.

8. Cultural Tour

A cultural tour is a must while in Cape Town. We took a tour that took us through many of the historical landmarks from the apartheid era found throughout Cape Town, including some that were located in the townships. Each stop on the tour had its own story, some of which were downright depressing while others were inspiring stories full of hope and meaningful lessons for society.

Cape Town
Memorial to students from the apartheid era.

These are not tours designed for you to gawk at locals living in poverty and feel sorry for them. Instead, they are eye-opening journeys that help you better understand the struggles of apartheid, the efforts being undertaken to restore those communities, and the work that sill needs to be done for and by these people.

Our guide had a particularly interesting perspective since he grew up as half white and half black during apartheid. I got goosebumps from many of the stories he told us and couldn’t believe some of the things he’d witnessed. Out of everything I did in South Africa, the stories he told us left the most lasting impression on me, and I couldn’t help but to be inspired.

Cape Town
Our guide giving us insight into history of apartheid.

There are many different types of cultural tours you can sign up for and many also incorporate a visit to Robben Island, which is where Nelson Mandela spent 18 years of the 27 years he was imprisoned. I recommend reviewing your different options and going with the one that you’re most comfortable with. Not everyone will feel comfortable visiting the townships.

Final word

There are a ton of things to do in Cape Town, South Africa and the nearby cities. While these 8 things barely scratch the surface of what you can do while there, these were all things that absolutely made our visit to Cape Town unforgettable, so I recommend at least looking into them.

Helicopter Tour Review Over Cape Town, South Africa and The Two Oceans

Cape Town is one of those very few special places where you find a thriving urban area nestled into jaw-dropping natural beauty. These places, like Rio de Janeiro, are few and far between but they all are places that can only be fully appreciated when you’re able to admire the full scale of their beauty from above. Wether it be sky-diving, hang-gliding, a plane ride or helicopter ride, there’s just something about seeing destinations like these from the sky. If you’re headed to Cape Town, then I highly recommend to try to make a helicopter ride part of your itinerary so that you can discover how mind-blowing the natural beauty is of Cape Town, South Africa.


There are a number of (affiliate) helicopter tours available to choose from (all with solid reviews). Some tours will just quickly take you above the city and allow you to see Table Mountain, Lion’s Head, etc. from above. Those will do the trick if you just want to see the city and portions of the Atlantic Coast. However, if you really want to be blown away then I suggest that you book a tour like the Two Oceans tour (which I did) or go a step further and a book a tour that will take you all they way over to the Cape of Good Hope

Our experience 

The helicopter tour starts off with a take-off from the V&A Waterfront, where you’ll quickly ascend to capture the iconic view of Cape Town from the south, where you’ll seeTable Mountain and Lion’s Head, jut up above the city in dramatic fashion.

Capetown South Africa Helicopter Ride Tour
Cape Town aerial view from about 1,000 feet.

Your pilot may initially ascend to about 1,000 to 1,500 feet for this view but I recommend asking them to go up another 1,000 feet, because I feel like the view of the city is a bit more captivating from about 2,500 feet. That’s exactly what I did and so our pilot swung back out to gain a little over 1,000 feet in elevation.

As we swung out, I caught a few closer shots of the city, including Cape Town Stadium (home of the 2010 World Cup) with both Lion’s Head and Table Mountain in the background.

Cape Town South Africa Helicopter View Table Mountain Lion's Head
Cape Town Stadium aerial view.

I also got to see a nice shot of the downtown area. Downtown Cape Town, or more accurately, the “City Centre” is actually pretty small when compared to major downtown areas of the U.S. Although the City Centre isn’t as large, the metropolitan area of Cape Town has an estimated 3,740,026 people, so the entire sprawl of the Cape Town area isn’t exactly tiny.

Cape Town South Africa Helicopter Ride
Aerial view of Downtown Cape Town with Devil’s Peak in the background.

As we continued to swing out over the ocean, we caught a glimpse of Robbeneiland (Robben Island), which is of course where Nelson Mandela was held for 18 of the 27 years he was forced to serve in prison.

Cape Town South Africa Helicopter Ride
Aerial view of Robben Island.

Once we gained a bit in elevation, we came back over for another view of Cape Town, but this time close to about 2,800 feet. I preferred this view higher up because it gave more depth to the city and surrounding mountains and hills, so you could make out the formations a bit better and really appreciate the sprawl of the city that rests in the natural bowl formation. At that elevation, we were still about 700 feet lower than Table Mountain, although we would come close to matching it at some point on the tour. 

Cape Town South Africa Helicopter Ride
The Port of Cape Town.

Cape Town South Africa Helicopter Ride
Heading eastwardly.

Cape Town South Africa Helicopter Ride
Aerial view of Cape Town, South Africa.

As we moved toward the east, the view changed every second, so I captured a number of shots that all have very similar compositions. I couldn’t decide which view I preferred the most, although I think the image below is my favorite. I prefer the views that showcase the entire span from Signal Point to Lion’s Head with Table Mountain and Devil’s Peak looming behind. 

Cape Town South Africa Helicopter Ride
Iconic view of Cape Town, Lion’s Head, and Table Mountain.

Cape Town South Africa Helicopter Ride
View of Cape Town from a helicopter.

After getting the shots of the iconic views of Cape Town, our pilot took us on eastwardly. This was the exciting part because I’d seen the one “iconic” view of Cape Town so many times in the past, but I hadn’t seen photos of the other side of the Cape Town and surrounding mountains. Thus, the views would all be fresh to me.

Cape Town South Africa Helicopter Ride
Ready to check out some amazing views!

Below is what’s referred to as “Sea Point,” and it’s one of Cape Town’s most affluent and densely populated suburbs, with residential high rises lining the ocean front. The beach-front promenade, a paved walkway along the ocean front is a popular place to go for a walk or jog for both locals and tourists. 

The hill to the left is “Signal Hill” (a great place to drive up and catch the sunset) and on the right is the famous “Lion’s Head,” a fun hike that offers superb views of the city and Table Mountain. 

Cape Town South Africa Helicopter Ride
Sea Point with Signal Hill and Lion’s Head.

After getting out from the suburbs, we took off over the ocean. As you can tell from the photos, our tour took place on a completely clear day. The wind was nonexistent and the temperature was in the lower 70s, making for an absolutely perfect day. I would’ve preferred to have some cloud coverage (especially over Table Mountain) to make things interesting for the photos, but it’s hard to complain about weather so perfect.

One thing I found fascinating was that our pilot told us sometimes they can spot whales and even great whites from the sky, although we didn’t see any of those. Apparently, there are also professional spotters with binocular and telescopes who sit perched up in the mountains acting like guardian angels and watching for great whites in order to alert swimmers and surfers at nearby beaches.

Cape Town South Africa Helicopter Ride
Flying high over the ocean near Cape Town.

Below, you can see the mountain ridges just east of Camps Bay. I believe these form part of the “12 Apostles” a notorious set of peaks that put on a magnificent showing at sunset, as the sun reflects off of their cliffs.

Cape Town South Africa Helicopter Ride
Part of the 12 Apostles.

Next up was “Llandudno,” one of the most scenic areas in Cape Town. An interesting fact about the suburb is that “there are no street lights, shops or commercial activities, and the suburb has some of the most expensive residential property in South Africa.”

Llandudno Beach is a hot spot for surfers but not so much with swimmers due to its cold water and strong currents. The giant boulders surrounding the beach (which are common in this area) make it one of the most beautiful beaches in the area, too. Also, if you look to the far right on the image below, you’ll see “Sandy Beach,” a famous nude beach of Cape Town.

Cape Town South Africa Helicopter Ride
Llandudno Beach and Sandy Beach.

The hill above Llandudno in the photo below is called “Little Lion’s Head” as it looks a lot like the real Lion’s Head to the west. 

Cape Town South Africa Helicopter Ride
The suburb of Llandudno.

After flying high over Llandudno the neighboring nudists, we made our way around a large peninsula of cliffs that surround Hout Bay, which I believe is part of Karbonkelberg/Kaptein’s Peak.

Cape Town South Africa Helicopter Ride
Karbonkelberg/Kaptein’s Peak.

The area is an imposing formation that many rock climbers flock to. An area on its side has been subject to sand deposits from strong winds over the years and is a spot that others come to sand board on, apparently.

Cape Town South Africa Helicopter Ride
Karbonkelberg/Kaptein’s Peak.

The view looking back north from Hout Bay is one of my favorite views I think I’ve ever encountered. You can see Lion’s Head on the far left, Table Mountain to its right, the 12 Apostles just below Table Mountain, Little Lion’s Head, and then Karbonkelberg/Kaptein’s Peak, all in one view. Pretty spectacular.

Cape Town South Africa Helicopter Ride
Karbonkelberg and other prominent peaks of Cape Town.

The view that emerges as you pass further east continues to impress. A large pointy formation known as the Sentinel, towers over Hout Bay pointing up to the sky like Pride Rock. 

Cape Town South Africa Helicopter Ride
The Sentinel and Hout Bay.

In the view below, you can see all of the major peaks once again but with the Sentinel and Hout Bay now in the shot. Interestingly, the entire low-lying area often referred to as Hout Bay was where early Dutch settlers depended on to get their lumber (using slaves of course), since little rainfall fell on the other side of the mountains where they had settled.

Cape Town South Africa Helicopter Ride
The Sentinel and Hout Bay

Chapman’s Peak drive, built between 1915 and 1922 and one of the most scenic and famous highways to drive, came into view next. Its winding roads that meander up and down the rugged coastline form South Africa’s version of Highway One found on the Pacific coast of the US. While it’s a sight to behold on the road, it’s also a quite the view from above.

Cape Town South Africa Helicopter Ride
Chapman’s Peak Drive.

The turquoise waters on the right what wash up beneath Chapman’s Peak Drive are part of “Noordhoek Beach.” Near the southern end of Noordhoek Beach you’ll find the wreck of the steamship “Kakapo”, which wrecked close to 100 years ago when the captain mistook Chapmans’ Peak for the Cape of Good Hope.

Cape Town South Africa Helicopter Ride
Chapman’s Peak drive

Another one of my favorite shots, you can see Chapman’s Peak, with Chapman’s Peak Drive winding around its base, with Hout Bay and Table Mountain in the background. 

Chapman's Peak helicopter rout cape town
Chapman’s Peak, South Africa.

Our route then went inland over “Fish Hoek,” a suburb of Cape Town with a history tied to whaling. It’s well known for Peers’ Cave, where human skeleton remains dating back as far as 15,000 years were found. Today, the area is popular for commuters into Cape Town and is a “semi-dry” town where alcohol can’t be sold in stores but only in restaurants and bars.

Cape Town South Africa Helicopter Ride
Fish Hoek, Cape Town, South Africa.

The waters extending out are part of “False Bay,” where the Indian Ocean meets the Atlantic Ocean, hence the name of the “Two Oceans Tour” (though some dispute exactly where that line is). False Bay earned its name from the fact that sailors going back as far as 300 years ago would mistake it for Table Bay. False Bay is known for its killer rogue waves and also for its great whites. If you look closely in the photo below, you can see a small granite island, which is the infamous “Seal Island” that the likes of Nat Geo and Discovery Channel often film at during Shark Week to get those amazing shots of great whites breaching 

Cape Town helicopter tour
False Bay with tiny Seal Island.

Dropping in elevation, we next swooped over “Kalk Bay Harbour.” 

Cape Town South Africa Helicopter Ride
Kalk Bay Harbour.

Kalk Bay is a well-known fishing village but also offers some amazing swells for surfers. An interesting fact about the mountains and hills above this village is that they are filled with large cave systems, which is a rarity considering that the rocks are formed of sandstone. 

Cape Town South Africa Helicopter Ride
Kalk Bay Harbour

Cape Town helicopter tour
Kalk Bay Harbour

As we pushed north in False Bay we flew over Muizenberg Beach, considered to be the birthplace of surfing in South Africa with its mecca being “Surfer’s Corner” pictured below. 

Cape Town South Africa Helicopter Ride
Surfer’s Corner at Muizenberg Beach.

Surfer’s Corner was the end of our coastal excursion and we headed back inland to make our way back toward Table Mountain. 

Cape Town South Africa Helicopter Ride
Westlake Golf Club

Our inland journey took us over some farmland and vineyards that were nestled in the foothills below the large mountain cliffs. It’s much harder to distinguish the land inland than on the coast, but I’m pretty sure that below (toward the right) you’re looking at Constantia, considered to be one of the most prestigious suburbs in South Africa.

Cape Town South Africa Helicopter Ride
Hope of Constantia on the right.

Judging by what I was told and how the area looks, it seems like this area isn’t too far off from being the Napa Valley of Cape Town, with its vineyards and affluent demographic. 

Cape Town South Africa Helicopter Ride
Figrove Way and Simon Van Der Stel Rd. Affluent neighborhoods in Cape Town.

Looking back on my experience in Cape Town, it’s impossible to see all of this affluence and not think about the townships we visited and poverty that existed there. The contrast is so stark that you wouldn’t believe that these places are merely separated by 15-20 minutes of driving. 

Cape Town South Africa Helicopter Ride
Constantia Heights

Towering above the affluent neighborhoods are the mountains that make up the rear of Table Mountain, some of them holding massive reservoirs. 

Cape Town South Africa Helicopter Ride

We finally came closer to making our turn around Table Mountain and flew over to popular stadiums in Cape Town. The rectangular stadium below is “Newlands Stadium,” the second-oldest rugby stadium in the world and to its right is “Newlands Cricket Stadium,” home to the Cape Cobras. 

Cape Town South Africa Helicopter Ride
Newlands rugby and cricket stadiums.

Finally, we turned back toward the city. Here you can see a north ridge of Table Mountain National Park known as Devil’s Peak to the left, the City Centre in the middle, and Robben Island looming in the background. 

Cape Town South Africa Helicopter Ride
Devil’s Peak, part of Table Mountain National Park to the left, the City Centre in the middle, and Robben Island in the background.

Dropping altitude, we flew over the industrial side of Cape Town full of trains and the Port of Cape Town. The area pictured below is known as “Woodstock.” It looks like just another industrial area but it played a significant role in “laying the foundation for urban renewal” after apartheid since it remained very integrated during that time. Today, it’s experiencing a bit of a resurgence as young professionals and others head their for its trendy restaurants, shops, and renovated Victorian architecture. 

Cape Town South Africa Helicopter Ride
Woodstock, Cape Town.

One of the smaller sections of the Port of Cape Town is designated for yachts. 

Cape Town South Africa Helicopter Ride
The Yachting Marina at the Port of Cape Town.

Just before landing we got one last great view of Table Mountain with the V&A Waterfront and the City Centre in the foreground. 

Cape Town South Africa Helicopter Ride
V&A Waterfront and Table Mountain.

And finally, it was time to touch back down on land after about 30 minutes of taking in breathtaking scenery from the sky. 

Cape Town South Africa Helicopter Ride
Cape Town helipads.

Final word 

This helicopter ride showcased the beauty of Cape Town that can only be appreciated by flight. There’s so much more than to the city and surrounding area than the iconic “City Bowl” shot that dominates post cards and magazines and I was very happy to be able to see it and photograph it. While helicopter rides can be a bit pricey at times, I think that anyone who really wants to experience the natural beauty of South Africa, should consider booking helicopter tour. It will be worth very penny (or ZAR).  

The Best Helicopter Tour in Chicago: Chicago Helicopter Experience

There’s simply no better way to take in the renowned skyline of Chicago than to be swooping over and around its many super-tall skyscrapers in a helicopter. Sure, there’s the Willis Tower Sky Deck and the John Hancock Center Tilt 360 that offer unique experiences for viewing the city but none of those can compare to the thrill of exploring an urban landscape like Chicago from the sky.

The Chicago Helicopter Experience is a first-class operation that will leave you with unforgettable memories (and tons of stunning photos) of your visit to Chicago. The staff, pilots, and everyone else involved will do everything to ensure that your’e able to comfortably enjoy a scenic (and exciting) flight around some of the most prolific skyscrapers in the world. Here’s a review of a recent tour Brad and I did with the Chicago Helicopter Experience (CHE). 

The facility

Chicago Helicopter Experience
The entrance to the facility

We arrived to the facility about 30 minutes prior to our take-off. Right now, I believe CHE is planning some massive renovations for a new facility so you might not be too impressed with the exterior of the facility. But don’t let that fool you, the experience of actually flying with CHE will be nothing short of excellent. 

From the moment we walked in, I got a an immediate sense of the of the laid-back vibe at CHE. Inside, we found a large open area with bar stools, comfy seating, tables with various games to occupy your mind like Jenga, Connect 4, etc., indoor corn hole (bags), and even a flight simulator to play around on. For the slightly anxious passenger, these are perfect distractions to put your mind at ease. For everyone else, it’s just a great way to pass the short time you’ll be waiting for your flight.    

Chicago Helicopter Experience
Waiting area inside

Chicago Helicopter Experience
Corn hole to pass the time!

As you wait to board, you’ll see helicopters take off and land every 20 minutes or so. This was my first time inside of a chopper, so I was very intrigued just watching these big red machines come in for landings, hover around for a bit, and literally ride off into the sunset. It was also reassuring to see everyone hopping out of the helicopters after their tours with smiles on their faces and it just added to the excitement of getting up in the air as our time for departure grew nearer. 

Chicago Helicopter Experience
Watching helicopters land and depart from the heliport.

Getting ready

After a short wait, we were told they were ready for us (others were called by their “flight number” printed on their boarding pass). We were taken to a locker room where we stored all of our belongings that we were not taking on the flight and used a custom combination to lock them safely away. (We brought my Canon 6D and GoPro along with us for the ride.)

From that point, we went through a metal detector and then proceeded to the prep room, where we were placed in a violet-lit room that contained the same seat arrangement that we’d be riding in.

Chicago Helicopter Experience
Inside the prep room.

I’ll be honest, I got a bit nervous when I first noticed the seat belt was pretty much the same type you’d find in an automobile, just with a slightly different clasp. I reasoned that since I’d be up in a helicopter a couple of thousand feet high, with the doors off, I’d need some form of extra harnessing or something. Turns out, I’d be just fine and once we got in the air, I wasn’t even thinking about it.

Once we were seated and strapped into the seats in the prep room, we watched a short, roughly 5 minute safety video. It goes over a lot of common sense stuff but you should make sure you pay attention to the parts regarding getting into and out of the helicopter. You don’t want to be standing in the wrong place beside a helicopter and you don’t want to look like a moron trying to take selfies while putting yourself at risk.  

Chicago Helicopter Experience
The safety video at Chicago Helicopter Experience.

After the video, we stepped out into the hallway and were led outside. It was time to board! We did a photography tour so before we got in, the crew removed the side doors so we would have optimal views for photos. Riding with the doors off added a whole new thrill to the ride, so if you can swing it, I’d definitely consider booking a doors-off tour as well. 

Chicago Helicopter Experience
Taking off the doors for our photography flight.

The crew confirmed our tour and then ushered us to the front of the helicopter for our keepsake photo. As soon as they snapped our photo, we hopped into our seats, snapped on our seat belts, put on our headsets, and were ready to go.

One great thing about a private photography tour is that you can customize your options and focus on the parts of the city that you want to see. For example, we’d just spent the afternoon at Wrigley Field, and so rather than spend a chunk of our time hovering on the north side of Chicago, we decided to just loop around the downtown area multiple times as the lighting changed.

Taking off

I’d never ridden in a helicopter before so I didn’t know what to expect at all when taking off but to my surprise it was a graceful experience. 

As we began slowly floating above the CHE facility and gliding over the river, I felt the same rush of giddiness that instantly hit me the first time I went SCUBA diving — a euphoric reminder that I’d just discovered a new addiction. In this case, it was flying on a chopper with the doors off!

As we crossed over a wide interstate, wide spans of green fields came into our line of sight. Beyond those, the imposing Chicago skyline rose into view.

Chicago Helicopter Tour
The Chicago Skyline

Chicago Helicopter Tour

Our pilot, speaking through our headphones, told us that we’d be swinging over Lake Michigan to take in the views of the waterfront and then looping around the skyline multiple times. Before flying out over the lake, we got a unique glimpse of “The Bean” from above, with the rest of of Millennium Park surrounding.

Chicago Helicopter Tour The bean
Aerial photo of “The Bean.”

Chicago Helicopter Tour sunset
Buckingham Fountain and surrounding park areas.

Once over the lake, we descended to a lower elevation to catch a closer view of Navy Pier, where just beside it, large streaks from the golden sunset happening above us reflected on the water.

Chicago Helicopter Tour
Navy Pier

Chicago Skyline and Navy Pier

From there, we ascended back over the skyline where we caught striking views of the Willis Tower, Aon Center, and Trump Tower. I’d already been quite impressed with the Chicago skyline from the time we rode in from the airport but seeing the skyline from hundreds of feet in the air added more immensity to the skyline and gave me better appreciation for the high concentration of skyscrapers that Chicago is home to. 

Chicago Helicopter Tour Chicago Skyline

Chicago Skyline

Chicago Helicopter Tour Chicago Skyline

Chicago Helicopter Tour Chicago Skyline

The lighting was beautiful to look at and admire, but at times almost impossible to deal with from a photography standpoint. If I could’ve gone back in time, I probably would’ve opted for a midday tour or a ride about an hour after sunset. If you’re just wanting to soak in some great views and take some pics from your phone to remember your trip, sunset tours are great — but if you’re trying to capture detailed shots of the buildings, the ever-changing lighting at sunset (especially with very few clouds present) can present a number of challenges that could otherwise be avoided. 

Chicago Helicopter Tour
Sunset lighting can be tricky.

After our first loop around downtown our pilot asked us what we’d prefer and offered his own ideas on routing options. We decided to mix-up our route to ensure that we’d see downtown from all different angles. This took us right over the Chicago River and we got great aerial shots of the riverwalk, lined with high rises, such as Trump Tower.

Chicago Helicopter Tour Chicago Skyline
The Chicago Riverwalk, modeled after the riverwalk in San Antonio.

Chicago Helicopter Tour Chicago Skyline
Trump Tower in the middle.

One of the coolest moments of the tour came when we approached the Willis Tower. As we circled around the tower, we were eye level with the dozens of tourists in the Sky Walk who were looking out at us as we photographed them. I’d thought about venturing up to the Sky Walk before but now that I was about 1,300 feet up in the air, roaming over the city, I was content to experience the Sky Walk from the outside.

Chicago Helicopter Tour Chicago Skyline
The Willis Tower sky deck from the outside.

After waiving back at the tourists behind the glass walls in the Willis Tower, we caught one of my favorite views of the entire tour. All four of the tallest Chicago skyscrapers stood in view, with the Willis Tower positioned prominently in front, and the other big three towering in the background.

Chicago Helicopter Tour Chicago Skyline Willis tower Sears Tower
My favorite view

Chicago Helicopter Tour Chicago Skyline

Later, once we pushed northward, we got another view of the big four but this time reversed with the John Hancock Center jutting up in the foreground from near the waterfront of Lake Shore Drive.

Chicago Helicopter Tour Chicago Skyline John Hancock Center
The John Hancock Center on the bottom left.

Chicago Helicopter Tour Chicago Skyline
The John Hancock Center

Chicago Helicopter Tour Chicago Skyline John Hancock Center

Chicago Helicopter Tour Chicago Skyline John Hancock Center

Chicago Helicopter Tour Chicago Skyline John Hancock Center
A view with the Lake Michigan waterfront.

Finally, with the tour coming to a conclusion, we made our way back towards Navy Pier over Lake Michigan and noticed that the sun had dropped a few more degrees over the horizon and was now casting a brilliant purple over the city.

Chicago Helicopter Tour Chicago Skyline John Hancock Center

Chicago Helicopter Tour Chicago Skyline Willis Tower

We took in the view for a little bit and then made our way back. Once we touched down, the staff ushered us back inside where we were given sharpie markers to leave our mark along with hundreds of other previous riders. After signing the wall, we checked out, purchased our commemorative framed photo, and then we were off the head back into downtown Chicago, only this time it would be via automobile.   

Final word

This tour was definitely the highlight of our trip to Chicago. From the moment that we first contacted Chicago Helicopter Experience over the phone to book the tour, everything was taken care of smoothly and effeciently. They always promptly responded to my inquiries and gave me assurance regarding any of my concerns. The operations on the day of the flight were just as smooth — CHE does a great job of balancing professionalism with its laid back atmosphere so you feel at ease but not too at ease about getting in a helicopter.

I think a helicopter ride is the ideal way to experience Chicago and its world renown architecture — no other viewing experience can compare. If you’re looking for a legit helicopter tour then definitely consider booking with CHE, you will not be disappointed! Tours start at $148.