Thanks to tour deals and budget airlines, you don’t necessarily have to spend a small fortune to go on a South African safari anymore—but what if you could experience a bucket-list game drive from the comfort of your computer?
Google Maps has made it possible, and recently added 560 miles of immersive Street View that showcases trails and parks across South Africa; all of the country’s national parks are now explorable online. Get a first-hand look at the 36 total South African parks and nature reserves, 170 trails, and the rare animals that live in them—without even leaving your house (or couch).
The trail versions of Google Maps Street Views mean you can (virtually) climb Cape Town’s Table Mountain, walk in Nelson Mandela’s footsteps, explore six UNESCO World Heritage Sites, pick your favorite hiking trails in the Drakensberg Mountains, and spot rhino, elephants, and other big game in famous locales like Kruger National Park. Whether you’re planning a safari or just dreaming of one, there’s no excuse not to experience a South African game drive now.
This virtual safari is at your fingertips thanks to more than 200 South Africans who trekked the trails with Google Maps Street View cameras that took 360-degree photos with every step. Rangers helped the volunteers look out for wildlife and catch some jaw-dropping views and animal encounters along the way:
Part of this virtual reality (VR) experience launched in 2016, and now joins other Google Maps Street View collections that offer immersive travel experiences like Day of the Dead in Mexico and highlights across destinations from Wales to Malaysia. It seems like Google sees VR as a new way for travelers to explore the places they want to visit. But that poses the question: Will virtual reality ever replace the real thing?
Would you use virtual reality to plan a trip like a safari? Or does VR take away from the real thing? Comment below.
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Associate Editor Shannon McMahon writes about all things travel. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.