Airports are typically no more than a transit point, a generic building situated outside of a city with the same overpriced gift shops and bland food. There is really nothing all that remarkable about most airports: they are a routine part of the journey, rather than the focal point of a destination.
Unless, of course, you are travelling into an airport that offers up some stunning scenery and perhaps even a dose of danger. Situated on mountaintops, islands, beaches and near cities, the experience of landing at certain airports can be an unforgettable part of a trip.
Mountains and beaches provide unforgettable sights for passengers, but there is often a down side to all of the surrounding natural beauty: scenic airport approaches are also some the most dangerous places to land. Skilled pilots are needed to navigate into many of these airports because of their short runways, proximity to mountains or oceans, or inclement weather.
From locations on beaches to the tops of mountains, the following airports are located in some of the most breathtaking (in terms of both beauty and danger) places in the world.
Jackson Hole Airport, Jackson, Wyoming
Why travel to a national park when you can just land right in one? The largest airport in the state of Wyoming, Jackson Hole Airport, is the only commercial airport in the U.S. inside a national park, Grand Teton National Park. Many travellers who arrive at this airport immediately find themselves at their destination: most are there to visit the Grand Teton National Park or nearby Yellowstone National Park. Further adding to the ambiance, the design of the airport is intended to blend in with the natural surroundings. The terminal actually used to resemble a pioneer log cabin, though an expansion in 2009 and 2010 modernized the appearance in a way that was still mindful of the airport’s scenic location.
Barra International Airport, Scotland
Barra is a short-runway airport situated in a shallow bay – yes, in an actual body of water – on the island of Barra in Scotland. It is the only airport in the world where scheduled flights use a beach as a runway. Several times a day, small planes land on one of three runways, which are marked by wooden poles. At high tide, all of the runways are under water. Despite the logistics of landing at the airport, travellers have ranked it as the most scenic in the world. It’s located on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean and, during landing, passengers are provided with stunning views of the unique Scottish landscape.
Gustaf III Airport, St. Barths, French Caribbean
St. Barths, despite being in one of the most exclusive island retreats in the Caribbean, is also home to one of the most extreme airports in the world. St. Barths Gustaf III Airport has been ranked as among the most dangerous airports in the world because of its short airstrip, which is at the base of a gentle slope that ends directly on the sandy beach. Managing an arrival into the airport is very difficult for pilots, as the descent is also very steep, as planes must fly over a hilltop. Departing planes (which are usually small, holding 20 passengers or fewer), fly right over the heads of sunbathers on the beach. If passengers have nerves of steel, they will certainly enjoy the breathtaking views of the blue ocean and nearby mountains as the plane makes its harrowing journey.
Paro Airport, Bhutan
The only international airport in Bhutan, Paro Airport is located deep in a valley surrounded by spectacular peaks – which are as high as 5,500m – on the banks of a river, Paro Chhu. Paro Airport is considered one of the most challenging and dangerous airports in the world, and pilots need to be specially certified to land at the airport. Because of the difficult surroundings, flights are restricted to daylight hours. That is for the best for passengers who will want to enjoy the sights: the high peaks surrounding the airport provide an unforgettable view.
Queen Beatrix International Airport, Aruba, Dutch Caribbean
Frequently cited as one of the world’s most beautiful airport approaches, just before an aircraft touches down at Queen Beatrix International passengers are treated to a spectacular view of the surrounding rich turquoise waters. One end of the airport’s runway is located right where the water meets land, offering the illusion that the plane is about to land on the blue waters of the Caribbean. The airport is also located in a historically strategic location: in World War II, the airport was used to defend the United States, Caribbean and the Panama Canal against German submarines.
Marco Polo Airport, Venice, Italy
Once a major port city connecting Europe with the Middle East, the historic city of Venice is one of the most scenic travel destinations in the world. The city of Venice is itself an island, and the airports located on the nearby mainland. As planes descend into the legendary city, passengers can enjoy unique views of the city and its watery surroundings.
Queenstown Airport, Queenstown, New Zealand
New Zealand is beloved by travellers for its incredible landscapes. Passengers can start to admire the beautiful scenery as soon as they land at Queenstown Airport, which also happens to be one of the busiest airports in New Zealand. Mountains, lush fields and blue water surround the airport. Outdoor adventures are not far away: it’s a quick drive to the many outdoor activities and sights for visitors.
Aeroparque (Jorge Newbery Airport), Buenos Aires
Located just northeast of Buenos Aires, the airport covers a large area of land. Upon approach to the airport, passengers fly over the waters of the wide Rio de la Plata river and can see the shoreline of Uruguay in the distance. Passengers are also treated to a spectacular view of most of the megacity upon descent into the airport.
Tenzing-Hillary Airport, Lukla, Nepal
Located in the town of Lukla in eastern Nepal, this airport been ranked the most dangerous airport in the world because of the high winds, cloud cover, rain and changing visibility. Over the years, there have been a number of incidents and accidents. Despite dangerous flying conditions, the airport is popular because Luka is the location where many trekkers start their climb to Mount Everest Base Camp. It also treats passengers to a spectacular view of the surrounding green, hazy mountains. The airport itself has tight security, and is patrolled by armed police and civil police.
Nice Cote d’Azur Airport, Nice, France
It’s a given that virtually anything located in the South of France is going to be beautiful, and the Cote d’Azur Airport is no exception. The airport’s 11.5 million passengers a year can enjoy an unforgettable sight of the Mediterranean coastline upon descending into the airport. The airport is also located near Monaco, and serves visitors to the city-state. A helicopter service links the airport with Monaco, providing those lucky passengers with another chance to admire the incredible views of the water and the famed shores of the Cote d’Azur.
Princess Juliana International Airport, St. Maarten
Although several Caribbean airports (rightfully) appear on this list, St. Maarten’s Princess Juliana International Airport is particularly memorable for both passengers and onlookers on the ground. Because its runway is extremely close to the shore, planes landing at the airport have a very low altitude approach over neighboring Maho Beach. Sunbathers on the beach can get an up-close view of the aircraft, which are often large flights carrying passengers from major overseas cities including Amsterdam. This has turned the beach into somewhat of an attraction, especially for photographers and planespotters. Since the approach to the runway is over water, pilots can become disoriented about their perceived altitude. Departures from the runway are also tricky, as a turn is required to avoid nearby mountains. Still, this does not prevent the airport from being one of the busier ones in the region.
Malé Airport (Ibrahim Nasir International Airport), Maldives
Malé Airport is surrounded by rich, crystal-clear blue waters on all sides, providing a spectacular view as passengers land in the lush tropical islands of the Maldives. The airport is the main one that serves the Maldives and is located on Hulhulé Island, near the capital island. The airport started out as a small strip of land on the island of Hulhulé in 1960, and has since expanded to cover virtually the entire area of the small island.