China's Tianmen Shan Cable Car journeys through misty, mystical mountains /

Admit it, you love a good cable car. Here are the world’s weirdest and wildest

It’s been a busy month for cable cars. No, seriously. Last week, Venezuela officially reopened the world’s highest cable car, which takes off from the Andean city of Mérida and rises 3,000 metres into the mountains. At the same time, Mexico unveiled its new £70 million commuter cable car between Ecatepec and San Andres de la Cañada, not far from Mexico City – which promptly got jammed. And in worse news, about 200 Chinese tourists were stranded on Shaanxi’s Mount Hua overnight when strong winds prevented the sightseeing cable car from taking them back down. 

But despite these little hiccups, there’ll always be a special place in our hearts for the cable car ride. It’s just one of those pursuits enduringly steeped in childlike joy. Whether it’s the gondolas’ bright colours, the sensation of dangling precariously over a vast abyss, or just the fluttery rush of admiring the sweeping landscape outside of it, surely one of travel’s great guilty treats is taking a cable car. Here are five not to miss.

The mad Chinese one

China is no stranger to extreme attractions, but its Tianmen Shan Cable Car is one hell of a ride. During a journey of 7,455 metres – or just over 4.5 miles – passengers are carried through the misty, mythical-feeling Tianmen Mountains, made famous by the film Avatar when they stood for the alien planet of Pandora’s floating stone pillars. (China actually renamed its Southern Sky Column the “Avatar Hallelujah Mountain” following the film’s huge success.)  As well as getting up close to all that incredible natural scenery, the route passes over the “Heaven-linking Avenue”, a truly bamboozling mountain road that draws hot, acid tears from drivers with 99 hairpin bends over a distance of 7 miles and an ascent of 1,100 metres. Though the Tianmen Shan lately lost its title of “world’s longest cable car ride” to La Paz’s 6.2-mile-long commuter cable car route in Bolivia, we still think it’s up there with the best. 

View of the Heaven-linking Avenue mountain road from the cable car (Shutterstock)

The open-top one

Yes, you read that right. The world’s first cable car to offer an open-air upper deck, the CabriO Stanserhorn is described as a “convertible-style cable car” offering the chance to feel the wind in your hair as you’re whizzed up Switzerland’s Stanserhorn mountain. Big jessies have the option of staying on the enclosed lower deck of the gondola for the six-and-a-half-minute ride, should that sound like a cable car innovation too far.

Switzerland's "convertible-style" cable car (

The rotating one

How do you make your attraction stand out in crazy-glamorous Palm Springs? You make your cable car rotate 360 degrees throughout the ride, that’s what. (Chuh. Obvious.) The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway does away with passengers scrabbling to position themselves for the perfect view by giving everyone the chance to see Chino Canyon from every angle. The 10-minute journey gives gorgeous views over one of North America’s steepest desert canyons.

The rotating cable car in Palm Springs (Don Graham/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0)

The glass-bottomed one

Hop into a Crystal Cabin on Hong Kong’s Ngong Ping ropeway and you can see what’s directly below as well as around you on this rather epic 25-minute ride. The four-mile journey takes passengers over the gorgeous green hills of Lantau Island, with views out to the South China Sea, and gives teasing glimpses of the Tian Tian Buddha that awaits at the end of the ride – a bronze, 112ft-tall statue crowning the top of 268 steps. Sadly, you’ll have to make your own way up the staircase.

The Ngong Ping ropeway ends at Hong Kong's Giant Buddha (Getty)

The least supported one

If you’ve stepped willingly into a cable car, we presume you don’t suffer vertigo – but the Peak 2 Peak gondola in Canada might give you it. The ride isn’t just known for whisking you through the amazing mountain, lake, glacier and forest scenery of British Columbia – linking peaks at popular resorts Whistler and Blackcomb – but also for having the world’s longest unsupported span of ropeway, meaning the gondola trundles along the cable without support towers for 3,024 metres (almost two miles). Not to worry; the drop is only about 1,400 metres. Gulp.

The Peak 2 Peak gondola travels unsupported for almost two miles (Shutterstock)