Rare earth elements (REEs) supply is important to ensure the energy transition, e-mobility and ultimately to achieve the sustainable development goals of the United Nations. Conventional exploration techniques usually rely on substantial geological field work including dense in-situ sampling with long delays until provision of analytical results. However, this approach is limited by land accessibility, financial status, climate and public opposition. Efficient and innovative methods are required to mitigate these limitations. The use of lightweight unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) provides a unique opportunity to conduct rapid and non-invasive exploration even in socially sensitive areas and in relatively inaccessible locations. We employ drones with hyperspectral sensors to detect REEs at the earth's surface and thus contribute to a rapidly evolving field at the cutting edge of exploration technologies. We showcase for the first time the direct mapping of REEs with lightweight hyperspectral UAV platforms. Our solution has the advantage of quick turn-around times (< 1 d), low detection limits (< 200 ppm for Nd) and is ideally suited to support exploration campaigns. This procedure was successfully tested and validated in two areas: Marinkas Quellen, Namibia, and Siilinjärvi, Finland. This strategy should invigorate the use of drones in exploration and for the monitoring of mining activities.