THERE AREN’T MANY TRAVEL EXPERIENCES more rewarding than having a close encounter with a wild animal in its natural habitat. Be it a tiger, a whale, or a platypus, it is about watching the animal go about its day and being briefly accepted into its world.
The trick with wildlife-watching is knowing where to go and managing expectations. Close encounters with wildlife are rare and hard to come by. But, you can improve your chances of an unforgettable experience by traveling to wildlife hotspots where animals are more tolerant of people.
An Introduction to Wildlife Travelling?
The world is a smaller place than you think, especially when it comes to wildlife. There wouldn’t exist a clearer example of this than when looking at the distances between the wildlife hotspots on this list. The last two are just a plane ride apart.
Yet, regardless of how close they are, we’ve still been able to scale down each destination to a manageable size with this guide, the result of which is:
-Not too big – dah! That is, we’re not trying to make it all seem bigger than it is, but rather avoid the sense that this wildlife travel experience is only accessible to the ultra-rich;
-And not too little either – we’re rounding up the best locations and activities to be found within each location; and
-But just enough – there’s plenty of information here to enjoy your wildlife experience and enough to revisit each location time after time!
The Impact of Humans on Wildlife Travel
You might have heard the old adage, “Don’t feed the animals in the zoo”.
Surely you wouldn’t feed the animals if you were lucky enough to see them in their natural habitat, right?
Well, unfortunately, that saying has been put on the back burner for many people, and some locals, who feed the animals at the risk of their safety (and their own).
Have you ever visited the Galapagos Islands? Have you seen the giant tortoises that are susceptible to tourists who stick food in their mouths? Have you seen the birds become overly tolerant of humans and crowds, or worse, resorting to stealing food off passing tourists or using them as a source of entertainment?
Those animals were once wild and shy. They are now domesticated and responsive to human entertainment.
The wildlife trade is a vulnerable one. To protect the animals, we need to protect the wildlife tourism industry.
How to Be a Responsible Wildlife Tourist
The first step to traveling responsibly is having a positive attitude. A negative attitude is not going to get you far at all in this situation and could do more harm than good.
In the end, it comes down to attitude. If you approach the wildlife with a negative attitude, you will stress the animals out. And if you let your guard down, you may risk the safety of yourself and the animals.
The reality is that you are not an expert, and they have a lot to teach you. It is your responsibility to keep a safe distance and remember that is always possible to return another day, if that means you let the animals be.
Wildlife Tourism Gets You Close
When you go to a park where you get to see wild animals in their natural habitat, there is nothing more satisfying than feeling like you have come as close to nature as you could get.
The best way to ensure you have this experience is by avoiding contact with wildlife.
Assume that you’re only seeing a tiny part of the overall picture when you’re in the middle of a wildlife sighting. And on that note, in many of these locations, you should avoid encouraging human interaction because it will only stress out the animal.
And just like any other form of tourism, tourism that involves traditional wildlife sighting has its own dangers.
The best thing you can do, if you want to be truly respectful, is to take care of yourself while in the presence of these wild animals.
Instances where tourists cause disturbance to a particular animal are extremely rare. Most of the times, animals are not stressed at all.
In fact, seeing any animal in nature as they are is what a responsible and wildlife-friendly tourist does.
How to Investigate the Wildlife Tourism in Advance
Don’t wait until traveling to investigate the important details of your wildlife vacation. Investigate the tourism in advance as much as possible.
There are countless of sites on the web that feature information about wildlife. Some are about the tourist attractions, and others are also about general wildlife or conservation organizations.
Visit the local tourism website. You don’t even really have to travel to the local tourist association nowadays. Visit their website at home. There, you will obtain most of the information you need.
There are also bloggers dedicated to wildlife tourism. Some of them have re-created websites of tourist associations and websites of wildlife tourism sites so you can have pretty much the same data right at home.
Contact the tourist association or wildlife tourism corporation directly. Visit their site to see information. You might also want to ask them some questions, clear some doubts, and get all the information you can about important aspects of your trip.
Many of the intelligent and responsible wildlife tourism associations prohibit such things as posing with the animals (with a wildlife photo – not with a selfie stick) and feeding the animals.
But, if to be able to witness a rare or unique animal, you’re willing to use its behaviour to your advantage, you’re still a responsible wildlife tourist.
The point here is: don’t be afraid of doing your homework, especially in regards to wildlife tourism. Tourism agencies will gladly help you get the information you need. All you have to do is ask.
Puerto Maldonado, Peru
This product was recommended by Clément Taquet from Peru For Less
Tambopata National Reserve A sanctuary of incredible biological diversity, the reserve features stunning Oxbo lakes and different forest habitats. More than 670 bird and 1,200 butterfly species join a long list of endangered animals, such as giant otters, harpy eagles, and jaguars, who call this place home.
This product was recommended by Denise Brown from Sababu Safaris
Tanzania is unquestionably one of the very best destinations to see wildlife.
- The country has an unparalleled concentration of wildlife (20% of Africa’s large mammal population and the largest number of lions on the entire continent!)
- It is home to the Big Five (lion, leopard, elephant, rhino and buffalo)
- It is home to the Great Migration, which is the biggest migration of land mammals on the planet. Two million wildebeest and zebras sweep through the Serengeti plains in search of food and water in timeless cycle (by many considered nature’s greatest show on earth).
- The country boasts seven UNESCO World Heritage Sites and is the most biodiverse country in Africa – it has designated almost 40% of its total surface area to forest, wildlife and marine protected areas
- More than any other African country!
- Jane Goodall studied chimpanzees in Gombe National Park
- Undiscovered and untamed wilderness with relatively few tourists
- Fun fact: The Lion King is based on Tanzania The seemingly endless grasslands supported by the incredible diversity of wildlife are unparalleled anywhere in the world.
The country unveils a world of untamed wilderness and welcomes visitors with its jaw-dropping wildlife sightings. Tanzania’s overwhelmingly beautiful and diverse flora and fauna make Tanzania stand out among other countries on the African continent.
This product was recommended by Sara Sarafa from Kopa Tours
Everyone has heard of the Serengeti National Park, but few know the wonders that await in the Ngorongoro Crater. The Ngorongoro Crater spans a 3,202 sq. mi area and is home to an impressive 25,000 mammals, making it the most densely populated animal park in the world! In addition, the Crater offers you one of the best chances in the world to get a look at the incredibly rare Black Rhino. Not only Rhinos, but the complete set of the Big 5; including the Lion, the African Leopard, the African Buffalo, and the African Elephant. The crater rim itself creates an incredibly picturesque natural backdrop. The Ngorongoro Crater very well might be one of the best kept secrets of the world when it comes to wildlife viewing.
Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada
This product was recommended by Katherine Alvernaz from Off the Clock Adventurers
Banff National Park is home to 53 different species of mammals including black bears, grizzly bears, cougars, lynx, bison, mountain goats, bighorn sheep, moose, and several types from the deer family. It is also home to numerous species of birds. Just driving along the Icefields Parkway, many see black bears, grizzlies, big horn sheep, elk, moose, deer and wolves. Many more animals can be seen at Vermillion Lakes, Marsh Boardwalk Trail and Sulphur Mountain. Banff really is Canada’s safari.
Great Bear Rainforest, British Clombuia, Canada
This product was recommended by Connor Griffiths from Lifty Life
The Great Bear Rainforest is a diverse ecosystem spanning 6.4 million hectares. The rainforest is a great place for viewing all sorts of BC wildlife but what really makes this destination truly amazing is the rare Spirit Bear. The Spirit Bear also known as the Kermode bear is a subspecies of black bears.
Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica
This product was recommended by Diego Colombi from INLEX
The Osa Peninsula is located in the south of Costa Rica, and it is mainly conformed of a big national park (Parque de Osa) which is well preserved and managed. The amount of biodiversity in this tiny peninsula is just astounding . Visitors can access the reserve by a combination of offroad vehicles or a boat and then continue on foot. Once in the reserve visitors can camp and observe the lush wildlife.
Eungella National Park in Australia
This product was recommended by Elle Meager from Outdoor Happens
The area has a mythical air about it, surrounded by mist and high on a mountain. It doesn’t just have 860 different plant species, it is also one of the few places in the world where you can come eye-to-eye with a platypus. It’s quite an experience to see this egg-laying mammal with a bird’s beak! The best place to see the platypus is the viewing platform at Broken River. Go there at dawn and dusk for the best chance to lay eyes on one and pay particular attentional to slow-mowing parts of the river and small pools of water.
In addition to the platypus, there are this unique area houses 111 species of birds, 28 species of mammals, several reptiles, and 16 species of amphibians, included the endangered Eungella Dayfrog. There are many stunning rainforest walks throughout the National Park, with high chances of seeing wildlife.
California Central Coast
This product was recommended by Tatiana Sorokina from Family Road Trip Guru blog
As a California resident I would have to say California Central Coast, roughly from San Francisco to Morro Bay, is the best place to see a variety of ocean wildlife. The following species can be observed either on beaches or very close to shore all year round: sea lions, harbor seals, dolphins, elephant seals and sea otters. There are many nature reserves designated along the coast for viewing these animals such as Elkhorn Slough, Ano Nuevo and Fitzgerald Marine Reserve, for example. Also in coastal tide pools you can find small wildlife creatures such as sea stars, octopus, sea urchins, sea cucumbers, crabs and many others. During the months of December – March you can see grey whales migrating along the California coast and in summer killer whales frequent the area for feeding.
Ranthambore National Park
This product was recommended by Abhishek Bade from Leamigo
It is one of the most well known and biggest park in Northern India. It cover a huge area of 392 sq km. with sanctuaries like Mansingh Sanctuary and Kaila Devi Sanctuary. The location of this park is in Sawai madhopur district of southeastern Rajasthan , which is 130 km from the nearest airport. Earlier It was a hunting ground for the kings who rule over there now its a wildlife tourist attraction Spot which pulls tourists from all over the world like a magnet. I’m suggesting this location because i’ve seen almost every famous wildlife sanctuaries in india and so far this the best park i’ve come across, It has animals of various species also you will see some rare animals and birds which are hard to see and are nearly extinct . and it is most famous for it’s Diurnal tigers..
This product was recommended by Talisa from Two Wander
We think Borneo, Malaysia, is the best place to travel to for wildlife because not only is it incredibly lush and ripe with amazing animals, many of them are also unique to this location and often endangered too! This includes the famous orangutans, rare pygmy elephants, proboscis monkeys, pangolins, cloud leopards, slow loris and many more. The wildlife on offer in Borneo is extremely diverse and set against a beautiful backdrop, making it the perfect destination for animal spotting!
Liwonde National Park, Malawi
This product was recommended by Rory Gillett from Malawian Style
Liwonde is an incredible national park which hosts a variety of animal species and has undergone several reintroductions in recent years. Cheetah and lion were introduced in 2017 and 2018. Prince Harry helped African Parks (park managers) with the largest ever elephant translocation; 500 elephants were moved from Liwonde to Nkhotakota. Antelope include kudu, sable and bushbuck. Hyaena and black rhino are also occasionally spotted. Birdlife is exceptionally varied. The river attracts fish eagles and weaver birds build their nests in the thin woodland. Pel’s fishing owl is often seen at dusk along the river’s edge.
Pendjari NP (Benin)
This product was recommended by Monique Teggelove from Papillon Reizen
This parc is the best NP in West Africa and one of the rare places in the world where the West African lion can be spotted, along elephants, kobs, warthogs, several species of antelopes, buffalos, hippos, crocodiles, over 400 varieties of birds and more. Opt for a multiple-day visit to enjoy the luxury of the lodge with its infinity pool or an overnight camping adventure.
Murchison Falls National Park, Uganda
This product was recommended by Olivia-Petra Coman from Inreperta
A perfect location for self-safari, a beautiful park to easily spot giraffes, different types of antelopes, warthdogs, buffalos, and hippos. Crossing the Nile is an adventure in itself.
Península Valdés, Patagonia, Argentina
This product was recommended by Olivia-Petra Coman from Inreperta
A paradise of various scents and environments, home to guanacos, Magellanic penguins, sea lions, elephant seals, Patagonian mara, choiques, cuis… and whales during austral winter months.
Danube Delta, Romania
This product was recommended by Olivia-Petra Coman from Inreperta
Ultimate location for birdwatching -great white pelicans, Dalmatian pelicans, swans, cormorants, terns, bee-eaters, kingfishers- in Europe, I’d say. Otters, wild boars, golden jackals, and wild horses can also be spotted.
This product was recommended by Lindsay Krause from Jumbari Family Safaris
A year-round safari destination, Botswana is home to some of Africa’s premier wildlife parks. The Okavango Delta and Chobe National Park are some of the best regions to see Africa’s legendary Big 5 – elephant, lion, rhino, buffalo and leopard. With wonderfully diverse landscapes, this wildlife destination offers a unique safari experience that few other destinations can match. Traveling to the Delta? We recommend a paddling safari in a traditional canoe called a ‘mokoro’ through the waterways to see wildlife up close and personal.
This product was recommended by Amy Alton from Out Chasing Stars
It is estimated that 90% of all plant and animal species in Madagascar are endemic – meaning they are found nowhere else in the world. Such exotic animals make the challenges of getting to Madagascar worth the visit. In Nosy Be, one of Madagascar’s tourist hotspots, an island in the northwest, hiking on of the local parks can introduce visitors to a variety of lemurs, chameleons, boas, and birds. Baobab trees are an iconic part of Madagascar’s landscape and under the water, green turtles and whale sharks swim with tourists for once-in-a-lifetime experiences.
Clearfield County – Quehanna Wilds Area – Elk Viewing
This product was recommended by Josiah Jones from Visit Clearfield County
Clearfield County was named the best place to escape to by Expedia.com because of the vast wilderness and nature that exists in Clearfield County. The Quehanna wilds offers the Audubon Society a great location to find birding migration that they can’t find anywhere else in the Northeastern region of the U.S. You can also visit the Quehanna wild area to find the largest Elk herd in the Northeastern U.S., offering great viewing and picturesque opportunities.
This product was recommended by Deborah Calmeyer from Roar Africa
Situated long the Botswana-South Africa border, it is one of South Africa’s prime safari destinations. In addition to extensive game-viewing opportunities, visitors also benefit from the park’s relatively unknown status at present, meaning greater privacy and the possibility of more intimate encounters with the local wildlife. Guests who stay at the Five Star Jamala Madikwe Royal Safari Lodge set within the Game Reserve will enjoy overlooking its busy watering hole, where on any given day there are sightings of elephant, giraffe, eland, zebra and wild dogs. The ultimate sofa safari experience.
The White Mountains of New Hampshire
This product was recommended by Colleen Eliason from VisitWhiteMountains
The White Mountains of New Hampshire is home to a large population of moose.. If you are looking to drive on your own to try to spot a moose, Moose Alley (Route 3) in Pittsburg is notorious for being THE spot to find moose. If you would prefer to have someone else do the driving, there are also several moose tour companies that operate throughout the White Mountains, with all of them maintaining at least a 97% sighting average. North Conway’s Moose Safari, Pemi Valley Moose Tours in Lincoln, and Gorham Moose Tours offer bus tours that drive to areas that are known for moose sightings. Tour guides will either share moose videos or tell stories and jokes on board. Tours start in the evening and can last up to 4 hours..
This product was recommended by Poli Marinova from Vacation Deals for Feds
The absolute best place in the world for animals, insects and birds. Staying in a house or hotel in the Manuel Antonio area, you will be greeted by monkeys on your roof and the sounds of the rainforest early in the morning. Hiking through one of the many national parks, you are guaranteed to see more monkeys, sloths, various frogs and even snakes (be careful where you put your hands as that branch may actually be a snake). The night tour at Si Como No uncovers many nocturnal animals in their natural habitat – red-eyed frogs, alligators, turtles and sloths. Taking the rope bridge tour in Arenal, you will see a variety of birds , lizards and butterflies. Just hanging out on many of the Pacific side beaches, you will be approached by monkeys, iguanas, agoutis.
The Galápagos Islands, Ecuador
This product was recommended by Casper Ohm from Water-Pollution
Few places on earth have the exquisite biodiversity and stunning natural beauty that you can find on the Galapagos Islands. Charles Darwin himself furthered his scientific research when he visited the islands back in the 19th century. The archipelago is made up of 18 islands, home to more than 200 animal species, many of which are endangered. The Galapagos Islands are world-renowned for harboring some of the largest and oldest tortoises on the planet. What I really love about the Galapagos Islands is the penguins, the only ones that can be found in the Northern Hemisphere
This product was recommended by Philip Weiss from PhilipWeiss
For anyone that wants to cross off the African Safari experience from their bucket list, Tanzania is the place to go. Serengeti invokes memories of watching cheetahs and giraffes duel it out across the vast plains hours on National Geographic as a kid. I would recommend it as one of the best places to see wildlife and get a complete safari package. Expect to see a wide range of animals including zebras, giraffes, wildebeest, lions, cheetahs, hippos, and crocodiles. Safaris are available during the day and at night, the latter which I recommend for seeing elephants and overall surreal experience of a moonlit safari. Tanzania has it all when it comes to seeing wildlife up close and personal and I would recommend it as the go-to safari destination in the world.
Yellowstone National Park
This product was recommended by Melanie Musson from AutoInsuranceEZ
Free-roaming bison and elk are plenteous in Yellowstone. If you visit the park, you’re almost guaranteed to see those animals. If you’re lucky or spend enough time there, you may see wolves, grizzly bears, black bears, coyotes, bighorn sheep, mountain goats, and many, many more animals. The national park is a refuge for these wild animals and it offers a rare and unique chance to see just what the west looked like before it was settled.
Kruger National Park
This product was recommended by Nathan Edmondson from EDGE
It is one of the last truly wild places in the world, and it never disappoints. SANParks are truly the “Custos Naturae.” South Africa is home to many great reserves and places to experience wildlife, but greatest among these is The Kruger.