Bucket List Trips for Wildlife Lovers
There are many great reasons to travel, including the pursuit of your passions. And when you’re a traveler passionate about wildlife, you’re in luck: magnificent creatures can be found in special spots all over the world.
The following 12 bucket list trips for wildlife lovers showcase some of the most incredible animals on Earth—so be sure to ask your travel advisor about the ones that drive you wild!
A Big Five Safari in Africa
Africa’s famous Big Five are the lion, leopard, elephant, Cape buffalo, and rhino. In the south and east of the African continent, you can see and photograph these amazing animals (and many more) for yourself in the protected parks and wildlife reserves of the “Big Five” safari countries:
- Botswana—Okavango Delta
- Kenya—Masai Mara National Park
- South Africa—Kruger National Park, Phinda Game Reserve, and Sabi Sand Game Reserve
- Tanzania—Ngorongoro Crater
- Zimbabwe—Mana Pools National Park
Most Big Five safaris include a combo of small plane and Jeep travel, daily wildlife excursions with a naturalist guide, glamping tents with bathroom facilities, and luxurious permanent lodgings that complement their surroundings. Expect sunset cocktails daily (aka sundowners) and stories to last a lifetime.
Polar Bears in the Arctic Circle
Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Alaska: This eight-million-acre wilderness is home to hundreds of polar bears, as well as brown and black bears, caribou, moose, wolves, and musk oxen. There are no hiking trails, facilities, or visitor centers, though, so air travel is the only way in or out, and a guide is a mus
Churchill, Manitoba, Canada: In the autumn, scores of polar bear move west from inland Manitoba to the the Churchill Wildlife Management Area on the Hudson Bay. Naturalist-led tours are given from the safety of elevated rovers, some of which feature outdoor viewing platforms.
Svalbard, Norway: On the far-northern islands of the Svalbard archipelago, you’ll find several thousand polar bears, as well walruses, seals, and reindeer. Amongst glaciers, mountains, and fjords, close-up explorations are generally made in Zodiac boats.
Boobies, Tortoises and More in Ecuador’s Galapagos
Trips to the remote Galapagos begin in Guayaquil, Ecuador, then depart on small, often luxurious ships. Creatures on these 19 volcanic islands, where life has evolved differently than anyplace else on Earth, include penguins, giant tortoises, blue-footed boobies (a type of seagull), colorful reef fish, fur seals and sea lions, lightfoot crabs, and iguanas. Options for exploring can include snorkeling, glass-bottomed boats, Zodiacs, kayaks, and SUPs, as well as beach combing, swimming, and hiking.
Penguins, Seals, and Whales in Antarctica
The 7th continent is a fascinating landscape of rugged coastlines and ice-choked seas, with mammoth glaciers, crystal-clear fjords, and some of the most exciting wildlife in the world. You’re likely to see several kinds of whales—minke, humpback, sperm, killer, and blue—as well as massive colonies of penguins on remote shorelines; thousands of sea birds nesting on cliff-tops; and more types of seals than you possibly thought existed.
Tigers in India’s Ranthambore National Park
There are only about 3,900 wild tigers in the whole world, and about 60 of them roam within the 154-square-mile Ranthambore National Park in the Indian state of Rajasthan. Tigers are masters of camouflage, and without the help of a skilled guide—who will lead your safari aboard a jeep or open-sided mini-bus—you might miss them as they move silently through the park’s dry deciduous forest, bush land, rocky hills, and stone ruins.
Gorilla Trekking in Rwanda
In Rwanda, mountain gorillas can be found in the Parc National des Volcans (Volcanoes National Park), Akagera National Park, and the Nynungwe Forest—and you’re bound to see several other types of primates, too. A trekking permit is more expensive here than in also-popular Uganda ($1,500 vs. $600), but there’s more open terrain, it’s home to the world-famous Dian Fossey Foundation, and the strong visitor infrastructure is carefully managed and high-end, with an array of luxury lodges.
‘Roos, Penguins, and Koalas on South Australia’s Kangaroo Island
A 20-minute flight from the city of Adelaide, surrounded by the bright turquoise Southern Ocean, remote Kangaroo Island is a protected haven for Australian wildlife. Unlike their large, gray mainland counterparts, Kangaroos Island Kangaroos are small and brown, roaming free in gorgeous spaces like Stokes Bay Beach and Flinders Chase National Park. Other adorable creatures here include koalas, sea lions, dolphins, echidnae, pelicans, and tiny penguins.
Explore the Pantanal in South America
The world’s largest system of freshwater wetlands, the Pantanal sprawls for 81,000 square miles across Brazil, Paraguay, and Bolivia. Harboring South America’s largest concentration of wildlife, the Pantanal’s biodiversity includes hundreds of species of fish, mammals, and birds. Flooding (and therefore boat travel) is common from April to July, and animals cluster around water holes during the July-October dry season. Adventures here include luxury riverboats and eco-lodges, charter flights, trekking, and canoeing.
Swim with Whale Sharks off Mexico’s Isla Holbox
A 15-minute boat or ferry ride from Cancun, the Yucatan Peninsula island of Holbox (pronounced HOLE-bosch) is home to the world’s largest concentration of whale sharks, the Earth’s largest species of fish. Averaging 50 feet long when mature, these gentle giants filter-feed exclusively on plankton and small fish, posing no threat to people. Responsible outfitters won’t allow you to touch the whale sharks, will require you to stay 10 feet away from them when swimming, and will limit groups to a maximum of three swimmers.
Lemur Spotting in Madagascar
An island country in the Indian Ocean, Madagascar is about 250 miles off the coast of East Africa across the Mozambique Channel. Madagascar is known for its lemurs—furry, long-limbed, forest- and desert-dwelling primates who are critically endangered—and now fiercely protected. To spot these charming creatures, join a guide in national parks like Ranomafana (home to 20 species of lemur); Andasibe (11 species); and Ankarafantsika (8 species), as well as several private reserves.