Koalas and donkeys and sloths, oh my! On your next getaway, consider visiting an animal sanctuary to get up close and personal with some amazing creatures and maybe learn a thing or two while you’re at it. Here are some of the best sanctuaries that are sure to make your holiday unforgettable.
Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary (Brisbane, Australia)
Established in 1927, Lone Pine got its start by offering a safe place for two lucky koalas named Jack and Jill to start their lives afresh. Now, it’s known as the world’s largest and oldest koala sanctuary, and is one of the only places you can hold one of these adorable marsupials. Once you’ve gotten your koala fix, you can spend the rest of the day feeding the kangaroos, cockatoos, and Tasmanian Devils that also call the sanctuary home. Meal times vary so chances are you’ll hit at least a couple during your visit.
Besides being a fantastic place devoted to helping native animals, Lone Pine is an excellent way to see all of your favourite Aussie creatures in one fell swoop. Less than an hour from the Gold Coast, this popular tourist destination should be a must-see on anyone’s adventures Down Under.
Vervet Monkey Foundation (Tzaneen, South Africa)
Like Lone Pine, the Vervet Monkey Foundation started small (one newborn monkey called Regus) and then quickly grew into the large, world-class operation that it is today. It now has over 600 monkeys in its care and it occupies 23 hectares of land devoted to research, education, and monkey rehabilitation. While the Vervet Foundation doesn’t offer a lot in terms of visitor activities, it is an excellent place to learn about these indigenous primates. Its close proximity to local tourist attractions in subtropical Tzaneen makes it an easy, educational pit stop.
Libearty Bear Sanctuary (Zărnesti, Transylvania, Romania)
When Cristina Lapis got tired of seeing Romanian bears being exploited for the purpose of entertaining humans, she decided to be the change that she wanted to see. Now, formerly caged bears are free to roam in expansive forests, swim in natural pools, and forage for food as they would in the wild—all thanks to Libearty Bear Sanctuary.
Not just a safe haven for Romanian ursine, Libearty focuses on raising awareness of bear-related issues in the country and on promoting the preservation of Romania’s natural resources and environment. Because the sanctuary’s primary focus is ensuring that its residents are content and comfortable, there are no guarantees as to how many bears you’ll see on your visit, but chances are pretty high that you’ll happen upon quite a few. Be sure to take a guided tour—hearing the bear stories firsthand can be a pretty remarkable experience.
Komodo National Park (Indonesia)
If you like dragons, you’re going to love Komodo National Park, the 1, 733 km2 Indonesian paradise dedicated to the protection of Komodo Dragons (and all of the other wildlife that has made a home for themselves in the park). To access the islands, you can choose to travel either by ferry or airplane and once you get there, be sure to buy the necessary permits. There are no motor vehicles, so pack comfortable shoes because you’re going to be walking a lot, and be sure to brush up on the park’s rules and regulations prior to arriving to avoid any potential missteps.
While Komodo National Park isn’t necessarily the ideal holiday destination for families with easily fatigued toddlers or those lacking a sense of adventure, it is a pretty amazing place to visit and promises to be an unforgettable vacation you’ll be talking about long after the flight home.
The Donkey Sanctuary (Sidmouth, Devon, United Kingdom)
Dr Elisabeth Svendsen fell in love with donkeys at age eight, and luckily for her four-legged friends, never looked back. Horrified by the inhumane conditions that she observed local donkeys living in, she decided to take action and devote her life to rescuing and caring for donkeys. Her mission was cemented in 1974 when she was left a legacy of 204 donkeys; she had little choice but to build a sanctuary large enough to accommodate her new charges. Now the sanctuary cares for over 15,000 donkeys and mules, including those who participate in Donkey Assisted Therapy, a program giving children with additional needs the chance to connect with these loving animals.
The Donkey Sanctuary has something for just about everyone, including a restaurant, walking trains, interactive exhibits and a maze. Trying to incorporate your love of donkeys into your upcoming nuptials? The Sanctuary serves as a wedding venue as well! Whether you’re looking for a fabulous family excursion or a setting to say “I do”, The Donkey Sanctuary is sure to be a fulfilling experience that you won’t soon forget.
Sloth Sanctuary of Costa Rica (Limon, Costa Rica)
Move over Disneyland, there’s a new happiest place on earth populated by slow-moving mammals that have the power to melt even the most stone-cold hearts. Featured on Animal Planet, the Sloth Sanctuary of Costa Rica started with original resident Buttercup (she’s still there and serves as the Sanctuary’s ambassador) and grew into a multi-generational facility that takes its role of providing outstanding care to sloths very seriously.
They also devote significant amounts of time and resources to sloth-based research, having formed alliances with several universities and other research agencies worldwide. If your love of sloths runs deep and you want to make this trip one for the books, consider reserving a room at the onsite Sloths Hotel. You’re going to want to call ahead to make reservations because the rooms are a hot commodity and fill up quickly. As far as we’re concerned, a little pre-planning is well worth being able to say that you slept surrounded by sloths!
Who is Kate Walker? She’s a freelance writer, yoga addict, and citizen of the concrete jungle. When not on the mat, Kate can be found at the dog park or on the dock in Muskoka. She is also pretty fond of running, skiing, and Settlers of Catan.