One of the best elements of travel is that it gives us the opportunity to see things that we normally wouldn’t encounter in our daily lives. For some, that means strolling through the Louvre, completely surrounded by some of the most famous works of art that mankind has ever produced. For others, it is sitting on a tropical beach, as the sun slowly sets over crystal clear waters.
Other travelers plan their trips around the wildlife they can spot while visiting a specific destination. Whether they’re birdwatchers looking to add more species to their checklist, or simply animal lovers seeking a unique encounter with a specific creature, there are trips that can accommodate each of their needs. But not all destinations are created equal in terms of the wildlife encounters that they have to offer. Here are seven of the very best destinations for those looking to spot animals in its natural habitat.
Yellowstone National Park, USA
Deep in the heart of Yellowstone National Park sits the Lamar Valley, a place that is sometimes referred to as the “Serengeti of North America” due to its abundance of wildlife. The valley is home to the largest herds of bison that still exist in the American west, and they can be easily spotted throughout the region. Other animals that roam the area include elk, moose, wolves, and even grizzly bears. The fact that it is easily accessible, and most of the animals can be seen from your car, only adds to the appeal.
The Galapagos Islands, Ecuador
Located 575 miles off the coast of Ecuador, the Galapagos Islands are famous for two things. First, it was the place where Charles Darwin formulated his idea of Evolution through Natural Selection, and second they are home to a dizzying array of wildlife, some of which are found nowhere else on Earth. Take for example the marine iguanas which inhabit the islands. They are unique for the fact that they are the only iguanas in the world that are known to swim.
Other unusual creatures include Galapagos tortoises, flightless cormorants, the famously unique finches found only on the islands, and a species of penguins that is the smallest in the world. Add in a multitude of fur seals, the famed blue footed boobies, and countless species of fish just off shore, and you begin to understand why the Galapagos is a popular destination for travelers.
The tiny town of Churchill, Canada, located in the province of Manitoba, won’t impress visitors with its numerous species of wildlife, but it will certainly leave an impression for its single most prominent one. Churchill is known as the “Polar Bear Capital of the World,” and with good reason. Each autumn, hundreds of polar bears arrive in the region, waiting for the colder weather to freeze over Hudson Bay, so they can migrate north to find their favorite food source, the ringed seal. Throughout October, and into early-November, travelers can ride in specially build vehicles called “tundra buggies,” as they go in search of the bears, which are the largest land carnivores on the planet. They usually aren’t hard to find, and there is nothing quite like coming face-to-face with a big male, which can grow to be 8 feet tall, and weigh over 1500 pounds.
Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, Uganda and the Congo
The Bwinidi Impentrable Forest spreads out across a remote region of Uganda and the Congo. Both nations have declared the area a national park, in order to protect it’s most famous inhabitants, the mountain gorillas. Half the world’s population of gorillas lives in this region, and while they remain critically endangered, tourism efforts are actually helping to bring the species back from the brink. Visitors must hike deep into the forest in order to spot the elusive creatures, but once there, they are rewarded with an unforgettable encounter with the large primates. Many travelers who have made the journey, describe it as a life altering experience unlike any other.
The Great Barrier Reef, Australia
Stretching for more than 1400 miles along Australia’s east coast, the Great Barrier Reef is unmatched by any other place on the planet for those wanting to spot marine life. Scuba divers and snorkelers will be amazed at what they’ll encounter there, as more than 1500 species of fish are known to call the GBR home. On top of that, 30 species of whales and proposes pass through the region as well, while six different species of sea turtles roam the waters there too. As if that wasn’t enough, the reef itself is a living, growing, evolving organism, with a multitude of colors, shapes, and patterns. The warm waters are tranquil and inviting, making it easy for anyone to enjoy the show, even if they aren’t particularly fond of being in the ocean.
Katmai National Park and Preserve, Alaska
Alaska is one of the last great wildernesses left on the planet, and as such, it is home to plenty of wildlife. Katmai National Park offers visitors a chance to spot caribou, moose, wolves, both river and sea otters, and even several species of whales. But the true star of the show, are the large number of brown bears that call the park home. They can be seen prowling the region, which is rich in food for the big predators. Getting to Katmai isn’t easy. There aren’t any roads into the park, so visitors must be flown in. But the trip is worth the effort for anyone who enjoys the opportunity to see wildlife in its natural habitat.
The Serengeti, Tanzania and Kenya
In terms of seeing large numbers of animals in one area, there simply is no better place on Earth than the Serengeti. The word Serengeti means “endless plain” in Swahili, which is an apt description for this sprawling region located in northern Tanzania and southern Kenya. Each year, the Serengeti is home to the largest mass migration on the planet, as hundreds of thousands of wildebeest, zebra, and antelope make their way across the east African grasslands. With them comes herds of elephants, giraffes, and buffalo as well, and of course the big cats, including lions, leopards, and cheetahs, aren’t far behind either. For a classic safari experience, travelers are hard pressed to find a better destination.