Seeing wildlife in their natural habitats can be a life changing, soul stirring experience, especially for lovers of "wild things" but equally so for travelers who are simply curious and seeking a bit of adventure.
Wildlife themed itineraries should be experienced in small group settings – whether they be on small expedition and adventure ship cruises or private and small group land tours. Small groups and ships lend themselves perfectly to a better learning and observing environment and offer access to areas that bigger groups and ships just can't. Smaller groups also contribute to the conservation and protection of species. Sustainable tourism - the best way.
Following are 9 top itinerary picks – one (or two) on every continent. Photo credit above: Lindblad Expeditions
AFRICA - Private Reserve Safari (Land tour)
Every safari is a trip of a lifetime. Incredible wildlife encounters everywhere. There are basically two types of game reserves – national parks or private reserves. National parks are run by governments or local councils, private reserves by a local lodge or a group of entities. National parks generally have no limits with the number of visitors and can get crowded, especially during peak season. They also have a lot more regulations. Private reserves on the other hand, are more exclusive, limited to the guests who are staying at the lodge within the preserve – no crowds. Far more flexible than the national parks, game drives can be off road to find that elusive animal and may even be on foot, bike or horseback.
ANTARCTICA - South Georgia Island (Expedition style cruise)
Every trip to Antarctica is special. The wildlife is spectacular. Whales, leopard seals, penguins and not to forget the stunning scenery. If the budget allows, include South Georgia on the itinerary. Aside from the opportunity of visiting Shackleton’s final resting place, here you’ll find fur and elephant seals and the biggest draw, a massive (tens of thousands) king penguin colony. Penguins, as far as eye can see. What makes this so unique are the interactions with the animals. While you are not allowed to disturb them (stay 15-20 feet away), the penguins are inquisitive. Just stay still and quiet and there is a good chance they’ll come check you out!
Photo credit: Silversea - Richard Sidey
ASIA - Russia Far East (Expedition style cruise)
One of the least explored areas of the world, a visit here is truly a trip of a lifetime. Pristine landscapes, majestic volcanoes, untamed wilderness, rich culture, astounding wildlife – all part of the itinerary. This region is teeming with wildlife – marine, land and birds – giving you the opportunity to observe and photograph polar bears, musk oxen, Arctic fox, Pacific walrus, whales, puffins and hundreds of migratory birds.
Photo credit: South Australia Tourism Commission and Tourism Australia
AUSTRALIA - Kangaroo Island (South Australia) and/or Maria Island (Tasmania)(Land tour)
Often called the Galapagos of Australia, Kangaroo Island is abundant with native Australian wildlife. You can spot echnida, platypus, kangaroos, wallabies, koalas, black cockatoo and other birdlife plus fur seals, sea lions, whales and dolphin along the coast. Beyond the wildlife, Kangaroo Island is also a perfect place to relax, take in the fresh air and stunning scenery. Kangaroo Island has also become a gourmet destination with fresh seafood, craft beers, wine cellars, pop up eateries and more. Just off the coast of South Australia, it’s a short 30 minute flight from Adelaide or a 45 minute ferry ride from Cape Jervis. Maria Island, located just off the east coast of Tasmania, is a national park and wildlife sanctuary and is one of the best places in Australia to observe wombats, Tasmanian Devils, kangaroos and wallabies along with over 125 different bird species.
Photo credit: Hurtigruten
EUROPE - Spitsbergen/Svalbard (Expedition style cruise)
Aside from the sheer beauty of the region, the main reason most people come to Spitsbergen (Svalbard) is because the area has some of the best, if not the best, polar bear viewing in the world. With over 4000 bears, one can understand why. The bears are highly protected, and thus their numbers have grown over the years. Great for the species, and equally great for those of us wanting to observe and photograph these majestic animals in their natural habitats.
Photo credit: Lindblad Expeditions/Ralph Lee Hopkins and UnCruise Adventures
NORTH AMERICA - Sea of Cortez/Baja California and Alaska (Expedition and adventure style cruises and land tours)
The Sea of Cortez is alive with marine life – the world’s aquarium as described by Jacque Cousteau. The protected waters draw an array of sea and wildlife – birds, dolphins, seals, whales. Gray whales are commonly spotted between December and April, when they come to give birth and raise their young. The whales are quite inquisitive and often welcome interaction with humans. Don’t be surprised if both the young and moms check you out up close while you are out exploring in your zodiac. Playful seal pups also love human interaction – they too are inquisitive and will check you out while you are snorkeling checking out colorful marine life. Alaska too is a big draw for wildlife seekers. The Inside Passage is a playground for whales - orcas can be seen year round though are most active in the Spring, Summer and Fall months. Humpback whales make their way back to this region in late Spring before departing to warmer waters in early Fall. Bears, eagles, moose, wolves, otters, seals - all can be spotted too, on land or water.
Photo credit: Aqua Expeditions
SOUTH AMERICA - Peruvian Amazon (River cruise)
The Amazon rainforest is home to the world’s largest and most diverse collection of plant and wildlife. Over 400 different mammals, 1300 birds, 350+ reptiles, 3000 fish species and 40,000+ plant species. Peru offers the best access to this amazing area with superb opportunities to see different species, especially within the Pacaya-Samiria National Reserve. Native culture is also very much a part of the itineraries with visits to a few of the roughly 200 communities inside the Reserve.
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