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The world is full of bucket-list-worthy experiences for animal lovers You already know that the variety of wildlife in Africa is amazing, but where are some of the world’s other best places for wildlife viewing? These ultimate destinations are all ideal for animal lovers.
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The Falkland Islands offer the ultimate wildlife experience along with unspoiled landscapes. This remote archipelago in the South Atlantic is a bird watcher’s paradise, with some of the rarest and most enchanting birds in the world, including several types of penguins, the king, rockhopper, Gentoo and Magellanic, who can be found onshore and in the surrounding waters. Two-thirds of the world’s black-browed albatross live here, making up a part of the total of more than 200 different bird species that can easily be seen due to the open landscape, lack of trees and predators. Fourteen species of marine mammals have been recorded in this area, including whales and dolphins that swim by, sea lions and elephant seals that can often be spotted soaking up the sun on the shore.
If you’re looking for a destination a little closer to home, the San Juan Islands, located off the coast of Washington State offers incredible wildlife opportunities. This is the home of the Southern Resident killer whales, or orcas, which means you’ll have the opportunity to see these majestic creatures up close, in the wild, along with other whales, like minke, gray and humpbacks. There are countless bald eagles that can often be seen perched in a tree or soaring overhead, while sightings of sea lions, seals, otters and porpoises are common too. Take a kayak or whale watching boat tour, or if you prefer to stay on land, visit Lime Kiln Point State Park, known as the “Whale Watch Park” of San Juan Island where orcas can often be seen passing by.
Costa Rica’s lush jungles are filled with four types of monkeys, sloths, crocodiles, countless lizard species, poison-dart frogs and an incredible variety of exotic birds and butterflies. In some places rare, exotic birds are frequently spotted right alongside the road. Tapirs, coatimundis and anteaters scurry regularly in some national parks, and both coasts are famous for nesting turtles as well as visits from migrating whales and leaping dolphins, with pods number in the thousands.
For rugged rainforest and rare species, head to Palmar to find the only public access to the Piedras Blancas National Park. Other highlights include Manuel Antonio National Park, where monkey and sloth sightings are common, and at Tortuguero National Park, accessible only via boat or plane, there are birds and amphibians that exist nowhere else in the country. Hike up Cerro Chirripo, the tallest mountain in Costa Rica, and you’ll likely come face to face with peccaries and monkeys. You’ll even have a chance to see an ocelot, jaguar or toucan.
The Galapagos Islands, situated 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador in the Pacific, is a volcanic archipelago that’s often ranked at the top, or close to it, of lists ranking the best wildlife destinations. As the islands were never linked to the mainland, to get there, species had to have floated, swam or flown in – and as larger mammals at the top of the food chain couldn’t make the journey, the lack of predators allow wildlife to thrive. One of the world’s top eco-friendly destinations, many of the animals have never learned to fear humans, and appear practically tame – visitors can snorkel right alongside the marine iguana and walk quietly among the resident sea lions and the Galapagos giant tortoise – many of which are probably much older than you, as they can live to be 150 years old or more. Other fascinating species including the Galapagos penguins, blue-footed boobies and the flightless cormorants.
Florida’s Everglades National Park protects 20 percent of the original Everglades and is not only home to alligators, but some 36 protected animals, including those who are gravely threatened, like the American crocodile, a cousin of the alligator. There are 50 Florida panthers living in the wild today, and most of them call this park their home. A number of different sea turtle species and the West Indian manatee can be found here too. The dry season, which lasts from December through April, is the best time to view wildlife here, with often pleasant temperatures and standing water levels low, which causes wildlife to congregate at central water locations.
If you want to view alligators, wading birds and other freshwater wildlife, head to Eco Pond, the Anhinga Trail or Shark Valley. If you’re into canoeing, paddle out into Chokoloskee Bay before low tide and you can witness large numbers of water birds that feed on the mudflats and shallows.
Año Nuevo State Park on California’s Central Coast is a beautiful place to visit no matter what the season and elephant seals can be viewed year-round. Their pups are born between December and February, and during the spring and summer, the massive and unusual looking animals come ashore to shed their fur. In the autumn, yearling seals enjoy hanging out on the sand during what’s referred to as “Fall Haul Out Season.”
Visitors can head to Año Nuevo Point, designated a natural preserve, to view the elephant seals while minimizing any disturbance to the animals. Every year there are as many as 10,000 elephant seals who return to this very spot among the scenic dunes and beaches. The park also features a Marine Education Center with a bookstore, theater and natural history exhibit, as well as hiking trails and the opportunity for bird watching.
If Rudolph is one of your favorite Christmas characters, you might want to check out some real-life, wild reindeer in the Laplands of Scandinavia, which spans northern Norway, Finland and Sweden. Norway is considered one of the best places for reindeer viewing, home to roughly 270,000 of the animals, particularly in the lake town of Eikesdalen. Ideally, you should join a safari tour, which lasts four to five hours. Northern Norway in general offers some of Europe’s most varied wildlife watching with an astonishing array of species in addition to reindeer, including puffin, found on and around the coast, musk-ox, arctic fox and wolves, which live mainly in forested areas close to the Swedish border.
While you’re here, be sure to visit the fourth highest waterfall in the world, Mardalsfossen waterfall which cascades nearly 1,000 feet down into the valley, an especially impressive sight between mid-June and mid-August each year.
Located in Alaska’s Interior, Denali National Park and Preserve is home to North America’s highest mountain, Denali, with a summit elevation of 20,310 feet above sea level. As the park is home to diverse habitats that include forest at the lower elevations, tundra in the middle and glaciers, snow and rock at its highest elevations, that diversity lends itself as a perfect place to live for practically an endless number of animal species. Moose are often seen feeding on aquatic plants in the swamps and small lakes, while Dall sheep climb the mountainsides, herds of caribou roam throughout the park, and there is also a good-sized population of black bears and grizzly bears. Gray wolves and a host of smaller animals like fox, lynx, wolverine, beaver and marten are just a few of the other species that can be seen.
Australia is famous for its unique wildlife, and especially kangaroos. If that’s what you’re hoping to see, there is no better place than Lucky Bay, located in Esperance in Western Australia within the Cape Le Grand National Park. Not only is the turquoise water and white sand an incredibly magnificent sight to see, but at sunset the kangaroos bounce their way across the sand looking for dinner, providing some rather top-notch entertainment. This over three-mile stretch of pristine sand is perfect for a stroll, while the clear waters are ideal for swimming. There are also some great coastal bush walks for hiking, and the opportunity to spot migrating whales along the way.
Belize is a favorite with snorkelers and divers who can swim with sharks and sting rays, but this nation in Central America is also home to all sorts of animals that can be spotted on land, including pacas (giant guinea pigs) and jaguars, which can be viewed at the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary. A guide can show you a surprising variety of both creatures and plants, most of which you’d never see on your own. Belize has four smaller wildcats, including the puma, the ocelot and the margay, though they’re just as elusive as the jaguar. Look for the endangered black howler monkey, which exists only in Belize, southern Mexico and northern Guatemala – if you head to the Community Baboon Sanctuary, you’ll be able to see them among some 3,000 monkeys. You’ll most certainly hear one at some point, as their eerie cry carries for two miles across the treetops.
Churchill, a town on Hudson Bay in the far north of Manitoba, is famous for its polar bears that inhabit the area during the autumn months. It’s one of the few settlements in the entire world where you can enjoy close encounters with this mighty animal from the comfort of a unique tundra vehicle. In the summer, beluga whales can be seen in the Churchill River. Sometimes referred to as “sea canaries” because of their unusual high-pitched whistles, chirping and other underwater vocalizations, thousands of these adorable, seemingly always smiling whales inhabit the warmer waters after the ice breaks up. There are boat tours, in both zodiacs and larger passenger vessels, that take visitors out among these intelligent creatures – you can even listen in on their conservations via hydrophones to try and figure out what they’re saying. Some even kayak or snorkel among the friendly whales.
This unusual scene of wild monkeys bathing in a natural hot spring can be found at Jigokudani Monkey Park in Japan. It offers visitors the very unique experience of watching the snow monkeys, also known as Japanese macaque monkeys, in their natural habit, in the forests of the Jigokudani valley. Although the park is open all year round, it’s particularly photogenic between December and March, when the area is blanketed with snow. The park has a manmade pool that the monkeys gather in, located just a few minutes away from the entrance, though you’ll probably encounter a number of them on your way to the pool. The monkeys are used to the presence of humans and almost completely ignore them, which means you can view them up close, though you can’t touch or feed them.
Custer State Park, South Dakota’s first and largest state park, as well as one of the largest in the nation, is home to over 1,300 free-roaming bison, elk, bighorn sheep, mountain goats, pronghorn antelope, white-tail and mule deer. There is also a resident population of friendly, wild burros, prairie dogs, eagles, hawks, and all sorts of other birds. Visitors can spot most of the park’s animals by taking the 18-mile Wildlife Loop Road, which winds around the southern edge of the park. During the summer, trout fishing is popular in the park’s four mountain lakes that are filled with crystal blue waters, and visitors can take a cool dip as well as rent paddle boats and kayaks.
Yellowstone National Park is considered by many to be the very best place for wildlife viewing in the continental U.S. Just some of the 60+ types of mammals that live here include bison, gray wolves, grizzly bears and elk. The park also offers the chance to join experts in animal-tracking, biology and photography to get a first-rate look at its creatures. Of course, the park is also known for its geothermal activity, with a host of geysers, including Old Faithful, famous for its reliable and massive eruptions that take place every 91 minutes, as well as mud pots, fumaroles and hot springs. Just while you’re driving through, you’re likely to see a number of bison, which are often found right in the middle of the road, halting traffic.
This continent of extremes is the driest, coldest and windiest place in the world – and, while it may be a bit surprising that wildlife is able to thrive here, it’s actually home to the always entertaining penguin and a wide variety of other seabirds as well as seals and whales. There are 17 different types of penguin species here, four of which actually breed on the continent itself: Gentoo, Emperor, Adelie and Chinstrap penguins. There aren’t too many places in the world where you can be at arm’s length from thousands of penguins, walking among the massive colonies. If you arrive between December and early February, you’ll even be able to see penguin chicks too – this also happens to be the time when Antarctica has the most sunlight (up to 20 hours a day) and daily temperatures are at their warmest.
Antarctic seals tend to thrive here due to the lack of their big predator, the polar bear, along with the nutrient-rich feeding areas that surround Antarctica. These waters also attract baleen and toothed whales who travel great distances to feed.
The Amazon River Basin is home to more animal and plant species than any other terrestrial ecosystem on earth. In fact, a third of all species in the world are believed to reside in the Amazon Rainforest. Just a few of the animals you might spot include manatees and Amazon River dolphins right in the river itself, along with primates, tapirs, capybaras, amphibians, reptiles and jaguars on land. This bird lovers’ paradise contains more bird species than any other ecosystem on earth and more than 4,000 types of butterflies.
There is a multitude of national parks and wildlife reserves allowing visitors to get up close with the diverse wildlife of the Amazon in their natural habitats. Many parks offer guided hikes to certain regions of the rain forest, where you’ll be able to see the pink river dolphins, black caimans, manatees, giant river turtles and all sorts of monkeys along with diverse flora.
On Big Major Cay you can view a very unusual sight – a group of tame pigs and their piglets that live freely on the islands sandy white beaches and can swim, and they often swim right out to greet boats and their passengers in the hopes of scoring a treat. The swimming pigs have become one of the most popular attractions in this remote region known as the Exumas. While they’re absolutely adorable lounging on the beach, soaking up the Bahamian sun and treading through the clear azure waters, animal lovers will also be impressed by the more traditional sights, like tropical birds including osprey, bananaquits and terns as well as the rare Bahamian iguana, hawksbill turtles, huge groupers, benign lemon sharks and crawfish.
Nicaragua is home to a number of monkey species, including the endangered Geoffroy’s spider monkey. Visitors may also spot the elusive jaguar, which is indigenous to the country, as well as cougar, margay and ocelot. Seeing the three-toed sloth, armadillo and northern tamandua is also a treat. Monkey Island, found in scenic Cocibolca Lake, the widest lake in Central America and one of the biggest lakes in the world, contains some 365 islands, including the especially alluring Monkey Island, a small island inhabited by colonies of monkeys. The majority are capuchin monkeys, which have become accustomed to humans taking an interest in them and get especially excited when offered food. They tend to put on quite the show for viewers, jumping and swinging through the trees.
If it’s underwater life you’d like to experience most, there are few better places than the Great Barrier Reef, where it seems nature decided to call upon all of the colors of its vast palette, applying them liberally to this spectacular reef that’s considered one of the seven natural wonders of the world. It spans nearly 150 miles and is made up entirely of living organisms as the most extensive reef on the planet. You’ll have the chance to see an astounding array of marine life, including sharks, turtles, brightly-colored fish and corals. Head to the Queensland coast where you can hop on any number of boats that shuttle both snorkelers and divers out to the reef.