Top 9 Destinations to See Animals in their Natural Habitat

Our research is editorially independent but we may earn a commission for purchases made through our links.

If you love wildlife, but would rather not see it behind bars, in a pool or otherwise confined, like in a zoo or aquarium, there are a number of ways you can get face-to-face with all sorts of creatures in the wild and you don’t have to go to Africa to do it. Here are some of the best places on Earth for close encounters with animals.

YOU'RE ALL SET!

Look out for our newsletters in your inbox soon.

Grey Whales - San Ignacio Lagoon, Baja, Mexico
Gray whale encounter, Baja lagoon, Mexico

Grey Whales - San Ignacio Lagoon, Baja, Mexico

Baja, Mexico is famous for the friendly grey whales that come to its breeding lagoons in the Sea of Cortez and along the Pacific Coast. Of the three major lagoons here that are a primary destination for southbound grey whales, San Ignacio Lagoon is arguably the best. Between about mid-January and mid-April, this is where you can find the greys before they head to Alaska on their annual migration. One of the most amazing experiences on the Baja peninsula, the whales are referred to as “friendlies,” and many of them even seek out human contact in the lagoons, with mothers bringing their calves to “introduce them” to curious visitors. The government does strictly regulate all access to the lagoons to ensure that human activities don’t negatively affect these magnificent creatures.

Puffins - Puffin Island, Newfoundland
Puffin Island, Elliston

Puffins - Puffin Island, Newfoundland

If you hope to see the adorable puffins up close, there are few better places than Newfoundland. And, for the best of the best, head to Elliston, Once known as Bird Island Cove, it hosts numerous seabirds, including loads of puffins. In fact, it offers one of the closest land views of puffins on the entire continent. Between May and September, the colorful auks occupy a section of land at the end of a rocky outcrop.” In 1987, a census-estimated there were 2500 pairs of puffins here, but in recent years that number has increased dramatically.

Kayaking with Orcas - Vancouver Island, British Columbia
Kayaking Johnstone Strait

Kayaking with Orcas - Vancouver Island, British Columbia

One of the best destinations in the world to see orca whales in the wild is Johnstone Strait, located between northern Vancouver Island and mainland Canada. This area home to about 250 resident orcas, and there are multiple ways you can enjoy close encounters with them. The best may be the multi-day kayaking trip with an outfitter like Wildheart Adventures, which provides various tours that depart from Telegraph Cove. There is truly nothing else that’s like viewing these amazing animals just a few yards away from a kayak. You’ll paddle alongside them in their natural habitat during the day, and then enjoy the fresh, wild salmon your expert guide has plucked from the waters before retiring to a tent where you can hear the sounds of the whales as you fall asleep.

Polar Bears - Churchill, Manitoba, Canada
Churchill, Manitoba, Canada

Polar Bears - Churchill, Manitoba, Canada

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 these animals. Churchill Polar Bear Tours can take you safely and comfortably to enjoy this once-in-a-lifetime experience. The adventure takes place during the fall when the greatest concentration of polar bears in the world convenes at the edge of Hudson Bay. You’ll get to see them from custom-built Polar Rovers, or by staying at the private Tundra Lodge you can view the bears from your own private cabin window.

Baby Sea Turtles - Todos Santos, Baja, Mexico
baby sea turtles on the beach in Puerto Vallarta

Baby Sea Turtles - Todos Santos, Baja, Mexico

While there are many places that you can see sea turtles in the world, watching newly hatched sea turtles crawl across the sand and into the ocean is something that is truly special. You can do just that near the town of Todos Santos in Baja, Mexico at Campamento Tortuguero, “Turtle Camp.” The animals are released as part of a process to save the endangered leatherback turtles, and visitors can even participate in the release which takes place just before dusk every day between December 1st and March 31st.

Sea Lions - Isla Espiritu Santo, La Paz, Mexico
sea lions near La Paz, Baja, Mexico

Sea Lions - Isla Espiritu Santo, La Paz, Mexico

Isla Espiritu Santo is a UNESCO-listed nature reserve, and an outdoor lovers’ dream come true. Situated near La Paz, it’s a must-see, with its pristine aquamarine-hued bays, fiery red cliffs, and rich marine life as part of one of the most unspoiled ecosystems in Baja. In the surrounding waters, visitors can even swim with sea lions that live here by taking a boat tour here with one of the multiple outfitters that offer the excursion.

Tortoise - Galapagos
Galapagos Islands

Tortoise - Galapagos

The Galapagos Islands are one of the best destinations on the planet for close encounters with animals, including the giant Galapagos tortoise. This is the largest tortoise in the world – it lives to be up to 170 years old and can weigh as much as half a ton. 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.

Penguins - New Zealand
penguin, South Island, New Zealand

Penguins - New Zealand

The South Island of New Zealand is famous for its stunning scenery and outdoor adventures, and it’s also a place where you can actually see penguins up close. On the Otago Peninsula, a spit of land across from the city of Dunedin, you can watch them, but only at dusk. At the end of a long, winding road at the tip of the peninsula, the birds known as Little Blue penguins, who aren’t actually blue, shuffle onto the shore every night, just below the cliffs at Taiaroa Head. It’s truly a sight to see, with their little faces popping up out of the water before they stand up and waddle onto the sand, head up the steps and into their burrows.

Sloths - Costa Rica
Costa Rica

Sloths - Costa Rica

Costa Rica’s lush jungles are home to all sorts of wildlife, including sloths. You can spot them in the cloud forests, like Monteverde Cloud Forest, wearing the charming grins that must be the result of that laissez-faire way of life.

You May Also Like
13 Best Resorts in the Catskills, NY