Last Updated April 26, 2022 4/26/2022

World’s 13 Best Animal Encounters for Your Bucket List

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From wildlife safaris to swimming with sea turtles, there are an array of exciting adventures around the world that allow you to interact with exotic animals. Whether you want to see the Big 5 in Africa, observe pandas in China or gaze at penguins in Antarctica, these memorable experiences are bucket list-worthy. Here we highlight some of the best animal encounters around the world.

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Big 5 in Africa
Kruger National Park, South Africa

Big 5 in Africa

Most animal enthusiasts will put seeing the Big 5 in Africa as their top choice for an animal encounter, as seeing lions, elephants, buffalo, leopards and rhinos in their annual migration between Kenya and Tanzania is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. You’ll see a long list of other creatures in the animal kingdom, such as wildebeest and zebras. Two of the most popular spots for a safari include Kruger National Park and Serengeti National Park.

Polar Bears in Canada
Churchill, Manitoba, Canada

Polar Bears in Canada

To come face-to-face with polar bears, your best bet is to head to Canada. Dubbed the “Lords of the Arctic”, around 60 percent of the world’s polar bear population reside in Canada from James Bay to northern Ellesmere Island, from Labrador to the Alaskan border. Visit Churchill, Manitoba to see the largest polar bear maternity denning area in the world on tundra buggy adventures.

Orangutans in Borneo
Credit: Joe Hunt
Orangutans in Borneo

Orangutans in Borneo

Avoid the zoo and instead head to Borneo, where you can see orangutans in the wild. Residing in the lush jungle landscapes, you can sign up for an eco-tour in order to support and raise awareness in order to save these lovable creatures from extinction. The Orang-utan Project is one of the most famous, as their intimate tours are led by renowned conservationist Leif Cocks through the pristine rainforests and local rescue centers that are inaccessible to the public.

Pandas in China
Chengdu

Pandas in China

One of the most fascinating animal encounters you can have in China, Chengdu’s Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding is a popular attraction. With less than 2,000 pandas left in the wild, very few people will ever get to encounter these adorable creatures in person. You can visit to observe the gentle giants playfully interacting, or book one of the behind-the-scenes tours to interact with young cubs and feed them bamboo.

Penguins in Antarctica
Penguins in Antarctica

Penguins in Antarctica

Requiring a trip to the bottom of the Earth, seeing penguins in Antarctica takes a bit of effort. These days tour companies have allowed access to the White Continent where you can cruise through icebergs and observe penguins building their nests. Admire elephant seals flopping in the water and spot polar seabirds soaring across the icy landscapes. Take an expedition voyage to see these uniquely southern hemisphere species.

Sea Turtles and Giant Tortoises in Galapagos
Galapagos

Sea Turtles and Giant Tortoises in Galapagos

It’s impossible to visit the Galapagos and not see an array of fascinating wildlife on your adventure. You can encounter sea turtles, marine iguanas, blue-footed boobies, Galapagos penguins and plenty of sea lions, but it’s the giant tortoises that are the most fascinating. Take a snorkeling adventure to swim right next to sea turtles swimming by, or stay dry on land to observe the giant tortoises roaming the natural habitat.

Koalas and Kangaroos in Australia
Koala in Australia

Koalas and Kangaroos in Australia

When one first thinks of Australia, of course koalas and kangaroos come to mind. You’re spoiled for choice in seeing kangaroos in the wild, as they are often spotted in Lucky Bay in Western Australia, Hamilton Island in Queensland and Flinders Ranges in South Australia. Visit Queensland, also known as the koala-cuddling capital, to see more than 130 koalas at the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary or head to other popular spots like Caversham Wildlife Park, Kangaroo Island and Noosa National Park.

Manatees and Alligators in Florida, USA
Three Sisters Springs - Crystal River

Manatees and Alligators in Florida, USA

Florida is known for its unique alligator and manatee population. Visit the Sunshine State to see fierce alligators roaming the swamps in places like the Everglades National Park, where you can take an airboat ride through their natural habitat. If you prefer to see the area’s gentle giants, head to Three Sisters Springs in Crystal River to spot manatees grazing the natural springs, as this designated manatee sanctuary is a hotspot between the months of November and March.

Great White Sharks in South Africa
Great White Shark, South Africa

Great White Sharks in South Africa

Being submerged in shark-infested waters might be a nightmare for some, but for adrenaline junkies with a fascination with great white sharks, it is a must when visiting South Africa. Travelers flock from around the globe to partake in this famous cage dive, where you’ll be lowered into the ocean in a steel cage to get an up-close look at these fierce creatures. Most of them can be seen on the Whale Coast and False Bay or the channel between Geyser and Dyer islands.

Elephants in Chiang Mai, Thailand
Elephants in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Elephants in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Visiting an elephant sanctuary is a must when visiting Thailand, as it is truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience. The Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai is one of the best, as the owner “Lek”, an award-winning conservationist, is dedicated to rescuing injured and mistreated elephants. Instead of riding the elephants, visitors are able to able to observe these gentle giants in an expansive prairie and feed them fruit.

Gorillas in Uganda
Gorillas in Africa

Gorillas in Uganda

Head to Bwindi Forest National Park in Uganda to get the chance to see gorillas in the wild. Home to half of the world’s mountain gorillas, the park’s dense treetops and incredible biodiversity were named a UNESCO World Heritage site. Sign up for a gorilla trek and have an adventure of a lifetime as you hike the green terraced hills to reach the gorillas, where you can observe them from afar.

Komodos in Indonesia
Komodo dragon, Indonesia

Komodos in Indonesia

Head to Komodo National Park in Indonesia to see the largest species of lizards on the planet, the Komodo Dragon. These creatures can weigh up to 150 lbs and admiring one up close in their natural habitat is a bucket list experience, as there is only an estimated 3,000-5,000 still in existence. The islands are worthy of exploring on their own, as it is also a hotspot for snorkeling amongst colorful underwater marine life.

Tigers in India
Tiger in India

Tigers in India

If you’ve ever wanted to see a tiger in the wild, head to India to explore its national parks. Bandhavgarh National Park is the most popular spot to see them, where you can go on a safari and admire the wildlife amongst a landscape of plateaus, hilltops and sal forests that are home to 90 tigers and 25 leopards in addition to langur monkeys, jackals and serpent eagles.

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