The 10 Best Wildlife Adventures and Wildlife Holidays in the World

By Abi King | Travel Tips

Mar 09
Elephant standing at the river edge in Kenya

A Traditional Safari in Africa remains one of the best wildlife experiences in the world

From the red dust of the savannah, to the craggy cliffs closer to home, here are the best wildlife adventures and wildlife holidays in the world based on decades of travel and work with Lonely Planet, the BBC, National Geographic and more. Updated 2019.

The 10 Best Wildlife and Wildlife Holidays in the World

Sometimes, you have to work hard to see wildlife. And when I say sometimes, I mean most of the time. You have to creep past snakes in the darkness and risk frostbite to glimpse a tiger. You have to play basketball with the base of your spine along a rickety dirt track to see a zebra, lion or rhino. You have to hike for days to see a condor, paddle for miles to see a seal and at the absolute minimum jump into the sea to eyeball a turtle. 

But sometimes it's easy. Sometimes a weekend trip or a deckchair safari can yield the same results if you stay still and keep your eyes and mind open. Through my work travelling the world, by myself or for Lonely Planet or the BBC, I've been lucky enough to have experienced some of the best wildlife adventures you can imagine. 

So, bookmark this article and start planning a wildlife holiday of your own.

Safari guide in Kenya looking through binoculars

Patience, Silence and A Good Pair of Binoculars Are Crucial to Wildlife Spotting Success

1. The Big Five in Africa on Safari

Catching sight of the big five in Africa is one of the most thrilling wildlife adventures in the world. Conjuring up The Lion King version of Africa, there is something in the red dust of the savannah and the flicker in the eyes of a lion that reaches right into the soul. It's important, obviously, to note that beautiful thought the image is, there is much more than that to the vast continent of Africa. 

But with that said, there are no shortage of safari sites either. So, do you choose to go on a safari within sight of the snows of Kilimanjaro? Do you yearn for the lush green foliage and flamingo flecked lakes of the Ngorogoro Crater? 

Are you short on time and are looking for a malaria-free quick ride out of Joburg? Or, let's face it, are you looking to go on safari in the place that inspired Pride Rock.

Safari wildlife collection montage

There are as many different safari trips as there are wildlife to find

What to know about going on safari in Africa

  • Safaris usually take place at dawn and dusk on a vehicle
  • It can get cold! Wear layers.
  • Always travel responsibly
  • You need to stay quiet for long periods of time
  • There are age limits for children for safety and viewing (typically 8, sometimes 12 years old.)
  • Luxury and budget options abound

"The plane trembles like a bumblebee with vertigo as it lilts and lifts through the sky cavity around Joburg. The ground, a blurred marble of ochre and olive, continues on. And on. And on.

It’s only a short hop by air from Johannesburg to the Madikwe Game Reserve in African terms, but of course, for those of us from smaller isles, it’s hard to believe just how much space there is out there on the ground."

View of the elephants from the air in the Okavango Delta Botswana

The elephants of the Okavango Delta

2. On the Water in the Okavango Delta, Botswana

The Okavango Delta in Botswana is the largest delta in the world. Home to elephants, impala, giraffe, hippos and warthogs aplenty, its watery nature means that there are virtually no roads.

The only ways of getting around are by boat or by plane - or my mokoro, the traditional wooden carved canoe. 

What you need to know

Unlike the dry, earthy safaris, these wildlife adventures take place on foot or in the mokoro and so you'll find a stricter age limit and fitness level in place. 

You won't see all the Big Five but you will see elephants and hippos, as well as many more exciting birds and insects. 

Botswana has a high cost, low volume tourist policy in place and you should probably arrange your wildlife holiday in advance. To organise it independently, head to Maun in Botswana and take a short flight to the fly-in luxury safari villages like Gunn's Camp.

Chameleon in Diego Suarez Madagascar climbing in front of the ocean

Chameleon Spotting in Madagascar

3. Counting Chameleons in Madagascar

Yes, chameleons are just as amazing as you hoped they'd be! Forget (if you can) the Karma-chameleon song and embrace the real thing in this jewel of an island on the east coast of Africa. Chameleons range in size from thumbnail to forearm-size, changing colours with remarkable authenticity to suit their surroundings. As for this cheeky fellow? He just strolled along our hotel balcony railing in Madagascar's second largest city, Diego Suarez. 

Soulful orangutan at the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre in Malaysian Borneo

Endangered Orangutans can be saved at the Sepilok Rehabilitation Centre

4. The King of the Swingers: Orangutans in Borneo

It’s not every day you find a baby crocodile swishing through the water by your side. But it is something that happens every night, or thereabouts, on a night safari from Borneo’s Sukau Rainforest Lodge. Up above,  amid the branches and the shadows and the tricks of the mind…are monkeys. Many, many monkeys.

Malaysian Borneo also provides shelter for the endangered, lovable orangutan (the Malay word for man of the forest.) Numbers are in decline, thanks to the destruction of their rainforest habitat for palm oil plantations, but places like the Sepilok Rehabilitation Centre are doing their best to turn things around. Next door, you can find the cute and cuddly sun bear - as long as you keep a safe distance away. 

5. Wild Buffalo on the Beach by the Skyscrapers

On Lantau Island at the mouth of the Pearl River, the buffalo come to sleep. Twilight drifts over the neon lights, the gleaming spires and the synthetic shopping malls elsewhere in Hong Kong. But in this part, at least, twilight signals a change of pace. A string of fairy lights sums up the illumination on the beach, where wild buffalo scuff the sand and settle down as the light fades for a snooze with an oceanfront view. This ranks as one of the best wildlife experiences in the world because it reminds me that wildlife is everywhere. You need to know where to look. 

Tiger in Ranthambore National Park

I saw this beauty in the pre-digital age. Hence the small photo. But my memory will never fade...

6. Tiger, Tiger Burning Bright - Ranthambore National Park, India

Tiger, tiger burning bright. Though when I actually saw you, you gave me a fright! Ranthambore National Park in India has pulled off a magic trick in the face of the threat of extinction in only a few years. The park itself consists of golden long grasses and tall, willowing trees and dry leaf-laden earth that crunches underfoot.

Tigers are still scarce but most visitors will see one during a 3 day safari trip. 

Climbing pandas in China

Pandas in China - Sadly, this sanctuary has closed but it remains of the best wildlife adventures I've ever had... Pre digital, hence the small photo!

7. Chew Bamboo with the Panda Bears in China

It's easy to understand why panda bears are the WWF motto. They are fascinating to watch, all bundles of fluff and fur - from afar. The main panda sanctuary I visited has closed for the time being. So watch this space for future updates. 

Puffin with heather coastline behind

The Coast of Wales has Fantastic Wildlife Opportunities

8. Admire the Puffins on Skomer Island, Wales

Roam around the raw and rugged cliffs of Britain’s only Coastal National Park in Pembrokeshire, West Wales. The Puffins on Skomer Island mingle with manx shearwaters and more.

Whale watching Alaska Frederick Sound

9. Whale Watching Around the World

When it comes to whale watching, you have a choice between fields of icebergs or sweaty sunshine and  topping up your tan. The key thing for whale watching wildlife holidays or vacations is to check the season: whales migrate and in many places in the world, you will only be able to see them for a few months of the year. Watching the tail of a mighty wale sink and splash down beneath the waves is one of the best wildlife experiences in the world. And, happily, you can see this in many places on earth. Here's an overview.

Alaska

The tail, that majestic symbol of all the monsters of the deep, rises, pauses, holds, waits, lingers above the water before plunging down again, throwing up a signature of spray. Very few animals have the ability to stir emotions in us with their everyday movements. The humpback whale is undoubtedly part of this very special group.

Madagsacar

In between the popular beach resort area of Nosy Be and Madagascar's further flung islands is a key whale migration route. Madagascar is harder to travel to and around than other destinations but for wildlife, it's hard to beat. 

The Canary Islands, Spain

Pilot whales swim off the shores of the Canary Islands and taking visitors on a whale-watching boat trip has become a popular (and lucrative) pastime for local fishermen. Read more about whale watching in Tenerife here. 

Massachusetts, USA

Moby Dick was inspired by the whaling capital of the world: Nantucket. Sadly, the whaling industry decimated numbers around this picturesque part of Cape Cod but numbers are returning. Recent reports place whales visible from even Manhattan again now. 

Puffin Profile - best wildlife adventures in the world

Some of the best wildlife adventures can be found where you least expect them. Like this puffin on Skomer Island, Wales

10. The Dream List

Even after all that travel, there are still some wildlife experiences I have my heart set on but have yet to do. And they are...

Polar Bears in Churchill, Canada

Not all bears appeal, but these snow slipping ones do. 

Bear Watching for Grizzly Bears in Canada

I actually spent weeks looking for them in Canada and Alaska but no luck yet. Likewise with brown bears.

Swimming with a Whale Shark

Beautiful and serene, I imagine it would be so peaceful to do.

Yellowstone National Park

I have to see yogi!

So, what do you think? Which wildlife experiences should make the best in the world list?

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About the Author

Hi, I'm Abi, a doctor turned writer who's worked with Lonely Planet, the BBC, UNESCO and more. Let's travel more and think more.

  • SAM says:

    Great List!

    Missing IMO are The Mountain Gorillas of Rwanda.

    Happy travels,

    Sam

    • Abi King says:

      Ah…yes! I haven’t seen them myself but have heard so much about them. Adding them to my wishlist :-)

  • Thomas Dembie says:

    I second the Mountain Gorillas. Visiting Rwanda and seeing the gorillas was one of the best experiences of my life!

  • De'Jav says:

    Great list of recommendations. Maybe diving with the whale sharks or mantarays in Exmouth, Australia.

    • Abi King says:

      Oh yes – diving with whale sharks! Have been trying to set this up for a while but can’t manage to get in the right place at the right time. Photos look amazing though – a true appreciation of how small we are in the world.

  • De'Jav says:

    Great list what about swimming with the whale sharks in Exmouth, Australia

  • I haven’t done any of these! I’d also add some kind of scuba dive (the manta rays in Hawaii maybe?) to this list.

    • Abi King says:

      How did that happen?! You’ve travelled the world! Noted down the manta rays in Hawaii to try and test out…(I haven’t been to Hawaii at all.)

  • All good! I have only been whale watching in Alaska and off the west coast of Canada. An amazing experience!!

    • Abi King says:

      Ah – it was one of my favourite moments ever to see the whale tail sloooowly emerge and crash down. Incredible.

  • Sophie says:

    All great choices. I’d add playing with huskies in the Arctic snow :)

    • Abi King says:

      Ooh yes! Because they’re so domesticated I didn’t think of them…but they’re stunning and so much fun. And they run so fast! Yes, huskies in the Arctic snow are definitely going on the follow up list! Thanks for the memory jog…

  • JoAnna says:

    I’d definitely add a trip to the Galapagos Islands to this list. In my experience, nothing has compared with the untamed, untouched natural wilderness of the Galapagos.

    • Abi King says:

      I’m here right now! And yes, I see what you mean :-) Definitely making it onto the next list.

  • Corinne says:

    You’ve got some good ones there, but there are plenty…How about watching grizzlies in Katmai National Park.

    • Abi King says:

      Sounds like a good one. I’m also keen to see polar bears too…Ah, so many! Lucky we’ll never get bored with life, eh?

  • I once visited a remote islet off NW Scotland specifically for puffin-spotting. Handa Island is so remote that you have to wave frantically, arms overhead, on the beach for the boat man to come and get you. Suffice it to say, I saw only 2 puffins on the island but saw loads on the water next to the boat on the way back to the mainland.

    clementinebuttercup.blogspot.co.uk

    • Abi King says:

      That’s kind of the experience I expected on Skomer…I was AMAZED when there were puffins in every direction and zooming straight past my head. Incredible stuff.

  • Hey Abi!
    Great compilation and good suggestions. I haven’t been out of my country. Just waiting for my kids to grow…so I can pull them too….when we plan on a tour abroad sometime sooner, I’ll make sure my husband includes at least one of these destinations so I can come back to you with profound memories and a new- found love for travel.

    • Abi King says:

      Good luck! I wonder where your home country is? Plenty of chances to travel there?

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