7 of the Best Wildlife Adventures in the World

6 Min. Read
Galapagos giant tortoise
Up-close with a Galápagos tortoise | Photo: Justin Bailie

Incredible Nature-based Vacations That Will Amaze  

If your travel goals include seeing some of the planet’s most captivating animals in their natural habitats—think an African safari, polar bear expedition or whale watching trip—we’ve got you covered. These bucket list wildlife adventures, in some of the most jaw-dropping and biodiverse landscapes in the world, are among the best of the best. Offered by some of the top adventure travel companies out there, you’ll remember these wondrous nature-based vacations for a lifetime.

Snorkeling with a playful sea lion near Islote Pitt in the Galápagos | Photo: Justin Bailie

1) Explore the Amazon and island hop through the Galápagos with a naturalist  

Experience two of the world’s best wildlife destinations in one trip. This Galápagos and Amazon adventure from Quito, Ecuador starts with several days at the famed Napo Wildlife Center where you have the opportunity to explore the Amazon by foot and canoe, trek into the jungle to observe more than 600 bird species, and search for spider monkeys. From there, you overnight in Quito, before cruising through Darwin’s famed archipelago on an intimate 141-foot luxury yacht that provides exclusive access to parts of the islands bigger vessels can’t reach. Spend your days joyfully kayaking alongside curious sea lions, hiking millions-of-years-old (and still changing) volcanic formations and snorkeling with sea turtles. Of course, no trip to the Galápagos is complete without observing ancient Galápagos tortoises in the wild and visiting the Charles Darwin Research Station.

2) Safari through the animal kingdom of Tanzania’s Serengeti  

Lions may be the king of the jungle, but Tanzania’s Serengeti is the king of safari locations, especially when you opt for a luxury expedition with one of the world’s best outfitters. With impressive lodging ranging from treetop tents atop ancient baobab or marula trees, to opulently furnished private tents overlooking winding rivers, you’ll be well-positioned on this East Africa adventure to spot the “big five”—lions, elephants, rhinos, leopards, and buffalo. More than 90 different species of mammal roam Serengeti National Park, and some 500 bird species also thrive in the reserve’s unspoiled natural environment. Look closely near the kopjes, basically bizarre-looking rock islands found throughout the Serengeti’s grassland (often animals can be easily spotted climbing them). Another stop will take you to the Crater Highlands that dramatically drop down into the famous Ngorongoro Crater, the biggest intact unbroken volcanic caldera on Earth. Because it is enclosed, it is a natural sanctuary for some of the densest populations of large mammals in Africa. Animals are literally everywhere you turn your head, making for some incredible (and incredibly easy) photography.

A traveler photographs Churchill Polar Bears from a Polar Rover | Photo: Alek Komarnitsky

3) Photograph Polar Bears in the Arctic

Imagine roaming the Arctic tundra in a custom-built Polar Rover, eyes peeled out the window to spot a mama with her cubs or young males play fighting. Polar bears come hang out in Churchill every year as they wait for the Hudson Bay to freeze so they can start their winter seal-hunting season and try to fatten up as much as possible. Arctic fox and Arctic hare are also abundant in the area. But the real show stopper is if the skies are clear and if luck is in your favor, you might just get blessed with a northern lights show. Icing on the cake? Opt for a helicopter excursion to get a bird’s eye view of the vastness of the stark and frozen tundra.

Whale watching in Baja California, Mexico.
Whale watching in the Sea of Cortez in Baja, Mexico | Photo: Gordon Klco

4) Explore the best of both Baja coasts and watch the Pacific gray whale migration

Adventure doesn’t always have to break the bank and this affordable Baja sea kayaking and whale watching adventure proves it. Start the trip right by boating out to Espiritu Santo Island for snorkeling at a sea lion rookery and at reefs with all sorts of colorful tropical fish. You can also hike, fish, sea kayak the Sea of Cortez or just relax on the beach and unwind. From there go check out Whale Camp at Magdalena Bay and spend time each day mesmerized by the Pacific gray whales from your motorized skiff. As if that is not enough,you can paddle your way through mangrove estuaries to bird watch. The ultimate in beach camp-cool, you get to sleep in a safari-style tents for the closest interaction with nature possible. 

The Hanse Explorer offers intrepid travelers a luxury polar adventure | Photo: Martin Enckell

5) Get up close and personal with adorable Antarctic penguins 

Boarding an intimate luxury yacht in the Beagle Channel in Tierra del Fuego, known as “The End of the World,” and then crossing the adventurous waters of Drake Passage seems pretty hard to top. But kayaking in the calm protected waters of the White Continent as penguins swim by you is the definite cherry on top. Gentoo, Adélie, and chinstrap penguins abound and you can see them both in the water and on land as you hike, cross-country ski or snowshoe across the frozen sea ice. Conditions can change rapidly here, making this adventurous Antarctica expedition cruise an unforgettable journey that gives you no choice but to go with the flow of the power of Mother Nature. 

6) Cruise through the Western Pacific and soak in the splendor of the Coral Triangle

Explore above and below the sea in one of the most biodiverse regions of the world from aboard the luxurious National Geographic Resolution. Saigon, Vietnam may seem like an unlikely jumping off point for an incredible wildlife adventure, but soon you’ll leave the bustling city behind for the bio-rich waters and natural wonders of the Western Pacific. Float through the mangrove forest at Vietnam’s Con Dao National Park, hike through a cloud forest in Malaysia’s Mount Kinabalu National Park, meet rehabilitated orangutans and sun bears in Borneo, and kayak, snorkel and dive at Bunaken Marine Park in Indonesia. The finale is a visit to landlocked Jellyfish Lake, one of the Seven Biological Wonders of the World, where you can snorkel among hundreds of golden and moon jellyfish (don’t worry, they can’t sting!). This is an adventure that wows both on and off the water. Each day ends taking advantage of the vessel’s many amenities like infinity-style hot tubs and a rooftop observation deck where every sunset will leave you speechless. 

A kayaker watches a lone grizzly on Chilko Lake in British Columbia
A kayaker watches a lone grizzly on the shores of Chilko Lake in British Columbia

7) Paddle Chilko Lake and keep an eye out for grizzlies

This trip starts out with a bang on a scenic flight from Vancouver that takes you over surreal landscapes of ice, serrated ridges and gorgeous turquoise glacial lakes. Home base is your own private deluxe safari tent built on top of a wildlife viewing platform at Bear Camp on Chilko Lake, the region’s most unique accommodations thanks to its prime location at the headwaters of the Chilko River. This adventure-filled trip keeps you in a constant state of awe. Horseback ride by Tatlayoko Lake, kayak a 55-mile stretch of the turquoise Chilko River surrounded by massive glacier-capped peaks where bald eagles have been known to soar, bike and trek the Coast Mountains, and fish for rainbow trout (no experience needed). If spotting grizzlies in their natural habitat is your main goal, go in late summer or early fall.

Cathy Brown

Cathy lives on a self-sustainable farm in the Andes of Patagonia with her three kids. She's an editor at Matador Network, writes for Fodor's and Lonely Planet, and works closely with the Adventure Travel Trade Association. She's an avid gardener, surfer, and loves to hike.

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