The start of the new year will always be me with a notebook planning where I would like to visit over the next 12 months. Generally, there will be a few European cities, one place a bit further afield – most likely in Asia, preferably with nice beaches and finally, a destination picked due to its wildlife.
Animals are one of my main passions in life and for me, nothing beats the excitement of being in a new place and see a wild animal flourish in their natural environment. It is of upmost importance to me that I only support and spend my money on wildlife holidays which are sustainable and truly ethical, something which I believe is important for a lot of people as well. Therefore, it is important to do research when looking into trips to ensure your money is going to the right place.
Best travel destinations for wildlife lovers
Safari in Port Elizabeth, South Africa
As I am heading to Cape Town and Port Elizabeth in just under two months time, which will be my fourth visit to South Africa and second to Port Elizabeth. Port Elizabeth is the best place in South Africa to go on safari, in my opinion, as I have found the cost to be much lower than areas such as the Kruger. Despite the lower price, you will be spoilt for choice when it comes to Big Five Game Reserves, of which my favourite is the Amakala Game Reserve – which offers 10 different luxury accommodations from restored country houses to glamping tents – I previously stayed in Leeuwenbosch Country house, if you are looking for a welcoming, family feel but still with a touch of luxury, I would book to stay here. An alternative to Amakala would be Shamwari which is also home to the Big Five (Lion, Rhino, Leopard, Elephant, Buffalo) but is also home to the Born Free Big Cat Sanctuary to which visits can be arranged.
The Addo Elephant National Park also resides in Port Elizabeth which is perfect if you also wanted to take in a self-drive safari. The Addo Elephant National Park is the third largest national park in South Africa and is home to over 600 wild Elephant. The city of Port Elizabeth itself also offers beaches where boat tours can be taken to see wild Dolphin, Seals and Penguins.
Located along the popular Garden Route, I really find Port Elizabeth to be a hidden gem for animal lovers in South Africa.
Looking for more safari options outside of South Africa? The best safari destinations in Africa
Observing Orca and Puffin in Iceland
Apart from spotting the Northern Lights and the magical landscapes, Iceland is a must for whale watching. Over twenty species of Cetacean frequent the waters around Iceland, including Minke, Humpback, Blue whale as well as my favourite the Orca. While sightings are obviously not guaranteed, you have the best chance of sighting these magnificent beasts between February and March (which also coincides with one of the best times to see the Northern Lights). In Reykjavik, you will find plenty of tour operators offering a variety of different whale watching tours throughout different parts of the day, however, during high seasons the tours will sell out quickly, therefore you may want to opt to book your whale watching tour in advance.
Aside from the whales, in Iceland, you can also see wild Puffin, however sadly the time, when they are most present, does not coincide with the most popular time to see Whales. The best time to see Puffin in Iceland is between early April and September, during spring in Iceland it is estimated that over 60% of the world’s Puffins come to Iceland to breed. The Puffins love to build their nests in rocky cliffs so, therefore, you can most likely see them at Látrabjarg in the Westfjords and Dyrhólaey on the south coast of Iceland.
Looking for more wildlife experiences across the world? Or interested in wildlife tourism in general? Have a listen to my podcast series ‘ The Wildlife Tourist‘.
The Wildlife Tourist is a podcast for animal lovers. On each episode, we discuss a different destination popular for seeing wildlife or different ways you can interact with animals abroad.
The Wildlife Tourist only features ethical and responsible wildlife tourism and has a big focus on preserving the planet we call home.
Wild Orangutan in Indonesian Borneo (Kalimantan)
There are only two places left in the world where Orangutans can be found in the wild, these are the northern parts of Sumatra in Indonesia and also throughout the island of Borneo – which is made up of Sabah and Sarawak (both Malaysian states), Kalimantan (Indonesian) and the small State of Brunei Darussalam.
Two years ago I had the opportunity to see wild Orangutan in Indonesian Borneo and still to do this day I will say it was one of the best experiences of my life. We visited Borneo during our two weeks in Indonesia and booked a jungle boat trip to see the Orangutan. The trip stopping at various places in the Tanjung Puting National Park to try to find the Orangutan – we saw so many at every stop, including babies.
I would recommend Kalimantan over Sabah and Sarawak in Malaysian Borneo as it is a lot quieter, meaning you will get much more peaceful and natural experience with the Orangutan, we visited during November and during this time only saw a couple of other people at each stop. When researching for our trip, due to its popularity I also found Malaysian Borneo to be more expensive.
Mountain Gorilla trekking In Uganda
Gorilla trekking has been on my bucket list for such a long time and hopefully over the next couple of years it will be something I get to do . There are only two populations of mountain gorillas left in the world, the first lives in the Virunga volcanic mountains of Central Africa, with groups scattered between Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The second population lives deep in Bwindi. These are the only places in the world you can see Mountain Gorillas as there also none in captivity.
Sadly, seeing the Mountain Gorillas is an expensive trip, due to the need of permits and guides – most people opt to book on to a group tour as this will bring down the cost as opposed to a private tour. Most people opt to book with reputable companies such as G Adventures, G Adventures also give back to the local communities ensuring sustainability for local people and wildlife.
Top Tip: when researching your trips, it is good to use words and phrases such as responsible, sustainable and eco-tourism to find the type tour companies you will want to travel with. Also, ask people for their recommendations, the last thing you want is to spend money on a trip which is supporting cruel animal experiences such as Elephant riding or the canned hunting trade.
Komodo Dragons in the Komodo Islands, Indonesia.
This one may not be on everyone’s list but it is on mine for when I eventually make it back to Indonesia. To see the Komodo Dragons you will need to take a boat from the Flores Islands to the Komodo Islands, here you will find the Komodo National Park where the prehistoric looking beasts live.
Reaching up to 10 feet and over 300 pounds in weight, the Komodo Dragon is the heaviest lizard on earth. Oh and they are dominant predators which can smell blood from up to 18 km away. The dragons have venom glands which induces shock, they will then calmly follow their prey for miles as the venom takes effect, using their keen sense of smell to hone in on the corpse. Unsurprisingly, you it is a must to the safety of guide with you at all times when visiting the Komodo Islands. I can understand why this trip would not be for everyone but for me, it will be the closest I will ever get to seeing a real life dinosaur.
The best time of year to visit the Komodo Islands is between April to June when it is slightly cooler and it advised to avoid the high season of July to August when it is busier yet more expensive.
Tropical wildlife in Costa Rica
For somewhere exotic Costa Rica is one of the most bio-diverse places on earth making it the ideal destination for wildlife lovers. When visiting Costa Rica you can expect to see howler monkeys, iguanas, toucans, sloths as well as a wonderful variety of reptiles and amphibians. There are various opportunities to take tours into the rainforests and jungles of Costa Rica as well as even stay in tree house in the middle of the Costa Rican Jungle.
Costa Rica is also perfect for keen Scuba Divers as the wildlife is just as diverse in under water as it is over. Head towards the Coco Islands for Hammerhead shark diving or Cano Islands for the chance to diving with Manta Rays, Dolphins and Orca.
The best time to visit Costa Rica is from mid-December to April (the dry season). This peak tourist season boasts plenty of sunshine making it an ideal time for exploring rainforests and lounging on beaches however you will also find the is the most expensive time to visit.
Looking for more inspiration for special hotel? Check out the Expedia Hotel Edit to find something to suit every style.
This post is collaboration with Expedia however as always, all opinions are my own.