I’m fond of (most) other people, but I can’t lie: Many of my favorite adventures I’ve taken have been wildlife trips. Conversations can stimulate the mind, and change the heart, but the power of nature reaches you in your soul.
As I cautiously plan my first couple years of post-pandemic travel, I’m skewing heavily toward animal-oriented trips. “Social distancing,” I’ve come to believe, is not such a bad idea, even for those of us who plan to get a Covid vaccine as soon as one is available to us!
From the savannas of East Africa to the beaches of Australia, and from the two-humped camels of Mongolia to the red-faced macaques you find in the Japanese Alps, animal experiences around the world are at least as diverse as human culture. I hope you’ll feel inspired by the ones I’m about to share!
Why I Love Seeing Animals When I Travel
Wildlife trips have always been a part of my life as a traveler, even before I started traveling very far from home. Some of my favorite childhood memories are of exploring the creeks and rivers of central Missouri with my dad, and trying to find huge crawfish under massive rocks. In my adult life, I’ve also made a point of seeking out animal adventures, from my first adventure (far) abroad to India and Southeast Asia, to now when I make my home in Japan.
Keep in mind that while many of the animal experiences I’m about to list are of the “wild” variety, I also love seeing more traditional pets when I travel. On my first trip to my current home country, in 2014, I visited Tashirojima, one of Japan’s aptly-named “cat islands.” However, since I didn’t carry any of the top rated cat foods in 2021 with me, I had a hard time getting the pretty kitties to pose for pictures!
My Favorite Wildlife Trips I’ve Taken
Safari on the Serengeti, Tanzania
It’s always a good idea to start with a classic, isn’t it? There are few more iconic animal experiences than a safari on Tanzania’s Serengeti plain, which is one of the most biologically diverse places in the world. The surrounding scenery doesn’t hurt, either, whether you’re in the shadow of Mt. Kilimanjaro, or in the “bowl” of Ngorongoro Crater.
Spying on Japan’s snow monkeys
Another of my favorite wildlife trips is one I’ve taken a couple of times. I’m talking about the hike to Jigokudani, aka “Hell Valley” in the Japanese Alps, not far from the city of Nagano. Even if you can’t come see these red-faced monkeys in winter, when their namesake snow is falling, a trip is still worth the effort.
Kangaroos on the beach, Australia
The only thing better than getting up-close and personal with Australia’s most famous animal? Doing so on or near one of the Lad Down Under’s iconic beaches. While I hope, in the future, to see kangaroos along slightly wilder stretches of shoreline than the one in Coffs Harbor just north of Sydney, this was certainly a good introduction.
An elephant rescue in Thailand
You have to be carefully when booking wildlife trips. Many outlets that describe themselves as ethical are anything but, particularly in Southeast Asia. The good news is that I’ve visited Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai, Thailand several times—I can assure you it meets the highest standards for animal treatment.
Camels on the Mongolian steppe
Many people don’t realize it, but Mongolia is one of the wildest places in the world. Most Mongolians still live as they did during the time of Chinggis Khan, including when it comes to their relationship with animals. As such it’s possible to encounter many different species without trying too hard, including the two-humped camels that are iconic of the Mongolian steppe.
How Do You Know if an Animal Experience is Ethical?
As is the case when browsing dog supplies reviews online, a great way to gauge whether the experience you want to enjoy is good for the animals involved is to read reviews. User-generated content is sometimes biased and skewed, but if there is a gross abuse of animal rights involved (as is the case with some elephant establishments in Thailand, as one example), you can bet that several travelers are going to make mention of it.
In this vein, one of the ways you can “pay it forward” after taking wildlife trips is to share your experience with others. And I’m not just talking about posting reviews for other travelers to read, although this is of course very helpful. If something about the trip didn’t sit right with you, don’t feel shy about telling the owners of the company about it. They may be unaware that the way they conduct business is unethical, particularly if they live in a country with very different cultural norms.
Other FAQ About Wildlife Holidays
Which country has the best wildlife?
Everyone has a different opinion about which country has the best wildlife, but the continent of Africa is generally regarded as having the most diverse array of species. In particular, the Chobe River delta in Botswana and the Serengeti plain of East Africa are hot spots for safari-goers, and definitely places you’ll want to consider on your next trip.
Where do you go if you love animals?
The reality is that you can find animal adventures almost anywhere you go, although you should use discretion in choosing places to visit. Many so-called wildlife reserves in certain parts of the world, for example, are essentially zoos, and poorly maintained ones at that. In general, the farther out in the wild (i.e. the farther away from people) you can get, the better animal experiences you can have.
Is Kenya or South Africa better for safari?
Kenya offers more authentic safari experiences, and in my opinion is a more accurate representation of modern Africa than South Africa. On the other hand, game lodges and infrastructure in South Africa are better, more broadly; some travelers will sacrifice the vibrancy of their experience for easy access to creature comforts.
The Bottom Line
It’s never too early to start planning post-pandemic wildlife trips. To be sure, even if you plan to get a Covid vaccine—and I certainly hope you do!—the concept of “social distancing” isn’t a bad strategy for travel, given the amazing array of animal experiences around the world. For some wanderers, this will take you all the way to East Africa, where you’ll embark upon a safari in pursuit of the “Big Five” game. Others will want wild adventures close to the comforts of civilization, such as Thailand’s Elephant Nature Park, which is within day-trip distance of cozy Chiang Mai. No matter where you go or what sorts of creatures you encounter, I wish you safe and happy trails!