20 Of The World's Best Places For Wildlife Spotting

06/28/2016 02:15 am ET Updated Jul 31, 2016

There’s something about seeing animals in their natural habitat that will never compare to seeing them in captivity. Why? Because captivity is not where they belong.

On every corner of this earth lays an abundance of glorious wildlife and I have teamed up with travel bloggers from around the world to bring you the insider information on where those places are. Travel responsibly and don’t support unnecessary captivity. Choose conservation and choose to visit these remarkable creatures in their natural habitats.

 From Patagonia to Uganda, we’ve got nearly every continent covered, so it’s time to get out that bucket list and start planning.

 

Udawalawe National Park, Sri Lanka

The Udawalawe National Park was established in June 1972 as a sanctuary for wild animals displaced by the construction of the Udawalawe Reservoir on the Walawe River. It covers an area of 308 square kilometres (119 square miles) and is Sri Lanka’s 3rd largest national park (after Yala and Wilpattu). It is mainly popular for its photogenic elephants. You will see elephants everywhere in Udawalawe in their natural habitat and you can get real close to them. Being able to see a whole family with their baby elephants roaming the wild is certainly one of the highlights of this national park. And if you get really lucky, you’ll be able to spot the elusive family of leopards in the park.

 

Stefan and Sebastien from Nomadic Boys

Punta Tombo, Argentina

One of the best places in the world for wildlife spotting is the penguin rockery of Punta Tombo, in the Argentinian province of Chubut. The rockery of Punta Tombo was created in 1979 with the aim of protecting one of the areas of Argentina with the most diverse fauna. Punta Tombo has the most important colony of Magellan penguins in continental Patagonia: here, over a million penguins arrive each year in order to breed. When visiting the rockery, the local rangers give detailed instructions to visitors, making it clear that the penguins own the place and that humans are only spectators and they should respect the environment and the animals. Penguins should never be touched: they are harmless, but if they feel threatened in any way, they may defend themselves with their very sharp beak. And if a penguin walks by, visitors should stop and let them walk past them. Sure enough, seeing (and hearing!) the thousands of penguins is an incredible experience.

 

Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park, Zululand, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa

Huluhluwe-Imfolozi is home to Africa’s big five and the oldest proclaimed nature reserve in Africa, spreading over 960 km².  On our last trip we saw several animals – Buffalo, Zebra, Elephant, Rhino, Giraffe and even Wildebeest, just to mention a few. We were lucky enough to come across a gang of over 50 buffalo crossing the road and even came face to face with a lone Bull elephant.

 

Lisa and Heather from Klipdrifters Travel 

Pangkor Island, Perak, Malaysia

Hornbills are gorgeous birds, which often get mistaken for Toucans. See them in the wild and you will never mistake them for Toucans again. 

Pangkor Island in Perak, Malaysia has become home to many wild Hornbills and other tropical birds, due in part to the abundance of rainforest on the island, but also that they are relatively safe from humans there. Locals are very respectful of the wildlife in Pangkor and go so far as to leave fruit for the birds as well as the cheeky island monkeys. Some naturalists consider this a questionable practice, but the Hornbills are indeed free to come and go as they please and are still quite capable of finding their own food among the abundance of nature available on the island. Pangkor Island is definitely a must-visit for bird watchers.

 

Vanessa from The Island Drum

South Durras Beach, New South Wales, Australia

When people talk about Australia, kangaroos are frequently mentioned.  Everyone wants to see a kangaroo in the wild. Yet, despite folklore being tossed around, the ‘roos don’t actually frequent the streets. They’re shy buggers.  If you’re looking to see a wallaby in its native habitat, you’re almost guaranteed to see one on South Durras beach. Yes, that’s right. The beach.  South Durras is surrounded by Murramarang National Parkland and while it’s a five-hour drive south of Sydney, wallabies frequent the beach as much as the local residents.  And, if you’re heating up the gas grill at the beachside park, they may even poke their head up to see what’s cooking.  Here, they aren’t shy, but still…you don’t want to get too close.

 

The Fairy Meadows, Gilgit, Pakistan

Ahead, my police bodyguard leading the way through the truly stunning Fairy Meadows… Clouds race overhead, casting patterns in the brilliant white snow, gliding across the aqua-marine Sky. The cold nips at my ankles as I wade through knee-deep snow, slowly inching closer to the stunning mountains in the distance. Nangar Parbat, one of the world’s highest peaks, watches on… Besides a couple of police officers, who insisted on coming with me, and one solitary guesthouse owner, I am the only person here; this is Pakistan in low-season; which means zero tourists. The snow is deep but the fire waiting back at my hut is warm and their is chicken for dinner… This is a truly special place and The Pakistani Himalayas are one of the best spots in the world to watch dozens of eagles drifting on the wind. Ibex, the national animal of Pakistan, patrol the sheer faces of the mountainside, horns curled tightly to the wind, some stand stationary, guardians of the mountains, as if cast in stone. This is a bewitching landscape…

 

The archipelago of Vava’u, Tonga

Humpback whales go up to the South Pacific every summer to give birth to their little ones in warmer waters. One of the easiest places to spot them is in Tonga, particularly in the archipelago of Vava’u, although you can see them breaching everywhere, even in the capital of Tongatapu, right from the coast.

In Vava’u, you jump in the water and spot them through your snorkel. If you are lucky, mum and calf will stay and play around you, swimming at unison and doing a little dance. Humpback whales are vegetarian, and completely harmless, but they are large animals measuring 2-3 meters, so if you are not careful, they can sweep you off under water just by swimming close to you. When I was there, they were gentle, perfectly aware of the humans around, and swam peacefully and elegantly past us. It was a majestic sight and, since Vava’u is so small (1,000 inhabitants), remote and hard to get to, tourism numbers are very small and there are at most 5 people in the water of the entire archipelago on a given day.

 

Queen Elizabeth National Park, Uganda

Queen Elizabeth National Park in western Uganda is a beautiful park encompassing several different ecosystems. Part of what makes it particularly special is the Kazinga Channel, which separates two large lakes. If you are keen on close encounters with elephants and especially hippos, this is the place for you, with 5,000 hippos and 2,500 elephants populating the park. Though wildlife sightings are never guaranteed, you would be awfully unlucky not to see hippos. Inland from the waterways you will find many of the largest birds in East Africa (the rare shoebill, the grey crowned crane, saddle-billed stork and flamingos, to begin with), in fact nearly 600 bird species are found in the park — a birder’s paradise. Special to me was watching a leopard stalking small prey in the tall grass. Because of its different ecosystems, you can see chimpanzees in one part and lions in another! There’s a very nice hotel inside the park too, which offers full board with meals.

 

Shara from SKJ Travel

Komodo Island, Indonesia

The Komodo Dragon is the world’s largest and most lethal lizard.  It lives only on Komodo Island and a few adjacent islands in Indonesia.  Last year I ticked it off my bucket list.  Because of the animal’s limited habitat, a visit here assures that you are going to see at least one of these creatures.  I saw four.  On a good day, you might see 14.  So the animal is still protected, and though it would be exciting to see one run, it is probably a good idea if you don’t and instead see a few in a placid, safe state.  And though you won’t be likely to get a selfie with one, the accommodating rangers make sure everyone leaves with a picture taken with one.

 

Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, USA

Yellowstone National Park is an ideal location for spotting North American Wildlife.  The park is home to American bison, black bears, grizzlies, wolves, and so much more.  The park is often full of animal created traffic jams.  There are two types. The bison jam where the bison herd has decided to cross the road or stand in the middle of it and refuse to move, or my personal favourite, walk down the road in the opposite direction of traffic and expect the car to move out of the way.  The second is the bear jam.  The bear jam is caused by a fellow tourist stopping a bear and pointing it out to other guests.  The park is also one of the few places in the USA to see wolves.  They were reintroduced in the early part of 1990’s and the park now has several packs.  Much of the wildlife is visible from the road and can been seen without approaching the animals.

 

The Alcan Highway, Alaska

Up in the North, there’s a game we like to play on our road trips called Animal Bingo. All you need is a car, a camera, a good eye for spotting wildlife and an endless desire for a wild adventure. Whoever can catch all the big game, on film of course, wins! The most common sightings in this game are black bears, moose, eagles, elk, bison, Dahl sheep, caribou and rabbits, but if you have a really good eye you might spot a lone wolf or a grizzly bear for the big win. The Alcan Highway, which stretches over 1,300 miles of untouched wilderness through Alaska and Canada, is home to some of the world’s most fascinating animals and is one of the world’s top destinations for animal life encounters. So, what are you waiting for? The wilderness is calling, or is that a moose call?

Pro Tip: If you’re really hardy make this trip in the early fall. All the animals are very active, trying to fatten up for winter. There’s less cars on the road with potential to scare them. Plus, the fall colors in the north leave your mouth gaping.

 

Susanna from Wandering Chocobo

Jigokudani Yaen Kōen, Japan

Jigokudani Yaen Kōen (aka Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park) in Japan is a charming destination for wildlife spotting.  The main attraction is a group of Japanese macaques (snow monkeys) known for their red faces and hot spring antics.  Reaching these monkeys involves a very manageable 1.6km hike through a beautiful forest path where in warm months they are spotted around the trails.  In colder months, monkeys congregate around an onsen hot spring where they soak, play and relax.  The monkeys roam free as they please and are not bothered by humans.  People are obviously not allowed to touch them but the snow monkeys don’t have any restrictions and even brush past quite often.

 

Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda

Trekking mountain gorillas in Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda is an unforgettable experience for any wildlife enthusiast.  These gentle giants can be found in three countries (Rwanda, Uganda and Democratic Republic of Congo) but Rwanda is the most accessible.  Depending on fitness level, lucky visitors trek anywhere from one to five hours for an up close view of a gorilla family, including the Susa group made famous by Dian Fossey.  It is one amazing hour in the company of an enormous silverback and family playing, eating, fighting and just hanging out.  Encounters with the gorillas are tightly controlled, with only 8 visitors a day allowed to see each gorilla family.  With fewer than 1000 mountain gorillas left in the world, the entire experience is a privilege.

 

Matilda from The Travel Sisters

Zululand Rhino Reserve, Kwazulu-Natal region, South Africa

Zululand Rhino Reserve is located in close proximity to Durban, in the Kwazulu-Natal region. It is abundant in wildlife and also boasts of a thriving birding population. Game watching in Zululand is very interesting as the reserve has Big 5 game as well as other African mammals and a varied flora and fauna. For me, it was an amazing experience in the bush with night safaris, hideouts, usual game drives and watching game on foot (as we happened to be in a lodge close to a popular water hole). All in all, it is a lovely place for wildlife enthusiasts and they focus heavily on Rhino, Wild dogs and other conservation projects.

 

Valdez Peninsula in Argentina

Do you think that penguins are beyond adorable? Do whales make you cry? If so, you should consider visiting the Valdez Peninsula in Argentina. It’s located in northern Patagonia on the eastern Atlantic coastline. They get migrating southern right whales, elephant seals, sea lions and dolphins. Have you ever seen that video of Orca whales flying onto the beach to snatch sea lions? It happens there! The rich biodiversity of wildlife, combined with the easy-going town of Puerto Madryn make it an easy choice for your wildlife fix. Go in November, the penguins are nesting and southern right whales will be in town.

 

Carol from Wayfaring Views

Nagarhole National Park, India 

With a healthy predator prey ratio, the national park (and a tiger reserve) is one of the best places to get an authentic safari experience in India. Though the sightings are good, the tigers are shy and the leopards wary, but the elephants can be spotted in great numbers, happily munching away in the bamboo thickets and the luxurious forests. The Kabini reservoir inside the forest also allows for a boat safari, which provides for a great birding experience while showing a different side of the forest. You can see abundant sightings of herbivores grazing and occasionally sightings of the predators out for a drink. The safaris are well organized and the number of vehicles & boats permitted inside are limited to maintain the sanctity of the forest.

 

Rishabh from Gypsy Couple

iSimangaliso Wetlands Park, South Africa

iSimangaliso Wetlands Park is definitely the best place to spot wildlife! Located in the north east corner of South Africa, this diverse park is home to lions, elephants, baboons, hippos, crocodiles, giraffe, buck, zebra, kudu, rhino, leopards and more! You can drive yourself through the iSimangaliso, stopping off en route for a drink or picnic (while keeping your eyes peeled of course) or drive to Cape Vidal, one of the world’s most stunning beaches. If you stay overnight in the nearby town of Saint Lucia, you will need to drive around after dark as hippos come out of the estuary at sunset and walk through town, making their way to parkland for grass (or backyard swimming pools for water!) In iSimanagliso you see animals living their lives without human involvement, in their natural habitat.

 

Royal Chitwan National Park, Nepal

While Nepal is best known for its high altitude treks, a trip to the lowlands can be equally spectacular. Throughout the 932 square kilometers of Royal Chitwan National Park you’ll experience everything from grasslands to forests, and the variety of wildlife that lives within. The park is recognized as one of the best spots for wildlife in the whole of Asia. Go for the chance to see one-horned rhinos, wild elephants, and the ever-elusive Bengal tiger.

 

Taylor and Daniel from Travel Outlandish

 

Fiordland National Park, New Zealand

I believe New Zealand is among the best destinations to spot wildlife. All the parks in the country are well maintained and accurately preserved and you can see plenty of animals just hiking, walking and kayaking around. As we were traveling around we spotted plenty of dolphins, penguins, seals, whales and hundreds of different birds, like this “Kea” pictured in the image. A Kea is an alpine parrot, found in New Zealand’s South Island. While hiking the world-famous “Kepler Track”, this smart and cheeky bird payed us a visit at Luxmore Hut and brought us some fun at the end of the day. One of the best place to encounter one of these lovely parrots is definitely Fiordland National Park in New Zealand.

 

Jessica from Travel To Be Alive

Cuyabeno Reserve, Ecuador 

The narrow rivers, glassy lakes and muddy jungle trails of Ecuador’s Cuyabeno Reserve are home to a huge variety of wildlife. I spent three days in this wild region of the Amazon Rainforest and saw monkeys, sloths, bats, caimans, anacondas and countess varieties of birds (as well as lots of annoying insects).  I even saw an anaconda wrapped around a caiman – an awesome (and kind of gruesome) sight. The Amazon is a special region of our planet and Ecuador is a great country to see it. The tours and lodges are cheap and the Cuyabeno Reserve is only a night bus away from Quito, the capital.

 

Have you visited these wildlife destinations? Which one is your favourite?

 

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