From the icy cliffs of Antarctica to the misty Kenyan savannas, our planet is teeming with animal species of every size, shape, and color imaginable. And while many of Earth’s most vibrant places remain untouched by human hands, these 10 destinations offer once-in-a-lifetime wildlife encounters for visitors who are brave enough to go the distance.
Orcas emerging from water between broken ice; Photo by Bryan Goff/Unsplash.com
POD WITH ORCAS IN ANTARCTICA
Aside from the roughly 54,000 visitors who journey to Antarctica each year, this remote continent is almost entirely devoid of human activity. In our absence, scores of leopard seals, penguins, and other wildlife lounge on its glaciers and roam its ice-laden channels.
How to Go: Fly to Ushuaia, Argentina, or Punta Arenas, Chile. Then, board an expedition cruise bound for King George Island on the northern tip of the Antarctic Peninsula.
Woman admiring yellow iguana in Urbina Bay, Galapagos Islands; Photo by Maridav/stock.adobe.com
SIZE UP GIANT LIZARDS IN THE GALÁPAGOS ISLANDS
Millions of years ago, volcanic eruptions severed this island chain from the coast of Ecuador. Since then, 97% of its lands have been designated protected areas, allowing only a precious few visitors each year to witness its unique and endemic ocean wildlife.
Bison and cows grazing in Yellowstone National Park; Photo by Tony Garcia/Unsplash.com
ROAM WITH BISON IN YELLOWSTONE
In addition to boasting more geysers and hot springs than anywhere else, Yellowstone National Park is home to the largest concentration of mammals in the lower 48 states. Gray wolves, grizzly bears, elk, and river otters are just some of its most famous inhabitants.
How to Go: From Yellowstone Airport in West Yellowstone, Montana, it’s just a five-minute drive to the park’s west entrance.
Elephant walking ahead of people on safari tour; Photo by laura/stock.adobe.com
SAFARI WITH THE “BIG FIVE” IN KENYA
Maasai Mara National Reserve and Nairobi National Park are two places in Kenya where you’re most likely to spot what wildlife enthusiasts call the “Big Five”—African elephants, lions, leopards, Cape buffalo, and rhinoceros.
How to Go: Organized safaris are timed to coincide with annual migration from June to October.
White-headed capuchin photographed in Costa Rica; Photo by Hunter Masters/Unsplash.com
HOWL WITH MONKEYS IN COSTA RICA
Welcoming nearly two million ecotourists each year, this Central American locale is known as a global center for biodiversity and environmental consciousness. As a result, howler monkeys, anteaters, tree frogs, sloths, and other unique species flourish here.
How to Go: Palo Verde National Park, Caño Negro Wildlife Refuge, and Corcovado National Park are some of the top spots for Costa Rica wildlife tourists.
Girl receiving kiss from dolphin; Photo by Laurie/stock.adobe.com
SWIM WITH DOLPHINS IN KEY WEST
Florida is home to 269 unique species of animals, many of which reside in the deep waters, scenic coastlines, and tropical rainforests of Key West. Wildlife enthusiasts can get their fix via daily boat tours and guided expeditions.
How to Go: Can’t wait to glimpse a shark or stingray? Skip the four-hour drive from Miami and fly directly into Key West Airport.
Woman feeding and playing with ring tailed lemur; Photo by evgenii/stock.adobe.com
DANCE WITH LEMURS IN MADAGASCAR
The only place on Earth you can see a ring-tailed or grey mouse lemur is on the African island of Madagascar, nestled deep in the heart of the Indian Ocean.
How to Go: Ivato International Airport receives the majority of flights to Madagascar, via points of origin across Africa, as well as Paris, Johannesburg, and Bangkok.
Polar bear standing on glacier in the Svalbard Island, Norway; Photo by nikpal/istock.com
GET UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL WITH POLAR BEARS IN NORWAY
The Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard is home to more polar bears than people—a fact that bodes better for wildlife spotters than for the seals, walruses, reindeer, and foxes that also call this frozen tundra home.
How to Go: Fly from mainland Norway to Longyearbyen Airport. Then, board an expedition cruise from Svalbard’s largest city of Spitsbergen.
Wild kangaroo photographed in Australia; Photo by levers2007/istock.com
HOP WITH KANGAROOS IN AUSTRALIA
Eighty percent of the world’s plants, mammals, reptiles, and frogs are unique to this supercontinent, but few command attention on the scale of Australia’s famed kangaroo, koala, wombat, and emu.
Bald Eagle on rock, Cook Inlet, Alaska; Photo by flownaksala/istock.com
FLY WITH EAGLES IN ALASKA
Alaska’s largest concentration of bald eagles resides in Chilkat, where the likelihood of spotting these majestic hunters—as well as brown bears, moose, and coastal wolves—is highest during the annual July salmon run.
How to Go: Early spring offers the best opportunities for wildlife viewing from the platform at Chilkat Inlet’s Haines Visitors Center.