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Let’s face it, it’s great to make our travel dollars go farther by looking for deals and sticking to a budget – but there are some experiences that are in the “expensive but worth it” category.  When it comes to marveling at the wildlife on this magnificent planet, consider these animal-loving ideas.

  1. Safari in Kenya

Ah, Africa! The wildlife viewing experience here is second to none. From the time you hop out of the Cessna to greet your personal Masai guide to the moment you bed down in a luxury tent, you will be seeing and hearing the animals all around you.

Curious Giraffe, Kenya

Your guide will escort you in an open air Land Rover through the African conservancies to view wildebeest, cheetah, zebras, giraffe, leopards, rhinos, hippos, hyenas, vultures, crocodiles and more! You can go on a walking safari and a night-time safari – both add extra adventure to the chase.

Lioness, Kenya

One of our safari trips ended with a “sundowner” where the locals create a lounge area outside with the African sunset as your backdrop to enjoy a libation while discussing the wondrous sites of the day with other camp guests.

African Elephant Kenya
African Elephant Masai Mara, Kenya

Some fabulous places to stay:

Elephant Bedroom Camp, Samburu National Reserve

Rhino River Camp Meru National Park

Naboisho Camp, Masai Mara Conservancy

  1. The Galapagos

This archipelago of 21 volcanic islands in the waters off Ecuador was made famous when Charles Darwin visited in the late 1800s and was inspired to write his historic book “The Origin of Species”. The Galapagos is an area of the world so remote and well-protected that the animals are not afraid of humans.

Marine Iguanas Galapagos

Each island is a unique experience with different animal habitats. You will find sea lions lazing about by the hundreds on one island and a surreal scene of thousands of marine iguanas seemingly frozen on the rocks on another. There are blue-footed boobies galore, albatross, giant tortoises, frigate birds and bottle-nosed dolphins.

Blue-footed Boobie
Pelican on the rocks. Celebrity Xpedition

This World Heritage Unesco site has been declared a marine reserve and is the second largest protected area in the world after the Great Barrier Reef in Australia.

Giant tortoises, Galapagos

We went on the small 96-passenger Celebrity Xpedition. This small ship offers excellent comfort and sustainable practices including using locally grown produce and fish caught daily by Galapagos fishermen. Small groups visit the islands on zodiac boats that are capable of navigating the rocky waters. Your guides are extremely knowledgeable and respectful of this delicate environment with all of it’s varied flora and fauna.

3.  Gorilla-trekking in Rwanda or Uganda

Picture yourself hiking into a remote forest with a tracker as your guide. After macheteing your way through the thick underbrush you come across a troop of gorillas – usually 25 to 30 individuals. The silverback (male) is in control. He will permit you and your small group to hang out for a golden hour!

A very unimpressed female gorilla. Rwanda

This experience is unbelievable! It is like being in the same room with these magnificent creatures! We visited Rwanda specifically for this thrill although you can do the same thing in Uganda.  Be prepared: recently the Rwanda “license” to go gorilla trekking for the day went from $750 per person to $1500 per person. You may find Gorilla Trekking in Uganda to be more reasonable. However, much of the money is used towards preventing poaching and preserving the habitat of these magnificent creatures. There has been an attitude shift from poaching to protecting endangered animals because of the money that eco-tourism brings in. 

We enjoyed a separate trek to see the Golden Monkeys – also worth a visit.

Golden Monkey Rwanda
  1. Crocodiles & Howler Monkeys of Belize

Belize is a Central American country that borders the Caribbean sea. In the same vacation, you can stay in a tree-top chalet in the jungle and then venture out to the sea to snorkel with the shark rays! The national language is English and the people are very friendly.

One of the most popular excursions in Belize is boating down one of the many rivers to explore the jungle and discover crocodiles, iguanas, tropical birds and manatees.

River Crocodile, Belize

My fondest memory of Belize is going tubing through one of the gigantic caves of its extensive cavern system. Caves Branch resort offers a number of exciting activities including zip-lining in the jungle, horse-back riding, exploring Mayan ruins, snorkeling, diving, birding and nature walks. Caves Branch is eco-lodge that has amazing tree-house accommodation. Your luxury chalet is located high in the forest canopy. But be aware! The howler monkeys might startle you from your sound sleep! Howler monkeys are the loudest land animal and the first time you hear a male vocalizing, you will be astounded!

A little further south in Belize you will find one of the most luxurious, 5 STAR eco-lodges in the country. Belcampo is an organic farm set in the verdant jungle just outside Punta Gorda. It is also a 12,000 acre nature reserve offering world class hospitality and all sorts of adventures. 70% of the delicious food served at this resort is grown on the premises. They have extensive gardens, tropical fruit trees and their own livestock. You can learn all about how they get the food from farm to table. You can even learn how to make chocolate!

Belcampo’s accommodations are beyond luxurious with soaker tubs, wrap around verandas and infinity pools. The howler monkeys were right outside our tree top villa. A truly memorable experience.

  1. Grizzly Bears in Bella Coola, British Columbia

The inside passage ferry up to the Bella Coola area of British Columbia, Canada is simply breathtaking – and very remote. There are only a few passengers on the 10 hour trip.

Female Grizzly in Bella Coola

When you dock, your personal chauffeur will be waiting and during the short ride to your resort you will be briefed on history of the area.  The other way to go, of course, is a 70 minute flight from Vancouver right up to Tweedsmuir Park Lodge.

This eco-friendly lodge is located close to the Great Bear Park where the outdoor adventures include fishing, bird watching, heli-skiing, nature hikes, horseback riding, scenic river drifts and grizzly bear viewing. The Lodge also offers a First Nations Valley Tour which takes you back 10,000 years as you walk through the giant cedar forests and view the petroglyph stone carvings with your Nuxalk guide.

Tweedsmuir Park Lodge boasts 9 timber-framed chalets with stunning views of the Coast Mountains. The dining room features a delectable menu of West-Coast inspired International Cuisine. The Lodge has packages that include your choice of activities. You can see bears from the veranda of your own chalet.  I loved the viewing platforms – climb the stairs to the top for a spectacular view of the river and the critters!

Horseback riding at Tweedsmuir Park Lodge
Male Grizzly along the side of the road, Bella Coola

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