Whenever someone finds out that I write a travel blog, they invariably want to know about my favourite places and which experiences are the “coolest”. The usual next question is “would you do it again?”
As a nature lover, I have been fortunate enough to witness some incredible wildlife encounters around the world. From polar bears in the Canadian North to “gorillas in the mist” of Rwanda, here are my top 10 wildlife experiences – I would do them again in a heartbeat but most of them are very expensive, so once is enough. Each one has a link to our blog post that details the experience. (See all the links below this post.)
- Polar Bears in Churchill, Manitoba
Churchill, Manitoba, is known as the “Polar Bear Capital of the World,” and for good reason. We had the unforgettable experience of watching polar bears in their natural habitat, roaming the tundra and scouring the shores of Hudson Bay for something to munch on. It was truly awe-inspiring to see these inquisitive creatures up close. The added bonus of this particular trip was seeing the Beluga whales and their calves. Every year from June to September, Hudson’s Bay plays summer host to about 60,000 of this species. This trip was called Birds, Bears and Belugas for good reason.
- Gorillas in Rwanda or Uganda
Tracking mountain gorillas in the forests of Rwanda or Uganda is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. These gentle giants are some of our closest relatives, and observing them in the wild is both humbling and inspiring. The playful antics of the youngsters and the serious expression of the Silver Back made this encounter both fascinating and terrifying – but perfectly safe. A visit to Rwanda is eye-opening for other reasons but having a chance to see both the gorillas and the golden monkeys is something I’ll never forget.
- Safari in Kenya
Going on safari in Kenya’s Masai Mara National Reserve was like stepping into a nature documentary. From the majestic lions to the towering giraffes, I felt like I was in the middle of a wildlife wonderland. Everywhere you looked there were more animals. It was here in 2015 that we were first introduced to glamping! This was also the trip that whetted our appetite for more of the amazing African continent. We went on to experience safaris in both South Africa (awesome) and Botswana (incredible), not to mention the breath-taking Victoria Falls!
- Galapagos, Ecuador
The Galapagos Islands are famous for their unique wildlife and each one is unique. Bird lovers will see penguins, boobies, herons, flightless cormorants, finches, doves, pelicans and Galapagos hawks. There are oodles of both marine iguanas and land iguanas. And, of course, don’t forget the giant tortoises that can live up to 200 years!
- Okavango Delta, Botswana
The Okavango Delta in Botswana is a vast wetland teeming with wildlife. We enjoyed a boating safari ride through the reeds, where there were hippos, crocodiles, and countless bird species. I’ll never forget the sight of a herd of elephants swimming across the Zambezi River. During our land safaris, we spotted elephants, leopards, zebra, African dogs, hyenas and buffalo.
- Antarctica and South Georgia Island
Antarctica, South Georgia Island and The Falklands are remote and primal but they are also home to some of the world’s most amazing wildlife. I saw thousands of penguins, including Adélies, Kings, Chinstraps, and Gentoos, as well as massive elephant seals lounging on the beach. The pristine landscapes and wildlife sightings were truly unforgettable.
- Birds in Costa Rica
Costa Rica is a birder’s paradise, with over 900 species of birds. We went on early morning birding walks and saw toucans, parrots, hummingbirds, and many more. Costa Rica’s rainforests are alive with the sounds and colours of birds. From Mount Arenal in central Costa Rica to Tortuguero National Park on the Caribbean side to Tamarindo and Manuel Antonio National Park on the west coast, Costa Rica has got to be one of the best places on the planet to enjoy a seemingly endless variety of wildlife.
- Darwin, Australia
Australia’s Northern Territory is home to some of the largest and most fearsome crocodiles in the world. We took a river cruise in Darwin and saw these prehistoric creatures up close. It was both thrilling and slightly terrifying to watch them swim and bask in the sun.
- Bella Coola, BC
British Columbia’s Bella Coola Valley is a prime spot for watching grizzly bears in their natural habitat. We went on a bear-watching tour and saw these massive animals fishing for salmon in the river. The valley’s rugged beauty and abundant wildlife made for a truly memorable experience. We also got to see some of the inland grizzlies (as opposed to the coastal bears) in Denali National Park, Alaska.
- Snow monkeys in Japan
There is a myriad of reasons to visit Japan. The culture is like no other. The orderliness, friendliness, calmness that is everywhere makes you forget that the “Land of the Rising Sun” is home to 125 million people in an area about the size of California! If you are lucky enough to venture out of the big Japanese cities, the rural areas are picturesque with quaint towns and beautiful landscapes. During the spring there are incredible cherry blossoms everywhere! In the mountains of Japan, we saw snow monkeys bathing in natural hot springs. The troop we watched for a couple of hours comprised about 30 individuals – moms with babes, grumpy Gusses, shy individuals and rowdy ones – all clamouring for their turn in the warm water of the onsen (hot spring). It was very special knowing that few outside Japan get to witness the escapades of these monkeys.
An added bonus in Japan is the small city of Nara which has a beautiful central park full of tame deer. They are everywhere – grazing, sleeping, lounging, cavorting. You can buy some wafers of food to feed them. But be careful or you just might get nipped in the butt!
Where to next?
It’s a big planet! So many places still to visit and so much nature to see! We plan a lot of our vacations around the potential wildlife experiences that we will encounter. It’s probably our favourite thing to do and we highly recommend every single one of these adventures!
Costa Rica animals and birds
Costa Rica, hummingbirds, crocodiles
Denali National Park Grizzly bears
Japan snow monkeys