10 Wildlife Trips Where You Can Get Up Close With the World’s Coolest Animals

By Cailey Rizzo, Travel + Leisure

Just as humans gather for festivals every year, animals congregate around the world to put on impressive shows. And it’s easy to get where the wild things are if you know when and where to go.

Migration and calving patterns make for some of the most breathtaking natural shows on the planet. What can compare to the sight of whales breaching just a few feet away from your boat or watching a baby gazelle wobble across the plains?

While some travelers may prefer to connect to a destination through its art, cuisine or culture, wildlife travel offers a completely different take on a destination. Language barriers don’t exist when connecting with a wild animal.

But not every animal adventure needs to be an African safari: Animal-minded travelers can tailor wildlife trips to their personalities: watch penguins slide through glaciers, hear a whale’s call from the river or even investigate kaleidoscopic bugs crawling up tree bark. For those who prefer to experience a destination through the animals who live there, we’ve put together a list of some of the world’s most fascinating animals, along with where you can see them.

Monarch Butterflies in Mexico

Every year, millions of Monarch Butterflies fly to Mexico for the winter. Come autumn, the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve, about 60 miles northwest of Mexico City, is festooned with millions (if not billions) of butterflies. Visitors to the reserve will see tree branches bend under the weight of the butterfly colonies. Not much is known about the butterflies’ 2,500-mile migration pattern, but the mystery just adds to the beauty of the impressive sight.

Loggerhead Turtles in Florida

From March through October, Florida’s beaches become a hotspot for sea turtles. It’s estimated that nearly 90 percent of sea turtle nesting in the country happens here. Go on a sea turtle walk to see the animals in action. Travelers who want to get up close to the animals should plan a visit to the Turtle Hospital in Marathon, where visitors can feed rehabilitated turtles.

Sea Lions in California

Harbour seals and sea lions congregate around La Jolla Cove in San Diego — and it’s likely you’ll hear their barks before you see them. If you visit the coast, you are practically guaranteed to see the animals. Locals joke that they’re the ultimate Californians: they rarely leave the beach.

Gorillas in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

Seeing a gorilla in its natural habitat is one of the most awe-inspiring animal encounters — and also one of the most expensive. (A trekking permit costs $1,500 in Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park). Virunga National Park in the DRC offers impressive gorilla-spotting opportunities at a relative bargain. Adults pay $400 for their permits.

Hippos in Zambia

For anybody who has ever sung about a hippopotamus for Christmas, Zambia’s Luangwa River will deliver sights. It’s possible to see packs of up to 60 at a time bathing in the river in Lower Zambezi National Park. There are estimated to be almost 100 hippos per mile of river. Elsewhere in the park, visitors can also see elephants, zebras, crocodiles, hyenas and monkeys.

Bison in South Dakota

The 71,000-acre Custer State Park in South Dakota’s Black Hills is home to one of the world’s largest publicly-owned bison herds. Nearly 1,300 animals live in the park. Visit in the spring to see baby bison teeter along with the pack or in the fall to watch the country’s largest buffalo roundup.

Beluga Whales in Canada

Every summer, about 2,000 beluga whales congregate in Canada’s Cunningham Inlet for four weeks. It is recognized as one of the largest beluga congregations in the world. They stay until about August, when they continue on their migration. During this peak time, visitors will hear the “sea canaries” sing and click to each other while they “dive and splash all day."

Giant Pandas in China

The Giant Panda is emblematic of China — unfortunately there are fewer and fewer places to see the animal meander around and eat bamboo. Many wild pandas now live in the Wolong National Nature Preserve, one of China’s largest and most well known reserves. Travelers to the area can visit the China Conservation and Research Center for the Giant Pandas and volunteer cleaning panda cages, preparing their food or monitoring their behavior.

Penguins in Chile

The King Penguin reigns supreme over Chile’s Parque Pingüino Rey. But they have only been there since 2010. Over the past eight years, conservationists have grown and protected the colony. The park opened in 2011 to protect and research South America’s only colony of King Penguins, while introducing them to the public.

Snow Monkeys in Japan

Mischief abounds in Jigokudani Monkey Park. The Japanese Macaques (sometimes called snow monkeys) relax in onsen, or natural hot spring baths. The park has been open since 1964, providing visitors an opportunity to get up close to the monkeys and see them in action. The monkeys almost completely ignore the human visitors in favor of playing with each other, putting on a funny show to watch.

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Travel Magazine: 10 Wildlife Trips Where You Can Get Up Close With the World’s Coolest Animals
10 Wildlife Trips Where You Can Get Up Close With the World’s Coolest Animals
Just as humans gather for festivals every year, animals congregate around the world to put on impressive shows. And it’s easy to get where the wild things are if you know when and where to go.
Travel Magazine
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