9 Best Trips for Unforgettable Wildlife Encounters Around the World, According to Travel Experts

Photo: TONY KARUMBA/AFP via Getty Images

Nature travel helps us appreciate the scope of our planet and our place in it. In the last few years, many of America’s national parks set new records for visitation, with travelers seeking not just beautiful landscapes, but meaningful wildlife encounters.

So, with international borders reopening, we asked Travel + Leisure’s A-List of expert travel advisors for their favorite animal experiences around the world. Whatever your passion (photography, conservation, research) or geographic interest (jungle, savannah, deep sea), these ethical and enriching trips will make lasting memories.

Helping Baby Elephants in Kenya

“Reteti Elephant Sancutary is my children’s favorite place on earth. This center is dedicated to rescuing baby elephants, and visitors can interact with the babies during their daily feedings. However, being the primary animal orphanage in the Northern Rangelands of Kenya, many other species also end up here. During our last visit, my daughter bottle-fed a baby rhinoceros, Loijipu, who was only four weeks old. The center also has a pet gerenuk, Gilby, who goes on walks with you like a dog. You can hand feed the small family of hand-reared giraffes, and you never know if there will be a baby zebra, kudu, or porcupine. This is a nature-sensitive place to interact with African rescue animals of all shapes and sizes.” — Teresa Sullivan, Mango Safaris

A Kea, a New Zealand alpine parrot, flies through the mountains.Getty Images

Spotting Rare Birds and Lizards in New Zealand

“New Zealand is filled with unique creatures, like the prehistoric tuatara, an animal that looks like a lizard and is the closest relative to the dinosaur. Another rare species found here is the kea, the world’s only alpine parrot. While the kea is easily seen in alpine areas — and the cheeky bird isn’t afraid to say hello — the tuatara is trickier to spot. I suggest going to Southland Museum, where you can meet Henry, a tuatara who is over 110 years old, or spotting them in the wild on Tiritiri Matangi Island.” — Corinne Goodman, Down Under Endeavours

Beluga whales in Somerset Island, in the Canadian Arctic.David Merron/Getty Images

Looking for Beluga Whales in the Northwest Passage

“For travelers who want a truly unique wildlife experience, a cruise can be the best option. On a 16-day trip aboard Ponant’s Le Commandant Charcot, you’ll venture to the Southern Ocean and view emperor penguins. Even more impressive is a 22-day trip to the Northwest Passage on the National Geographic Resolution to see a pod of beluga whales or, if you are particularly fortunate, even a group of narwhals. — Mary Curry, Adventure Life

Manta rays at Four Seasons Maldives Landaa Giraavaru’s Marine Life Discovery Center.Courtesy of Four Seasons

Researching Manta Rays in the Maldives

“The Marine Life Discovery Center in the Maldives at the Four Seasons Landaa Giraavaru is a wonderful place to learn about a variety of marine creatures, like manta rays. You can participate in the marine biologists’ research projects and help rebuild reefs — plus, the center runs a rehabilitation program for sea turtles.” — Amalia Lazarov, Travelicious

Rhino Conservation in South Africa

“The best new animal experience in 2022 are the two new Marataba Conservation Camps. The activities offered are run by conservationist, vets, and researchers, and they want guests to participate in all the projects. Guest will see wildlife but also get to monitor, track, and collect data. Rhino conservation is at the heart of Marataba, and clients will engage with Dr. Andre Uys, the managing director of Marataba Conservation. I think this is one of the most innovative and exceptional conservation experiences in Southern Africa right now. It is also a plus that the area has gorgeous views of the Waterberg Mountins (the oldest red oxidized sandstone mountains in the world — some people come here just for the geology).” — Elizabeth Gordon, Extraordinary Journeys

A Japanese Macaque bathing in a hot spring in Nagano, Japan.Shannon Martin/Getty Images

Watching Snow Monkeys in Japan

“Seeing the snow monkeys bathing in an onsen in Jigokudani in Nagano Prefecture is a divine experience, as is seeing the cranes on the northern island of Hokkaido.” — Scott Gilman, JapanQuest Journeys

A Buttero (Maremma cowboy) in Transumando, Italy.Getty Images

Learning From Horses in New Mexico … or Italy

“Equus in Sante Fe, walkable from the Four Seasons Resort Rancho Encantado, has an incredible equine-assisted transformational coaching program.” — Michelle Murré, Azurine Travel

“One of my favorite things to book for clients is an experience with Tuscan Cowboys (Buttero) in the heart of the Tuscan countryside. It’s a beautiful way to spend time in one of Italy’s most famous regions, but also to learn something new.” — Andrea Grisdale, IC Bellagio

A playful Galapagos Sea Lion.Getty Images

Going All Out in the Galápagos

“If you are a photographer, a handful of Galápagos ships offer cruises with some of the best wildlife photographers in the world. You are on intimate luxury ships, some with only 20 guests on board. You’ll be side by side with sea lions and blue-footed boobies, learning photography tips and skills that’ll turn your ordinary vacation photos into National Geographic-style shots. And best of all, the animals in the Galápagos are known for their lack of fear of humans. You are guaranteed to be just inches away from most of the iconic wildlife in the archipelago.” — Allie Almario, Premier Tours

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