Whether you’re watching grizzlies fish for salmon, elephants interact around a watering hole or clownfish dart amidst a pristine coral reef, encountering wildlife and sea life in their native habitats offers the most memorable of travel experiences. Innumerable locations around the globe provide nature lovers with these exciting opportunities and more. Several Harper Alliance travel partners in North America, Central America, Africa, India and the South Pacific share their insight.
What to spot: Grizzly and black bears, Dall sheep, mountain goats, moose, caribou, fox and wolves, sea lions, seals, sea otters, Dall porpoise, humpback and orca whales, puffins, eagles, cormorants and auklets
Kayak tours of Glacier Bay and the Kenai Fjords provide travelers with an exciting perspective of Alaska’s marine and land-based coastal wildlife, says Marc Telio, owner of Entrée Destinations. Guided excursions into the state’s renowned Denali National Park are best taken June through September, he adds. “Wildlife in Denali is abundant, including grizzly bears, black bear, Dall sheep, mountain goats, moose caribou, fox and the occasional wolf.” Visitors can interact with native animals during behind-the-scenes tours of the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center and the Alaska Sealife Center.
What to spot: Polar, black, grizzly and Kermode (spirit) bears, moose, white-tailed deer, wolves, eagles, humpback whales, otters, orca whales, sea lions, dolphins
British Columbia’s wilderness teems with bears. The grizzly—king of them all—gorges on spawning salmon in July and August. Telio’s guides lead four-person groups along the border between British Columbia, the Yukon Territory and Alaska to witness this dramatic summer rite. “It’s life-changing to watch bears charging in a river while hunting salmon,” Telio says. “I will never tire of this setting.” He adds, “Another beautiful spot is the King Pacific Lodge on Princess Island, where guests can see the indigenous white Kermode bear, as well as black bears.”
What to spot: Elk, bison, Rocky Mountain big horn sheep, pronghorn antelope, mule deer, moose, wolves, bald eagles and red-tailed hawks
Nestled adjacent to the spectacular Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks, the Jackson Hole area in Wyoming’s northern Rockies is a favorite for North American wildlife-viewing because of its “abundance and diversity,” says Stuart Campbell, general manager at Amangani. “This area has been protected for 100 years.” Lodge guides lead photo workshops, hikes and tours in BMW SUVs. “The wildlife tour at Amangani was particularly fun, and I highly recommend it for other guests,” exclaims an Andrew Harper member.
What to spot: Jaguar, puma, ocelot, margay, jaguarundi, howler monkeys, boa constrictors; hundreds of bird species, including stygian owls, solitary eagles, harpy eagles, orange-breasted falcons, king vultures and scarlet macaws; West Indian manatees, American crocodiles, whale sharks, dolphins and hawksbill and loggerhead turtles
Belize is a wildlife melting pot, with many endangered species and their habitats protected through conservation initiatives. The ecological transition zone between Belize’s Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve and its Elijio Panti National Park “increases the number of bird species, including some very rare ones, as well as extremely high densities of predators such as jaguars,” says Neil Rogers, director of marketing at Blancaneaux Lodge and Turtle Inn. “It’s possible to snorkel with whale sharks and get reasonably close to them from March through June,” he adds.
What to spot: Spider, squirrel and whitefaced capuchin monkeys; iguanas, three-toed sloths, poison dart frogs, keel-billed toucans, tanagers, euphonias and flycatchers, more than 20 species of butterflies and Atlantic green sea turtles
Coast Rica’s coastline, mangrove swamps and rainforests provide abundant opportunities for wildlife-spotting. “The diversity in [rainforest] elevation leads to the diversity of species,” says Natalie Ewing, chief marketing and guest satisfaction officer at Costa Rica Expeditions. Flat-bottomed boat or kayak tours into Tortuguero National Park provide up-close views of darting fish, sunbathing turtles and wading herons, she says.
Expert-guided wildlife and birding hikes into some of the country’s national parks, preserves and botanical gardens, whale-watching excursions off the coast or rainforest canopy tours via zip line introduce travelers to this lush environment, says Hans Pfister, CEO of Cayuga Sustainable Hospitality, which manages Arenas del Mar Beachfront and Rainforest Resort. “The Manuel Antonio park tour is the most popular,” he adds.
What to spot: Elephants, lions, leopards, cheetahs, African wild dogs, elands, aardwolves, civits, giraffes, zebras, warthogs, mongooses, and hundreds of bird species including avocets, bee-eaters, yellow-eyed canary, bat hawks and African march harriers
Botswana’s Okavango Delta, Selinda Reserve, Chobe National Park and Moremi Game Reserve are ideal for day and night 4X4 vehicle game drives, walks, boating, birding and photography safaris. Elephants, predators and African wild dogs top visitors’ must-see lists at Great Plains Conservation’s Zarafa Camp on the 320,000-acre Selinda Reserve, says Caitlin Carter, North American sales and marketing manager. “We will have multiple elephant herds of 100 strong in the dry season coming to the lagoon and spillway for water,” Carter says. Guests can interact with elephants at Wilderness Safaris’ Abu’s Camp in the Okavango Delta, says Kim Nixon, Wilderness Safaris’ sales manager. “The interactions concentrate on getting a personal understanding of their characters and personalities, riding an elephant and walking with them,” Nixon says. Researchers educate guests about this pachyderm’s conservation status and Wilderness Safaris’ elephant research.
What to spot: Buffaloes, elephants, lions, cheetahs, leopards, zebras, gerenuks, Somali ostrich, kudu, caracal, rhinoceros, giraffes and hundreds of bird species including African finfoots and Pel’s fishing owls, secretary birds, woolly necked storks and African paradise flycatcher
Exciting game-viewing also is available in Kenya, where Meru National Park boasts 13 permanent rivers—flanked by Doum and Raphia palms and baobab trees—that meander through its otherwise arid terrain. “Meru’s rich wildlife diversity includes rare species specific to northern Kenya, such as Grevy’s zebra, gerenuk, Somali ostrich, reticulated giraffe and more than 350 bird species,” says Charlotte Bourke, marketing manager for Elsa’s Kopje, which sits inside the park. Meru also includes an 84-square-kilometer rhinoceros sanctuary.
What to spot: Potato bass, blacktip and whitetip sharks, hunting jacks, reef sharks, stingrays, devil rays, whale sharks, manta rays, seahorses, puffers, bat fish, parrot fish and clown fish
Abundant sea life surrounding Benguerra Island, in southern Mozambique, thrills visitors within the pristine Bazaruto Archipelago. The volcanic island lies entirely within the protected marine reserve of Bazaruto National Park, making it an exciting spot for snorkeling and diving. The island waters teem with fish, including huge potato bass and schools of hunting jacks. “It’s just amazing,” says Krista North with Azura Retreats. She added that one of the island’s four large, sandy beaches includes “[a] remote and beautiful turtle beach that is home to dozens of nesting turtles and is an excellent spot for a private picnic lunch.”
What to spot: Bengal tigers, leopards, sloth bears, langur monkeys, rhesus monkeys, chital deer, sambhar deer, barking deer, swamp deer, gaur, wild dogs and jackals; spotted parakeets, green pigeons, rock pigeons, cuckoos, papihas, rollers, bee-eaters, hoopoes, drongos, warblers, kingfishers and woodpeckers
Some of India’s best safaris explore areas that once were the private hunting grounds of maharajahs. “They were made into national parks and, ironically, became India’s greatest refuges for wildlife,” says Pat O’Connell, destination manager for Asia Transpacific Journeys. Both Bandhavgarh National Park and Kanha National Park in central India are well known for their resident Bengal tigers, Asia’s largest cat and one of the earth’s most magnificent animals.
Also in central India, the lush sal and bamboo forests, grassy meadows and ravines of Kanha National Park were the inspiration behind Rudyard Kipling’s classic “Jungle Book.” Kanha is the largest national park in India, spreading almost 2,000 square kilometers, with the largest animal diversity in central India.
Both parks are closed during the hot rainy season from July through mid-October. O’Connell recommends planning a visit from November through February.
What to spot: Manta rays, dolphins, whale sharks, great hammerhead sharks, humpback whales; green, flatback, hawksbill, leatherback, loggerhead and olive ridley turtles; parrot fish, clown fish, angelfish, butterfly fish, damselfish, groupers, soldierfish, surgeonfish, triggerfish, trumpet fish and giant clams
The South Pacific’s pristine, azure waters teem with sea life, and its coral reefs and island lagoons offer some of the best opportunities and most breathtaking settings on the planet to enjoy nature. Some of the best spots are the passes between open ocean and lagoons, where the tide rushes in and out, says Liz Coleman, director of sales for Paul Gauguin Cruises. “This is what makes snorkeling so exciting. Numerous sponges and cnidarians can be found. The numerous fish living in the lagoons provide a gorgeous world for visitors who want to explore the underwater depths.” She adds that the greatest wealth of wildlife in French Polynesia lives underwater: “Manta rays, dolphins, giant turtles and sharks are very common.”
Spotting large marine mammals also makes cruising in this area exciting. A variety of sea turtles and dolphins call these waters home, and whale-watching is a favorite attraction between July and October when these majestic creatures visit the South Pacific.