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The Best Wildlife Destinations in the World – Wild Junket Adventure Travel Blog

Last Updated on June 9, 2023 by Nellie Huang

From the jungle of Madagascar to the icy realm of Antarctica, I bring you a round-up of the best wildlife destinations in the world. 

As a major wildlife buff, I love traveling to places that are brimming with wild animals. There’s something special about coming face to face with animals in the wild. In today’s world, such encounters are sadly becoming more and more rare.

I’ve been lucky enough to have had many intimate wildlife encounters around the world, from the savannas of Zimbabwe to the the Galapagos Islands off Ecuador and tundra of the Arctic. Based on my personal experience, I’ve compiled a list of the best wildlife destinations and national parks in the world.

Best Wildlife Destinations in the World

1. Antarctica

Antarctica stands strong as my #1 wildlife destination. From the moment we crossed the Drake Passage into the Antarctic waters, we were literally surrounded by pods of whales, fur seals, elephant seals and thousands of penguins.

Antarctica is remote, harsh and truly far beyond. One can really get a sense of being at the edge of the world here – there’s hardly any sign of humanity, only animals roaming freely. Antarctica makes you feel like you’re the first person ever to have arrived, even on a ship with 120 other passengers.

I traveled to Antarctica on an expedition cruise with G Adventures and to date, it’s still the most epic trip I’ve done. Each day of our Antarctic expedition brought it with different experiences: whether that was watching leopard seals feeding, walking amongst thousands of penguins, or cruising alongside playful orca. 

Watching the penguins at Cuverville

2. Galapagos Islands

One of the best places in the world for wildlife watching is definitely the Galapagos Islands off the coast of Ecuador. This group of islands formed millions of years ago from volcanoes, and have been separated from the mainland since then. Through the years, wild animals slowly arrived to the islands by air and by sea. These creatures eventually adapted to the conditions of the tiny islands, and evolved into endemic species that are found here and no where else on Earth.

Because of how isolated the Galapagos Islands are, Galapagos wildlife never developed a fear of humans. Don’t be surprised to find sea lions lying by the streets and giant lizards swimming around your boat in the Galapagos. They are not the least bit afraid of us. Read about my experience traveling the Galapagos Islands with kids.

Today, over 97 % of the land is national park, and Ecuador limits who may live there and how many tourists may visit. The Galapagos Islands are some of the most unspoiled places on Earth thanks to protection laws and conservations efforts. 

The Best Wildlife Destinations in the World

3. Kenya

Kenya is the most popular travel destination in East Africa, receiving around 2 million international visitors per year. It’s easy to see why: the extremely diverse country is packed with wildlife, from the Big Five that roam its savannas to the marine animals that inhabit its coastline.

I’ve traveled all over Africa (to around 30 countries in the continent) and the Maasai Mara definitely ranks as one of the best safari parks in the world. Chances of seeing the Big Five are very high, especially if you time your trip to the annual migration. You don’t even need to go far to see animals: in Nairobi, you can feed baby elephants at the orphanage or hang out with giraffes at the Giraffe Centre. And if that’s not wild enough, head into the Nairobi National Park and you’ll be driving next to wild rhinos and wildebeest in no time.

rhino at nairobi national park - best wildlife destinations

Cheetah spotted in Serengeti

4. Costa Rica

Another place I’ve found to be one of the best places to see wildlife is Costa Rica. The Central American country truly has it all: lush rainforests, volcanoes, beaches, and unique wildlife (think howler monkeys, anteaters, green tree frogs and sloths). The Central American nation is also home to some of the world’s most protected national parks, where animals are actually ensured of a bright future.

On our family trip to Costa Rica, we were blown away by the biodiversity and environmental consciousness across the country. Costa Rica has gone to great lengths to protect its national parks and wildlife reserves. Despite receiving around 1.7 million tourists each year, the country has done such a great job in ensuring that tourism here is sustainable and beneficial to local communities.

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best wildlife photos - sloths in costa rica

frog in costa rica - best places to see wildlife

5. Madagascar

Remote and isolated, Madagascar is a hidden paradise little known to the outside world – making it all the more fascinating and alluring. We chose to honeymoon in Madagascar and I fell head over heels for this unique island.

Located in the Indian Ocean, Madagascar is located 250 miles (400 km) off the east coast of mainland Africa. Having been isolated from the African continent 165 millions years ago, Madagascar’s bizarre wildlife have been evolving ever since. Today, there are over 70 species and sub-species of lemurs in Madagascar, and they are so easy to spot you can literally see them everywhere.

The most popular and well-known lemur species is the ring-tailed lemur. It is considered to be one of the most intelligent of them as well. Other lemur species that I love are the Verraux sifaka (that can dance sideways) and the tiny grey mouse lemur (smallest primate in Madagascar). 

lemur in madagascar - best wildlife destinations

6. Svalbard

One of the world’s northernmost inhabited areas, Svalbard is a Norwegian archipelago between mainland Norway and the North Pole. Svalbard is the polar bear’s kingdom: there are more polar bears than humans living here. 

Besides polar bears, Svalbard’s rugged, remote terrain of glaciers and frozen tundra also shelter seals, whales, Svalbard reindeer and Arctic foxes. My expedition cruise was packed with thrilling wildlife encounters: at one point, I saw 11 polar bears feeding on a whale carcass, a harp seal floating on an ice sheet with its calf, and over 100 walruses, piled atop one another, lounging about under the sun. My Arctic cruise in Svalbard was truly one of the best wildlife experiences I’ve ever had.

A polar bear in the Arctic

7. South Africa

 South Africa is one of the most diverse countries I’ve been — with cosmopolitan cities along dramatic coastlines that fringe wild savannas and rugged mountain range. You can easily go from game-driving in the African bushveld to surfing on the beach or wine-tasting at lush vineyards in a matter of hours. Plus it’s home to many historical sites that have witnessed some major turning points in world’s history.

I love South Africa so much that I’ve been 4 times! For wildlife lovers, it’s paradise on Earth. From the sealions off V&A Waterfront in Cape Town, to the adorable African Penguin colony at Boulders Beach, cage shark diving in Gaansbai, and wildlife safari in Kruger, the largest and most popular national park in South Africa.

african cape buffalo in south africa - best places to see wildlife

Shark cage diving

8. Australia

Home to some of the most unique animals in the world, Australia is undoubtedly one of the best places to see animals. About 50 million years ago, Australia split from Gondwana, the huge super-continent of the southern hemisphere. Since then, changes in land formation and climate led to the unique flora and fauna that we know in Australia today. More than 80% of our plants, mammals, reptiles and frogs are unique to Australia and are found nowhere else in the world. 

It’s easy to see wildlife in Australia: in many parks and reserves, you’ll find kangaroos hopping freely, koalas hanging onto eucalyptus trees, wombats snoozing in bushes, and emus sauntering leisurely on their own turf. Kangaroo Island and Rottnest Island are some of the best spots to see Australian wildlife.

koala bear in adelaide - australia - best wildlife in the world

wildlife national parks - kangaroos in australia

9. Uganda

Mountain gorillas are some of the world’s most endangered animals in the world, with just over 1000 left on Earth. Being in their presence is an absolute privilege, and a once-in-a-lifetime experience. There is something humbling and moving about coming so close to an animal of this size and stature in the wild — with no fence or cage between you. 

Mountain gorillas can only be found in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Rwanda, and Uganda. According to the 2019 gorilla census, there are 1063 mountain gorillas left in the world. Uganda holds 60% of the total mountain gorillas left in the world, with Bwindi Impenetrable Forest being the most popular choice for a gorilla trekking tour. 

Gorilla trekking is an expensive experience — with permits costing upwards of $500. But once you lock eyes with a gorilla, you’ll know it’s well worth the money. Yes you only spend one hour with the gorillas, but it’s an intense, exhilarating and deeply soul-stirring hour.

How to Go Gorilla Trekking

10. Mexico

Mexico is one of the world’s most biologically diverse countries. The country’s location provides a plethora of climates and habitats, thus the world’s second highest number of mammal species for its size (around 500) and more than 1,000 species of birds. 

There’s an impressive myriad of wildlife to be seen here: from the grey whale migration of Baja California to swinging spider monkeys of the rainforests and green iguanas in the Yucatan Peninsula, thousands of turtles that nest in Puerto Escondido and whale sharks that pass through Holbox Island every year. 

We currently live in Playa del Carmen in the Riviera Maya, and almost everyday we spot the coati (a ring-tailed close relative to the racoon), the sereque (guinea pig relative), and spiny tailed iguanas in our neighborhood.

iguana in mexico - best wildlife trips

11. Tanzania

When most people think of an African safari, they think of the Serengeti in Tanzania – and rightly so, as it has inspired many films and books.

Over 25% of Tanzania is designated to wildlife sanctuaries and national parks. The total area is greater than the size of the whole Germany as the country. Between the Serengeti National Park and the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, they protect the greatest and most varied collection of land animals on Earth. 

Every October and November, over one million wildebeest and 200,000 zebras come south for the rain before heading northwest about six months later. It’s also a great place to catch cheetahs and lions in action as they prey on the herbivores in the area. 

A mother and son lion duo in Etosha

12. Palau

Located in the western corner of the Pacific Ocean, Palau is an archipelago nation in the Federated States of Micronesia, sprinkled with hundreds of world-class dive sites. It’s one of the best scuba diving destinations in the world, with a mind-blowing array of marine animals inhabiting the waters surrounding Palau.

In the week that I spent exploring Palau, I did plenty of dives and saw hundreds of sharks, hawksbill turtles, and giant bumphead parrotfish. Let’s not forget the unique jellyfish lake, where I swam amidst millions of translucent white jellyfish. This lake was one of the most magical places I’ve ever been — as there is no where else quite like this in the world.

Palau’s Underworld in Photos

13. Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe is a landlocked country in southern Africa known for its dramatic landscape and diverse wildlife, much of it spread over 11 national parks. With the end of controversial President Robert Mugabe’s 37-year reign in 2017, Zimbabwe welcomed a new chapter in the country’s tourism industry and it’s now thriving as safari destination. 

During our time in Victoria Falls Private Game Reserve, we were really surprised by how many impressive wildlife sightings we had: from herds of zebras grazing on the grasslands, to kudus galloping amidst the bush, and vultures eyeing the savanna from the top of the Acacia trees. Out of the six black rhinos that call this reserve home, we spotted four of them, as they linger just inches away from our jeep, oblivious to our presence.

Zebras in Victoria Falls Nature Reserve

14. Sri Lanka

Lush jungles, rural villages and wild beaches — Sri Lanka is the Garden of Eden of southern Asia, quietly tucked away in secrecy away from the tourist trail. It’s just a leap away from the chaos and madness of India, and yet it seems like a world away. 

The island may be small in size, but  it’s got an incredibly rich wildlife, including some of Asia’s last remaining leopard, bear and elephant populations. Just 197km away from Sri Lanka’s largest city, Colombo, is the Kaudulla National Park where you can see wild elephants and other wildlife.

The best time to go on an elephant safari in Kaudulla is between August and December, when up to two hundred congregate at the tank for the annual “gathering”. Besides elephants, there’s a slew of other wild animals that can be found in the park – including Sri Lankan sambar deer, Sri Lankan axis deer, chevrotain, wild boar, Sri Lankan leopard, and sloth bear.

elephants in sri lanka - top wildlife destinations

top wildlife destinations

15. Botswana

Botswana stands out for its diverse ecosystems: on a wildlife safari in Botswana, you’re never limited to just one transport mode. Besides game-tracking by 4WD, you’ll be exploring Botswana’s mixture of salt pans and savannahs by mokoro (dugout canoe, Botswana specialty) and riverboat.

Places not to miss include the Chobe National Park, home to the world’s largest herds of elephant, and the Okavango Delta, an exquisite wetland area. Gliding through the calm waters of the Okavango Delta, watching hippos and crocodiles from afar, is an incredibly surreal experience. 

BEST WILDLIFE PHOTOS

16. Brazil

Taking up half of South America’s landmass, Brazil is one of the most biodiverse countries in the world. It is home to the world’s largest rainforest – the Amazon and the world’s largest wetland – the Pantanal. Together with the Atlantic rainforest and cerrado grasslands, these ecosystems contain an astonishing abundance and diversity of wildlife.

Plan your entire Brazil itinerary around spotting wildlife and exploring Brazil’s jaw-dropping natural landmarks. If you do, make sure to include a Pantanal jaguar safari; Caraça Sanctuary to see maned wolves; Paraty to see spectacular diversity of birds; and Iguazu Falls – one of the most beautiful waterfalls in the world.

jaguar in pantanal brazil - best wildlife experiences

17. Borneo

As the largest island in Asia, Borneo is politically divided among three countries: Malaysia and Brunei in the north, and Indonesia to the south. Borneo is one of the world’s great biodiversity hotspots, boasting an intriguing array of species including; frogs that ‘fly’, fish that ‘walk’, monkeys that ‘dive’, plants that eat insects, lizards, snakes and, of course, orangutans and many other mammals.

Some of the best spots for watching wildlife on the island are located in the state of Sabah: Kinabatangan River, Danum Valley and Deramakot Forest Reserve. Whether you dream of seeing Orangutans, Pygmy elephants, flying frogs or the elusive wild cats of Borneo, take a tour to one of these destinations and you won’t believe how many animals you can spot.

orangutans in borneo - best places for wildlife viewing

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My Top Travel Resources

Over the years (and traveling to 140+ countries), I’ve learned a thing or two about travel planning. I’ve put together this list of travel resources that I personally use to find the best deals and book travel! For more details, check out my travel tips resource page.

  • Booking Flights: Kayak is brilliant for finding the best dates to fly as it allows you to search for the lowest airfares within a 3-day period. Then I use Skyscanner as they’ve consistently given me the lowest airfares. 
  • Accommodations: I always use Booking.com to book hotels, mainly because of the flexible cancellation policy and good customer service. You can also find short-term rental apartments there (I prefer not to use Airbnb due to the extra charges).
  • Travel Insurance: It’s important to have travel insurance, regardless of whether you’re traveling for a few days or months. Safety Wing is the most popular travel insurance company for COVID19-coverage. I use their Nomad Insurance plan, which covers any healthcare expenses I may have worldwide. Refer to my travel insurance guide for more details.
  • Health Advice: I always refer to the travel guides on the CDC website for recommended medications and vaccines. You can get them at your travel doctor’s office or a walk-in pharmacy.
  • Tours: If you’re looking for all-encompassing tours, I recommend small-group adventure tour outfitter, G Adventures. I’ve traveled with them to Antarctica, Mongolia, Svalbard, and Nepal, and loved every single trip. For day tours, I always book with Viator and GetYourGuide; they have easy booking systems and free cancellations.
  • Car Rental: I always book car rentals on Discover Cars, as they’ve consistently given us the best rates and customer service (with free cancellations). We’ve used them in Seychelles, South Africa, Spain, Peru, and Mexico.
  • Transportation: Whenever possible, I book local transportation online using Bookaway and Busbud. They’re more reliable than many local transport websites and cover trains, buses, and car hire. 
  • Restaurants: TripAdvisor is my go-to resource for restaurant reviews and bookings. I also make restaurant reservations on OpenTable.
  • Internet/Data: Get an eSIM on Airalo before your trip to stay connected wherever you go. Just download the app before your trip, purchase a data package and voila! No need to change SIM cards or visit a telco store.

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best wildlife destinations - places to see wildlife best wildlife experiences