24 July 2023 by Norire Arakelyan
Ever felt overwhelmed by crowds when spotting wildlife at a popular destination? For many it leaves them longing for a more authentic and off-the-beaten-path experience. So, while the world's famous wildlife spots are popular for a reason, there are plenty of alternatives waiting to be discovered. From little-known national parks to destinations perhaps known for something else, below we round up the 10 best alternatives for amazing wildlife experiences away from the crowds. Read ahead for some hidden treasures which could just inspire your next trip!
1. Komodo dragons in Indonesia
A world away from the heavily frequented towns and beaches of Bali, a number of Indonesia's eastern islands are home to around 5000 Komodo dragons – a perfect option for fans of exotic wildlife. Thriving on the idyllic islands of Komodo, Rinca and Flores within Komodo National Park, these fearsome and somewhat otherworldly creatures weigh in at around 90kg and can grow up to three metres in length, comfortably making them the world's largest lizards. Using razor-sharp teeth, dagger-like claws and paralysing saliva to take down their prey, these beasts look like something from a bygone age. Come face to face with these mesmerising animals on our Bali & Komodo: Cruise and Stay itinerary. The park is also home to some wonderful marine life, including whale sharks, dolphins, manta rays and the enormous ocean sunfish.
2. Big Five in Zimbabwe
While the likes of South Africa, Namibia and Botswana steal all the headlines in southern Africa, and Kenya and Tanzania do likewise in the east of the continent, Zimbabwe often sneaks in under the tourist radar. Even though the country's darkest days are thankfully long gone, tourism has been slow in catching up, meaning fewer crowds and authentic safaris aplenty. And, you won't have to sacrifice any must-see wildlife. In particular, Zimbabwe's largest reserve – Hwange National Park – is home to a great number of elephants, lions, leopards, buffalos, rhino, giraffe, blue wildebeest and impala. We recommend combining three of the most diverse and spectacular areas in Zimbabwe as on our Highlights of Zimbabwe itinerary; starting and finishing at Victoria Falls and including Lake Kariba and of course Hwange National Park.
3. Jaguars in Brazil's Pantanal
Deep in southern Brazil lies the region of Pantanal, the world’s biggest tropical wetland. Very much overshadowed by the big cities of Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo – and indeed the vast Amazon rainforest – the Pantanal is perhaps as impressive as it is underrated. A haven for all kinds of wildlife, this UNESCO Biosphere Reserve covers a truly enormous area - larger than France and around 20 times the size of the Florida Everglades. The astonishing biodiversity in the Pantanal includes caimans, giant anteaters, tapirs, capybaras, ocelots, anacondas and thousands of species of fish and birds. However, the most iconic of all is surely the elusive Jaguar, native to the continent of South America. The Pantanal's fertile lands offer one of the best places to spot these rare big cats. For the best chance, travel during the dry season (July to October) when the ground is drier and the wildlife is more heavily concentrated around shrinking bodies of water. Knit it all together with our two-week wildlife-focussed itinerary.
4. Lemurs in Madagascar
With over 3,000 miles of coastline, vast tropical rainforests, some of the world’s largest coral reefs and an abundance of wildlife – Madagascar really has something for even the most discerning of travellers. But, across the world, the country is most famous for its lemurs – primates that looking something of a cross between a cat, squirrel and dog. Endemic only to Madagascar and neighbouring islands of Comoros, there are over 100 distinct species of these playful animals. Across their diverse species, they display a range of unusual behaviours, from the prancing across the sand like ballet dancers (sifaka), to deafening whale-like calls from the treetops (indri). Our Lemurs of Madagascar itinerary showcases these unique animals across the country's best national parks. The most famous species – the ring-tailed lemur – can be seen in large numbers across most of the country's national parks. And, though lacking a dominant carnivorous primate or mammal has allowed lemurs to exist in relative peace until the arrival of humans, Madagascar is also notable for the unusual looking Fossa, the island's niche top predator, as well as a plethora of tropical marine life.
5. Walrus in Svalbard
Simply, the walrus is an Arctic icon, and spotting this majestic creature in its natural environment is a truly once-in-a-lifetime experience. However, although there’s only a smattering of populations spread across the northerly latitudes, the colonies on Svalbard are enjoying something of a resurgence, thanks to diminished hunting. Though they can be spotted all year round around the shores of Norway's arctic archipelago, we recommend travelling under summer's Midnight Sun for the best experience. Our recommended Svalbard & Tromso combination offers the perfect opportunity to spot these remarkable marine mammals. As well as Walrus', a visit to Svalbard can also reward you with sightings of arctic fox, the Svalbard reindeer and even the mighty polar bear, all of whom are perfectly accustomed to the extreme living conditions on the islands.
6. Elephants in Sri Lanka
Seeing wild elephants roaming their natural habitat is a truly special sight, wherever in the world. However, with many African safari destinations admitting more and more tourists and the likes of Thailand only getting busier, there aren't many locations where you can see elephants away from the crowds. Step forward Sri Lanka. With over 6000 elephants calling the island home, they are spread out across the country's national parks. Yala National Park is perhaps most famous for the best sightings of these majestic animals. Our Sri Lankan Wildlife & Whales adventure visits the best locations for elephants as well as offering the chance to spot monkeys, crocodiles, leopards, sloth bears, buffalos, storks and dolphins.
7. Polar bears in Canada
Undoubtedly one of the most highly sought after travel experiences, seeing a polar bear in the wild is true bucket-list stuff. Living mostly on ice sheets, and swimming through freezing waters, they can also survive on land – making them the world's largest land carnivore. And, one small Canadian town shares its streets with these majestic animals – Churchill. In fact, so frequent are their encounters with polar bears that the town has earned the nickname of "polar bear capital of the world". Little surprise then that this faraway land perched on the shores of Hudson Bay is the best place to spot them up close. You can go in search of polar bears on our Birds, Bears & Belugas of Churchill itinerary. Also on the agenda are wolf, the arctic fox and herds of caribou.
8. Kangaroos in Australia
With around 50 million of them across Australia – twice the number of residents – kangaroos are one of the country's most easily spotted native animals. This is why, for the best experience of spotting this large marsupials, we like to recommend following the road less travelled. With its unmistakable sanctity, rugged coastline and largely untouched nature, the aptly named Kangaroo Island off the coast of South Australia is the ideal location for witnessing these unique animals. Consider our Australian Wildlife Safari itinerary for the best experience, staying at our recommended Sea Dragon lodge on the island's quieter east coast. Other wildlife spotting opportunities include whale sharks, quokkas, koalas and sea lions.
9. Fiordland penguins in New Zealand
With a population of barely 7000 birds, the tawaki – also know as the fiordland crested penguin – is one of the rarest penguin species in the world. They can be found in the depths of the rainforests of New Zealand's rugged southwest coast, living in small colonies. For a chance to spot these beautiful birds, embark a wilderness cruise amid the unspoilt beauty of Doubtful Sound in the company of a knowledgable guide. Our recommended Best of New Zealand's South Island itinerary includes all this and more. You'll also have a shot a spotting pods of resident dolphins as well as fur seals.
10. Whale sharks in Mozambique
This endangered species is the largest living fish in the world and known to reach lengths in excess of 14 metres. These marine animals can be spotted throughout the year in the waters just off the coast of Mozambique, but they tend to be more often seen in the summer. We recommend travelling to the paradise archipelago of Bazaruto for the best chances of success. Our African Safari & Mozambique Beach Break links a classic South African safari with a few days of luxury in the tropical waters of the Indian ocean, where it is possible to enjoy diving in search of the many marine mammals that thrive in these warm waters. Among whale sharks, you can also find the rare dugongs, turtles and manta rays.