Maybe you’ve already ticked off Africa. Maybe you’re obsessed with sloths over elephants. Or maybe it’s a trip that’s a little too far or a tad too expensive at this point in time. While an African safari is a once-in-a-lifetime, bucket list kind of holiday, there are plenty of places where you can see exotic animals in their natural habitats.
It’s always nice to travel somewhere that’s not three flights and a thousand hours away. In Southeast Asia, Sri Lanka has a rep for being one of the best safari destinations outside of Africa. It even has its own ‘Big Five’: Asian elephants, leopards, sloth bears, blue whales and sperm whales. When you’re planning your trip, you’ll want to make a few stops. Start with the lush rainforest of Udawalwe National Park, which is home to herds of Asian elephants as well as colourful birds, monkeys and other primates. Then, go to Yala National Park to get up close with some sloths (aka our spirit animal), and spot the world’s highest population of leopards. Water babies, sign up for a tour of the Indian Ocean, where you’ll see dolphins, sperm whales and the mighty blue whale frolicking in the sea.
Dying to see a one-horned rhino? The surprisingly placid animal is native to India, and Kaziranga National Park has a whopping 1,600 of them, plus swamp deer, water buffalos, river dolphins, elephants and Bengal tigers (which you can also spot at the remote Ranthambore National Park). The other 80+ national parks in India are also teeming with wildlife. The Kanha National Park was the inspiration behind The Jungle Book, so if you want to live out your Tarzan and Jane fantasies, Asian-style, this is your chance. In the Kerala area? Pop over to the Periyar Tiger Reserve to see elephants, leopards, tigers and giant squirrels (which are still adorable, despite essentially being huge rodents).
An easy-breezy flight from Oz, The Philippines is becoming quite the romantic holiday hotspot. If your honeymoon is still (light)years away, treat yourself to a little island safari. Jaunt out to Calauit Island, a pristine island near Palawan. Back in the 70s, a former president brought a bunch of giraffes, zebras, and antelopes to Calauit Safari Park, where they’re still roaming and breeding today. How’s that for an authentic taste of Africa? As you wander (aka drive through) the 9,000-acre park, you’ll also see native Calamian deer doing their thing.
Shake up your safari vacay with a trip to Canada. Churchill, a town in the Manitoba Province, is dubbed the polar bear capital of the world, with around 1,000 of the magnificent mammals living there, very close to humans. You’ll be able to see the ‘Kings of the Arctic’ being all bossy from July through November, along with moose, grizzly bears and reindeer (hi, Rudolph!). Tour operators run on-board and on-foot safaris, and while you’re there, you may as well tack on a beluga whale tour or chase the Northern Lights.
Meet the pink dolphin: a playful, one-of-a-kind creature that lives in the Amazon – and we’re not making that up! Called ‘botos,’ you can see them with your own eyes at the Pacaya-Samiria National Reserve in Peru. They’re the largest river dolphins on the planet, stretching to 2.5 metres, with a long, thin snout that’s curved upwards so it looks like they’re smiling. By all reports, they love human contact, so you can actually hop into the water and swim near them. The rugged rainforest is also home to baby manatees (a smaller dolphin), spider monkeys, South American turtles and hundreds of bird species, such as macaws.
Speaking of the Amazon, the Brazilian jungle is home to giant otters and anteaters, macaws, pumas, Brazilian tapirs, and the ever-elusive jaguar. These animals like to play hide and seek, so your best bet is to visit the Pantanal region, the world’s largest wetland. There’s horseback riding, walking, and jeep safaris on offer, but to boost your chances of snapping that prized pic of a jaguar, go by boat. During the dry season, which runs from June to October, jaguars hang around the water waiting for prey. Mato Grosso is another great wildlife-watching area – you can expect to see maned wolves, river ottos and countless species of birds.
To make the most of that stopover to London/Amsterdam/Italy, duck out for a desert safari. The golden sand dunes are home to hundreds of desert dwellers, like camels, geckos, lizards, falcons and Arabian red foxes. You’ll see gazelles prancing around, and if you’re lucky, you might spot the Arabian Oryx – which was just about extinct in the 1960s before Dubai’s conservation programs stepped up their game. A type of antelope, it’s marked by its long, straight horns and white body. For the best wildlife watching, head to the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve in the Al Marmoon Desert.
Believe it or not, but you can even tack on a desert safari to your next trip to the States. There are over 60 national parks across the country, but if you’re pressed for time, don your winter woollies and go straight to Alaska. It’s jaw-droppingly beautiful, and there are plenty of animals in the wild: think grizzlies, moose, caribou, wolves, bald eagles, sea lions, walruses, whales and coastal brown bears. Check out Denali National Park or Katmai National Park. Yellowstone is also amazing. It was America’s first national park, and you could explore it forever. You might spot mama grizzlies and their cubs, elks, bisons, and wolves, plus cool natural features like bubbling mud pots. And if you really just want to see cheetahs and giraffes, head to Safari West, a 4000-acre wildlife reservation in Sonoma, Cali – then hit the wineries on the way home!
Main image: @thebraidedlena
Wanderlust by Katia Iervasi