Jaguar (Mark Carwardine)
Blog Words : Wanderlust team | 13 February

The Wanderlust guide to the best wildlife encounters

There's a whole world of wildlife out there. But where to start? Here's our guide to nature's superstars, and where to spot them in their natural habitat

Wildlife encounters are all about anticipation. There’s never any guarantee that you’ll get to see a tiger, that a humpback whale will surface near your boat, that a turtle will come ashore to lay its eggs. The people who were there the day/week/month before you always seem to have seen something amazing, while you scour the horizon with little success.

However, adjust to that and you can then start to enjoy all the other aspects of the environment you are in, and all the other creatures that you will get to see.

Though, occasionally, something magical will occur: a leopard crossing your path when you're on a walking safari; a family of orca performing acrobatics just metres from your boat; realising that the boulder has just moved and is actually a rare black rhino.

A wildlife holiday also offers privileged opportunities to immerse yourself in some of the world’s last remaining wild places. And, perhaps most important of all, they can provide a lifeline to the creatures themselves.

Seal, Galapagos Islands

Choices, choices, choices

There is a bewildering range of wildlife holidays on offer, from African safaris to cruises in the Galapagos Islands. Deciding where to go and what to see can be a real dilemma. Do you want to see a particular species or go on a more general tour that encompasses several habitats and a rich diversity of wildlife?

To help you decide, William Gray has put together a handy guide to wildlife holidays, listing the various species and the best places to see them, as well as useful advice on choosing a guide or a tour.

Still undecided? Sarah Baxter is on hand with her top 9 wildlife experiences, as is Lyn Hughes with her list of the world’s top wildlife encounters. Choose any of them or all of them. You won’t be disappointed.

More information

Wildlife holidays – William Gray

The world’s top 9 wildlife experiences – Sarah Baxter

The world’s top wildlife encounters – Lyn Hughes

Mountain gorilla, Rwanda (Shutterstock.com)

Mountain gorilla, Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda (Shutterstock)

The old faithfuls

There are a handful of wildlife encounters that regularly top the bucket lists of travellers the world over, stalwarts that almost guarantee a life-changing encounter with the creatures we share this planet with. An African safari. A cruise through the Galapagos islands. An intimate encounter with a gorilla, a whale, a brown bear, or thousands of penguins on the icy shores of Antarctica. Our writers have done it all and are on hand to share their experiences and advise you on how to enjoy one too.

More information

The Wanderlust guide to the best of African safarisWanderlust Team

The Wanderlust guide to the best of the Galapagos IslandsWanderlust Team

Where and when to watch whales – Will Gray

10 of the best places to see gorillas – Ian Redmond

Practically cuddling brown bears in Alaska – Lyn Hughes

Wildlife encounters in Antarctica – Mark Carwardine

Brown bear, Alaska (Simon Chubb)

Something a bit different

You’ve seen the Big Five. You’ve snorkelled close to a whale. You’re hooked on wildlife and want to try something a bit different. The good news is that as interest has grown in wildlife, so too has the number of places you can encounter it.

Phoebe Smith, for example, recommends Nunavik in Canada, where she encountered musk-ox, wild caribou and polar bears. David Abrams went on a leopard safari in Rajasthan in India. Gehan de Silva Wijeyeratne says the national parks of Sri Lanka are the place to go for leopards, elephants and wildlife in abundance.

If you’re after an African safari with a difference, why not look to one of the merging wildlife destinations on the continent? Ben Lerwill went wildlife spotting in Ghana and was amazed by how close he was able to get to the elephants. Jasper Winn went to Malawi and was amazed by the variety of wildlife on show. And how he had it all pretty much to himself.

More information

Discovering wild, wonderful Nunavik, Canada – Phoebe Smith

Leopard safari in Rajasthan, India – David Abram

Sri Lanka’s best national parks – Gehan de Silva Wijeyeratne

Wildlife spotting in Ghana – Ben Lerwill

Wildlife of Malawi – Jasper Winn

Simien wolf (Shutterstock.com)

Simien wolf (Shutterstock)

New (wildlife) frontiers

Set your sights further afield – or on places unexpected – and a whole new world of wildlife encounters will open up to you.

Thought that the only wildlife you’d encounter on the Cayman Islands were rogue tax laywers? Wrong! James Stewart discovered an abundance of wildlife both on and offshore, well worth investing your tax refund in to see. Or how about Guyana? Little has changed since prehistoric times, says Gavin Bell: you’ll encounter flora and fauna that you won't find anywhere else in the world. Or go in search of wolves in Ethiopia, like Jeremy Head.

And what about the Arabian peninsula? Again, not the first place that springs to mind, but Morwenna Evans found a unique and diverse ecosystem there and lists 6 top wildlife experiences there for those prepared to think out of the box.

Of course, sometimes a different kind of wildlife encounter can be experienced by going in a different season. Like Iceland in winter, for example. William Gray says it’s the ideal time to visit if you want to see orca. And if you’re lucky, the Northern Lights as well.

More information

Cayman Islands: wildlife on and offshore – James Stewart

Land of the Giants: wildlife in Guyana – Gavin Bell

6 top Arabian wildlife experiences – Morwenna Evans

In search of wolves in Ethiopia – Jeremy Head

Wildlife watching in Winter Iceland – William Gray

Running zebra (Steve Davey)

Capturing it all on film

DSLRs may have replaced shotguns, but bagging the best wildlife 'shots' has not become any less competitive or intense. We've sought advice from some of the biggest names in wildlife photography to help you take the kind of photos that capture the thrill and awe of meeting nature’s superstars. 

Steve Davey is on hand with a selection of practical tips for beginners, while Paul Goldstein offers advice on how to improve your shots. Christopher Marsham won the wildlife category in Wanderlust's 2012 Travel Photo of the Year competition and wants to tell you how to take amazing wildlife photos.

More information

Top tips for photographing wildlife – Steve Davey

Tips to improve you wildlife photography – Paul Goldstein

How to take amazing wildlife photos – Christopher Marsham

Wildlife photos from our readers

Elephants, Sri Lanka (Shutterstock.com)

Wild elephant group in a river, Sri Lanka (Shutterstock)

Everything you need to know

Ready to start planning your trip? Our Wildlife and Safari travel guide is the perfect place to start. The accompanying list of Top 10 wildlife experiences is worth checking out too, especially if you are still trying to decided where to go.

If you have a particular question, pop over to the myWanderlust forum where our knowledgeable community is ready to spring into action and share all that they know. Or check out the questions people have already asked about wildlife encounters. The answer to yours might already be there.

More information

Wildlife and Safari travel guide – The Wanderlust Team

Top 10 wildlife experiences – The Wanderlust Team

The latest wildlife news

myWanderlust Forum

Elephant in the side mirror

Ready to go?

Here’s a selection of fantastic tours offered by our partners. From amazing budget camps to luxury wilderness tours, there’s something for every taste and budget.

More information

Trip Finder can help you find the wildlife encounter that matches your dreams