While it may seem as if the development of the world’s urban areas has left very few wild regions where animals still roam freely, there are still a great number of places around the world where travellers can experience the natural, earthy joy that comes from being in a wilderness untouched by human hands.
This list highlights those areas of the planet where it’s possible to encounter fauna in the wild while enjoying the majestic beauty of Mother Nature’s handiwork firsthand.
1. Kruger and Serengeti National Parks, Africa
Perhaps the most archetypal of wildlife encounters, a safari through one of the many vast African game and nature reserves is still one of the easiest ways to see great beasts in the wild. The two most renowned regions of the continent for an authentic African safari experience, the Kruger and Serengeti National Parks in South Africa and Tanzania respectively, provide visitors with unparalleled opportunities to view some of nature’s most majestic creatures and landscapes.
Covering an area just under 20,000 sq km, the Kruger National Park offers visitors year-round prospects of seeing some of the continent’s most iconic species, including the famous Big Five – elephant, lion, leopard, rhinoceros and buffalo.
Tanzania’s most famous region and one of the most popular tourist attractions on the entire continent, the Serengeti National Park rivals Kruger in its opportunities for wildlife encounters. The park also presents visitors with one of the world’s most awe-inspiring natural spectacles – the annual great migration of several million wildebeest (main image) in search of more fertile grazing lands.
Both parks offer a wide range of accommodation options, from super luxurious and exclusive private lodges to more affordable, budget-friendly camps, making sure that an African safari is well within the reach of any traveller.
2. Kaziranga National Park, India
Take a step back in time to an India that conjures up Kipling-esque images of rugged terrain and mighty beasts. The Kaziranga National Park in north-eastern India is a veritable Eden, and considering that it is home to the world’s largest populations of great one-horned rhinoceros and tigers (above), it’s no surprise that this Indian conservation area is one of Asia’s premier spots for catching sight of animals in the wild.
The park offers a range of accommodation options to suit just about any traveller’s taste and budget. It also boasts large numbers of elephants, water buffalo and deer as well as a host of other magnificent mammalian and bird species. This means that taking a trip through Kaziranga will all but guarantee up-close encounters with South Asia’s most amazing creatures.
SEE ALSO: How to be a responsible wildlife tourist
3. Andasibe-Mantadia National Park, Madagascar
The fourth largest island in the world, Madagascar is a biodiversity hotspot. Having been geographically isolated for millennia, thus allowing its flora and fauna to evolve in isolation, the large island off the east coast of Africa is home to some of the planet’s most unique animal and plant species, with some 90 per cent of its wildlife being found nowhere else on earth.
Though in recent years deforestation and human development have unfortunately wiped out vast areas of the island’s wilderness, there remain several pockets of nature where encounters with Madagascar’s incredible wildlife are indeed possible.
And when it comes to Madagascan wildlife, there’s probably no more iconic a species than the lemur family of primates (above). There are approximately 100 lemur species and subspecies left in Madagascar, the largest of which is called the Indri, which exhibits characteristic, almost haunting vocalisations.
To catch a glimpse of these fascinating primates, Andasibe-Mantadia National Park, some 150km east of the island’s capital, would be a prime spot. The park is famed for its Indri population and for being home to some of the island’s other amazing inhabitants, including other diverse lemur species, such as the nocturnal Aye-Aye, as well as chameleons and some unusual insects, like the giraffe weevil.
4. Volcanoes National Park and Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Africa; and Danum Valley, Malaysia
As far as wildlife encounters go, there is perhaps no experience more profound than seeing one of our great ape cousins in the wild. Whether gorillas (below) in central Africa or orangutans in Borneo, seeing these incredible beings in their natural habitat is a privilege only a fortunate few get to experience.
If it’s a gorilla encounter that’s on the top of your bucket list, then a trip to Uganda or Rwanda would provide you with the best opportunities for fulfilling that wish.
Gorilla trekking in either of these central African nations would require the purchase of a permit – US$1,500 in Rwanda and US$600 in Uganda – and you would at all times be accompanied by expert guides. The Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda and the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda are the two conservation areas in which the critically endangered mountain gorillas reside, and though the gorilla trekking experience is a relatively costly one, there is no doubt that the indescribable joy of seeing these apes in the wild is well worth the price tag.
If, however, you’re interested in seeing orangutans in the wild, then the Malaysian state of Sabah on the island of Borneo would be your best bet. The Danum Valley Conservation Area is a protected stretch of Sabah forest that covers roughly 438 sq km and offers visitors excellent orangutan viewing opportunities.
Besides orangutans, visitors to Danum Valley will also be able to catch sightings of other wild animals that call the conservation area home, such as gibbons, deer, clouded leopards and even the extremely rare East Sumatran rhinoceros.
5. Polar Regions, the Arctic and Antarctica
Arguably the planet’s most untouched ecosystem, the Polar Regions offer astonishing opportunities to encounter the wild inhabitants of these environments.
From polar bears (below), walrus, musk ox and reindeer in the Arctic to seals, whales and a host of adorable penguin species in the Antarctic, the Polar Regions are ideal destinations for intrepid travellers looking to experience raw and pristine nature at its most breathtaking.
Over recent decades a number of operators, such as Quark Expeditions, Polar Explorers and Polar Cruises, have been offering tourists a variety of polar excursions, from large cruise liners to smaller, more exclusive expeditions.
The increase in polar tourism has allowed – for those daring to brave the harsh conditions – the possibility of not only seeing polar fauna in its element, but also of experiencing the awe-inspiring natural world of the icy north and south poles.
6. Corcovado National Park, Costa Rica
As far as ecotourism goes, Costa Rica is certainly a world leader. For some time already, the Central American nation has dedicated much of its efforts and resources to ensuring that its rich biodiversity and natural heritage is protected. Focusing heavily on ecologically sustainable tourism, Costa Rica is one of the best places in the world where you can encounter animals in the wild.
A host of national parks and conservation areas provides visitors with unparalleled opportunities for wildlife encounters. Corcovado National Park is the country’s largest park and one of its most popular tourist attractions. Visitors to Corcovado are in for a real treat, being able to spot a wide range of the region’s fascinating animal life, including such wonderful creatures as tapirs, anteaters (above), sloths, jaguars, diverse monkey species and also a large number of colourful bird, frog and insect species.
7. Galapagos Islands, Ecuador
Off the west coast of South America lie the Galapagos Islands, one of the globe’s most biodiverse environments. Well known as the inspiration for Charles Darwin’s theories on evolution and natural selection, these Pacific Ocean islands are a sanctuary for the wildlife that evolved there in complete isolation.
Due to their isolation, the animal species that reside on the Galapagos Islands are unique and found nowhere else on earth. Visitors may encounter sea lions (above), the famous Darwin finches, giant tortoises which are the oldest living species of tortoises in the world, the world’s only marine iguanas and a large number of land and seabirds, including the Galapagos penguins – the only penguins that can be found north of the equator.
Getting to the remote islands is easiest by air from Guayaquil or Quito, Ecuador. Once on the islands, it’s recommended to take a guided excursion through the island’s prime wildlife spots. There are several operators specialising in Galapagos tours such as Quasar Expeditions, who will use their expertise and knowledge of the region to provide you with an unforgettable wildlife experience.
– TEXT BY SAUL LIPCHIK
PHOTOS: QUARK EXPEDITIONS FACEBOOK (POLAR BEAR), 123RF.COM
This article was originally published by Singapore Press Holdings.