Few experiences rival the thrill of encountering wild, wondrous animals up close.
From moments of shared recognition with mountain gorillas in steamy Ugandan jungles to polar-bear expeditions atop Svalbard’s icy tundra, we’ve selected five of our favourites. Do any feature on your wildlife wish-list?
1. Whale sharks in Western Australia
Swimming alongside the world’s largest fish is an experience sure to inspire awe. Your chance to get up close to these majestic and rarely-glimpsed creatures comes during their annual migration past Ningaloo, Australia’s largest fringing coral reef. This massive stretch of marine park is located around 750 miles north of Perth, and can be explored as part of a Western Australia road trip.
Motor out into the Indian Ocean, then clamber into wetsuits and snorkel gear as you anticipate the arrival of the star attraction. Suddenly you’ll be gliding beside a gang of gentle, mottle-skinned giants. Keep an eye out too for manta rays, turtles and humpback whales while in the teeming waters.
When: Whale sharks frequent Ningaloo between March and July to feed on plankton following a mass coral-spawning.
2. Gorillas in Uganda
Pack your sense of adventure for a once-in-a-lifetime trek through ancient rainforest in search of Uganda’s mountain gorillas. 2018 marks the 25th anniversary of conservation in the dauntingly-named Bwindi Impenetrable Rainforest – which is home to around half the world’s mountain gorilla population.
Following a thorough briefing, you’ll set off from your lodge on this primate pilgrimage accompanied by expert trackers. A degree of fitness is required to trek up steep hillsides where the altitude extends up to 2,590m (8,500 feet). But your efforts will be rewarded in spades. It’s a privilege to see these extraordinary animals up close and, while the encounter may only last an hour, it’s sure to rank among the most humbling, emotional and intense hours of your life.
When: Conditions are easiest if you stick to the dry seasons: June to September or January to February.
3. Polar bears in Svalbard
Picture the scene. You’re zipping through remote, ice-floe dotted waters in a small inflatable boat, surrounded by glaciers and frozen tundra. Then you see it: the unmistakeable thick white fur of a polar bear, just across the ice. The world’s largest land predator sniffs the frozen Arctic air, and shuffles towards a seal hole in search of its next meal.
The best way to see these ‘Kings of the Arctic’ in their own barren backyard is on an expedition cruise around Spitsbergen, the largest island of Norway’s Svalbard archipelago. Aside from the premier attraction and those seals, this untamed landscape is also home to reindeer and Arctic fox.
When: The best time is the summer months, June to September, when polar bears are in their active period, and the midnight sun enables potential round-the-clock sightings.
4. Tigers in India
India is home to 70% of the world’s tigers, with the population expected to increase to around 2,600 after this year’s census. Little-known Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve, in the west-central Maharashtra state, offers some of the best odds of seeing these majestic creatures in the wild thanks to its scant foliage and lower visitor numbers.
Setting off in early-morning twilight, you’ll head into the heart of this teak and bamboo forest aboard custom-fitted jeeps. Knowledgeable naturalist guides will point out fresh pugmarks before taking you to lie in wait beside a waterhole. Sightings of sambar, wild dogs, Indian gaur and even sloths are also possible – but nothing will compare to the moment you catch a sight of that elusive orange and black-striped skin.
When: Sightings are especially likely during the hot summer months of April and May, while October and November’s post-monsoon period brings lush green vegetation.
5. Turtles in Costa Rica
Costa Rica’s northern Caribbean coast is one of the world’s prime turtle-nesting hubs. Each year the reptiles return to the same beaches where they were born in order to produce another generation of eggs. Literally translated as ‘Land of the Turtles’, Tortuguero National Park is the best place to witness this spectacle.
Head south on the Tortuguero Canal after dark, eschewing the main beach’s crowds in favour of more secluded sands. Led out onto the moonlit beach by a guide, you’ll then stand just a few feet away from the turtles and watch as they lay eggs. Covering their nests to deter predators, the enormous creatures subsequently stumble back to the sea – and the cycle of life continues.
When: Turtle-nesting times vary depending on the species, but the best sightings are generally enjoyed during the ‘Green Turtle hatching season’ between July and September.
If you're ready to take a walk on the wild side - contact us to discuss your next wildlife holiday experience.