Some of us would argue the joy of witnessing the world’s wild creatures in their natural element is one of the most powerful experiences–one that invites us to reconnect to the natural rhythm of life in a way we overlook in our everyday lives. But not all wildlife encounters are created equal. This is a list of wildlife experiences we believe are worth traveling for. We know—we’ve vetted them ourselves. We are not inviting you to stand on the sidelines and watch wildlife behind bars, but rather opportunities to get up close with nature, where elephants trumpet, gorillas goof around, and whales splash and glide through open waters. These are adventures for wildlife lovers, but also those just seeking a nature-filled journey in some of the world’s most exquisite locations.
Track Brazil’s Elusive Jaguars
Bring the bush experience to Brazil and track jaguars with Pantanal’s experts! Join Mário Haberfeld (racecar driver turned jaguar expert) and other renowned big cat specialists as they track and attempt to habituate the Pantanal’s elusive jaguars. Guests can expect days packed with living the life of a jaguar researcher, track jaguars in the dense jungle, follow their paths through a GPS system, place strategic cameras and return later to spot them in their home and then discuss your findings. The main goal is conservation—allowing people to witness the jaguars in their wild home and connect with these incredible animals—not taming them—but getting them accustomed to vehicles so they stop seeing them as a threat.
Another Reason to Go: You’ll cruise the calm waters of the Pantanal and explore forests in search of anteaters, capybaras, and jaguars. We recommend waking up before dawn for a sunrise boat ride, with no other sounds other than the bird chatter! Learn about our adventure tours in Brazil, or get in touch with Robyn Mark to hear about her Pantanal experience.
Swim Alongside Whale Sharks Larger than a NYC Brownstone
There are few experiences that get our hearts pumping as much as jumping into clear blue water with the biggest fish in the world at up to 32 feet long and 20 tons! These gentle giants are not sharks, as commonly misunderstood, but rather fish with gills and no need to surface for air. The opportunity to observe them while snorkeling or scuba diving adds a humbling underwater experience—on the bucket list of virtually every serious diver. Whale sharks can dive to around a mile below the sea’s surface, so it makes sense that they are ready for some sunshine once they rise to the surface! These threatened animals swim with their mouths wide open in order to slurp up plankton as they coast along. One of our favorite places to go whale shark diving is Australia’s Ningaloo Reef, where they migrate each spring. (Get in touch with with Brooke Garnett to learn about her experience.)
Another Reason to Go: Aside from meeting these gentle giants, diving amongst caves, swim-throughs, and vibrant coral reef teaming with life is another lure to dive in. Dolphins, sharks, moray eels, sea turtles and real-life Nemos are added bonus.
Take a Walk on the Wild Side with Wild Dog Packs in Botswana
Botswana is home to some of the most exhilarating safari experiences on earth–observing African wild dogs being one of them. These lanky canines are highly social animals, similar to wolves in many respects. They communicate through touch, vocals, and actions. Their appearance is almost as though someone flicked brown, white, yellow, red and black paint all of them, hence their other name “painted wolf.” All wild dogs’ coats are unique, which is how they can be identified. Many people don’t realize that wild dogs are the rarest mammal in east and southern Africa. Not only that, but they are superb hunters, with the highest kill rate of any mammal predator at almost 90 percent! That said, wild dogs do not have it easy. They are often killed if they cross boundaries into farmland—and the loss of a mother can mean the loss of the entire pack (as with many creatures). Habitat loss also makes it increasingly tough for them to range and they are now on the IUCN Endangered Species list. But although seeing wild dogs on safari is not easy, and never guaranteed, it’s one of the most highly-anticipated sightings on safari and we know the best place to see them: visiting northern Botswana’s Selinda Reserve—arguably the best place to see wild dogs. You’ll have the opportunity to get to know The Selinda Pack, The Mopane Pack, and the Makoba Pack who call Selinda home. And it seems they are happy—they are denning and they are making adorable puppies!
Another Reason to Go: A stay at Selinda Camp helps to support conservation efforts. We are humbled by Dereck & Beverly Joubert, the visionaries behind Great Plains Conservation and their high-end experiential and responsible properties such as their Selinda Camps. A stay at any of their properties is a transformative experience. Their respect for the rhythm of life and the natural world certainly rubs off on anyone who is privileged enough to call their properties in Botswana and Kenya home for a few days. Safari is not about the lodge (as beautiful as their properties are), but rather the experience. And they nailed it, while protecting the creatures that lured us here in the first place.
See the Other Big Five From a 4-Seater Plane on South Africa’s Jagged Coast
Although most visitors to South Africa flock to see the Big 5 (lion, African elephant, Cape buffalo, leopard, and rhinoceros), we’re geared up for the other big five off the coast of Hermanus: Cape Fur Seals, African Penguins, Great White Sharks, Southern Right Whales, and dolphins. If you’re seeking a whale watching experience in South Africa, you have a few options: 1.) You can enjoy land-based whale watching while sipping a Rooibos tea from your room at properties like the lovely Birkenhead House. 2.) You can put on your sea legs for a boat-based whale watching trip. 3.) You can take it up a notch, and soar over the seas in a 4-seater aircraft, where you have a birds-eye-view of these incredible creatures frolicking in the waters below. We recommend the 4-seater. Not only do you get a phenomenal perspective of South Africa’s gorgeous landscape, but you get a unique perspective of the whales—their astonishing size, numbers, and social interactions. From above, observe the mothers and their calves coasting along, breaching (sharks included!) towards the African sun, and just soaking up the natural rhythm of life from above.
Another Reason to Go: We love South Africa so much, we opened an office in Cape Town. Daniela Bonanno is the expert in the region, and the ultimate resource for anyone planning a trip to Southern Africa. After seeing this water safari, embark on a traditional one—an excellent balance for any trip. Get in touch to learn more about South Africa’s wildlife–water and land!
Beyond Machu Picchu: Travel to Peru for Colca Canyon and its Majestic Condors
As much as epic Machu Picchu wows us every single time, there is much more to Peru than the Lost City of the Incas. Consider a visit to striking Colca Canyon, one of the world’s deepest, and home to dramatic gorges, steep canyon slopes, ancient villages with traditions virtually unchanged over the centuries, and endless trekking paths to take it all in. Of course it is also home to the Andean Condor—the heaviest bird on earth—who glides overhead with its humbling wingspan and imposing beauty. This is easily one of the most outstanding settings in Peru with its quiet traditional life, extraordinary beauty, and rich wildlife—on the ground and soaring above.
Another Reason to Go: Whether the Andean Condor piques your interest or not, this is a beautiful region and the gateway to another side of Peru many don’t have the opportunity to see. Think terraced slopes that date before the Incas, snow-capped volcanoes, and impressive wildlife: in addition to the condor, alpacas and vicuñas call this region home.
Wildlife Safari in Sri Lanka
Oftentimes simply considered India’s tiny tropical sister, Sri Lanka has a fascinating culture, history, and natural beauty–way beyond those verdant tea plantations and sparkling surf-happy coastlines. And despite its small size, Sri Lanka is home to eye-opening wildlife–big-time. Elusive leopards, wild elephants, boar, sloth bears, and a dazzling bird life from peacocks to hornbills roam this surprisingly diverse island. We actually can’t think of another country that has the variety of experiences that Sri Lanka does; from the glistening Indian Ocean where sea turtles glide through the waters to emerald-green hillsides and leopard-packed national parks, the range of climates and countryside make Sri Lanka a perfect destination. Yala National Park has been the longtime go to, but we’re excited about the reopened Wilpattu National Park (closed for years due to the civil war). This region is steeped with legends and tales from long ago and crawling with wildlife. Many people are able to enjoy their Sri Lanka safari in privacy–with virtually no other travelers in sight–pretty much unheard of if you’ve been on a luxury safari in Africa. Don’t miss a game drive a night, when you’re more likely chance to see the elusive nocturnal leopards. After all, this beautiful island is actually home to the largest population of leopards in all of Asia.
Another Reason to Go: Sri Lanka initially caught our attention for its superb surfing, but her waters are significant for more than just her waves. Whale watching in Sri Lanka means witnessing the blue whale, the largest mammal on earth. These mythical creatures have mesmerized us for years–it’s the largest animal that’s ever been on the planet, and yet it feeds on the smallest of the creatures. With so little known about these commanding animals, seeing them in the wild is truly a privilege we wouldn’t miss.
Come Face-to-Face with Mountain Gorillas
There are less than 800 mountain gorillas left on earth, and they do not survive in captivity—you must go to them. With a 98.4% DNA match, it’s not hard to figure out our fascination with these charismatic creatures. Their mannerisms and behavior provide quick references to our own, and it’s easy to see a reflection of yourself while locking eyes with them in their jungle home. Observe as they swing from the treetops, latch onto their mother’s back for a ride, or just hang out—it’s one of the most thrilling experiences on earth. Although we say it’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience, that’s not always the case—many people opt to go again. And again. We’re happy to breakdown where to go and how the experience varies in the mountains they call home—the stunning Virunga Mountains in Rwanda, Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda, or Republic of Congo. Get in touch with Sasha Lehman or Katie Losey , who can speak to you about it firsthand.
Another Reason to Go: Wildlife enthusiasts will be pleased that while in East Africa, they will get the opportunity to enjoy some serious bird watching, and witness other wildlife like chimpanzees, golden monkeys, and Angolan Colobus monkeys. All justifying a trip themselves!
Hang with Orangutans, Pygmy Elephants (& Pygmy Squirrels!) in Asia’s Ancient Jungles
Malaysia’s Danum Valley is the idyllic Borneo you envision in your head—skyscraping trees, a chorus of howling gibbons, and a popular redhead swinging across the rainforest canopy in complete glee! It’s home to an unrivaled web of life, and experiencing it in person jolts you to a Borneo from centuries ago—long before palm plantations. But although orangutans are the most popular resident here, we’d argue there is another excellent reason to go—pygmy elephants. These adorable elephants have floppy oversized ears, straight tusks, and tails so long they drag on the ground! They are the smallest elephants in Asia, and with only 1,500 on the planet they are fighting to survive. They can only be found in the forests of Sumatra and Borneo, and we think that floating down the river and seeing them taking a soak, or getting a glimpse of a playful during a morning hike is one of the more special wildlife encounters in Asia.
Another Reason to Go: There is nothing like walking below the canopy of an 130 million year-old rainforest. A night walk reveals wild encounters like flying squirrels launching across the sky at dusk, a slow loris waking up after a day’s sleep, and a symphony of tree frogs! There are even pygmy squirrels in Borneo—smaller than your thumb!
Beyond the Galápagos: Discover Ecuador’s Other Must-See Destination
Reawaken your spirit and your senses in Ecuador, one of South America’s tiniest countries and one of its most glorious! Where else in the world can you trek ancient cloud rainforests, then kayak the famed Amazon listening to bird life that hasn’t even been identified yet, and then come face to face with curious sea lions, sea turtles, and penguins? Only Ecuador. The allure of this tiny South American country emanates from its wild residents and wild landscapes, and animal lovers will not know what to do with themselves. One of our favorite parts of our private luxury tours of Ecuador includes a few days at a hideaway in the clouds. Explore the iconic Amazon rainforest, with days spent venturing into verdant jungles on the lookout for everything from sloths and pumas to rare orchids and anacondas. The rich web of life in Ecuador will astound you, from the tiniest of creatures to the ancient trees towering above you.
Another Reason to Go: Of course if you’re headed to Ecuador, you can’t miss the Galápagos! These tiny islands located approximately 600 miles off of Ecuador’s Pacific Coast have lured all types of travelers for decades — naturalists, families, solo travelers, historians — and epitomize a world where nature still reigns. Most visitors (including our team), choose to tour the Galápagos Islands to observe its local residents up close: dancing blue-footed boobies, curious sea lions, and legendary sea tortoises — some so old that they may have been around when Darwin traveled there. We also recommend spending time with the life underwater: scuba diving with manta rays or diving with hammerhead sharks is also an experience not to miss.
If you’re interested in incorporating one of these experiences into your next private luxury journey, please get in touch with one of our luxury travel specialists. We are happy to discuss weaving them into your trip!
Get in touch!