Natural Selection: World’s Best Wildlife Holidays
A holiday combining beautiful scenery and amazing wild animals is arguably one of the most life-changing trips you can take. Whatever’s on your wildlife wish list, we think we may have found the perfect wildlife holiday for your next trip. From puffins to polar bears, Komodo dragons to king penguins, there’s nothing like an encounter with a truly wild animal to make your heart race and put a big grin on your face. It’s only natural.
Here at Discover the World, we are of course huge animal lovers, and try to live a pretty wild life – crammed full of encounters with inquisitive penguins, mesmerising dolphins and cute and cuddly koalas.
For a year to pass without hearing the whoosh of a whale surfacing would be unthinkable! Nothing lifts our spirits more than the natural spectacle of a seabird city. And as for predators – the bears and big cats – once you’ve met their smouldering gaze, you’ll be smitten for life. We will happily travel half-way around the world for even a fleeting glimpse of a rare beauty, like a kiwi or Patagonian puma. We know from the number of people who take wildlife holidays every year, there are plenty of you that agree with us!
Read on for some of our favourite wildlife encounters, where and when to experience them yourself, and how you can make your next trip a wild one.
1. Puffin | Iceland
The encounter: Each spring, puffins flock to sea cliffs around Iceland to nest. Find a good (and safe) vantage from which to watch them coming and going – dapper in their black-and-white plumage, wings beating frantically and, if you’re lucky, multi-coloured bills stuffed with sandeels.
Best time: April-mid August
Also look for: Gannet, fulmar, guillemot, minke whale, white-beaked dolphin, harbour porpoise
Take me there: Iceland Odyssey Self-drive full-circle around the country, linking puffin hotspots like the Snaefellsnes Peninsula, West Fjords, East Fjords and South Coast.
Also consider: Spitsbergen, Canada, Alaska
2. Polar Bear | Canada
The encounter: Seek an audience with the Lord of the Arctic near Churchill on the shores of Hudson Bay where giant-wheeled Polar Rovers often provide incredible, close-up views. Waiting for the sea to freeze over so they can hunt seals, as many as 1,200 polar bears gather here each year.
Best time: October-November
Also look for: Arctic hare, Arctic fox, snowy owl, ptarmigan, caribou, wolf
Take me there: Classic Polar Bear Adventure Spend two full days and an evening excursion on the Arctic tundra in search of polar bears and other wildlife.
Also consider: Spitsbergen, Greenland, Franz Josef Land, Canadian Arctic
3. Moose | Sweden
The encounter: Although widespread in Scandinavia, Canada and Russia, Sweden has more moose per square kilometre than any other country. A self-drive in Sweden can be rewarded with sightings of this hefty species of deer, where bulls can weigh up to 850kg. During summer, they are often seen in lakes, feeding on aquatic plants.
Best time: Year round
Also look for: Brown bear, wolf, beaver, roe deer, lynx
Take me there: Varmland Summer Adventure Discover the forests, rivers and lakes of one of Sweden’s lesser-known regions on a multi-activity family break in Varmland. Canoeing, rafting, hiking, biking and spending a night camping out in the great outdoors all bode well for wildlife encounters.
Also consider: Canada or Alaska
4. King Penguin | South Georgia
The encounter: A right royal gathering, 400,000 pairs of king penguins breed here – their massed ranks transforming entire bays into a monochromatic melee of sleek black and white bodies, speckled with the orange flashes of their ear patches and the shaggy brown coats of chicks.
Best time: November-March
Also look for: Chinstrap, gentoo and macaroni penguins, elephant seal, fur seal and several species of albatross (including black-browed, grey-headed, light-mantled and wandering)
Take me there: Antarctic Peninsula & South Georgia Embark on an incredible voyage in the Southern Ocean, packed with opportunities for penguin and whale watching.
Also consider: Falkland Islands, Macquarie Island, Tierra del Fuego
5. Orca | Canada
The encounter: Johnstone Strait, between Vancouver Island and the British Columbian mainland is one of the best places in the world to see orca – particularly in late summer when they follow the salmon run. Watching a pod approach – black dorsal fins rising and falling – is mesmerising.
Best time: Late July-September
Also look for: Grizzly and black bears, wolf, humpback whale, bald eagle, Stellar’s sea lion, Dall’s porpoise, Pacific white-sided dolphin
Take me there: Whales & Bears at Farewell Harbour Head to a wilderness lodge in BC, perfectly located for tracking down orcas in Johnstone Strait and grizzly bears in Knight Inlet.
Also consider: Alaska, Iceland, Norway, Antarctica
6. Koala | Australia
The encounter: Stroll through an Australian eucalyptus forest, scouring the canopy and checking every fork in the highest branches, and you might just meet the gaze of this endearing little furball. Notoriously shy and sleepy, a wild encounter with a koala is a happy but hushed moment.
Best time: Year round (joeys born June-August)
Also look for: Echidna, platypus, wallaby, wombat, kangaroo, sea lion, fur seal
Take me there: Wildlife of the Great Ocean Road Join an expert guide on this 2-night add-on tour from Melbourne tracking the wildlife along the famed Great Ocean Road.
7. Brown Bear | Finland
The encounter: If you go down to the woods today… you better keep your eyes peeled. Based in Finland’s ancient taiga forest, you stand an excellent chance of seeing bears and other wildlife using specially designed hides and making the most of up to 20 hours of Nordic summer daylight.
Best time: June to August
Also look for: Wolverine, wolf, lynx, elk, red-throated diver, black woodpecker, goshawk
Take me there: Wild Brown Bear Adventure Enjoy a short break with a night or two in a specially designed hide in prime bear habitat – perfect for photographers.
Also consider: Sweden, Canada, Alaska
8. Kiwi | New Zealand
The encounter: Join a nocturnal nature walk in one of North or South Island’s primeval forests and you might hear the short, piping trill of a kiwi – New Zealand’s haunting call of the wild. With luck, you might even glimpse a fuzzy ball, two legs and a long beak busily sifting the leaf litter.
Best time: October-April
Also look for: Other indigenous birds, including kaka, bellbird, tui, saddleback, yellowhead and rifleman, plus coastal wildlife (albatrosses, penguins, shearwaters, petrels, cetaceans)
Take me there: Wildlife Encounters Set off on a wildlife-themed self-drive, including a night-time kiwi-spotting tour and whale watching in Kaikoura.
Also consider: Australia, for the kiwi’s closest living relatives: the emu and cassowary
9. Walrus | Svalbard
The encounter: First glance and they resemble a mound of smooth boulders. It’s only when one twitches and lifts a moustached face above the quivering mass of blubber that you realise they’re walruses, lounging on the shore, snoring, belching and breaking wind under the midnight sun.
Best time: June-August
Also look for: Polar bear, Arctic fox, Svalbard reindeer, seals (ringed, bearded, harbour), whales (beluga, fin, minke, humpback, blue) and birds (pink-footed goose, fulmar, guillemot, little auk)
Take me there: Around Spitsbergen Board a small-ship voyage to circumnavigate the largest of Svalbard’s islands – with superb wildlife and photo opportunities.
Also consider: Franz Josef Land, Greenland
10. White-faced Capuchin | Costa Rica
The encounter: Delve into the tropical forests of Corcovado National Park and this is just one of four species of monkey you could see. Spider monkey, squirrel monkey and mantled howler also inhabit this biodiversity hotspot, which also boasts 370 species of birds and over 500 different kinds of tree.
Best time: May-November
Also look for: Baird’s tapir, jaguar, ocelot, scarlet macaw
Take me there: Speak to us about a cruise combining the rainforests of Costa Rica with wildlife watching in the Darien Jungle and snorkelling, canoeing and birdwatching in the little-visited offshore islands of Panama as well as transiting a man-made wonder – the 82km-long Panama Canal.
Also consider: Island hopping cruises in Fiji’s Yasawa Islands or the Marquesas Islands of French Polynesia.
11. Grizzly Bear | Alaska
The encounter: When rivers in Alaska squirm with juicy fish during the annual salmon run, grizzly bears smack their lips in anticipation. Dozens of bears gather at particularly good spots, like Brooks Falls in Katmai National Park where salmon sometimes leap straight into the jaws of waiting bears.
Best time: June-September (late June-late July for bears fishing at Brooks Falls, Katmai)
Also look for: Sealion, sea otter, puffin, bald eagle, wolf, whales
Take me there: Join a small group, expert-guided wildlife tour combining two of Alaska’s prime grizzly bear locations.
Also consider: Canada (Knight Inlet, Great Bear Rainforest)
12. Humpback Whale | Iceland
The encounter: They’re the big show-offs of the cetacean world, and that’s why we love humpbacks. From spy-hopping to tail-slapping, they’re fascinating to watch. With luck, you’ll witness a breach – 30 tonnes of blubber leaping from the sea – or bubble-net feeding when they corral shoals of fish.
Best time: Year-round, but spring, summer and autumn usually offer the best conditions
Also look for: Orca, blue whale, minke whale, dolphins and harbour porpoise and various sea birds (including puffin)
Take me there: Around Iceland Take a classic self-drive on Iceland’s Ring Road, linking key whale-watching locations like the Snaefellsnes Peninsula and Husavik.
Also consider: Norway, Canada, Alaska, Spitsbergen, Antarctica, South Africa
13. Komodo Dragon | Indonesia
The encounter: Reaching lengths of 3m and weighing up to 70kg, the world’s largest lizard prowls scrubby woodland on the islands of Komodo, Rinca and Padar (together comprising Komodo National Park). Guided hikes can offer riveting sightings of the dragons hunting deer, using their toxic saliva to deliver a fatal bite.
Best time: January-February
Also look for: Timor deer, long-tailed macaque, dugong, manta ray
Take me there: As well as ‘walking with dragons’ a small-ship cruise to the Lesser Sunda Islands is full of opportunities for sea kayaking, snorkelling on coral reefs and visiting remote island communities. You could also visit active Anak Krakatau volcano, the orangutans at Pondok Tanggui rehabilitation centre and the floating markets of Banjarmasin.
Also consider: Komodo dragons are unique to these islands, but if you like lizards and reptiles, Australia has 869 species, from thorny devils to saltwater crocodiles.
14. Elephant Seal | Falkland Islands
The encounter: There are few things in nature more magnificently grotesque than a male elephant seal – 2,000kg of blubber, a battle-scarred face and that extraordinary snout. Head to Sea Lion Island in the Falklands to witness these giants fighting over their harems.
Best time: October-April (Oct-Nov for fighting males and pupping season)
Also look for: Penguins (king, gentoo, Magellanic, rockhopper), sea lion, striated caracara, imperial shag, black-browed albatross
Take me there: Wildlife of the Falklands Island-hop to some of the Falkland’s best wildlife locations, including Sea Lion Island, Pebble Island and Volunteer Point.
Also consider: South Georgia, Antarctica, Argentina
15. White-tailed Eagle | Norway
The encounter: With a wingspan of up to 2.6m, Europe’s largest bird of prey is an impressive sight along the coast of Norway, particularly if you’re lucky enough to witness this magnificent eagle swooping down to snatch fish from the sea. The mountainous, fjord-riven Lofoten Islands are prime territory.
Best time: Year round
Also look for: Whales, porpoises, seals, basking shark, seabirds
Take me there: Around Lofoten Self-drive through the spectacular Lofoten Islands with an opportunity to take a boat tour or kayak trip into Trollfjorden – a popular haunt of white-tailed eagles.
Also consider: Iceland’s Snaefellsnes Peninsula and areas of coastal Sweden such as Skane and the Vastervik archipelago (especially in winter).
16. Puma | Chile
The encounter: Elusive, camouflaged and largely solitary, the puma is found throughout Patagonia, but there is a particularly high density in Torres del Paine National Park where they prey on guanaco beneath the soaring granite spires of the Andes. Set out at dawn and dusk to boost your chances of a sighting.
Best time: September-May
Also look for: Guanaco, Andean condor, rhea
Take me there: EcoCamp Patagonia Wildlife Safari Explore Torres del Paine National Park, staying in a remote ecocamp and searching for puma and other wildlife on treks and cycling excursions with local expert guides.
Also consider: Canada has three species of wild cats: the bobcat, Canadian lynx and cougar, while Costa Rica is home to the jaguar.
17. Whale Shark | Western Australia
The encounter: It’s the ultimate big fish story: a 12m-long ocean wanderer cruising near the surface, its letterbox mouth agape as it sieves plankton from the water. Whale sharks visit Ningaloo Reef when the plankton blooms. Spot these gentle giants on boat trips – or, for the ultimate thrill, snorkel with them.
Best time: March-July
Also look for: Dolphins, turtles, manta rays
Take me there: Western Reef Adventure Drive from Perth to Exmouth on an epic adventure along the sunset coast marvelling at geological wonders and marine life.
18. Tasmanian Devil | Australia
The encounter: Tasmania’s Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park is one of the best places to see native Australian mammals. Bennett’s wallabies and wombats can be glimpsed during the day, while Tasmanian devils, quolls and pygmy possums emerge at dusk.
Best time: October-March
Also look for: Little penguin, platypus, wallaby, possum, wombat, echidna, spotted tail and eastern quolls, wedge-tailed eagle, white goshawk
Take me there: Explore Tasmania’s national parks and world heritage areas, including a full day with a marine biologist on a visit to Maria Island.
Also consider: New Zealand, St Helena and Falkland Islands for indigenous island wildlife
19. Chinstrap Penguin | Antarctica
The encounter: Chinstraps often breeds in vast colonies of 100,000 pairs or more. Inquisitive and utterly captivating, they’ll give you an intimate insight into their lives, from courtship, brooding and feeding to making the daily commute to the sea and back to catch fish.
Best time: November-March
Also look for: Other penguins (Adelie, gentoo, emperor), elephant seal, seals (Weddell, leopard, crabeater), orca, humpback whales, various albatrosses and skuas
Take me there: Classic Antarctica Ideal for first-timers, join an exciting voyage to the White Continent, choosing from a range of departure dates and expedition ships.
Also consider: Falkland Islands, South Georgia, Chile, New Zealand or Australia for a variety of penguin species
20. Hector’s Dolphin | New Zealand
The encounter: Endemic to New Zealand, Hector’s dolphin is one of the world’s smallest cetaceans (just 1.4m in length), but it’s a little beauty, with distinctive black and white facial markings. Akaroa, South Island, is the place to see them, along with Curio Bay and Porpoise Bay on the Catlins Coast.
Best time: November-March
Also look for: Sperm whale (Kaikoura), dusky dolphin, New Zealand fur seal, blue penguin (Akaroa), other seabirds
Take me there: Whale and Dolphin Explorer Almost half of the world’s cetacean species are found in New Zealand waters and this self-drive takes you to some of the best locations.
Also consider: Various dolphin species can be spotted in: Australia, Canada, Alaska, Iceland and Norway