While planning a round the world trip may involve plotting a course between major cities, it’s often encounters with the local wildlife which create the most memorable moments of a trip. So what are some of the natural attractions worth going out of your way to experience? Here are a few suggestions.
Probably the easiest, most accessible destination for wildlife spotting, South Africa offers safari options for most budgets. Kruger National Park is the best known of South Africa’s reserves, with fully-inclusive offerings at luxury and basic camps, as well as self-drive options. And you don’t have to make long journeys from the cities to see the Big 5 - the Addo Elephant National Park is less than an hour’s drive from the bright lights of Port Elizabeth.
Best known for its orangutans, the tropical island has long attracted visitors in search of close encounters with these loveable apes. Borneo is split between Indonesia and Malaysia, with oil-rich Brunei taking up a tiny chunk of the west coast - and even in Brunei the remote rainforest is barely an hour by boat from the capital. Among Borneo’s wildlife highlights are pygmy elephants, clouded leopards and the extremely rare Sumatran rhino.
The Masai Mara has for many years been one of the world’s most famous safari destinations, with sightings of the ‘Big Five’ (elephants, lions, hippos, rhinos and buffalo) almost guaranteed (if you’re in the right place at the right time). The annual migration of wildebeest remains one of the Earth’s great natural spectacles. Many safari lodges in Kenya now place an increasing emphasis on the culture of the Masai people, and some camps are owned by the local communities.
With over 800 species of bird, 8,000 types of orchid and 150 varieties of edible fruit, little Costa Rica lays claim to an incredible 5% of the planet’s biodiversity. A visit in the jungle may reveal armadillos, iguanas and (if you’re very lucky) jaguars, while toucans and the exquisite quetzals are among the more colourful of the rainforest birds. And Costa Rica’s natural wonders extend far beyond its volcanic highlands: the Pacific and Caribbean coasts offer fabulous opportunities to see turtles hatching in their natural environment.
Unlike in Australia, the wildlife in New Zealand generally has little inclination to kill you. Kaikoura on the South Island is a popular spot for water-based adventures, with local operators offering the chance to swim in the ocean with seals and dolphins. On southerly Stewart Island you can take a tour to see the shy, flightless kiwi bird in the wild. And there’s no shortage of dramatic natural landscapes, with Milford Sound and Franz Josef Glacier two of the highlights.
Around 600 miles off the coast of mainland Ecuador, these volcanic islands are home to many of the world’s most bizarre creatures. With millions of years without natural predators, the wildlife of the Galapagos has no fear of humans; whatever the folly of this trait, it makes for unforgettable encounters with the locals. Iguanas, blue-footed boobies and penguins will happily pose for pictures, while you can get as close to the sea lions as your sense of smell can stand.