Komodo Dragon

Wildlife Watching Holidays


For those seeking to reconnect with the natural world, a wildlife watching holiday could be just what you need. From islands with colonies of dragons, to grasslands populated with lions and leopards, here are six locations that show off the splendour of the natural world in all its raw, unabashed glory.

Kruger National Park

Kruger National Park
(Image by David Berkowitz on Flickr)

South Africa’s biggest and oldest game reserve, the Kruger National Park, offers a stunning wilderness environment in which to experience the thrill of big game safari. Located in north-eastern South Africa near the border with Mozambique, this protected nature reserve offers lush wetland estuary landscapes, dry redgrass savannah and mile upon mile of scrub, ideal conditions for spotting a wide variety of African wildlife. The park was first established in 1898 and today you can see lions and leopards, crocodiles and cheetahs, buffalo and blue wildebeest going about their daily business, largely free from the intrusions of mankind . With over 27,000 African Buffalo roaming the park, along with 11,000 elephants as well a sizeable population of both black and white rhinoceros, your chances of seeing the biggest game in the world is extraordinarily high at Kruger. Plenty of travel agents can arrange safari stays, with overnight excursions even available, just in case you want to see what the animals get up to in the dark.

Masai Mara National Park

Masai Mara National Park
(Image by puliarf on Flickr)

Further north on the continent of Africa lies the Masai Mara National Reserve, established in 1948 and located in Kenya on the border with Tanzania. Covering over 583 square miles, this area of open grassland, acacia tree forest and seasonal swampland is a haven for indigenous wildlife. Visitors can hope to see some of the most stunning creatures on earth, including wild zebras, herds of giraffes, and lake-dwelling hippopotami. The Masai Mara is also home to the Masai tribe, a semi-nomadic group of people who have acted as stewards to this amazing natural landscape for centuries. The Mara is also fortunate to be physically connected to the popular Serengeti nature reserve, over the border in Tanzania. Much of the same wildlife can be spotted in both areas, though a separate visa must be obtained, and passports shown, when crossing from one country to the other.

Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park
(Image by Mike Miley on Flickr)

One of the best wildlife destinations in North America, Wyoming’s Yellowstone National Park is home to 61 different mammals – one of the largest concentrations of wildlife in the United States. While famed for its sublime geysers, the 500 grizzly bears that reside in Yellowstone are one of the most popular and sought-after wildlife sights among tourists and shouldn’t be ignored. The howl of wolves can also be heard in Yellowstone, which houses 13 different packs of wolves all over the park. If predators aren’t your thing, more delicate wildlife can be found: don’t be surprised if you see moose, elk, bison, or otters congregating around the shores of Yellowstone’s lakes and rivers for a drink.

Hutovo Blato

Hutovo Blato
(Image by me’nthedogs on Flickr)

Great wildlife can be spotted in Europe too, and Hutovo Blato is the continent’s biggest bird reserve, with over 29 square miles of lake and marshland. This Mediterranean wetland hosts over 240 species of migratory bird, as well as plenty of birds who stay there year round. During spring and autumn, when birds migrate from north to south and vice versa, tens of thousands of birds stop at the reserve, a collective sight as incredible as any in the natural world. Some birds that you are likely to see feeding and nesting here include the Great Cormorant, Purple Heron, Short-toed Eagle and the Common Nightingale. This wildlife destination is an absolute must for dedicated birdwatchers, ornithologists, and just those wanting to get back in touch with nature.

Indonesia

Komodo Dragon
(Image by rachdian on Flickr)

One of the more exotic wildlife destinations in the world is surely Indonesia, where, in the same country, one can see the protected species of both orangutans and Komodo Dragons. The best place to see orangutans, one of the most intelligent primates on earth, is the island of Borneo, where the BOS Foundation runs forest conservation, tending to the natural habitat of this rare species, along with numerous orangutan rescue centres. In particular the reserve of Samboja Lestari in East Kalimantan is home to over 3000 wild orangutans, as well as 8 other species of primates and numerous endemic birds. If you want to catch a glimpse of the lizards that, it was once said, breathed fire from their mouths, you have to travel to south-eastern Indonesian islands such as Komodo, Rinca and Flores. These ferocious beasts are the largest lizards on earth, growing up to almost 10 feet in length in rare instances. Largely shy creatures, Komodo dragons pose no threat to humans, though in order to find their nests and breeding grounds you will need to be accompanied by an experienced guide. Trips to the Komodo National Park are the best way to get up close and personal with these magnificent creatures, and overnight excursions from more developed islands such as Bali are easy to arrange.

Galapagos Islands

Galapagos Islands
(Image by lowjumpingfrog on Flickr)

For the ultimate in a wildlife watching holiday, however, there is one place on earth that offers a more magical and unique experience than anywhere else, the Galapagos Islands. This serene setting off the coast of Ecuador was famously visited by Charles Darwin in 1835 during his expedition on board the HMS Beagle, and his observations of the volcanic archipelago were key to advancing his pioneering ideas about evolution. Darwin noted how many of the species that live in the islands, including the marine Iguana, the Galapagos tortoise and the flightless cormorant, were endemic to the archipelago, that is, not seen anywhere else on earth. Darwin was also struck by how finches from island to island were distinct from one another, proving that environmental conditions influenced the way in which species developed over time. Tourists today flock to these idyllic Pacific islands in order to see these unique types of flora and fauna, with over 120,000 visitors arriving in 2005. The Galapagos Islands are now a protected biosphere reserve, and visits to many of the islands are strictly controlled to protect the delicate Galapagos ecosystem. Visits to the most tightly controlled islands are limited to groups of no larger than sixteen people, so that the environmental impact of tourism is kept to a minimum. Yet with an airport, hotels, and regular cruise ship visits, travelling here is easier than ever, though it will not come cheap. So if you are thinking about visiting this special arcadia, make sure to start saving now.

The world is full of natural paradises such as these, and, if you cannot afford an expensive trip far away to spot some exotic wildlife, why not try a walk through a nearby forest, park or grassland. You may be surprised by just how much of the natural world is waiting to be discovered.

Date posted: 25th August, 2011

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