One of my favourite things when travelling is getting to witness unique animals in beautiful environments. This week I want to give you a little inspiration with my top ten most wondrous and cruelty free, animal encounters on the planet.
Just imagine the amazement in your children’s eyes!
1. Walk with Lions (Antelope Park, Zimbabwe)
Are you looking for an amazingly awesome experience in Africa?
Antelope Park in Gweru, Zimbabwe should be on your travel itinerary. Winner of the 2016 World Travel Award for Zimbabwe’s best Private Game Reserve this place is absolutely exceptional.
There are loads of activities at this game park but top of the list has to be the chance to ‘walk with lions’ as part of their Lion Rehabilitation and Release into the Wild program. You can interact with lion cubs in the nursery, walk with adolescent lions and then observing feed time for the big boys and girls.
The 3000 acre savannah of the Antelope Park property offers game drives, horse rides through the property (past all the wildlife) and boat trips just to name some of the interactive things to do.
Make sure you book in for a stay at this place because you will need a few days to really enjoy all that is on offer. Luckily there is a range of accommodation options from camping right through to private bungalows to cater for all budgets and comfort levels.
If you are wanting a really cool experience you can even consider a short or long term volunteering placement where you can help care for the animals and get the hands on experience of running a game reserve.
2. Washing and feeding Asian elephants at the Chiang Mai Elephant Nature Park
Next time you get bombarded in Thailand with offers for elephant rides or treks you really should consider a less impactful option for interacting with elephants.
Located just 60 kilometres from Chiang Mai in Thailand’s north, the Elephant Nature Park is a refuge for rescued Asian elephants as well as a designated rainforest regeneration area. Unbeknown to many tourists the trade of elephants for tourist entertainment is pretty rife throughout Thailand and doesn’t always mean that the elephants are treated humanely or with due care.
Operating completely from donations and the commitment of hard working volunteers, the Elephant Nature Park provides a sanctuary for mistreated elephants in a completely serene environment. With such a strong need for volunteers the park opens its gates to tourists to improve education and advocacy on elephant welfare.
Guests to the park have the opportunity to help buy the food for the elephants (lots and lots of bananas the day we visited!), feed the elephants and wash and play with them in the river.
It’s a truly inspirational place to visit and kids will absolutely love the level of interaction with the gentle elephants.
For more cool experiences in Thailand with kids read here for the full story.
3. Swimming with Hawaiian Monk Seals and Green Sea Turtles in Kauai, Hawaii
My kids absolute favourite part of travelling to Kauai, Hawaii was the daily visits from the Hawaiian monk seals and green sea turtles. It was truly amazing to be swimming at the beach with our kids and discovering large turtles cruising past us on their way for a sunbake on the sand. For the full story on the wonderful things to see and do in Kauai click here.
4. Orangutan Sanctuary, Borneo Sabah
Facing severe threats to their survival due to habitat destruction, visiting the orangutans of Borneo is an experience not to miss. The Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre is located near Kota Kinabalu and allows visitors to see the cheeky orangutans up close in their natural habitat during twice daily feeds.
Like the Elephant Nature Park this sanctuary relies heavily on the efforts of volunteers, researchers and donations in order to carry out the important conservation work.
Notably, since our visit to Borneo there is also now a sun bear sanctuary very close to the orangutans which looks well worth a visit as well.
Borneo is a wonderful family destination with Mount Kinabalu waiting to be explored, some beautiful resorts to stay in and islands to discover. It is also one of my favourite foodie destinations as the food we had here was totally delicious.
5. Howler monkeys and terrifying tarantulas in Tikal, Guatemala
Tikal National Park, in Guatemala is the site for some significant Mayan ruins which draws travellers from all over the world. As you stroll through the ruins you become aware of the presence of the resident howler monkeys as their haunting calls through the treetops carry across great distances.
Be warned that if you your guide starts to poke a large stick down a sizeable hole in the ground that you might want to look away or take a little walk (if you have the same phobia as me!) I was intrigued as our guide was doing this but my intrigue and interest changed to sheer petrified terror as an exceptionally large tarantula made an appearance. As a complete and utter arachnophobe this was absolutely terrifying for me but no doubt some of you would be fascinated to see these amazing spiders up close. Sorry, but there are definitely no photos from me!
6. The Big 5 in the Okavango Delta, Botswana
Everyone heads to Africa for jaw dropping wildlife encounters. If you are looking for wildlife, classic African scenery and show stopping sunsets all wrapped nicely in a place that isn’t overrun with other tourists then you should make the effort to visit the Okavango Delta in Botswana.
Heading deep into the wild in mokoro boats you can camp under the stars completely surrounded by the sounds of the wild. During daylight hours you can get sneakily personal with herds of elephants, giraffes, hippos and leopards. Fortunately as we were on foot we managed to make it out in one piece….
For some more info on taking your kids to Africa - click here for the full story.
7. Grizzly bears in the Canadian Rocky Mountains
The majestic and grand scenes of the Canadian Rocky Mountains are topped off with the opportunity to observe the grizzly bears in their natural habitat. Sightseeing along the Icefields Parkway between Banff and Jasper you can often spot the grizzlies from the roadside, made evident by the huddle of pulled over cars along the way.
Arguably one of the most scenic drives in the world you don’t need any more convincing to put this part of Canada on your must-do list.
8. Dolphins of Port Stephens, Australia
If you want to view dolphins frolicking in pods or riding the bows of boats then there aren’t many better places to do this than at Port Stephens, Australia. An easy commute from Sydney, Port Stephens is one the most family friendly beach destinations you will find in Australia. With pristine beaches, delightfully pretty National Parks and awesome dolphin and whale watching opportunities, Port Stephens is a wonderful place to take a family trip.
There are a number of dolphin cruises which can all be booked online or through the tourist information at the Nelson Bay Marina. My kids never tire of these trips as they watch enthusiastically for their next sighting from the boat.
9. Whale watching Hermanus, South Africa
South Africa is better known for its land based animals however if you take a road trip from Cape Town to Hermanus you are lucky enough to stumble across a place where you can watch whales up close from the shoreline of the beach. We visited in September which is the peak of the whale watch season and there were literally dozens of Southern Right Whales all swimming close to shore.
Of course, if you want to you can also take a boat trip or an adventurous kayak to get even closer but for us we could see them so clearly and easily from the shoreline that this wasn’t even necessary.
Hermanus is a fantastic stopping point if you take a road trip to explore the famous winelands region in South Africa.
10. Husky Love at Canmore, Canada
If you love dogs then you can’t go past the opportunity to smooch and play with some pure- bred huskies in Canada.
The place we visited in Canmore doesn’t appear to be open anymore (or has been renamed) however there are a number of dog sledding companies in the Canmore area still which allows you to have a very hands on adventure with these beautiful animals.
Definitely on my bucket list still is to visit Canada during the winter months to be able to go dog sledding!
There are so many amazing animal experiences, so of course I keep adding more and more to my bucket list. Here are my shortlist of next places and things I want to see….
Experience the migration in the Masai Mara
Visiting the polar bears of Churchill
See the pandas in China
Gorilla trekking in Rwanda
A grizzly bear boat excursion in Vancouver Island, Canada
Visit the giant tortoises in the Galapagos
Witness the beauty of the Toucans in Brazil
I hope this list has helped you think about getting out there to appreciate and marvel at the greatness of our World’s animal life…. Nothing beats getting out of your comfort zone to see and do these things in life.
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