Article

15 of the world’s greatest wildlife experiences

Tigers, gorillas, sloths, polar bears... These incredible travel adventures will stay with you all your life – and help protect threatened species
By New Big 5 project

1: Meet mountain gorillas in Uganda

Photo from Hayes & Jarvis

Standing eye-to-eye with the iconic mountain gorilla is an unforgettable wildlife experience. On Hayes & Jarvis’ ultimate wildlife safari tour, you’ll trek to meet endangered mountain gorillas in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park.

You’ll also take in an incredible range of habitats and landscapes across Uganda, the Pearl of Africa, including Murchison Falls, Queen Elizabeth and Kibale Forest national parks, a chance to see lions, elephants, chimpanzees, rhinos, giraffes and over 1,000 bird species. There’s also time to visit a selection of the country’s most successful conservation projects, such as Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary, and to interact with local people and culture along the way.

See www.hayesandjarvis.co.uk

From £10,399 or $US14,499pp for 14 days

Contact: +44 208 1062 403 or via www.hayesandjarvis.co.uk/send-enquiry


2: Encounter polar bears in Norway

Photo from Discover The World

Spitsbergen, the largest island in Norway’s Svalbard archipelago, is renowned for wildlife-watching both on land and in the marine life-filled coastal waters, including the enigmatic polar bear. This is also the realm of the polar bear, walrus, reindeer, Arctic fox and prolific birdlife. As well as minimising the impact on the environment, small ship expedition cruising offers the most complete way to experience this extraordinary land and unrivalled opportunities for encountering wildlife under the midnight sun.

Majestic polar bears are undoubtedly the star attraction. The Arctic wanderers can be spotted patrolling the pack ice, particularly in late July to early August, when the ice retreats enough to allow expedition ships access to prime bear habitat. During the voyage, you’ll enjoy wildlife-viewing from the deck, as well as regular shore-landings to hike on the Arctic tundra and iceberg cruises by Zodiac in the shadow of glaciers.  

See www.discover-the-world.com

From £5,399pp for 11 days 

Contact 01737 214 291 or travel@discover-the-world.co.uk


3: Hang out with sloths in Costa Rica

Photo from Exodus Travels

Sloths are one of the world’s most beautiful and intriguing creatures. Led by Exodus’ expert naturalist guides, you’ll search for two and three-toed sloths in the rainforest canopy of Piedras Blancas National Park on nature walks, then spend your evenings in lodges where these adorable animals are known to hang out. At the remote national park, where you might also see capuchin monkeys and 124 other mammals, you’ll stay at Equinas Rainforest Lodge, a 100 per cent carbon neutral lodge that protects against poaching and deforestation. 

This responsible tourism wildlife odyssey is also an opportunity to trek to waterfalls in La Fortuna, see endangered green turtles on Tortuguero’s beaches, soak in Arenal’s volcanic hot springs and listen to 425 species of birds sing in Monteverde’ cloud forest.

See www.exodustravels.com

From £2,349 or USD$3,649 for 15 days

Contact: 020 3131 2008 (UK) or (001) 1 844 227 9087 (US) or info@exodustravels.com 


4: Witness the Great Migration in Tanzania

Photo from Rainbow Tours

Known as the Greatest Show on Earth, the powerful spectacle of the Great Migration is an absolute classic for wildlife lovers and photographers. Watch in awe as up to 1.7 million wildebeest and hundreds of thousands of plains game, including zebra, move across plains and rivers in search of fresh grass.

On Rainbow Tours’ Tanzanian Migration Safari, you’ll enjoy two full days on safari in the Central Serengeti area with uninterrupted opportunities for private game drives, staying at Tloma Lodge in Tanganyika Wilderness Camp, which makes a charitable donation to Centro Emousoi for every night their guests stay, raising money to provide education to Maasai girls of school age, build classrooms and offer medical care through the Olmoti Clinic. You’ll also get to see huge numbers of elephants in Tarangire National Park and flamingos in Lake Manyara National Park.

See www.rainbowtours.co.uk

From £4,150pp for 8 days

Contact 0207 666 1250 or info@rainbowtours.co.uk


5: Swim with whale sharks in Western Australia

Photo from Tourism Australia

Stretching over 260km along Western Australia’s north-west coast, Ningaloo Reef is home to over 500 species of colourful fish and 250 coral species. It’s famous as one of the world’s best locations to see hundreds of gentle whale sharks who arrive annually. Being in the water with the world’s biggest fish is both exhilarating and serene.

Ningaloo’s a must-see for wildlife aficionados, as it’s also the only place in the world with the chance to see the ‘Big 3’ in one trip: whale sharks (March-July), manta rays (year-round) and humpback whales (June-October). Whale shark tours at Ningaloo are responsibly run to ensure a sustainable, eco-friendly experience. An adventure in Western Australia also offers the possibility of seeing wildlife on land, including the world’s happiest animal, the quokka, on Rottnest Island and other iconic Australian wildlife, including koalas and kangaroos.   

See www.travelbag.co.uk

From £2,789pp for 10 days  

Contact: +44 207 001 4112 or via website


6: Observe majestic elephants in Botswana 

Photo from Windows On The Wild

Chobe National Park in the far north of Botswana is one of the best places in the world to see the majestic African elephant. It’s known for its large herds, which can be seen from open safari vehicles, by canoeing along the Chobe floodplain or by boat on the Chobe River.

On Windows On The Wild’s trip, there’s time to be amazed by Victoria Falls before entering into Botswana. In Savuti, you’ll have the chance to spot zebra, leopard, lions and cheetah. There’ll be more elephant encounters on the rolling floodplains and sprawling savannahs of the Okavango Delta, as well as lions, leopards, wild dogs, zebras and amazing birdwatching. In the Makgadikgadi Pans, the world’s largest salt pans, you’ll have a unique desert safari and stargazing experience, plus guided walks with San bushmen to learn about their culture and nomadic lifestyle.

See www.windowsonthewild.com

From £5095 or $7,175pp for 11 days

Contact +44 20 8742 1556 or info@windowsonthewild.com


7: Take in scenes of thousands of Emperor penguins in Antarctica

Photo by Ilja Reijnen / Oceanwide Expeditions

Step into a remote landscape filled with thousands of beautiful Emperor penguins, observing interactions and daily life. Oceanwide Expeditions’ expedition cruise explores the range of the Emperor penguins near Snow Hill Island in the Weddell Sea, close to the Antarctic Peninsula. Helicopters are used to reach Snow Hill, where you’ll land in a location otherwise inaccessible so early in the season, within walking distance of the Emperor Penguin colony, which numbers around 4,000 breeding pairs. It’s an incredible spectacle to witness.

You’ll also see a variety of other birds and penguins, including Adélies and Gentoos. The Weddell Sea’s frequented by orcas, humpbacks and minke whales, as well as leopard, Weddell and crabeater seals. The continental borders of the Weddell Sea are formed by huge floating sheets of ice, which produce the huge tabular icebergs that are so abundant here.

See oceanwide-expeditions.com

From €9,900 or USD$11,300pp for 11 days

Contact info@oceanwide-expeditions.com or +31 (0)118 410 410


8: Come face-to-face with Komodo dragons in Indonesia

Photo from Audley Travel

You may feel like you’ve stepped into the Land of the Dinosaurs on Komodo National Park, where you’re likely to come face-to-face with Komodo Dragons, a member of the monitor lizard family. Also on Audley’s Highlights of Indonesia trip, you’ll spend three nights on a private charter boat from Kalimantan, cruising into Tanjung Putting National Park and trekking into the jungle to visit orangutan feeding stations, spending time watching the gorgeous great apes. 

Two nights are spent on a second private charter from Labuan Bajo to explore Komodo National Park, including the opportunity to see underwater wildlife, from pygmy seahorses to manta rays, on diving excursions. You’ll also spend time in Ubud on Bali, surrounded by temples and rice terraces.  

See www.audleytravel.com

From £4,995 or USD$6,225pp for 17 days

Contact 01993 838110 (UK) or 1-866-850-7857 (US) or via www.audleytravel.com/contact-us


9: Monitor rhinos and aid conservation in South Africa

Photo from Mantis Founders Lodge

Walk in the steps of giants on this authentic safari experience focused on rhino conservation at Mantis Founders Lodge. Rangers take guests on guided bush walks and explain how the threatened rhinos (mainly Southern white rhinos) are tracked, monitored and protected. At specific times of the year, guests are can also be part of a veterinary health check on Munu, the blind black rhino who lives at this luxury eco-lodge on a private concession near Gqeberha in South Africa’s Eastern Cape, having been rescued after a territorial battle with another rhino.

You’ll also have superb wildlife sightings of lions, elephants, leopards and cheetahs, endless African skies and incredible cuisine. The lodge has six suites and a unique stay in a restored coach stationed on a hilltop with phenomenal views of the valley.

See www.mantiscollection.com

From £1386 or USD$1957,98pp for 3 days

Contact: +27 41 404 9300 or reservations@mantiscollection.com


10: See jaguars roaming wild in Argentina

Photo from Tompkins Conservation

After an absence of 70 years, jaguars are once again roaming free in Argentina’s Iberá wetlands. In collaboration with Rewilding Argentina and local and national authorities, Iberá National Park was established in 2018 with land donations from Kristine and Douglas Tompkins, founders of Tompkins Conservation and former business leaders of Patagonia, The North Face and Esprit. 

This exclusive, once-in-a-lifetime conservation experience is hosted by Kristine Tompkins. Presented by Satopia Travel and Journeys With Purpose, guests will learn about the history, challenges and successes of this remarkable landscape-scale restoration and rewilding journey, and the reintroduction of jaguars back into the wild, which will continue throughout 2021. The massive biologically diverse Iberá National Park is also home to red-and-green macaws, giant otters, currasows, maned wolves, caiman and howler monkeys. 

See satopiatravel.com

From £10,175 or USD$14,125pp for 8 days

Contact +31686169050 or concierge@satopiatravel.com


11: Spend time with Yukon’s ice bears in Canada

Photo from Wildlife Worldwide

Every autumn, grizzly bears arrive en masse at Bear Cave Mountain, located close to the Arctic Circle in Canada’s Yukon Territory, where thermal springs percolate through the limestone, warming the river, so it flows all year round. This thermal activity filters and oxygenates the water, allowing salmon eggs to thrive.

An unforgettable annual spectacle sees up to 50 bears gather to fish for salmon as they make their way upriver from the Bering Sea to spawn, with exceptional opportunities for wildlife-viewing and photographing. Highlights of Wildlife Worldwide’s exclusive trip, with no more than four guests allowed into Bear Cave Mountain Camp, includes a helicopter flight over the frozen Yukon wilderness to Dawson City.

See www.wildlifeworldwide.com

From £10,695pp for 15 days

Contact 01962 302 086 or reservations@wildlifeworldwide.com


12: Search for tigers in India

Photo from On The Go Tours

Seeing the enigmatic tiger, India’s national animal, in the wild is a thrilling experience for wildlife lovers and photographers. With On The Go Tours’ dedicated tiger tour of India, you’ll spend two nights in a heritage haveli within Ranthambore National Park, one of the country’s premier national parks, where you’ll enjoy three game drives in search of the majestic and endangered Bengal tiger and other native wildlife, including leopards, crocodiles, sloths and hyenas.

You’ll also take in India’s famous Golden Triangle, including Delhi, the Taj Mahal in Agra and the pink city of Jaipur. For every passenger on this Shere Khan tiger tour, On The Go make a donation to TOFTigers, helping preserve wild tigers through sustainable travel.

See www.onthegotours.com

From £975pp or USD$1,445pp for 10 days

Contact: +44 (0) 207 371 1113 or info@onthegotours.com


13: Take a remote ramble with wild bison in Romania

Photo by Stefan Stefanov / Rewilding Europe

Track wild bison, bears and wolves on a remote ramble in Romania’s Tarcu mountains in the Southern Carpathians. Bison, a keystone species, have been reintroduced to Romania after 200 years of extinction in the wild, as part of rewilding efforts to restore nature and biodiversity. After days exploring wild landscapes and looking for other species, including bears and wolves, you’ll bunk down in wilderness cabins and safari-style camps beneath the stars, surrounded by mountains and forest.

This trip is part of Much Better Adventures’ new collection of Rewilding Adventures, created with Rewilding Europe. Each ‘active safari’ directly supports the re-introduction and conservation of keystone species in Europe and transforms abandoned areas into thriving nature-based economies. Much Better Adventures also channel an additional five per cent of their revenue from every booking towards reforestation and rewilding projects in Europe.

See www.muchbetteradventures.com

From £630 or $US884pp for 5 days

Contact +44 (0)2039667597 (UK) or +1 844-463-9101 (US) or hello@muchbetteradventures.com


14: Watch puffins on Scotland’s remote islands 

Photo by Genna Roland / Hurtigruten

Watching puffins is a treat for any wildlife lover. You’ll get to spend time with these striking birds as part of Hurtigruten’s cruise of the British Isles, which takes in picturesque ports, historic forts and isolated islands in England, Wales and Scotland, with lots of local life along the way, such as whales, dolphins, deer and red kites.

One highlight is Iona, a peaceful island off the coast of Mull in the Inner Hebrides, with a restored Abbey, wild beaches and wonderful wildlife, such as otters, Atlantic grey and common seals, and corncrakes. Hurtigruten’s Expedition Team takes guests to the remote Treshnish Isles, home to nesting Atlantic Puffins (during spring and summer the puffins come ashore to breed), as well as colonies of black-legged kittiwakes, razorbills, common guillemots and Atlantic grey seals. During sailing, there’s also the opportunity to participate in beach and nature clean-ups, part of Hurtigruten’s sustainability programme. 

See www.hurtigruten.co.uk

Contact 0203 6037112 or 8665520371 or uk.sales@hurtigruten.comus.expeditions@hurtigruten.com

From £2,995 / USD$7,932 for 15 days


15: Track rare maned wolves in Brazil

Photo by Keith Ladzinski / Niarra Travel

The largest canines in South America, maned wolves look like big, long-legged foxes. This trip with Niarra Travel sees three of Brazil’s best conservation lodges working together for a wildlife itinerary that makes the most of a long-haul trip to this biodiverse country. Starting at boutique eco-lodge Pousada Trijuncao in Brazil’s little-known Cerrado region, you’ll track endangered maned wolves with conservation NGO Oncafari. Cerrado’s a bird-watcher’s paradise, home to more than 850 species, though the area is threatened by agro-industry.

There are also opportunities to spot jaguars, ocelots, giant anteaters and blue hyacinth macaws at Caiman in the Pantanal wetlands and to hear a cacophony of bird calls and see white-whiskered spider monkeys from the top of a canopy tower at Cristalino Lodge in the Southern Amazon, looking out for the rare Harpy eagle and giant river otters. A group trip for six people can travel between locations in a private prop plane.

See niarratravel.com

From £8,720 or USD$12,100pp for 13 days

Contact 020 3997 5900 or explore@niarratravel.com 


Tiger photo (top) by Vladimir Cech Jr: www.vladimircechml.cz


Experiences aren’t ranked or in order – they’re all incredible wildlife experiences. We’re grateful to the companies above for making a donation to the New Big 5 project to be featured in this article, which helps us to be able to continue working on this initiative and website to raise awareness on urgent wildlife issues and conservation efforts.

NOTE: The best way to solve the crises facing the planet and its wildlife is by having open, honest, respectful conversations and hearing diverse voices from around the world. The New Big 5 project does not necessarily support or agree with every opinion or idea expressed by photographers, conservationists or organisations featured on the New Big 5 website. The many different wildlife charities, photographers, film-makers and conservationists we’ve collaborated with also do not necessarily support or agree with every idea or opinion expressed by other people or organisations on the website. It’s ok to disagree and debate. But we hope the opinions and ideas can inspire people, make people think, and be part of the conversation to help our planet and the animals that live on it.

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