There is wildlife everywhere on our beautiful planet. However, in our modern world, it is becoming increasingly difficult to see wild animals up close. In many areas, wildlife has been decimated by damaging agricultural practices, poor governance, and simply overpopulation.

Fortunately, many areas are still left with wildlife in abundance. Wildlife encounters are possible on a regular day, but to see the very best our planet has to offer, you sometimes have to go to the untouched wilderness.

Ten of the best wildlife spectacles on the planet

The Okavango Delta: Lions and Lechwe

Elephant tracks are visible from the air like roads during the dry season in the Okavango. These are nearly washed away during the wet season. When the area floods, elephants are often seen up to their knees in water enjoying the fresh grasses of the 'green season.
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Elephant tracks are visible from the air like roads during the dry season in the Okavango. These are nearly washed away during the wet season. When the area floods, elephants are often seen up to their knees in water enjoying the fresh grasses of the ‘green season.

One of the best known destinations for wildlife is the Okavango Delta. The seasonal flooding of this inland plain leads to a fertile grassland and the opportunity for multiple species to thrive.
It isn’t only lions and lechwe that live here. On any trip to the Okavango you are bound to see tons of different antelope species and multiple predators trying to hunt them.

All of Africa’s Big Five animals are to be found here, Lion, Leopard, Buffalo, Elephant and Rhino are all here. However the rhinos, both black and white have been reintroduced. Unfortunately poaching had diminished the population.

The Okavango is characterized by a dry arid savannah in the summer months (Dec-Feb in the southern hemisphere) and a flooded grassland from mid-April onwards. June is the peak of the flood. As the waters start to recede in July and August the setting is perfect for a safari to the Okavango Delta.

The wildlife is abundant at this time as a lot of animals breed during the wet season. It is to be noted that here the wet season doesn’t mean the rainy season. The rains that flood the Okavango come from Angola in the North. They fall in the mountains nearly 1500 km away and a month later trickle down into the delta.

Wildlife of note: Lions, Elephants, Zebra, Red Lechwe, Hippos, Leopards, Cheetahs, Rhinos, Crocodiles, Cape Buffalo, Warthogs, African Wild Dogs, Impalas, Kudus, Black-backed Jackals and Honey Badgers

Best time to visit: June-July

The Great Migration : A million wildebeest

One of the most dramatic spectacles in nature is the wildebeest crossing the Grumeti River during the great migration. with up to 8000 animals crossing an hour the noise and chaos is unforgettable.
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One of the most dramatic spectacles in nature is the wildebeest crossing the Grumeti River during the great migration. with up to 8000 animals crossing an hour the noise and chaos is unforgettable.

The Great Migration in East Africa is possibly one of the best known wildlife spectacles in the world. From a low in the 1960s there are now over a million wildebeest who make the trek around East Africa every year. They are joined on their journey by a quarter of a million zebra and many gazelles as well.

The Rift Valley has young volcano created soils and have everything necessary to produce the grass needed to support these massive herds. The Great Migration follows the rains. In February young are born on the fertile Short Grass Plains in the southern Serengeti.

They slowly move northwest into the open plains of the Serengeti area and by July have come to the Grumetti River. One of the first obstacles on their path, the river is full with crocodiles. It is here that we recognize the crazy free-for-all that is a great migration river crossing. The animals mass on the river bank until one is brave enough to take the plunge. Once that happens the others follow. The vast majority get across but hundreds can perish in a day.

North of here the grazing animals continue into the Masai Mara National Reserve in Kenya, reaching it just after the long rains. They stay here for about three months enjoying the lush grass of the area. In October they are ready to head south once more and the same river-crossing spectacle can be seen on the Mara River, the border between Kenya and Tanzania.

As the animals slowly move south they reach the Ndutu Short Grass Plains again in February where the circuit starts anew.

The great migration is a time to have some of the most amazing of animal encounters. If you are on safari during the times the grazing herds are nearby you are likely to see a lot of predator and prey interactions. Seeing a lion pride take down a wildebeest will stay with you forever, even if you fail to get a photograph.

The interesting thing is that the predators don’t make the circuit with the wildebeest and their cohort. Predators have fixed territories and have to wait for the animals to return the following year. When the massive herds are away lions and the like don’t starve but life is a lot more difficult for them.

Wildlife of note: Lions, Elephants, Zebra, Thomson’s Gazelle, Wildebeest, Leopards, Cheetah, Crocodiles, Cape Buffalo, Warthogs, Impalas, Black-backed Jackals, Hyenas

Best time to Visit: July in the Serengeti, October in the Masai Mara

The Salmon Run: A feast for bears

Ever wanted to capture the classic image of a bear catching salmon at a waterfall? Take a trip to British Columbia or Alaska in July and you might have the opportunity. The large amount of migrating salmon is an unmissable feast for bears.
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Ever wanted to capture the classic image of a bear catching salmon at a waterfall? Take a trip to British Columbia or Alaska in July and you might have the opportunity. The large amount of migrating salmon is an unmissable feast for bears.

Northwest North America is a phenomenally bioproductive region. The temperate rainforests of British Columbia and the neighboring US states derives its ability to provide from nutrients in the ocean. Salmon are a vital cog in this amazing nutrient cycle.

Salmon spend much of their life at sea absorbing the nutrients of the ocean before heading to their river of origin to spawn. They can swim up to 1000 km upstream before they spawn and along the way are a source of food for much of the ecosystem around the river. In fact the trees also benefit from their nutrients. Every summer the salmon come upstream in such numbers that predators like eagles, bears and wolves have such a bounty that they don’t eat all the salmon. The salmon corpses are often discarded away from the river and plants and insects take advantage.

The exceptional amount of food attracts and exceptional amount of feeders. Nothing compares to the photographic opportunities for those who wish to photograph bears or bald eagles fishing.

Wildlife of Note: Bears, Salmon, Wolves, Elk, Deer, Bald Eagles

Best time to visit: July

Svalbard, more than just a polar bear

Svalbard is not as inaccessible as most people think. However meeting polar bears is less common than the warning signs will make you think. Often a cruise around the archipelago leads to the most success.
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Svalbard is not as inaccessible as most people think. However meeting polar bears is less common than the warning signs will make you think. Often a cruise around the archipelago leads to the most success.

Often described by travel companies as a “once in a lifetime trip,” Svalbard which is also known as Spitzbergen is actually quite accessible.

At 78º North Longyearbyen, the only town in the Norwegian archipelago, is the hub of visits to the region. It is situated on the island of Spitzbergen, in the archipelago of Svalbard. Flying takes just a couple of hours on scheduled flights from Oslo or Trømsø in the North of Norway, and arrival at midnight can be an adventure in its own right. In Summer the sun never sets and on arrival you might be disoriented to see the sun directly north of you.

The best time to come for wildlife is the end of July and beginning of August. Though the Arctic is not rich in species, it makes up for it in terms of biomass. Hundreds of thousands of sea birds nest on the cliffs here. The summer is short and by the end of July the new born birds, such as Skua, Arctic Tern, Guillemot and Puffin must be ready to spread their wings and head out to sea.

It is not just birds that can be seen. Arctic foxes abound as do reindeer. There are warnings around town not to leave on foot without an armed guard. Polar bears, while not often seen, are never too far away. Take a cruise along the coast to get a better opportunity to see the apex predator of the north.

Also on cruises you are likely to see many seals and walruses. The best experience though is if you manage to see arctic foxes hunting around the base of the bird cliffs.

Wildlife of Note: Puffins, Gulls, Guillemots, Auks, Skua, Arctic Terns, Reindeer, Arctic Foxes, Polar Bears

Best time to visit: end of July, first two weeks of August

Antarctica and South Georgia Cruise

Wildlife lovers should include South Georgia on any cruise itinerary to Antarctica. The sheer numbers of penguins and seals will leave you in awe.
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Wildlife lovers should include South Georgia on any cruise itinerary to Antarctica. The sheer numbers of penguins and seals will leave you in awe.

While the arctic is actually relatively accessible, the Antarctic is a different story. The Antarctic continent has no scheduled flights and the only regular access is by cruise ship. It generally takes a couple of days to cross the Drake passage from Ushuaia in southern Argentina.

Most cruises that operate in the area are expedition cruises permitting access to secluded bays and direct landings onto the ice. During the summer months penguin activity is at its highest and you are almost guaranteed to see a number penguin species.

While cruising there will be many Albatros, including the Wandering Albatros who can stay out to sea for two years. There will be seals on the ice flows as well and with a bit of luck whales.

The best wildlife experience though is a cruise that stops at South Georgia. This sub-antarctic island is maybe more famous for being the point where the polar explorer Shackelton ended his disastrous journey in the early 20th century.

The island is home to many massive elephant seal colonies and also colonies of the King Penguin.

Wildlife of Note: Penguins (Emperor, King, Adelie), Leopard Seals, Orca, Elephant Seals, Wandering Albatros

Best time to visit: November to February

Orcas beaching on the Peninsula Valdes

Seeing a Killer Whale hunting sea lions on the beach onPeninsula Valdes is not so common. However it is still the only place you might see it.
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Seeing a Killer Whale hunting sea lions on the beach on Peninsula Valdes is not so common. However it is still the only place you might see it.

There are certain areas of the world where sea currents and land come together to create a fantastic mix of nutrients in the ocean. One of these is just off the coast of the Valdes Peninsula in Argentina.

The ocean here is so rich it provides an ecosystem that supports massive colonies of seals. There are seals all along the Patagonia coast and here is no different. What makes the Peninsula unique though is the Orca that call the area home.

While most Killer Whales hunt at sea, a couple of pods that live nearby have developed a new hunting technique. During the calving season the beaches of Valdes are covered in seals and young cubs. As the cubs prepare for life out at sea they swim close to the beach, where it isn’t too difficult to haul out and escape the Orca.

The ingenious Orca however have learnt to time their attacks so that they can get right up to the beach and capture the escaping seals. They time things so well that they beach themselves with a medium sized wave and then get washed back to sea with the next bigger wave.

I am sure nothing compares to seeing a five-meter long orca on the beach towering over the seals. Unfortunately when I was there the orcas stayed at sea.

Wildlife of Note:  Orca, Elephant Seals, Sea Birds, Patagonian Foxes

The best time to see this phenomenon is February to early March

Whale Season in Monterey

Humpback whales are the most common species in Monterery Bay. You can also see blue whales or grey whales depending on the season.
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Humpback whales are the most common species in Monterery Bay. You can also see blue whales or grey whales depending on the season.

Whale watching has become very popular in the last few years. Nowhere more so than in Monterey in California, and with good reason. The Monterey whale season depends on two migrations.

The grey whales are most seen on their way to breeding grounds in Southern or Baja California. They pass through during the winter or early spring months. During the summer months there are more Humpback whales around and even the mighty Blue whale can be regularly spotted here.

Whale watching is notorious for being unpredictable. Monterey Bay in California is one of the places where you are ‘guaranteed a sighting. Most operators offer a second trip free if they don’t find any on the first trip. Do note they don’t guarantee a species so if the blue whale is what you are looking for then plan multiple trips.

Nowhere compares to here for the concentration of whales, easily accessible and close to the coast. A quirk of the sea floor is that it is very deep quite close to land and so whales, who prefer deeper water, are quite simply put – closer to us – and easier to see on a 3-hour boat trip.

Wildlife of Note:  Grey Whale, Killer Whales, Humpback Whales, Blue Whales, Dolphins and Sea Birds

The best time to visit is January to March (Grey Whale and orcas) or April to December (Humpback and Blue Whales)

Galapagos: Follow in the footsteps of Darwin

The Galapagos islands are known for their unique wildlife, the blue footed booby is one of the species commonly found there.
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The Galapagos islands are known for their unique wildlife, the blue-footed booby is one of the species commonly found there.

A dream of most wildlife lovers, the Galapagos is a collection of unique islands with unique animals.

We all know the story of Darwin and his discovery of the finches. It was the start of a lifelong study to discover why the islands had such individual wildlife. For modern travelers, it can also be the catalyst for a love affair with wildlife.

There are six main islands and many more small ones in the area. Sitting on the equator with fertile volcanic soil, the islands are perfect for creating a “natural biological experiment”. Over many years of isolation, the wildlife in the Galapagos islands has evolved to be completely different from their closest cousins.

Finches with strange beaks are the best known. The Galapagos are also home to the only marine-living iguana, iguanas that lay their eggs in active volcanoes. The flightless cormorant, like penguins, only ‘flies’ underwater. On the subject of penguins, there is the Galapagos Penguin. There is also the Galapagos Tortoise, the Galapagos Shark, the Galapagos Hawk, and the Galapagos fur seal.

The best way to see the Galapagos is as part of a cruise. Unlike the Antarctic, where only big companies can afford the necessary ships, the Islands have a great economy of smaller boats, 8-20 people that do a week’s cruise around the islands, showing you the unique and different islands.

Diving and snorkeling are spectacular as well, and most cruises offer time to snorkel. Wolf Island in the north is famous for its diving and the hammerhead sharks that congregate there in massive numbers.

Wildlife of Note:  Giant Tortoise, Marina Iguana, Land Iguana, Flightless Cormorant, Galapagos Fur Seal, Blue-footed Boobies, Hammerhead Sharks

The best time to visit is December to April. The ocean conditions are best.

Gorilla trekking: An hour with our cousins

Nothing compares to Gorilla Trekking for getting up close with an iconic species. Trekkers are assigned to a group or family to prevent overcrowding. This is the Amahoro group in Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda.
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Nothing compares to Gorilla Trekking for getting up close with an iconic species. Trekkers are assigned to a group or family to prevent overcrowding. This is the Amahoro group in Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda.

Gorilla trekking is high on the list of Once-In-A-Lifetime events for most wildlife lovers. Spending an hour with the Mountain Gorilla in Rwanda or Uganda is a unique experience. It is both awe-inspiring and humbling to see the great apes up close.

Access is not easy, nor is it cheap, but the trip to see mountain gorillas in their natural forest is worth the sweat and money. There are many safari companies that offer an add-on to a trip to Kenya or Tanzania that make things easier. However, be prepared to hike through the steaming jungle in the mountains for up to four hours to find your assigned gorilla family.

A few years ago there were only 500 individuals alive in three populations but exceptional efforts from conservation authorities in Uganda, Rwanda and the DRC have managed to more than double the population.

Trekking with gorillas is strictly regulated to maintain their protection. The gorilla is susceptible to human illnesses so you can’t trek with a cold. Permits are necessary and sometimes booked out long in advance. Try going in the wet season to get cheaper and easier to access permits.

Wildlife of Note:  Mountain Gorillas, Forest Elephants, numerous monkeys, birds

Best time to visit: All year round

Snow Monkeys in the Hot Springs in Japan

Jigokudani Snow Monkey park is the place to go if you want to see the Japanese Snow Monkeys. The macaques like to sit in the warm waters of the volcanic hot springs.
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Jigokudani Snow Monkey park is the place to go if you want to see the Japanese Snow Monkeys. The macaques like to sit in the warm waters of the volcanic hot springs.

There are many places in Japan where you can see the Japanese Macaque. There are many places where you can find hot springs, or, in Japanese, ‘Onsen.’ However, it is only at Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park that you can see the Japanese Macaque bathing in the hot springs.

While the park is in the mountains it is quite accessible. Nagano, famous as host of the winter Olympics is three hours north of Tokyo by train. From here a local train will take you to Yudanaka, the town right next to the Monkey park. From here there is good hiking in the area. The Monkey park is a good trek out of town, or you can take a local bus. Despite being a unique natural adventure, the snow monkey park is quite accessible.

The behavior of monkeys is always fascinating to watch. They really do behave just like humans sometimes. Winters in Japan, at least in the mountains, can get down to -10º. To keep warm, the macaques jump in the hot volcanic pools, just like we like to.

Wildlife of Note:  Japanese Macaques

Best time to visit: During the winter, the snow monkeys come to the hot springs to stay warm

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