Some people live for adventure. They dive from planes, bungee jump from bridges, ski impossible slopes, and surf terrifying waves.
But there is another way to experience the wild side of our world: getting up close and personal with nature. For those who are not lucky enough to live in a natural setting, there are many wildlife and sea-life experiences to choose from around the world. Here are 10 adventures that will connect you with the wild side of nature!
Related: 10 Times Wild Animals Saved Humans
10 Wolf Watching
Wolves are legendary creatures. They are highly intelligent and incredibly loyal and have found a permanent place in both folklore and fiction worldwide. In 2021, Yellowstone National Park officials announced that the wolf population inside their reserve had grown by 20 percent. Yellowstone also happens to be one of the best locations in the world for wolf-watching.
Here you will be led by a wolf tracker while keeping your eyes peeled for gray or black wolves hunting their prey in the snow. While there is usually a 50/50 chance of seeing a wolf while on a watching tour, the odds climbed to 90% during 2021. Popular watching spots include Elk Creek, Blacktail Plateau, and Hayden Valley.
If wolf-watching is on your bucket list, Yellowstone should definitely be one of your first considerations.
9 Whale Watching
Hermanus is one of the brightest jewels of the Western Cape in South Africa. Here you will find huge mountains and an unbelievably beautiful shoreline all in one place. Located at the edge of Walker Bay, the town of Hermanus offers stunning forests, sparkling lagoons, a hidden valley, and a whole lot more.
What makes Hermanus exceptionally popular, however, is the fact that it is a prime whale-watching spot. Tourists make their way here in droves between June and December to see southern right whales who migrate from the Antarctic during this time to mate and breed. You can see them right from the shoreline in Walker Bay, as well as various other locations close to Hermanus. And if you really want to get up close to these magnificent creatures, you can book a trip on a whale-watching tour boat for an unforgettable experience.
8 Walking with Elephants
Also in South Africa, the stunning Askari Game Lodge in Magaliesberg offers excellent accommodations for wedding parties, conference attendees, and more. The biggest draw, however, is the touch-and-feed elephant experiences and the hugely popular “walking with elephants” sessions.
Here, you will get close enough to the elephants for them to playfully knock your hat off your head and give you a sloppy trunk kiss. While you feed them, the guide will give you interesting facts and titbits about these gentle giants.
Winding down the day at the pool overlooking the dam on the 4,000-hectare game reserve on which the lodge stands, you might just spot a hippo or two at the water’s edge.
7 An Unmatched Experience
The Galapagos Islands combine the pleasure of an island holiday with the thrill of seeing animals in their natural habitat. Here, you can keep an eye out for marine iguanas, the only known lizards with the ability to swim, and giant tortoises that live up to 150 years and weigh almost 600 pounds (272 kilograms). At the southeast point of the Galapagos lies Espanola Island, which boasts Christmas iguanas. These lizards turn red and green during their breeding season, hence the name.
Snorkeling is also a fun activity around the islands and will give you the opportunity to spot the world’s smallest penguin, green turtles, and a variety of colorful reef fish. Look down every now and then while under the surface, and you might just see hammerhead sharks circling below.
6 Giant Pandas
Even if you’re not one of the very lucky people who get to work with and hug pandas every day, you can still interact with them should you go on holiday in China.
The Chengdu Panda Base in Sichuan is a non-profit research and breeding facility for giant pandas. It started out with six giant rescued pandas, and since 2008, they now house more than 80. At the base, visitors can observe the pandas while playing and eating or nursing their young. Experts are at hand to guide tourists in feeding the pandas while teaching them about the various ways these creatures can remain protected.
The panda base is also home to other creatures, including red pandas, swans, and peacocks.
5 Lounging with Leopards
South Africa might be famous for its wildlife encounters, but it is definitely not the only country in the world where wild animals can be observed in their natural habitat. The Yala National Park and Wilpattu National Park in Sri Lanka offer the incredible opportunity to see the elusive leopard. Yala has the densest leopard population in the world, but sadly this amounts to only around 40 of these magnificent animals. Their dwindling numbers are due to human settlements encroaching on their habitat and poaching.
At both Yala and Wilpattu, you should only go on a safari with an expert naturalist who will show you around at a safe distance from the wild animals.
4 See a Rhino before They’re Gone
There are only two Northern White Rhinos left in the world. And other species of rhino are dwindling fast because of poaching. Kenya was once home to around 20,000 black rhinos, of which almost 9 000 were killed over the last decade.
These days, rhinos are protected by 24-hour armed security guards, which is necessary to try and prevent the remaining species from becoming extinct. Fortunately, there are still some places in Kenya and elsewhere to observe rhinos in their natural setting. And if you are able to do so, you should, as it seems the fight against poaching is not going well at all.
At OI Pejeta Bush Camp in the OI Pejeta Conservancy, the last two northern white rhinos, Najin and Fatu, are living out their last days. Here, you will also find 20 south white rhinos and just over 100 critically endangered black rhinos.
3 Swimming with Dolphins
While swimming with captive dolphins is not something most nature lovers would want to do, a few places around the world offer an ethical swimming-with-dolphins experience.
One of these destinations is the beautiful town of Kaikoura which is located on the east coast of New Zealand’s south island. Here, a company called Dolphin Encounters takes small boats out on the water three times a day and offers tourists the opportunity to swim with dusky dolphins.
As soon as you get into the icy water, you will likely be surrounded by these playful dolphins who like showing off in front of visitors. Chances are you’ll also spot a whale or two in the distance.
2 Other Unusual Experiences
If you’re looking to experience something completely different, you can always take a trip to Burkina Faso, where in the town of Sabou, you will find crocodiles so tame you are able to swim with them and even sit on them if you so wish. If you have the nerves for it, you can also dangle a live chicken in front of them at dinnertime.
Alternatively, there is the wild griffin vulture experience in Aragon, Spain. A local naturalist has taken it upon himself to feed these creatures and has been doing so for nineteen years. Tourists can watch from a safe distance as the vultures line up for their lunch and wait for the man to spread food across a field.
1 Up Close and Personal with a Polar Bear
If swimming with dolphins and watching vultures is too tame an activity for your liking, you can always go and take a dip with a polar bear. However, you will be on the other side of a very thick sheet of bulletproof glass, seeing as how polar bears see humans as prey and all.
Located in Ontario, Canada, the Cochrane Polar Bear Habitat has a unique wading tank that you can swim in while interacting with the three polar bears—Henry, Inukshuk, and Ganuk—who love lazing around in the water on the other side of the glass. Outside of the water, you can observe the amazing bears as they eat their favorite snack, watermelon, and play with their plastic toys.