20 Bucket List Destinations For Animal Lovers

by Christina Garofalo

20 Bucket List Destinations For Animal Lovers

by Christina Garofalo

Whether swimming with pigs, catching hummingbirds, or hugging a koala, there’s a world of diverse experiences where animal lovers can get up close to some of the most majestic creatures on earth. Here are 20 trips to take if you are an animal lover.

Whether swimming with pigs, catching hummingbirds, or hugging a koala, there’s a world of diverse experiences where animal lovers can get up close to some of the most majestic creatures on earth. Here are 20 trips to take if you are an animal lover.

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Wild lions, Tanzania, Africa / iStock / Jeniffer Collee
Koala, Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary, Brisbane, Australia
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Brisbane, Australia

At Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary, just outside Brisbane, you can get up close and even hold koalas. Opened in 1927 as a refuge for the tiny marsupials at a time when the species was under threat by the fur trade, Lone Pine is now home to 130 koalas, making it the largest koala sanctuary in the world. While there, visitors can also see and feed other indigenous animals, like kangaroos and lorikeets.

At Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary, just outside Brisbane, you can get up close and even hold koalas. Opened in 1927 as a refuge for the tiny marsupials at a time when the species was under threat by the fur trade, Lone Pine is now home to 130 koalas, making it the largest koala sanctuary in the world. While there, visitors can also see and feed other indigenous animals, like kangaroos and lorikeets.

Elephant, Ngorongoro Conservation Area, Tanzania
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Crater Highlands, Tanzania

The holy grail of the African safari is the Big Five: lion, leopard, rhinoceros, elephant, and Cape buffalo. The Ngorongoro Conservation Area is a great place to see them all. Located in the Crater Highlands of northern Tanzania—the largest intact, unfilled caldera in the world—it’s home to more than 25,000 animals including the last remaining population of the endangered black rhino.

The holy grail of the African safari is the Big Five: lion, leopard, rhinoceros, elephant, and Cape buffalo. The Ngorongoro Conservation Area is a great place to see them all. Located in the Crater Highlands of northern Tanzania—the largest intact, unfilled caldera in the world—it’s home to more than 25,000 animals including the last remaining population of the endangered black rhino.

Swimming pigs, Sandy Toes Bahamas
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Rose Island, Bahamas

The owners of Rose Island—a protected wildlife reserve in the Bahamas—are famous for their pet pigs. Regular vet visits and healthy food, plus ample space to play, the pigs are happy and well-cared for—and they love to swim with humans. Book an outing through Sandy Toes Bahamas. The operators will lather the piggies with sunscreen and then send you off to frolic and explore reef life.

The owners of Rose Island—a protected wildlife reserve in the Bahamas—are famous for their pet pigs. Regular vet visits and healthy food, plus ample space to play, the pigs are happy and well-cared for—and they love to swim with humans. Book an outing through Sandy Toes Bahamas. The operators will lather the piggies with sunscreen and then send you off to frolic and explore reef life.

Mountain gorillas, Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda
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Virunga Mountains, Rwanda

Mountain gorillas are unique, endangered primates. Of the thousand left on the planet, the majority live in Volcanoes National Park, part of Rwanda’s Virunga Conservation Area, at elevations of 8,000 to 13,000 feet. All gorilla safaris require a permit ($1,500 a person) from the park to help moderate traffic and promises one hour of gorilla time.

Mountain gorillas are unique, endangered primates. Of the thousand left on the planet, the majority live in Volcanoes National Park, part of Rwanda’s Virunga Conservation Area, at elevations of 8,000 to 13,000 feet. All gorilla safaris require a permit ($1,500 a person) from the park to help moderate traffic and promises one hour of gorilla time.

Dolphins, Azores, Portugal
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Azores, Portugal

The Azores is home to seven different dolphin species and offers rich marine life beyond the dolphin. Join an organized boat trip; operators provide fins, goggles, and a snorkel. You’ll spend three-four hours swimming with several types of dolphins and may also spot a hammerhead shark.

The Azores is home to seven different dolphin species and offers rich marine life beyond the dolphin. Join an organized boat trip; operators provide fins, goggles, and a snorkel. You’ll spend three-four hours swimming with several types of dolphins and may also spot a hammerhead shark.

Sepilok Rehabilitation Centre, Malaysian, Borneo
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Malaysian Borneo

Malaysian Borneo is one of the only places you can see orangutans in their natural habitat. Native to rainforests (orangutang is the Malay word for “man of the forest”), the population has been threatened by the development of palm oil plantations. Sepilok Rehabilitation Centre rescues and cares for orphans on a lovely reserve where animals roam freely in their natural habitat.

Malaysian Borneo is one of the only places you can see orangutans in their natural habitat. Native to rainforests (orangutang is the Malay word for “man of the forest”), the population has been threatened by the development of palm oil plantations. Sepilok Rehabilitation Centre rescues and cares for orphans on a lovely reserve where animals roam freely in their natural habitat.

Hummingbird, Arizona, U.S.A.
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Cochise County, Arizona

If you love these tiny, magical birds, you can see thousands of them—comprising up to 10 species—in San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area south of Tucson, a stop between their winter retreats and nesting grounds. Visit during the spring and fall migrations (April-May and July-Sept.) and participate in events around hummingbird banding, which helps scientists study the birds.

If you love these tiny, magical birds, you can see thousands of them—comprising up to 10 species—in San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area south of Tucson, a stop between their winter retreats and nesting grounds. Visit during the spring and fall migrations (April-May and July-Sept.) and participate in events around hummingbird banding, which helps scientists study the birds.

Giant Panda, Chengdu Research Base for Giant Panda Breeding
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Chengdu, China

Native to bamboo forests in the mountains of southwestern China, the giant panda is vulnerable in the wild. The Chengdu Research Base for Giant Panda Breeding has rescued and bred more than 200, along with the smaller red panda. Hang out and learn all about the cute, clumsy creatures on the 165-acre base, which has a delivery room, research center, hospital, and panda houses. 

Native to bamboo forests in the mountains of southwestern China, the giant panda is vulnerable in the wild. The Chengdu Research Base for Giant Panda Breeding has rescued and bred more than 200, along with the smaller red panda. Hang out and learn all about the cute, clumsy creatures on the 165-acre base, which has a delivery room, research center, hospital, and panda houses. 

Bison, Yellowstone National Park
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Wyoming, USA

For millennia, millions of bison roamed North America, critical to the ecosystem and Native American ritual. You can see the largest population of free bison in the U.S. at Yellowstone National Park—the only place bison have lived continuously since before near-extinction and rehabilitation. The park is also home to wolves, mountain goats, grizzly bears, and the bald eagle, to name a few.

For millennia, millions of bison roamed North America, critical to the ecosystem and Native American ritual. You can see the largest population of free bison in the U.S. at Yellowstone National Park—the only place bison have lived continuously since before near-extinction and rehabilitation. The park is also home to wolves, mountain goats, grizzly bears, and the bald eagle, to name a few.

Galapagos Tortoise
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Galápagos Islands, Ecuador

Long isolated from rest of the world, the Galápagos is among the most biodiverse places on the planet. Perhaps most legendary among its species is the giant tortoise, which can grow to 5 feet in length and 550 pounds. At Charles Darwin Research Station on Isla Santa Cruz—where the study of tortoises contributed to the theory of evolution—visitors can view virtually every stage of their life cycle.

Long isolated from rest of the world, the Galápagos is among the most biodiverse places on the planet. Perhaps most legendary among its species is the giant tortoise, which can grow to 5 feet in length and 550 pounds. At Charles Darwin Research Station on Isla Santa Cruz—where the study of tortoises contributed to the theory of evolution—visitors can view virtually every stage of their life cycle.

Bengal Tiger, Ranthambore National Park
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Rajasthan, India

Tigers, with their majestic black-and-orange coats, are a rare and vulnerable species: An estimated 3,900 remain in the wild. Northern India’s Ranthambore National Park, once the hunting grounds of the Maharajas (great rulers), is home to 71 tigers and offers safaris (in groups of six or 20) to see them in the wild.

Tigers, with their majestic black-and-orange coats, are a rare and vulnerable species: An estimated 3,900 remain in the wild. Northern India’s Ranthambore National Park, once the hunting grounds of the Maharajas (great rulers), is home to 71 tigers and offers safaris (in groups of six or 20) to see them in the wild.

Polar Bear, Hudson Bay, Canada
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Churchill, Canada

Polar bears live on sea ice around the Arctic Circle. When the ice melts in summer, about a thousand bears come to shore and pass-through Churchill, the "polar bear capital of the world,” some 1,000 miles north of Winnipeg. You can see them from July-Nov. on tours of the tundra just outside of town. Reservations are a must.

Polar bears live on sea ice around the Arctic Circle. When the ice melts in summer, about a thousand bears come to shore and pass-through Churchill, the "polar bear capital of the world,” some 1,000 miles north of Winnipeg. You can see them from July-Nov. on tours of the tundra just outside of town. Reservations are a must.

Penguin, Martillo Island, Argentina
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Martillo Island, Argentina

Is there anything more enjoyable than watching penguins waddle around the water’s edge? For penguin-lovers, Martillo Island (nicknamed “Penguin Island”) near Ushuaia is a must. Groups of up to 20 visitors can walk among the colony of Gentoo and Magellanic penguins that inhabit the island from September through April.
 

Is there anything more enjoyable than watching penguins waddle around the water’s edge? For penguin-lovers, Martillo Island (nicknamed “Penguin Island”) near Ushuaia is a must. Groups of up to 20 visitors can walk among the colony of Gentoo and Magellanic penguins that inhabit the island from September through April.
 

Humpback whale, Tonga
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Vava’u, Tonga

In Vava’u, visitors can come face to face with one of earth’s largest mammals: the humpback whale. Surrounded by coral reef, the warm tropical water here is conducive to mating and birthing on their annual pilgrimage from Antarctica (June-Nov.). Swim with babies, watch adults leap above the water, and listen to the song of courting males on tours that range from several hours to a full week.

In Vava’u, visitors can come face to face with one of earth’s largest mammals: the humpback whale. Surrounded by coral reef, the warm tropical water here is conducive to mating and birthing on their annual pilgrimage from Antarctica (June-Nov.). Swim with babies, watch adults leap above the water, and listen to the song of courting males on tours that range from several hours to a full week.

Snow Monkeys, Jigokudani Monkey Park, Japan
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Yamanouchi, Japan

At Jigokudani Monkey Park, Japanese Macaques (snow monkeys) participate in one of Japan’s most beloved pastimes: bathing in onsen (hot spring baths). Located in Yamanouchi, Nagano prefecture, the park has been open since 1964 and is popular for tourists and scientists alike. In addition to seeing them bathe, you might also spot them engaging in another popular human activity: snowball fights.  

At Jigokudani Monkey Park, Japanese Macaques (snow monkeys) participate in one of Japan’s most beloved pastimes: bathing in onsen (hot spring baths). Located in Yamanouchi, Nagano prefecture, the park has been open since 1964 and is popular for tourists and scientists alike. In addition to seeing them bathe, you might also spot them engaging in another popular human activity: snowball fights.  

Llama, Machu Picchu, Peru
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Sacred Valley, Peru

First domesticated by the Incan people in the Andes mountains, llamas proved valuable for their strength and sure-footedness to carry loads of up to 75 pounds over the difficult terrain. Today, visitors can trek with llamas throughout the Sacred Valley, most famously on the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. You can try your hand at leading, and bond with, your llama on single and multi-day outings.

First domesticated by the Incan people in the Andes mountains, llamas proved valuable for their strength and sure-footedness to carry loads of up to 75 pounds over the difficult terrain. Today, visitors can trek with llamas throughout the Sacred Valley, most famously on the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. You can try your hand at leading, and bond with, your llama on single and multi-day outings.

Hippos, Zambezi River, Zambia
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Lower Zambezi, Zambia

When most think of Africa’s most dangerous mammal, they don’t envision the hippopotamus—lazily lounging the day away. However, hippos are fiercely territorial, and sightings must be orchestrated. With more than 40,000 hippos, Zambia claims the world’s largest population. A tour of the Lower Zambezi River might land you in front of a group of 60 swimming by day or grazing at night.  

When most think of Africa’s most dangerous mammal, they don’t envision the hippopotamus—lazily lounging the day away. However, hippos are fiercely territorial, and sightings must be orchestrated. With more than 40,000 hippos, Zambia claims the world’s largest population. A tour of the Lower Zambezi River might land you in front of a group of 60 swimming by day or grazing at night.  

Horses, Cappadocia, Turkey
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Cappadocia, Turkey

If you’re a horse-lover, Cappadocia has possibly the richest horse-riding history in the world. During the Roman empire, aristocrats came to Anatolia to buy horses for their legendary chariot races. Today, myriad horseback riding tours, guided by Turkish cowboys, provide history and beauty—passing Byzantine churches, centuries-old monasteries, villages carved from rock, and hot air balloons.

If you’re a horse-lover, Cappadocia has possibly the richest horse-riding history in the world. During the Roman empire, aristocrats came to Anatolia to buy horses for their legendary chariot races. Today, myriad horseback riding tours, guided by Turkish cowboys, provide history and beauty—passing Byzantine churches, centuries-old monasteries, villages carved from rock, and hot air balloons.

Jaguar, Pantanal, Brazil
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Pantanal, Brazil

South of the Amazon Rainforest, the world's largest tropical wetland area is home to some 2,000 jaguars. The big cats are ordinarily elusive, but what makes Pantanal unique is its waterways: The cats rely on the rivers for hunting and can be seen out in the open during the dry season (June to Nov.). Safaris occur by boat and also offer sightings of anacondas, toucans, and tortoises.

South of the Amazon Rainforest, the world's largest tropical wetland area is home to some 2,000 jaguars. The big cats are ordinarily elusive, but what makes Pantanal unique is its waterways: The cats rely on the rivers for hunting and can be seen out in the open during the dry season (June to Nov.). Safaris occur by boat and also offer sightings of anacondas, toucans, and tortoises.

Great White Shark, South Africa
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Cape Town, South Africa

Five miles off the southernmost tip of South Africa is known as Shark Alley for a reason: The waters are rich with seals, penguins, and other prey for Great White sharks. For fearless shark lovers, this is the place to go cage diving—which brings you as close as you can get to the epic predator. For the faint of heart, the great white sharks can also be seen from the boat.
 

Five miles off the southernmost tip of South Africa is known as Shark Alley for a reason: The waters are rich with seals, penguins, and other prey for Great White sharks. For fearless shark lovers, this is the place to go cage diving—which brings you as close as you can get to the epic predator. For the faint of heart, the great white sharks can also be seen from the boat.
 

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