Top 10 Animal Encounters around the World

By Viator, September 2011

Pat, cuddle, stroke and, in some cases, hide from animals all over the world with our top 10 animal encounters. Basing our itinerary on the top unbeatable animal experiences, we’ve travelled on safari from the US to Africa, England to Australia, Borneo to Thailand and beyond. Watch out David Attenborough, here we come!

1. Alligators
Where do the alligators grow so mean? Down in Louisiana, of course, and not forgetting Florida. You wouldn't want to encounter an alligator in the wild, or your backyard, but gator parks put your safety first with guided wildlife encounters and reptile shows. Stay on for feeding time or take an airboat ride through the swamp.

2. Big Five
An African animal safari means spotting the Big Five: lions, elephants, rhinos, leopards and buffaloes. With luck, you have the chance to spot the Big Five at game parks across southern Africa, including Namibia, Kenya, Tanzania and Botswana. But the most popular place to start your Big Five safari is South Africa, more specifically Kruger National Park, one of the largest and most varied parks in Africa.

3. Dolphins
If swimming with dolphins is on your to do list, the world is your oyster. You can encounter dolphins at Florida aquariums and Hawaii water parks, San Diego SeaWorld and Mexico’s Riviera Maya dolphin discovery centres. An eco encounter with wild dolphins at sea is even more thrilling as the dolphins are free and unconfined. Try snorkelling and swimming with dolphins in the warm waters of the Bahamas, off Western Australia or in colder seas off Kaikoura in New Zealand.

4. Donkeys
Just like horses, donkeys were once used as working animals. Over the centuries donkeys have been put to work pulling wagons, carrying humans, tilling fields and milling grain. Now you can visit donkey sanctuaries around the world to learn more about these gentle equines, and try some hands-on donkey grooming and walking. Perhaps the most famous donkey sanctuary is in Devon, but you’ll also find them in Africa, Mexico, India, the USA and Australia.

5. Elephants
Thailand’s beast of burden is the elephant, and at elephant camps in Lampang, Chiang Rai, Kanchanaburi, Khao Sok and Surin you can take a gentle elephant ride or full on elephant trek through the countryside. To help support elephant conservation efforts, visit the Elephant Nature Park outside Chiang Mai, in northern Thailand, where hands-on elephant encounters include washing, feeding and overnight elephant helper visits.

6. Grizzlies
What’s cuter than a baby bear? At US nature parks in locations such as South Dakota you can cuddle baby grizzlies, help with feeding time and see the youngsters at play. Come equipped with binoculars when you visit national parks like Yellowstone to safely spot adult grizzly bears in the wild as they forage for food and amble across meadows. Keep safety in mind though by sticking to designated trails and carry bear spray if you’re hiking.

7. Koalas
There are more than 100 of Australia’s cutest marsupials in residence at the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary in Brisbane. Not only can you spot the furry grey mammals sleeping in the eucalyptus treetops, at Lone Pine you also get the chance to cuddle a koala and have your picture taken as a take-home memento of your experience.

8. Orangutans
To see orangutans swinging from the trees, head to the sanctuaries and parks of Borneo, Sarawak, Kota Kinabalu and Indonesia. You can see them in the wild from a riverboat in Kinabatangan, or visit a rehabilitation centre at Sepilok, in Sabah, to help feed and care for orphaned orang-utans while they’re being prepared for release back into the wild. For a real hands-on experience, visit Singapore zoo to share breakfast with orang-utans, the zoo’s flagship critters, and then watch them at play in their re-created rainforest habitat.

9. Polar bears
If polar bears are your favorite animal, plan a visit to Churchill in Manitoba, Canada, in October/November. It’s one of the southernmost places where you can spot them congregating on the tundra before their wintertime return to their icy feeding grounds in Hudson Bay. Heaps of tours run out of Churchill, often including fly-in access, luxury wilderness lodge accommodation and transportation out onto the tundra to spot the bears in the wild. You might also spot caribou, Arctic foxes, hares and wolves, plus snowy owls and falcons.

10. Whale watching

Southern hemisphere countries like South Africa, Australia and New Zealand are brilliant for glimpsing whales frolicking and spouting, either viewed from the water on-board a cruise or from the land if you time it right. Head to Hermanus in South Africa or Warrnambool in southern Australia to spot southern right whales from the bea

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