10 Unexpected Vacation Ideas for Animal Lovers




10 Unexpected Vacation Ideas for Animal Lovers

Discover lesser-known places to observe and protect fascinating creatures.Let's say you're clamoring to travel somewhere filled with once-in-a-lifetime wildlife-viewing opportunities. Perhaps you're dreaming of a far-flung African savanna where you can spot gazelles, giraffes, elephants and lions roaming freely. Or maybe you're yearning to catch sight of rarer animals, such as mountain gorillas, Japanese snow monkeys or Bengal tigers. Fortunately, there are many places where it's not only possible to observe iconic animals in their natural surroundings, but also support species threatened by habitat loss. With this in mind, we've rounded up a few under-the-radar vacation ideas that are sure to leave you yearning for a wildlife-centered trip.



10 Unexpected Vacation Ideas for Animal Lovers

Tokyo and Kyoto, JapanSpotting snow monkeys in Japan is an unforgettable experience, Poon Tip says. June to August is an ideal time to plan a trip, he adds. On G Adventures' 12-day Backroads of Japan expedition, visitors explore Jigokudani Monkey Park, where they can spot wild Japanese snow monkeys soaking in natural hot springs. "They don't leave the hot baths," Poon Tip adds, pointing out that for wildlife photographers, the trip offers a spectacular scene. The trip itinerary also includes stops in Tokyo; an expedition to the Japanese Alps and Nagano, which hosted the 1998 Winter Olympic Games; and visits to shrines, tea houses and zen gardens across Kyoto. Prices start at $3,699.



10 Unexpected Vacation Ideas for Animal Lovers

AustraliaWhile exploring Australia's sprawling Kakadu National Park, you shouldn't only look out for kangaroos: The park also plays host to wallaroos, wallabies and a myriad of fascinating species, from crocodiles to lizards to magpie geese and flatback turtles. On G Adventures' cross-country Yolo tour, which takes visitors from Darwin to Adelaide on a two-week journey, you can experience Kakadu's striking waterfalls, trails, swimming holes and wildlife before continuing on through Alice Springs, Uluru and Adelaide's Clare Valley for a wine tasting. Prices start at $2,199.



10 Unexpected Vacation Ideas for Animal Lovers

Glacier Bay National Park, AlaskaWhile many people make the trek to Alaska's Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve to soak in inspiring attractions and landscapes - punctuated by lush forests, icy glaciers and snow-topped mountains - there are also superlative wildlife watching opportunities, says Everett Potter, a columnist for USA Today and author of "Everett Potter's Travel Report," a weekly travel news blog. Inside Glacier Bay, visitors are rewarded with idyllic vantage points to see wildlife, such as eagles, bears, puffins and whales. There are also abundant opportunities for birding, with nearly 275 bird species identified in the park. And though there are a wealth of ways to explore the park, one of the best ways to spot magnificent animals and aquatic life is by embarking on a scenic cruise, where you can enjoy biking and hiking expeditions on land or whale-watching expeditions on the water.



10 Unexpected Vacation Ideas for Animal Lovers

MadagascarWhen you picture the ultimate African safari, images of Serengeti National Park in Tanzania or Kenya - with iconic species such as cheetah, rhino and zebra - might come to mind. But for wildlife sightings like no other, consider making the trip to Madagascar. Here, you can spot everything from colorful chameleons to lemurs and fossa, says Bruce Poon Tip, founder of adventure travel outfitter G Adventures. On G Adventures' 14-day Highlights of Madagascar tour, you can enjoy guided walks through national parks and even a special reserve in Andasibe-Mantadia National Park, and see fascinating wildlife as well as remote villages and beaches, starting at $2,099 per person.



10 Unexpected Vacation Ideas for Animal Lovers

Custer State Park, South DakotaTucked away in the southwestern corner of South Dakota, you'll find Custer State Park, home to about 1,300 bison. Though often passed over in favor of iconic Mount Rushmore, this park in South Dakota's Black Hills features plenty of intriguing animals, from mountain lions to sheep to antelope and elk, among others - all framed against scenic backdrops along Wildlife Loop Road. The surroundings are so picturesque, in fact, you might recognize the setting from the 1990 film, "Dances With Wolves," which was filmed nearby in Badlands National Park and the Black Hills.



10 Unexpected Vacation Ideas for Animal Lovers

Assateague Island National Seashore, Maryland and VirginiaTo catch sight of wild horses, consider visiting Assateague Island National Seashore, which is rife with beautiful, majestic horses on both the Virginia and Maryland sides of the park. When you're not admiring the two major herds, including the Chincoteague ponies on the Virginia side, keep your eyes peeled for white-tailed deer and snow geese, along with aquatic life, such as blue crabs and summer flounder. Aside from enjoying the area's abundance of wildlife, you'll have plenty of opportunities for kayaking, swimming and joining ranger-led programs to learn about ways to protect the environment and celebrate the upcoming national park centennial. And you can plan a memorable and affordable camping trip this summer, with campsite prices at just $30 a night.



10 Unexpected Vacation Ideas for Animal Lovers

MongoliaIf you're seeking an off-the-grid getaway for wildlife sightings, it's hard to top traipsing through Mongolia. In northern Mongolia's Khustai National Park, you'll find a mix of wild Mongolian horses, desert gazelles and golden eagles. On G Adventures' 14-day Nomadic Mongolia tour (starting at $2,294 per person), "you can see the last of truly wild horses," Poon Tip says. On the trip, you can spend one day exploring Gurvansaikhan National Park - home to vultures, sheep and eagles - and immerse yourself in the Gobi Desert's striking landscape the next. The expedition also affords the chance to absorb local village life and even bunk down in authentic yurt tents.



10 Unexpected Vacation Ideas for Animal Lovers

Rwanda, Kenya and UgandaLet's get one thing out of the way: Rwanda is not an easy place to reach from the U.S., but it is worth the trip. Intrepid Travel's managing director James Thornton recalls trekking into the mountains and standing face-to-face with endangered mountain gorillas as a rewarding and unforgettable experience. Inside Rwanda's Volcanoes National Park, visitors can embark on a guided, expert-led trek through the 13,000-hectare lush national park to learn about and track the varied gorilla families found in the park and keep eyes peeled for golden monkeys. Intrepid Travel's four-day Mountain Gorillas of Rwanda itinerary starts at $2,995. For more gorilla-viewing excursions, consider splurging for Intrepid Travel's 16-day Gorillas and Game Parks expedition. The excursion offers a gorilla safari in Rwanda and the chance to explore different rainforests, woodlands and plains throughout Kenya and Uganda to spot rhinos, antelope, flamingos and lions in their natural environment, starting at $3,390.



10 Unexpected Vacation Ideas for Animal Lovers

IcelandIn Iceland, striking landscapes and attractions, from glaciers to geothermal spas, jockey for visitors' attention. But the natural wildlife-viewing opportunities are another top draw for planning a trip. Throughout the country, you can spot everything from bottlenose and humpback whales to minks and puffin birds along Vik's coast in southern Iceland. On a seven-day roundtrip tour from Reykjavik with G Adventures, you can join glacier treks in Skaftafell National Park, explore the Golden Circle and check out the Gullfoss Waterfall, among other highlights. Tours start at $2,499.



10 Unexpected Vacation Ideas for Animal Lovers

Galápagos IslandsOn a trip to the Galápagos Islands, you'll not only see rare and diverse creatures above water, but also have the opportunity to snorkel with seals and penguins or even enjoy an exhilarating dive with hammerhead sharks, Poon Tip says. Here, you'll find fascinating creatures like giant tortoises, iguanas, penguins and finches, and a myriad of other rare mammals, birds and wildlife found in few corners of the globe. Plus, there are ample educational opportunities to learn about the isles' biodiversity and champion conservation efforts, he adds.
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