All Articles 12 best animal experiences in the world: wildlife safaris, fairy penguins, and more

12 best animal experiences in the world: wildlife safaris, fairy penguins, and more

Two giraffes roaming around a forested area in Nairobi, Kenya
Image: Giraffe Manor/Tripadvisor
By Tripadvisor12 Jul 2023 5 minutes read

There’s something magical about viewing animals in their natural habitat. Whether it’s penguins marching home, or a lion laying down for a nap, nothing beats the thrill of watching wildlife going about their day…especially if you’re right next to them.

We found 12 of the best animal encounters and experiences in the world that are worth traveling for. Here’s a tip: have a good camera on hand to capture these wondrous creatures as they roar, snore, or glide.

1. Spot puffins in Reykjavik, Iceland

Close-up shot of puffins on Akurey, an island just off the coast of Reykjavik, Iceland
Image: Julie W/Tripadvisor

Iceland is home to most of the world’s puffins, and Reykjavik is a great place to catch these iconic birds in action. Hop on an express cruise to Akurey, a protected nature reserve that puffins use as their nesting ground. The tour also provides binoculars so you can get a better look.

Book fast though. Puffin watching is incredibly popular, and the cruise only runs during the peak viewing season from May to August. Depending on the sea conditions and tide, the small boat can get right up close to the island. Just come prepared with a good zoom camera.

2. Meet camels and falcons in Dubai, United Arab Emirates

A male traveler posing for a photo atop a camel in the Arabian desert, Dubai
A male traveler in a white robe holding a falcon on his arm in the desert
A herd of Arabian oryxes resting on the sand in the desert
Image: (from left to right) Houssem A/Tripadvisor, Stephen N/Tripadvisor, Stefan E/Tripadvisor

Think about Dubai and the animal that likely springs to mind is the camel. Sure, you can find a few on Jumeirah Beach, but there are many more incredible wildlife encounters waiting outside the city.

On this Travelers’ Choice award-winning desert tour, you’ll get to hop on a camel and travel across sand dunes. Don’t miss your chance to hold a majestic falcon too (it’s the national bird of the UAE!). The tour runs throughout the year, but temps are much cooler from November to April.

If you prefer a more relaxing experience, explore the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve on this half-day tour. The guide will take you around the massive nature reserve in a comfy Range Rover to spot gazelles and rare Arabian oryxes.

3. Embark on a wildlife safari in Nairobi, Kenya

Travelers in safari jeeps observing rhinos in Nairobi National Park, with the city skyline in the background
Image: Gus C/Tripadvisor

Located on the outskirts of Nairobi, the world-famous Nairobi National Park offers one of Kenya’s most accessible safari game drives. From zebras to most of the Big Five, there are tons of wild animals to see up close. At certain spots, you can even see the skyscrapers of Kenya’s capital city in the background. Impressive, right?

While you can self-drive, going on a safari tour can help to maximize wildlife sightings in the park. The guide will also take you to the Giraffe Center and Sheldrick Wildlife Trust to feed giraffes and observe elephants. Try visiting during the dry season, between July and October, when the vegetation is less dense and it's easier to spot animals.

4. Swim with green sea turtles in Maui, Hawaii

Aerial view of Molokini Crater near Maui, Hawaii
Two travelers snorkeling near a green sea turtle
A female traveler snorkeling above coral
Image: (from left to right) triggerfishsaul/Getty, wndslr/Tripadvisor, Maui Reef Adventures/Tripadvisor

Three miles from Maui lies Molokini Crater, a crescent-shaped islet teeming with marine life all year round. Think eels, sea urchins, schools of colorful fish, and of course, Hawaiian green sea turtles.

This snorkeling tour will take you to the crater on a powerboat and includes a stop at Turtle Town, where you can get up close to beautiful green sea turtles. While visibility isn’t as great during the rainy season from November and March, you might be able to spot humpback whales.

5. Catch the Penguin Parade at Phillip Island, Melbourne

Little penguins waddling back to their homes during the Penguin Parade on Phillip Island, Melbourne
Image: Boy_Anupong/Getty

Every evening, thousands of fairy penguins emerge from the ocean and waddle back to their burrows on Phillip Island. Known as the Penguin Parade, it’s one of the cutest animal encounters in Australia (and possibly the world). Get there early to secure a good spot for the show.

Make the most of your Melbourne trip with this full-day Phillip Island tour. Besides the Penguin Parade, you’ll get to hand-feed kangaroos, hang out with wallabies, and see the elusive Tasmanian devil.

6. Get up close to penguins in Cape Town, South Africa

A large colony of African penguins roaming around Boulders Beach  in Cape Town, South Africa
Image: aubergine_man/Tripadvisor

Yep, South Africa has penguins too! They frolic freely on Boulders Beach in Cape Town all year round, but the best time to visit is during nesting season (February and August) when thousands of African penguins swarm the beach. It’s quieter from September to October, as many of them go hunting for food in the ocean.

This small-group tour will take you to Boulders Beach, as well as other scenic spots like the Cape of Good Hope. Keep your eyes peeled along the way—you might see ostriches and baboons too.

7. Go whale watching in Juneau, Alaska

A humpback whale breaching in the waters near Juneau, Alaska
Image: Lance King/Getty

If you love whales, Juneau is the place to be. From April to September, over 600 colossal humpback whales return to the waterways to feed. Against a backdrop of mountains, you’ll watch them roll, blow, or slap their tails. And that’s not all—orcas, dolphins, and sea lions make an appearance too.

Travelers highly recommend this whale-watching & glacier tour, complete with passionate guides and a hike to the breathtaking Mendenhall Glacier and Nugget Falls. If you’re lucky, you might also spot black bears and bald eagles along the way.

8. Befriend manatees in Crystal River and Naples, Florida

Underwater shot of a traveler snorkeling beside two manatees in Crystal River, Florida
A traveler taking a photo of a manatee during a wildlife boat tour in Naples, Florida
Travelers observing manatees in Crystal River and Naples, Florida. Image: (from left to right) Greg L/Tripadvisor, AngieSeahorn/Tripadvisor

Fun fact: manatees are nicknamed ‘sea cows’ for their slow-moving and grazing nature. They live in shallow coastal waters in some parts of the United States, and Florida is a fantastic spot to see them.

For an up-close encounter, head to Crystal River to swim with the manatees. Don’t be surprised if some of them come up to you for a kiss (yep, they’re that curious). No wonder travelers say this is one of 2023’s best bucket list experiences.

This wildlife boat tour down in Naples is another great way to meet these aquatic animals. You can see manatees all year round, but there’s a better chance of spotting them when the tide is low and the sun is at its highest. See if you can spot alligators and bull sharks too.

9. Spot sloths in Tamarindo, Costa Rica

Close-up shot of a three-toed sloth in a tree in Tamarindo, Costa Rica
Image: Tour19871229047/Tripadvisor

Sloths are Costa Rica’s national animal, and while they’re fairly common, spotting them in rainforests can be a challenge as they tend to hide high up in the trees.

To up your chances of seeing these slow-moving animals, join this full-day tour departing from Tamarindo. It includes a stop at Finca Verde, an organic farm and wildlife sanctuary nestled in a valley. As you roam around the rainforest, your guide will point out sloths and other critters like toucans, snakes, and frogs.

Not into hiking? Kick back on this Tamarindo estuary safari cruise instead. The eagle-eyed guide will help you spot crocodiles, howler monkeys, and a variety of birds.

10. See Komodo dragons on Komodo Island, Indonesia

Close-up shot of a large Komodo dragon sticking its tongue out
Image: Chris H/Tripadvisor

Growing up to almost 10 feet, Komodo dragons are the largest lizards in the world. And there’s no better place to encounter them than on Komodo Island in eastern Indonesia. Here, hundreds roam freely, often basking in the shade. Remember to keep a safe distance, though—they can be aggressive (and fast) if provoked.

Accommodation on Komodo Island is limited but you can stay at a hotel in Labuan Bajo and visit the island on this day trip. Activities include seeing Komodo dragons, snorkeling with majestic manta rays and sea turtles, and exploring the gorgeous Pink Beach.

11. Find flamingos and more on Isabela Island, Galápagos, Ecuador

A flamboyance of flamingos in a lagoon on Isabela Island, Galápagos, Ecuador
Close-up shot of a blue-footed booby, a marine bird with bright blue feet
Image: cheri b/Tripadvisor, Angelica D/Tripadvisor

There’s a lot more to Isabela Island than pristine beaches and stunning volcanic landscapes. All sorts of wildlife thrive here, including vibrant flamingos, blue-footed boobies, and giant tortoises. The best part? There aren’t many predators on the island, so the animals aren’t shy of humans. In fact, sea lions relaxing at the ferry terminal are a common sight.

You can explore the island on a small-group tour that departs from Santa Cruz, the main hub of the Galápagos. Expect a full day of animal adventures, from sunbathing with marine iguanas to swimming with sharks and sea turtles.

12. Look out for sea eagles in Tromsø, Norway

Close-up shot of a white-tailed eagle, or sea eagle, swooping close to the sea in Tromso, Norway
Image: Eric184/Tripadvisor

White-tailed eagles, playful dolphins, and majestic reindeer. Those are just some of the amazing animals that you’ll see on this sightseeing cruise in Tromsø. Together with a friendly crew, you’ll sail across Arctic waters, seeking out stunning wildlife and fjords. You can even try deep-sea fishing.

Visiting in December? Lucky you—it’s the peak time to catch the Northern Lights in Norway, and you can pair your experience with a relaxing reindeer sleigh ride. That’s two bucket list items checked off!