There are plenty of good reasons to travel — to escape winter weather, to take on an adventure, to experience things you’ve never seen before. Here’s another one: to see all the incredible animals the world has to offer. From polar bears to kangaroos to the tiny tarsier, it’s hard not to love these astonishing animals. If you get teary-eyed over animal rescue stories or have ever wanted to see a whale up close, pack your bags — we’ve got the perfect travel destinations for you.
1. Sloth Sanctuary in Costa Rica: Meet rescued sloths and learn about sloth habits and behavior and the struggles they’re facing in the wild. Because sloths have a stress response when touched by unfamiliar humans, you won’t be able to hold them (sorry, Kristen Bell), but if you take the Insider’s Tour, you can visit the sloth nursery. Yes, that’s right: baby sloths!
2. Polar Bear Migration Safari in Manitoba, Canada: See a polar bear up close on an incredible Canadian arctic safari. The best time to visit is October and November, when polar bears are migrating from their summer homes on the tundra to seal-hunting territory. (Photo via Churchill Wild)
3. Kayaking With Manatees in Crystal River, FL: Manatees, also known as “sea cows,” spend most of their lives in shallow water that maintains a temperature above 68 degrees. That’s why Crystal River in Florida is a great place to view them. Be cautious, though: How to ethically interact with manatees is hotly contested, and most eco groups advocate maintaining a fair distance, not swimming with the animals, and definitely not touching them. (Photo via Getty)
4. Parahawking in Algodonales, Spain: Fly high with birds of prey by paragliding alongside trained hawks. The animals are rehabbed but non-releasable into the wild, and the bird trainers consider the activity an enrichment exercise for the birds. To reward the birds for behaving, you or the pilot will also be able to feed the bird from your hand as you fly. (Photo via The Parahawking Project)
5. Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Nanyuki, Kenya: Ol Pejeta is the largest black rhino sanctuary and also the only chimpanzee sanctuary, and it also works to maintain and restore elephant and other wildlife populations. Take a safari through their 90,000 acres of protected lands and stay in a sweet tented camp.
6. Tarsier Sanctuary in Bohol, Philippines: Tarsiers are small, nocturnal primates native to Southeast Asia that live on insects in trees. You can view them in their natural habitat at the Tarsier Sanctuary, which has several trails spread throughout the grounds. Bring a pair of binoculars to get the most out of spotting these incredible creatures. (Photo via Philippines Tarsier Foundation)
7. Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai, Thailand: An elephant rescue and rehabilitation center in northern Thailand, this park can be visited as a tourist… or you can sign up as a volunteer! Trips can be anywhere from a day or overnight visit in one of the park’s huts as a tourist, or weeks at a time as a volunteer.
8. Lapa Rios Eco Lodge in Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica: With the lodge located on a thousand acres of rainforest, visitors regularly see several species of wild monkeys, over 300 species of birds, iguanas, poison dart frogs, sloths, pumas, boas, green sea turtles, and more. Not to mention you’ll get to stay in a gorgeous bungalow with an ocean view. (Photo via Lapa Rios Eco Lodge)
9. Kangaroo Sanctuary in Alice Springs, Australia: Always wanted to see a kangaroo in person? This sanctuary is the place to do it: their mission is rescuing, rehabilitating, and releasing orphaned baby kangaroos back into the wild. Since kangaroos sleep during the day, guided tours are always in the late afternoon.
10. International Wolf Center in Ely, MN: Although you don’t quite get to be the woman who runs with wolves here, The Wolf Center aims to educate visitors about the critical role wolves play in the environment and how best to preserve their integrity on wild lands. They maintain an ambassador wolf pack at the center in order to do hands-on education about wolf habitats. (Photo via International Wolf Center)
11. Four Seasons North American Safari in Jackson Hole, WY: Take a four-hour luxury safari through Grand Teton National Park, Bridger Teton National Forest, and the National Elk Refuge. Elk, bison, bears, wolves, bighorn sheep, river otters, and a variety of other animals are often spotted. You can extend your trip to include Yellowstone National Park as well. (Photo via Four Seasons Jackson Hole)
12. The Underwater Room at Pemba Island, Tanzania: See reef fish, octopuses, and squid while floating in the middle of the sea in this underwater glass room. When you’re not captivated by the nearly 360° underwater ocean view, you can hang out on the surface of the waves or climb up to the roof deck for sunbathing during the day and stargazing at night. (Photo via The Manta Resort)
13. Wild Animal Sanctuary in Keenesburg, CO: The Wild Animal Sanctuary’s 720 Coloradan acres function as a dedicated refuge for more than 450 rescued lions, tigers, bears, wolves, and other carnivores. Especially cool is their 1.5 mile elevated walkway, which allows visitors an excellent view of the animals without encroaching on their territory.
14. Lionsrock Big Cat Sanctuary in Bethlehem, South Africa: This sanctuary rescues big cats from inadequate accommodations like zoos, circuses, and private captivity and gives them room to roam across over 3,000 acres of land. Take a guided game drive in a safari truck to view Bengal tigers, caracals, leopards, lions, and more. (Photo via Lionsrock)
15. Libearty Bear Sanctuary in Brașov, Romania: Although the European brown bear is now a protected animal, it wasn’t until 2005 that they were banned as private pets. Take a guided tour through a bear sanctuary that cares for more than 80 bears and has rescued more than a hundred that were previously captive via private funds. (Photo via Libearty Bear Sanctuary)
16. Penguin Migration in Punta Tombo, Argentina: Every Spring, more than a million Magellan penguins migrate to Patagonia. Excursions are available from Puerto Madryn, Trewlew, and Rawson, or you can drive yourself to Punto Tumbo. Just be sure to follow posted signage and respect boundaries so as not to disturb the penguins. (Photo via Patagonia-Argentina.com)
17. Visiting the Quokkas on Rottnest Island, Australia: Quokkas are cat-sized marsupials found on islands off of the western Australian coast. One of the best places to view them is Rottnest Island, located near Perth, which has protected quokkas along with other plants and animals.
18. Whale Watching in Sydney, Australia: You’d never guess it, but right outside of Sydney you have the opportunity to see some of the most spectacular creatures of the oceans — whales. The whale most commonly seen is the humpback, but if you’re lucky and come at the right time of year, you may even be able to spot an even more massive blue whale. (Photo via Whale Watching Sydney)
19. Kayaking With Dolphins in Byron Bay, Australia: See wild bottlenose dolphins, humpback whales, and sea turtles in their natural habitat while kayaking in Byron Bay. Just be sure to stay away from places offering swims with dolphins — these tend to be problematic, penning dolphins in too-small enclosures.
20. Eco Touring on the Galápagos Islands, Ecuador: Experience the incredible remote and diverse wildlife of the Galapagos on an eco-friendly tour. From tortoises to finches to land and sea iguanas, the animals here are unlike any others you’ve seen before.
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