On my first visit to Africa in 2012, I spent a few days safariing through Kenya’s breathtaking Maasai Mara. The sheer breadth of wildlife blew me away. There were hyenas wandering along the roadsides, elephants nourishing themselves around watering holes, and even a trio of playful cheetahs meandering among the grasslands. I remember thinking, “I never want this experience to end.” In a way, it never did. Over the last decade, I’ve made safaris a regular part of my travels, whether it’s sailing through the Galapagos archipelago in search of blue- and red-footed boobies or tracking spiky echidna and camouflaged koalas on South Australia’s Kangaroo Island. Thankfully, wildlife exists around the planet.
Sure, when it comes to safaris, many of us think of prides of lions lazing in East Africa’s open savannas or herds of wildebeest leaping across rushing rivers. But while “safari” is a Swahili word meaning “journey,” and originates from the Arabic word for travel, “safara,” it’s come to represent the more general notion of experiencing wildlife in its own natural habitat, whether the country or continent.
So get your binoculars ready! From the Florida Everglades to the last great wilderness of Antarctica, here are five incredible places you can safari outside of Africa (and it’s only the beginning…).
It’s no secret that the Land Down Under hosts an incredible range of wildlife, from short-legged wombats to blue-tongued lizards, but the country’s north boasts a particularly unique array. We’re talking endangered cassowaries and rare Lumholtz tree kangaroos, which have adapted to life in the trees.
Outside of state confines, Australia’s “north” stretches up from the country’s eastern coast to the Northern Territory, where terrain varies from dry red dirt to tropical wetlands.
Queensland occupies the country’s northeast and is where you’ll find the Great Barrier Reef, itself a remarkable wonderland of marine life. Take the waters surrounding Lake Elliot Island, which are filled with manta rays, sea turtles and more than 1,500 tropical reef species. It’s also one of the best areas for seeing unspoiled coral reefs.
Back on land sits another truly distinct ecosystem: the Daintree Rainforest, an ancient land of dense canopy, deep gorges and gushing waterfalls. Along with rare wildlife like musky rat-kangaroos and buff-breasted paradise kingfishers, this rainforest is one of the few places to spot southern cassowaries in the wild.
These prehistoric-looking flightless birds can reach up to 6.5 feet tall, and are known as the “guardians” of the forest. Actually, the 460-square-mile Daintree National Park is brimming with hundreds of bird species, many of them bright, colorful and native to the area. These include the locally endemic tooth-billed bowerbird and the yellow-spotted honeyeater.
For some added adventure, embark on a boat trip along the Daintree River to come face-to-face with its most famous residents, saltwater crocodiles, the largest living crocodilians on the planet. Or visit the Australian Quoll Conservancy, a staple on Nat Hab’s Australia North: Kakadu, Daintree, and the Great Barrier Reef adventure, for a behind-the-scenes look at spotted-tailed quolls, mainland Australia’s largest carnivorous marsupials.
Airboats, quad bikes and game drives are just a few of the ways to search out wildlife in Australia’s Northern Territory. As one of the country’s largest national parks, Kakadu National Park is an extremely biodiverse stretch of tidal flats, lowlands and floodplains that host everything from dingos and wallabies to river sharks and freshwater crocodiles. Neighboring Bamurru Plains, a private concession and secluded safari camp that Nat Hab uses, houses one of the largest saltwater crocodiles in the world. More than 100,000 black-and-white magpie geese congregate in the floodplains at various times of the year, whether it’s crowding around Bamurru’s billabongs in March or migrating through the skies each October.
The Antarctic Continent
It’s considered the last great wilderness, a vast white continent that’s mostly uninhabitable, save for the wildlife that’s learned to not only survive but also thrive there.
A safari here is a truly incredible experience: wandering among huge colonies of orange-beaked Adelie and aptly-named chinstrap penguins, watching humpback whales breach from the safety of a zodiac raft, and coming upon a sinisterly smiling leopard seal that’s seemingly dreaming about its next catch while napping on a slab of ice. Birdlife ranges from wandering albatross—one of the largest avians on the planet—to Antarctic blue-eyed cormorants and gull-like skuas.
When you’re not out foraying among towering icebergs or tracing the sea trails of orcas, you might find yourself learning to differentiate between Weddell and crabeater seals. Our partner Lindblad Expeditions’ Journey to Antarctica: The White Continent ensures travelers the expedition of a lifetime.
The Florida Everglades
It’s the largest subtropical wilderness in the United States—a 1.5 million-acre wetlands preserve filled with sawgrass prairies, pine flatwoods and coastal mangroves home to hundreds of wildlife species, including many that are rare and endangered.
This dual World Heritage Site and an International Biosphere Reserve covers a large swath of southern Florida, and is as wild as they come. Alligators sun along river banks, while their more aggressive crocodile cousins bask in the region’s brackish saltwater. In fact, it’s the only place in the world where the two reptiles coexist.
About 200 Florida panthers live among the region’s forests and swamplands. For your best chance of viewing this elusive creature, come in winter. This is the dry season when wildlife tends to gather around watering holes for nourishment and is more easily seen. It’s also when slow-moving manatees seek out the area’s warm waters, feeding on seagrass and algae while keeping their body temperatures up.
The greater Everglades ecosystem is brimming with wildlife hotspots, such as Audubon Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, 14,450 acres of mostly wetlands where otters, red-bellied turtles, sandhill cranes and Florida black bears reside, not to mention a huge concentration of alligators. There’s also Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, 110,000 acres of uplands and kayakable mangrove forests teeming with manatees, peregrine falcons and a trio of sea turtle species—including endangered loggerhead sea turtles, which utilize the reserve’s remote Keewaydin Island (only accessible by boat) as a crucial nesting ground. Feeling especially adventurous? Try traveling via airboat among the marsh grass and channels of Big Cypress National Preserve, keeping an eye out for great blue herons and alligators as you go.
Nat Hab offers a Florida Nature Safari, which along with the greater Everglades, visits spots like the water-centric Biscayne National Park, home to more than 600 fish species; the National Key Deer Refuge, a 9,200-acre reserve that protects the smallest subspecies of white-tailed deer in North America; and the 100-square-mile Dry Tortugas National Park, where you can snorkel among tropical fish like French grunts and yellowtail snappers. Consider it the ultimate wildlife experience.
The Amazon River
There’s no doubt about it: South America’s Amazon River is a spectacular place for wildlife viewing, from catching sight of porpoising pink dolphins to spotting vibrantly colored macaws in the rainforest along the river banks. Southwestern Peru is home to the headwaters of this massive river, and a perfect locale for a water-based wildlife safari.
Cruising slowly upstream toward Pacaya Samiria National Reserve (Nat Hab’s Great Amazon River Expedition utilizes the exquisite Delfin II riverboat), five-million-plus acres of jungle, lagoons and tea-colored waters (not the mention the second largest protected natural area in Peru), you might encounter three-toed sloths at tranquil creeks such as Piranha Caño or, in the evening, spot wide-eyed owl monkeys—the world’s only nocturnal monkey—resting in the forest canopy.
Ten-thousand-square-mile Pacaya Samiria Reserve sits at the Amazon headwaters. It’s aptly nicknamed the “jungle of mirrors” for its flooded forests and vast reflections in its lakes and rivers. Birds such as short-tailed parrots and yellow-rumped caciques take to the skies, while hundreds of fish species (including piranhas and pre-historic carachama occupy its waters). Trees are swarming with noisy troops of squirrel monkeys and squirrel-sized saddleback tamarins, as capybaras—the world’s largest rodent—perch themselves along the reserve’s waterbanks.
Kayaking the black waters of the reserve’s Zapote River is an ideal way to spot brown capuchin monkeys, large-billed terns and an occasional three-toed sloth lounging among the lobed leaves of a cecropia tree. Or opt for a hike along the Fundo Casual, which winds deep into the rainforest and into the realms of colorful poison dart frogs, leafcutter ants and nocturnal creatures such as carnivorous black caiman reptiles and spectacled owls.
China may not be the first country that comes to mind when you mention “safari,” but the world’s fourth-largest country is home to an array of ecosystems, such as high mountain forests and open grasslands, where wildlife thrives.
Sichuan province in the country’s southwest boasts the Minshan Mountains, where golden snub-nosed monkeys, goat-like takins and stunning birds such as the spectacular golden pheasant reside. It’s also a good place for spotting rare moon bears—recognizable by their shaggy black fur and cream-colored chest blaze—and blue sheep.
If you’re lucky, you may even catch sight of a giant panda, since nearly half of all wild giant pandas (which total around 720) live among the mountains’ bamboo forests. The region’s 100,000-acre Wild Panda Nature Reserve, which is a part of Nat Hab’s The Wild Side of China: a Nature Odyssey expedition, is home to at least 60 of them, along with other wildlife species like Tibetan and rhesus macaques, muntjac (aka barking deer) and more than 1,200 takins. At night, you might see nocturnal animals such as leopard cats and hog-nosed badgers coming out to feed.
For supreme wildlife viewing, there’s also China’s Golden Monkey Nature Reserve. It sits among the temperate forests of China’s Qinling Mountains and is teeming with dozens of its long-furred, snub-nosed namesake, not to mention colorful karst formations and spectacular waterfalls.