The best destinations for spotting wildlife
Ten trips to satisfy your inner David Attenborough
Already missing your weekly fix of Planet Earth II? Perhaps it’s time you stepped away from the gogglebox and created some wildlife encounters of your own. Here are ten trips every wannabe Attenborough needs to take.
If you know anything at all about Austin, Texas, chances are it’s that it’s often called the ‘Live Music Capital of the World’. What you probably don’t know is that the city is home to the largest urban bat colony in the US – 2 million Mexican free-tails live under the Ann W. Richards Congress Avenue Bridge, and you can spot them flying en masse from March to November. For the best views, grab a kayak and get out on the river.
Look out for: Mexican free-tail bats
Galapagos Islands, Ecuador
This island archipelago isn’t just important because it’s stuffed with extraordinary animals – it was also instrumental in helping Charles Darwin refine his theory of evolution by natural selection. Few places on earth have such large numbers of species found there and nowhere else, from loveable giant tortoises to the racer snakes that terrified the world when they appeared on Planet Earth II last year.
Look out for: Marine iguanas, blue-footed boobies, the Galapagos penguin, giant tortoises
If you’re eagle-eyed (and very, very lucky), you could spot up to 20 different species of cetacean in the Azores, the stunning Portuguese archipelago in the middle of the Atlantic. Some species like common and bottlenose dolphins, are there year-round, while others like giant blue whales, sperm whales and sei whales pass through on their migration routes. Take a boat tour and you’re 98% likely to have a whale of a time, if you catch our drift.
Look out for: Whales and dolphins, plus lots of birds including the super-rare Monteiro’s storm petrel
Okavango Delta, Botswana
Fanning out from the Okavango river into a massive inland trough, the Okavango Delta’s waterways, salt islands, swamps and plains support a staggering amount of wildlife. Depending on when and where you go, you can spot pretty much any big game you can imagine, including elephants, rhino, giraffes, lions and cheetahs – not to mention a huge supporting cast of bird and water life. A canoe-like ‘mokoro’ is the most thrilling and authentic way to get about.
Look out for: Big game, waterbirds
The trouble with wildlife is that it’s, er, wild, which means there’s no guarantee it’ll turn up in time to pose for a selfie with you. Yosemite National Park is home to around 300-500 American black bears (which, confusingly, are usually brown), and it’s not unusual to spot them even in the more developed parts, but it’s also home to some of the most outrageously dramatic scenery anywhere on earth. So if the bears don’t rock up, you’re still winning in a big way.
Look out for: American black bears, mule deer, Sierra Nevada red fox, California ground squirrel
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Monteverde, Costa Rica
The cloud forests of Monteverde, in the north of Costa Rica, are a magnet for eco-travellers, and with good reason – among the lush, green and misty canopies are hundreds of species of bird, mammal, insect and amphibian. If you’re lucky you might see a strawberry poison-dart frog – better known as the blue-jeans frog – with its scarlet top half and denim-coloured legs and lower arms. Don’t be tempted to touch it, though – there’s a reason this tiny little poisonous frog is red for danger…
Look out for: The beautiful quetzal bird, white-faced monkeys, poison-dart frogs
Here’s a fun fact for you – the city of Iquitos, deep in the Peruvian Amazon, is the largest city in the world that you can’t reach by road. Though the city itself is unsurprisingly urban, it sits right on the Amazon – so in no time at all you could be spotting colourful toucans and macaws, countless species of monkey and even the dorsal fins of pink river dolphins in the murky waters. If you’re brave (and hungry), try fishing for piranha – ideally using meat rather than your own fingers and toes for bait…
Look out for: Monkeys (including tamarin, woolly, squirrel and spider), sloths, caiman, anacondas
Though giant panda numbers have increased in recent years, there are still thought to be fewer than 2,000 in the wild. You’ve got a far better chance of seeing them at the Chengdu Panda Base, where they research, breed and showcase these black and white symbols of both China and conservation. Incredibly, more than 99% of the panda’s diet is bamboo, with the remainder consisting mostly of canapés, rich tea biscuits and Nando’s peri-peri chips. OK, so we might have made that last bit up.
Look out for: Giant pandas, bamboo
How you feel about the huge flocks of migrating starlings (up to a million) that wheel about in the skies above Rome at sunset depends on your perspective. If you live in the city – and walk the guano-slicked streets below their roosts – you probably won’t be a fan, but for everyone else it’s one of the great urban wildlife spectacles. Find a high spot as the evening closes in and watch these dark clouds of birds dance over the rooftops in this ancient city – and get there before the authorities and the falcons they’ve recruited to scare them off.
Look out for: Starlings (possibly pursued by birds of prey…)
Madyha Pradesh, India
If you stuck a pin in the centre of a map of India, it wouldn’t land far from the Kanha Tiger Reserve, where almost 1,000 square kilometres of lowland forest are home to a large variety of species, one of which (as you might have guessed from the name) is the tiger. Hop in an open-topped 4WD for a chance to get up-close and personal with these big stripey cats.
Look out for: Bengal tigers, leopards, sloth bears, swamp deer