10 of the best wildlife trips around the world
Winning tip: Eye to eye with an aye-aye, Madagascar
Growing up on a diet of Gerald Durrell books, it was a childhood obsession to see an aye-aye – one of the most unusual and elusive primates on the planet. And so there I was in north-east Madagascar, in the pouring rain and inky blackness, thrashing through wet undergrowth, with squadrons of mosquitoes homing in. To my astonishment, from out of the darkness the aye-aye suddenly appeared on a branch above! Like some mystical gremlin, with blazing amber eyes, radar dish ears, monstrous front teeth, a bushy black witch’s cat tail and that thin, bony finger probing the bark. To add to my enchantment, a second, much smaller aye-aye then revealed itself, tap-tapping its way along the branch behind its mother. A dream come true. I travelled independently and stayed at Aye Aye Hotel, Mananara, visiting Aye-Aye Island. Naturetrek also leads trips to northern Madagascar to look for aye-aye.
Orangutans and family fun in Sepilok, Borneo
We took our two small daughters on a two-month trip to Asia. Not wanting to miss out on seeing the incredible wildlife, we looked for places that were accessible but still off the beaten track. Sepilok in Borneo was perfect. The Rainforest Discovery Centre, run by Hubert Petol and his wife Bernadette, has rainforest walks (also at night) and canopy walkways, all perfect for kids to discover wildlife up close. We saw a variety of animals including orangutans, flying squirrels, slow loris and macaques. A memorable experience for us all.
The rainforest in Guyana’s Rupununi
Sitting on a rocky outcrop just after dawn, we watched a giant anteater lumber across the plain down below and tuck into his breakfast. This is Guyana’s Rupununi region, a vast expanse of diverse habitats – rainforest, rivers and savannah … if you’re looking for “intrepid” it ticks all the boxes. We took a small plane from Georgetown to the Brazilian border town of Lethem and drove by 4WD to Dadanawa ranch, where we spent our first couple of days exploring the savannah. From there we travelled by boat with ranch owner Duane up the Rupununi river. Duane helped us to spot black caiman, giant otters, spider monkeys, sloths and capybara along the river, as well as numerous birds. We camped in hammocks on the riverside overnight and were rewarded with the amazing sounds of the rainforest.
Whales and penguins on an Antarctic cruise
The most memorable moment of my travelling life has to be spotting an emerging humpback whale while heading to a penguin colony in the Antarctic peninsula. Antarctic bird and sea life is unforgettable and cruising through the isolation makes for a great way to witness the animals in their natural habitat. There are a number of tour operators but I’d suggest Rainbow Tours. The onboard library is extensive and allows you to learn about the sightings of the day, and there are lectures at quieter sailing times.
Polar bears in Hudson Bay, Canada
Each November in northern Canada the sea freezes, enabling polar bears to start hunting after a long summer without food. More than 900 bears gather at Hudson Bay, a sleepy town in the middle of nowhere that will have you calling most of the locals by their first name by the time you leave. We toured the area by tundra truck and came within five feet of these amazing animals. We saw caribou, seals, arctic hares, foxes and a bear transported from a polar bear jail (after straying into the town) back into the wild, via a net underneath a helicopter!
Udawalawe national park, Sri Lanka
There is a sort of magic that you feel clambering onboard a safari buggy the size of an elephant in the pitch black. The birds just starting to chime the sun in for the day … A sunrise safari in Udawalawe affirms the beauty and diversity of Sri Lanka, and with only a tarp roof for shelter, nature really is at your fingertips. In the park, elephants roam free to forage in the foliage. The beauty of sunrise is in the activity of the birds and animals – sit back and enjoy all the scenes.
Bale mountains, Ethiopia: in search of the world’s rarest wolf
As our minibus ground its way up the steep dirt track, we finally reached the top of the windswept Sanetti plateau, in the Bale mountains, Ethiopia. We were looking for the world’s most endangered wolf. Buffeted by the biting winds, we drove slowly along, desperately scanning the frosty moorland. Giant mole rats, with cartoon buck teeth, popped out of their burrows like glove puppets. And there, nonchalantly trotting along the side of the road, we spotted the Ethiopian wolf – a handsome, rusty red, jackal-like dog. Despite there being fewer than 500 left in the world, we were lucky enough to see five during the day. We stayed at the wonderful Bale Mountain Lodge, a game-changer in Ethiopian eco-tourism.
Canadian canoe safari
At more than 7,000 sq km, the scale of Ontario’s Algonquin park is breathtaking, so it’s no surprise the park is home to countless animals; but this trip was a nice way to get to see some of the shyest. Checking into our “explorers’ cabin”, we spent the evening with a guide briefing us on what to expect the next day. In the morning mist we paddled across the lake, spotting beavers and otters as we did, before we sat still on the water and awaited a herd of moose at their favourite drinking spot. As the adults drank at the water’s edge, their young bathed, and neither paid us any mind. The evening was spent in front of a campfire listening to loons and distant wolf howls. A few operators offer similar, but we paid $599 for three days with Responsible Travel.
Dzanga-Sangha, the breathtaking heart of the Congo basin
After two uncomfortable, sweaty days that led us from Yaoundé, capital of Cameroon, deep into the jungle, the red track ended at the Sangha river. When we drove to the legendary Sangha Lodge, in Central African Republic, we saw a colourful rhinoceros viper, which swam to the other bank, a sign that we must always expect surprises in the wilderness. And, really: gorillas jumped over the way to the Dzanga Bai (Village of Elephants), the huge forest clearing in the Congo Basin. Barefoot, wading through warm morass, slowly approaching, we finally reached it, constantly on guard against the unknown, but well-protected by the BaAka rangers, who can listen to the forest … suddenly, about 100 elephants were walking up and down in front of us. We could only hold our breath.
• Seven days’ safari (including gorilla trekking and full board) about £2,700, sanghalodge.com
Turtle spotting, Perhentian Besar, Malaysia
As well as being a dive centre, Bubbles Dive Resort focuses on turtle and reef conservation. Green turtles lay their eggs on Bubbles beach and volunteers are there to prevent poaching, allowing the turtles to flourish. Hotel guests can request a wake-up call when the turtle nests hatch. Watching tens of tiny turtles make their way towards the sea by only the light of the moon is a magical experience. The Perhentian islands are accessed by ferry or speedboat from Kuala Besut jetty, which can be reached by taxi from Kota Bharu airport. Flights to Kota Bharu are usually inexpensive from Kuala Lumpur international airport.
• Deluxe doubles from £75 a night in high season, bubblesdc.com
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