World travel

Best Wildlife Encounters: 8 Incredible Experiences Around the World

There’s nothing quite like coming face-to-face with a wild animal in its own natural habitat. Wildlife holidays are a chance for you to explore the great outdoors while watching animals feeding, playing and interacting with their surroundings. It’s an awe-inspiring experience that can make your travel experience more memorable, with the best wildlife encounters a humbling reminder of how small we are in the natural world.

A lion cub, Panthera leo, lies on a boulder, best wildlife encounters
Photo| Lion cub lies on a boulder| GETTYIMAGES – LONDOLOZI IMAGES – MINT IMAGES
Rhinos grazing in Nakuru, best wildlife encounters
Photo| Rhinos grazing in Nakuru| GETTYIMAGES – CHRIS MINIHANE

With over 400 million annual visitors to HotelsCombined, we’ve uncovered the world’s most memorable animal encounters to add to your never-ending bucket list. Whether you dream of seeing elephants in Botswana or coming face-to-face with humpback whales in Tonga, these are the best wildlife encounters on the planet for close-up exotic animal viewing. We’ve also included the best accommodations nearby where it’s possible to spot local wildlife from your doorstep.

Best Wildlife Encounters: Big 5 in Africa (Kruger National Park, South Africa)

Off-Road vehicle at safari in South Africa, best wildlife encounters
Photo| Off-Road vehicle at safari| GETTYIMAGES – CHALFFY

Africa offers some of the best safari encounters in the world, home to the famous Big Five (lion, leopard, rhinoceros, elephant, and Cape buffalo). Kruger National Park in South Africa is one of the oldest and best-maintained parks in Africa and one of the best places for a safari. Ideal for first-time visitors to Africa, you’ll have the chance to observe savannah elephant, black and white rhinoceros, Cape buffalo, hippopotamus, zebra, and Southern African giraffe in the wild.

Two leopards on tree watching tourists in jeep, best wildlife encounters
Photo| Two leopards on a tree watching tourists in jeep| GETTYIAMGES – MOODBOARD

Protea Hotel by Marriott Kruger Gate

Protea Hotel by Marriott Kruger Gate, hotel near kruger national park
Photo| Protea Hotel by Marriott Kruger Gate| Provided by LEONARDO

Offering classic Big 5 safaris in Kruger National Park, Protea Hotel by Marriott Kruger Gate is set in tranquil riverine woodland. The lodge-style hotel boasts a range of modern 4-star facilities, including the on-site Lapa Restaurant with live entertainment and regional specialties served around a campfire. After your wildlife viewing adventure, kick back on the sundeck at Kudyela restaurant or relax by the outdoor pool, while the luxe day spa offers a menu of pampering body treatments.

You’ll be greeted with colourful African-inspired decor in your cosy room, which features air conditioning, complimentary Wi-Fi and an in-room dining menu. Enjoy the extra space in an upgraded King Room with its large sitting area with a flat-screen TV and sofa, or book a 2 Queen Room with two queen-size beds if you’re travelling in a bigger group.

Hotel Highlights

  • A posh spa offering ancient traditional massages overlooking Kruger National Park.
  • Live game viewing possible from the Pool Bar and infinity pool.
  • .Kid-friendly activities are available such as table tennis, volleyball and putt putt.

Star Rating: 4*
Price: USD 124 – USD 217
Guest Rating: 8.3
Address: On the Sabi River at the Paul Kruger Gate, Portia Shabangu Rd., Sabiepark, South Africa

Best Wildlife Encounters: Polar Bears in Canada (Churchill, Manitoba)

Polar bear walking on snowy mountain, best wildlife encounters
Photo| Polar bear walking on snowy mountain| GETTYIMAGES – REBECCA R JACKREL

Churchill, Manitoba is one of the best places in the world to see polar bears in their natural environment. The area is perfectly placed to watch these powerful and mighty creatures move from their summer homes on the sub-arctic tundra to the frozen Hudson Bay. Typically running from October to November, several eco-tours provide all the bear-watching necessities. After you experience one of the world’s best wildlife encounters, see if you can catch a glimpse of the Northern Lights.

Underwater view of Beluga Whales (Delphinapterus leucas) swimming in Churchill River, best wildlife encounters
Photo| Beluga Whales swimming in Churchill River| GETTYIMAEGS – PAUL SOULDERS

Tundra Inn

The family-run Tundra Inn is set in the sub-arctic coastal town of Churchill, offering comfortable and spacious accommodations. The highly-rated hotel is also a popular watering hole for locals and visitors, boasting a charming on-site pub with home-cooked dinners and live music. You can plan your day’s adventures in the lobby business centre, which has self-serve coffee and tea all day.

All of the 31 cosy rooms include double or queen-size beds, along with in-room amenities such as cable TV, Wi-Fi and coffeemakers. Children under 12 are allowed to stay for free and you can have up to four guests staying in each room. All guests have access to a communal kitchenette where a self-serve continental breakfast is available each morning.

Hotel Highlights

  • The daily breakfast served every morning and free pick-up and drop-offs to the airport or train.
  • The dining room’s famous Borealis burger, open mic nights and live music.
  • Just 450 metres from the Eskimo Museum and 750 metres from Wapusk General Store.

Star Rating: 3*
Price: USD 159 – USD 311
Guest Rating: 9
Address: 34 Franklin Street, Churchill, Manitoba, Canada

Best Wildlife Encounters: Giant Tortoises in the Galapagos Islands

Man photographing Galapagos giant tortoise in Galapagos Islands, best wildlife encounters
Photo| Man photographing Galapagos giant tortoise in Galapagos Islands| GETTYIMAGES – WESTEND61

Journey to the Galapagos Islands, a land that once inspired Charles Darwin, as this mesmerising archipelago boasts some of the world’s best wildlife encounters. The remote location off Ecuador is legendary for its unique wildlife, from land and marine iguanas to the blue-footed boobies. It’s the giant Galapagos tortoises that will catch your eye though, as these up to 100-year-old creatures can reach up to 1.5 metres and 250 kilograms. Animal lovers are in luck, as this wildlife-rich destination is ideal for visiting throughout the year.

Marine iguana and sally lightfoot crabs, best wildlife encounters
Photo| Marine iguana and sally lightfoot crabs| GETTYIMAGES – MARK NEWMAN

Hotel Galapagos Suites B&B

Hotel Galapagos Suites B&B, hotel near galapagos island
Photo| Hotel Galapagos Suites B&B| Provided by BOOKING.COM

Hotel Galapagos Suites B&B is a family-run hotel with only six rooms. Rooms boast private bathrooms and air conditioning, as well as complimentary Wi-Fi. Choose from a Double Budget with one queen-size bed, located on the ground floor, or a Suite with one king or two twin-size beds. The latter includes a balcony or yard to sit outdoors on a chair or hammock.

Enjoy the intimate atmosphere of this cosy hotel, which offers a daily breakfast with local and organic products, including granola, fresh fruit and green plantain or cassava tortillas. The hotel is located in a quiet residential neighbourhood, just two blocks from the malecon or waterfront and walking distance to restaurants and souvenir shops. When you’re ready to explore, this hotel makes a great home base for observing local wildlife in Plazas Sur and Punta Carrion, Bartolome and Seymour Norte and Las Bachas.

Hotel Highlights

  • In-room perks such as air conditioning, Wi-Fi and balconies with hammocks.
  • The delicious breakfast served each morning with homemade cakes and exotic Ecuadorian fruit juices.
  • A focus on eco-friendly practices, including the use of biodegradable products.

Star Rating: 3*
Price: USD 131 – USD 191
Guest Rating: 10
Address: Cucuve S/N and Floreana, Puerto Ayora, Ecuador

Best Wildlife Encounters: Mountain Gorillas in Uganda (Bwindi Impenetrable National Park)

Baby Mountain Gorilla and its mother in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, best wildlife encounters
Photo| Baby Mountain Gorilla and its mother in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park| GETTYIMAGES – SIMON HOLMES

One of the best wildlife encounters in Africa, a visit to Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable National Park means you’ll have to opportunity to see mountain gorillas. Home to roughly half of the world’s mountain gorillas, this renowned Uganda park also boasts chimpanzees, baboons, elephants and antelope. While mountain gorilla viewing is between June and August and December and February, you can also take a tour with the Batwa People to learn about the area’s first inhabitants year-round.

Black-and-white Colobus Monkey in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, best wildlife encounters
Photo| Black-and-white Colobus Monkey in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park| GETTYIMAGES – CHRIS DENNIS ROSENBERG

Nkuringo Bwindi Gorilla Lodge

Nkuringo Bwindi Gorilla Lodge, hotel for mountain gorilla encounter
Photo| Nkuringo Bwindi Gorilla Lodge| Provided by BOOKING.COM

Offering a prime vantage point across the Kashasha River Valley, the award-winning Nkuringo Bwindi Gorilla Lodge overlooks a beautiful section of the world-renowned Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. Comprised of eight garden cottages, three villas and one family villa, each of the cottages here are made with local materials and feature a sitting area fireplace and private veranda or balcony. Perfect for families or large groups, the Two-Bedroom Villas add extra space and can be interconnected.

Nkuringo Bwindi Gorilla Lodge
Photo| Nkuringo Bwindi Gorilla Lodge| Provided by BOOKING.COM

The Cozy Restaurant boasts home-made meals and freshly baked bread as well as a bar and fireplace, while the Upstairs Lounge offers stunning Virunga Volcanoes views and an in-house craft shop. After your safari excursion, visit the luxe Mist Spa for a relaxing full body massage and herbal tea or herb-infused water.

Hotel Highlights

  • Overlooks a section of forest home to three Nkuringo Gorilla families of mountain gorillas.
  • Boasts panoramic views of the majestic volcanoes of the Virunga chain and into the Albertine Rift Valley within the DRC Congo.
  • Spacious cottages with sitting areas, fireplaces and private verandas or balconies.

Star Rating: 4*
Price: USD 270 – USD 1,048
Guest Rating: No Rating
Address: Nkuringo Road, Kabale, Uganda

Best Wildlife Encounters: Elephants in Botswana (Chobe National Park)

African bush elephant at Chobe National Park, best wildlife encounters
Photo| African bush elephant at Chobe National Park| GETTYIMAGES – EDWIN REMSBERG

One of the best places to get up close to elephants is at Chobe National Park in Botswana, as it’s a haven for grazing elephants with around 70,000 in the park. Set within the Okavango Delta, it’s the perfect terrain for observing and photographing elephants drinking along the banks of the Chobe River. While elephants are best seen from April and October, the area is also home to endangered species such as cheetah and brown hyena, while day trips to the photogenic Victoria Falls are also possible.

Giraffes roaming in Chobe National Park, best wildlife encounters
Photo| Giraffes roaming in Chobe National Park| GETTYIMAGES – EDWIN REMSBERG

Ghoha Hills Savuti

Ghoha Hills Savuti, hotel near elephant encounter
Photo| Goha Hills Savuti| Provided by BOOKING.COM

Laying on the edge of Ghoha Hills in the Savuti area of Chobe National Park, Ghoha Hills Savuti offers the perfect mix of untouched nature and 4-star service. It offers a true in-the-bush safari experience with wildlife watching excursions, while on-site facilities include a luxury spa and on-site restaurant serving home-cooked meals overlooking the bush. Spend your non-safari time enjoying the hotel’s wildlife viewing decks, outdoor pool and campfire area under the stars.

Ghoha Hills Savuti, hotel near elephant encounter
Photo| Goha Hills Savuti| Provided by BOOKING.COM

The intimate lodge only has 11 tented rooms, which include private viewing decks overlooking an active waterfall and 180-degree views of the Savuti Plains. They also feature eco-friendly amenities, mosquito nets, cosy armchairs and flashlights. For families with kids, book one of the Family Luxury Tented Rooms that can sleep up to four people. Don’t miss the hearty breakfasts with home-baked biscuits and afternoon tea with cakes and scones.

Hotel Highlights

  • A rock pool with separate deck and views of an active waterhole and Savuti Plains.
  • The spa’s soothing body treatments alongside sweeping views over the Linyanti Marsh area.
  • Scenic helicopter flights are available over the Linyanti Marsh area.

Star Rating: 4*
Price: USD 590 – USD 1,339
Guest Rating: No Rating
Address: Chobe National Park, Chobe National Park, Botswana

Best Wildlife Encounters: Komodos in Indonesia (Komodo National Park)

Komodo dragon in Komodo National Park, best wildlife encounters
Photo| Komodo dragon in Komodo National Park| GETTYIMAGES – RICHARD MCMANUS

A top travel destination in Indonesia, Komodo National Park is home to the world’s largest and most dangerous lizards, the notorious Komodo dragon. Official guides will lead you through narrow jungle trails, where you can observe this fearsome endemic lizard bask in the sunshine. The best time to go is during the dry season (May to December). The Komodo Islands are also a top diving spot for seeing manta rays, and don’t miss seeing the famed pink beaches.

Turtle on the coral garden At Komodo National Park Indonesia, best wildlife encounters
Photo| Turtle on the coral garden At Komodo National Park Indonesia| GETTYIMAGES – ROBERT SMITS

AYANA Komodo Resort Waecicu Beach

AYANA Komodo Resort Waecicu Beach, hotel for the best wildlife encounters
Photo| AYANA Komodo Resort Waecicu Beach| Provided by AYANA KOMODO RESORT WAECICU BEACH

AYANA Komodo Resort Waecicu Beach is the first and only 5-star resort on Labuan Bajo’s stunning Waecicu Beach. Each of the contemporary rooms features jaw-dropping ocean views from large windows, as well as flat-screen TVs, marble bathrooms and mini fridges. The Full Ocean View Suite epitomizes luxury with unparalleled Waecicu Beach views, a private balcony and a spacious living area.

Dinner with a view takes on a whole new meaning at Kisik Seafood Restaurant, which serves lobster, wood-fired pizza and deep-sea fish, while UNIQUE Rooftop Bar boasts open-air gazebos and live DJs. Unwind with a dip in the pool or enjoy an in-room massage from the Spa at AYANA.

Hotel Highlights

  • The first and only luxury five-star hotel in Komodo National Park, just an hour flight from Bali.
  • Luxury rooms, suites and accommodation on a 54-metre traditional “phinisi” sailing ship available.
  • Snorkelling, sunset cruises and Komodo dragon and pink sand beach tours.

Star Rating: 5*
Price: USD 237 – USD 651
Guest Rating: No Rating
Address: Labuan Bajo, Flores, Nusa Tenggara Timur, Flores, Indonesia

Best Wildlife Encounters: Bengal Tigers in India (Bandhavgarh National Park)

Tiger in Bandhavgarh National Park, best wildlife encounters
Photo| Tiger in Bandhavgarh National Park| GETTYIMAGES – MINT IMAGES – ART WOLFE

Set in the picturesque hills of central India, Bandhavgarh National Park is one of the best places in the world to see wild Bengal tigers. This renowned park’s high density of tigers means that a sighting is almost guaranteed, particularly in its Tala zone that draws cats to cool off in the hot dry season (from April to June). The park is also home to other wildlife including leopard, sloth bear, jungle cat and wild pig, plus 150 species of birds.

Group of Hanuman langur monkey, best wildlife encounters
Photo| Group of Hanuman langur monkey| GETTYIMAGES – JAMES WARWICK

Pugdundee Safaris – Kings Lodge

Pugdundee Safaris - Kings Lodge, wildlife encounters
Photo| Pugdundee Safaris – Kings Lodge| Provided by PUGDUNDEE SAFARIS – KINGS LODGE

Offering gorgeous woodlands and wilderness views, Pugdundee Safaris – Kings Lodge is nestled amongst the forested hills of Bandhavgarh National Park. In addition to a prime location for tiger viewing, the hotel boasts 10 cottage rooms and eight stilt cottage rooms with en-suite modern bathrooms, spread across a natural forest. Pugdundee Safaris Lodges offer more accommodations for you to choose from.

The multi-cuisine dining hall features a fireplace overlooking wild grasslands, while an outdoor barbecue and bush dinners are a highlight. Head to the watchtower for birdwatching or join live interactive sessions with experts every evening, then take advantage of the on-site swimming pool, sundeck and in-house spa with Ayurvedic massage treatments. There’s also a butterfly farm, nature library and jeep safaris available.

Hotel Highlights

  • An in-house naturalist team, tailor-made birdwatching and photography tours and holistic wildlife experiences.
  • A collection of cosy cottages surrounded by a natural forest.
  • A 10-minute drive from the gates of Bandhavgarh National Park.

Star Rating: 4*
Price: USD 238 – USD 287
Guest Rating: 9
Address: Village Ranch, Umaria, India

Best Wildlife Encounters: Humpback Whales in Tonga

Whale in front of a photographer, best wildlife encounters
Photo| Whale in front of a photographer| GETTYIMAGES – MAGNUS AKERBLOM – WIKER

Easily one of the best wildlife encounters in the world, seeing humpback whales in Tonga is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Whale tours allow you to get up-close and personal with these gentle giants from June to November in the island’s warm tropical waters. Observe the 40-tonne whales breaching in the water and showing off their two-metre-long calves, then get in the water yourself for a face-to-fin experience where you can listen to the song of courting males underwater.

Humpback calf swims in deep blue ocean around Tonga, best wildlife encounters
Photo| Humpback calf swims in the deep blue ocean around Tonga| GETTYIMAGES – SCOTT PORTELLI

Fafa Island Resort

Fafa Island Resort, hotels for whale encounter
Photo| Fafa Island Resort| Provided by BOOKING.COM

Located on Fafa Island, Fafa Island Resort is a palm-covered island with shimmering white sand beaches and turquoise lagoons. The 13 quaint bungalows are hardly visible from the shore, nestled with the lush foliage and made with local materials. Just steps from the beach, they boast high ceilings, a sitting area and flower garden and feature ceiling fans, refrigerators, hammocks and beach beds.

Fafa Island Resort, hotel for whale encounter
Photo| Fafa Island Resort| Provided by BOOKING.COM

The on-site restaurant and open-air bar are located directly on the beach, serving contemporary Pacific European gourmet dishes on a veranda right over the water. Snorkel gear and paddleboards are at your disposal, but make sure to attend the weekly barbecue followed by a lively cultural show. During the whale season, it’s possible to see whales just off the beach.

Hotel Highlights

  • The island is surrounded by vibrant coral reef for swimming and snorkelling.
  • Daily excursions to uninhabited islands and coral reefs, as well as scuba diving, sailing and whale watching tours.
  • Weekly barbecue with traditional Tongan and Polynesian dances.

Star Rating: 3*
Price: USD 186 – USD 291
Guest Rating: 9.1
Address: Fafa Island PO Box 1444, Nuku’alofa, Tonga

Get Up-Close to Animals on The World’s Best Wildlife Encounters

Giant female African elephant, wildlife
Photo| Giant female African elephant | GETTYIMAGES – BUENA VISTA IMAGES

From seeing tigers to photography elephants, nothing can quite match the thrill of observing animals in the wild. The world’s best wildlife encounters offer you the chance to truly appreciate nature’s diverse beauty while connecting with wildlife. Join one of these epic adventures, then retreat to a nearby hotel that offers easy access to wildlife encounters. The top hotels also offer luxury on-site facilities such as gourmet restaurants, outdoor pools and pampering spas.

Which is your favourite from our list of best wildlife encounters? Let us know in the comments below.

Author: Charity De Souza

Born and raised in Orlando, Florida, I have been travelling with my battered backpack full-time for over a decade. My favourite travel memories include skydiving in Switzerland, wine tasting in Portugal, road tripping through Iceland, snorkelling in Indonesia and watching a sunset in the Sahara Desert.

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