For any traveller interested in the natural world, whether it's the fauna and flora of the Amazon or getting up close and personal to the world's most magical animals from the African plains our travel inspiration guide highlights some of the world's best destinations to explore the natural world in all its glory.
The natural world
Explore the natural world of South America
The Galapagos Islands are made up of 15 active volcanic islands this provides the perfect backdrop for a large array of marine animals, which include seals, iguanas, sea lions, turtles, sharks, giant tortoises and penguins.
To view the very best wildlife during your visit consider staying on a boat, they often move between islands at night allowing you to view the wildlife during the day.
The Pantanal is a tropical wetland, mostly lying within the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso do Sul as well as parts of neighbouring Bolivia and Paraguay.
The Pantanal is thought to be home to over a thousand bird species, as well as 400 fish species. Other animals to inhabit the wetland include the rare Marsh Deer and the Giant River Otter, anteaters, iguanas and crocodiles.
If you want to see the big five, take a safari trip to Kenya and explore the Maasai Mara. If you take an organised tour try and include a night at the treetop hotel. Treetops is sited in the heart of the dense lichen hung forest of the Aberdare National Park and overlooks two waterholes where you can observe elephant, rhino, leopards plus much more throughout the night.
Home to the rare mountain gorilla, Parc des Volcans protects the steep slopes of this magnificent mountain range situated in the far northwest of Rwanda. A trek through the cultivated foothills of the Virungas will be exhilarating offering stunning views in all directions. If however, you want an unforgettable moment in time then a gorilla trek is a must. Led by experienced trackers you will weave through overhanging vines and pass moss-covered Hagenia trees growing in the forest. On route, you may be lucky enough to spot golden monkeys and witness a large variety of birdlife. But one of the greatest wildlife experiences on earth will be spending an hour with the gentle giant gorillas as they go about their daily life.
Berenty Reserve is a private reserve situated along the Mandrake River in the far south of Madagascar. May is probably the best time to visit as the trees start dropping their leaves allowing you to get closer to the lemurs. The reserve also allows you to see Madagascar’s bird species including couas and owls.
Established in 1907 Etosha National Park covers over 22000 sq km and is situated in the Kunene Region in northwestern Namibia. The park is home to over 114 species of mammal including the usual big game and a variety of bird and reptile species. The park is dominated by a massive mineral pan, which forms part of the Kalahari Basin and covers around 25% of the national park. Although the water dried up many years ago, the temporary water in the pan attracts many wading birds including flocks of flamingos.
Covering over 7000 sq miles Kruger National Park is one of the largest game reserves in Africa. The park lies in the north-east of Africa in the eastern parts of Limpopo and Mpumalanga provinces. The park is part of the Kruger to Canyons Biosphere, an area designated by the UNESCO as a biosphere reserve. With over 147 species of mammals, all the big five can be found at Kruger National Park. The park also supports the endangered African Wild Dog.
Located in the north of Tanzania and extending to the south-west of Kenya the Serengeti hosts the largest migration of mammals in the world. Around October, two million mammals travel from the northern hills to the southern plains, in pursuit of the rains, making the return trip to the north in April. Gazelles, Zebras, buffaloes and wildebeests are just some of the most common large mammals found in the Serengeti region.
With excellent game viewing, as well as bird watching on the lagoons, the Moremi Game Reserve is a national park situated in Botswana. Although the reserve is quite small in size compared to other game reserves, (1900 sq miles) it covers much of the eastern side of the Okavango Delta, combining woodlands, floodplains and lagoons. Only about 30 per cent of the reserve is mainland, with the rest being the Delta itself. All the big five animals should be present including over 500 species of birds. Other species to be found include Hyena, Jackal and Impala.
Founded as a game reserve in 1938, South Luangwa became a national park in 1972 covering over 9,000 sq km. Situated in eastern Zambia South Luangwa National Park is one of the best in Africa for walking safaris, supporting a large population of giraffe, elephant and buffalo. Whilst the Luangwa River provides a natural habitat for an abundance of crocodiles and hippos.
Explore the natural world of Central America
Costa Rica is a tiny tropical country with 70 national parks covering around 15 per cent of the country. The parks contain a vast variety of wildlife, especially birds, where there are over 850 species and over 12,000 species of plants, as well as volcanoes and hot springs.
Some of the best parks to visit include Palo Verde National Park, which includes over 280 species of water birds. Rincon de la Vieja National Park and Corcovado National Park, which covers 200 sq. miles and boasts a range of habitats including dense rain forest.
The name “Guatemala” comes from the Nahuatl language and translates as the “land of trees”, which is very app as Guatemala has one of the most extensive and diverse forest systems in Central America. Home to 1,246 known species of amphibians, reptiles, mammals, and birds, and over 8,000 species of plants.
Elusive cat species like jaguars, pumas and jaguarundi can be found in the country but are rare and hard to spot.
For any twitcher, birds are by far the easiest species to see. There is an abundance of parrots, toucans and the national bird Quetzal who inhabit the country’s lowlands.
Explore the natural world of Asia
Located in the Terai plains in the south of Nepal and close to the border with India, Chitwan National Park is Nepal’s most popular safari destination and is easily reached from Kathmandu. Established in 1973, it was given World Heritage status in 1984.
Unlike the extreme weather conditions found in the mountain areas of Nepal, Chitwan’s climate is sub-tropical, which is one reason why so much wildlife can be found living and growing here. Whilst in the park why not take an elephant ride in search of rhinos and tigers. Although sighting a tiger is very rare these days.
Established in 1955 and situated in the Sawai Madhopur district of southwestern Rajasthan, Ranthambore National Park is one of the largest national parks in northern India.
Ranthambore wildlife sanctuary is well known for its tigers and is one of the best places to see these creatures in the jungle. February offers you the best chance of sighting tigers as the undergrowth is restricted and the temperature is low.
Situated 25km west of Sandakan in the Sabah state, the Sepilok Orang Utan Rehab Centre opened in 1964 for rescued orphaned baby orangutans. The orphaned orangutans are trained to survive in the wild and released as soon as they are ready.
The sanctuary is located within the Kabili Sepilok forest which covers an area of over 5000 hectares. Other animals living within the sanctuary range from monkeys to monitor lizards.
Designated a World Heritage Site in 1984 Yosemite National Park spans eastern portions of Tuolumne, Mariposa and Madera counties in east-central California. The park supports a diversity of plants and animals and hiking is spectacular. September is an ideal time to visit, as the population of black bears are still hunting for food in anticipation of hibernation.
Every February hundreds of millions of Monarch Butterflies migrate from Canada and the USA to their winter home in the Michoacan province of Mexico. Being surrounded by millions of butterflies and witnessing their bright orange coloured wings carpeting the forest floor is truly a remarkable sight. The best place to view the butterflies in their natural habitat is in the Monarch Butterfly biosphere reserve. A World Heritage site, recognised by UNESCO in 2008. The protected area covers over 200 square miles and offers several areas open to the public.
Located in Northern Canada, Churchill hosts the southernmost population of polar bears in the world. As temperatures drop during winter, the bears lumber across the tundra to reach Hudson’s Bay and resume life on the pack ice. The start of the bear migration takes place in October. Their arrival each year offers a unique opportunity to observe polar bears in their natural frozen habitat. Other wildlife to witness in Churchill along the coastline of Hudson’s Bay includes the Arctic Fox the smallest canid in Canada, wolves and caribou.
At this time of year, Alaska provides the ideal opportunity to witness Alaskan brown bears fishing for salmon. If you take an organised trip you will be able to get up close and personal with the bears as they teach their young cubs how to fish for silver salmon, eventually doing their fishing when they get older. At this time there are also plenty of deer, moose, wolves, and other marine life including whales to experience.
Explore the natural world of Australasia
If you want to go whale watching or swim with the dolphins, there’s only one place to go in New Zealand, and that’s Kaikoura situated on the east coast of the south island between Picton and Christchurch.
Sperm whales are the most common whale found at Kaikoura. You are almost guaranteed to see some throughout the year, with the best months to view them being in the summer. Other whales occasionally seen include Humpback and Pilot whales, and very occasional giant Blue whales.
Kaikoura is also one of the best places in the world to “swim with the dolphins” If you are lucky enough you will find the dolphins will come and play, swimming around you before they disappear. This is truly a unique experience, one you won’t find anywhere else. Even if you can’t swim don’t be too disheartened there are several boat-based viewing trips you can take to view the dolphins at play.
If your time is limited in Australia and you are unable to visit the Great Barrier Reef located off the coast of Queensland, then you should consider the Nigaloo Reef. A fringing coral reef stretching some 260 kilometres (160 mi) in length and located in the north west coastal region of Western Australia (North of Perth).
Designated as the Ningaloo Marine Park and listed as a world heritage site by the United Nations in 2011, the reef is known for its seasonal feeding of the whale shark, during March through to June.
During the winter months, the reef becomes part of the migration route for humpback whales, dolphins and manta rays.