11 of the world’s top destinations for responsible wildlife experiences
Truly connecting with a destination means taking care of the fuzzy (and furry, and scaly!) friends who call it home. That’s why we champion animal welfare on every trip alongside the non-profit organization World Animal Protection. Just like the diverse array of wildlife across the globe, being a responsible traveler comes in lots of shapes and sizes. See all the ways you’ll celebrate animals, improve their lives, and respectfully observe wildlife while on tour with us.
1. Visit Thailand to spot elephants roaming freely
When you travel to Thailand with us, a guided tour of ChangChill, a responsibly run home for elephants, is included during your time in Chiang Mai. It’s one of the must-visit hidden gems in Thailand. You’ll learn about Asian elephants as you watch them roam freely during a hands-off exploration walk and chat with the mahouts, or elephant caretakers. You even get to help prepare medicine and food for the six elephants who call the grounds home. But, the best part of all may just be eating lunch at a spot on the property that overlooks the elephants’ natural bathing spot. The views are truly ones for the camera roll.
Seeing elephants in Thailand is a bucket list moment, but doing it in a way that’s safe for the animals and enriching as a traveler is a must. No company understands this more than ChangChill (which translates to relaxed elephant). The owner’s former business offered riding, bathing, and feeding experiences, which don’t prioritize elephant welfare. That’s when the World Animal Protection offered to help him evolve his business into what it is today: “A place where elephants can simply be elephants.” Now that’s a wildlife tourism mission we can get behind!
Watch elephants in their element on our Thailand Adventure: Bangkok, Chiang Mai & the Islands tour →
2. Head to South Africa to see semi-wild chimps
Located just outside of Eswatini en route to Kruger National Park is a little place that may just be considered heaven on Earth for chimpanzees. It’s called Chimp Eden (aptly so!) and it’s the only chimpanzee sanctuary in South Africa. Chimp Eden is a branch of the Jane Goodall Institute, which was started by and named after the famous English primatologist who’s considered the world’s leading expert on chimps.
Chimpanzees who are rescued from inhumane conditions (think: circuses and illegal meat trading) are brought to Chimp Eden to recover and reacclimate to normal living conditions. When you join our Small Group Tour of South Africa, you’ll visit Chimp Eden and take part in one of the world’s top wildlife travel experiences. The chimps live in semi-wild enclosures that are free from human interaction. You’ll enjoy the unique opportunity to see chimpanzees, hear how they safely play in these areas, and understand how the environment helps positively reinforce their natural behavior.
View chimps on our South Africa: Cultural Cities & Wildlife Safaris tour →
3. Go to Kenya to interact with giraffes
We’re going to let you in on one of the biggest benefits of responsible tourism, and be sure to spread the word, because we don’t want to keep this a secret! It’s that the experiences are as safe for the animals as they are fun for visitors like you. Just take it from traveler Kristine, who took a tip from our Kenya Travel Guide and visited the Giraffe Centre in Nairobi on our Kenya Wildlife Safari. “The most exciting adventure of the trip was hand feeding the giraffes. I love giraffes,” she said.
The Giraffe Centre is a preserve dedicated to raising rare species, like the endangered Rothschild’s giraffe, and practicing preservation efforts that increase the population. To this day, they’ve released more than 40 giraffe calves into the wild. On our Kenya tours, when you visit, your expert Tour Director will give you the scoop on how the entrance fee, which is included in your tour price, funds the center’s work. Then, end the visit by climbing to the tree house deck to feed the giraffes by hand. Does wildlife tourism get any more magical than this?
Make friends with giraffes on our Kenya Wildlife Safari →
4. Fly to Australia to support koala and kangaroo rehabilitation
Raise your hand if your perfect day on tour involves seeing Australia’s unique wildlife thriving in a safe, healthy environment. Us too! That’s why we offer the Taronga Conservation Society & Wildlife Visit on our Australia tours. This optional excursion includes a guided tour of the Taronga Institute of Science & Learning at Sydney’s Taronga Zoo, a carbon-neutral business paving the way for ecotourism in Australia.
Scientists at the institute study the country’s native wildlife and develop programs to conserve threatened ecosystems. This includes providing assisted reproductive techniques to grow the population of critically endangered species, as well as funding anti-wildlife trafficking organizations. Your guide will walk you through the animal holdings to show you how the Sumatran tigers, rhinos, pangolins, elephants, sea turtles, and corroboree frogs live under their care. Then comes the moment you’ve been waiting for. Head to the Koala Walkabout and Tree Kangaroo areas to see both species happily hanging around and bouncing about.
Meet some famous animals in the Land Down Under on our Australia & New Zealand tour →
5. Plan a trip to India to see Bengal tigers on the prowl
Spotting the elusive Bengal tiger is one of the wildlife experiences many travelers have on their bucket list—and some are lucky enough to cross it off. “The very thoughtfully planned India itinerary included a number of places of great historical and cultural interest, [like] Ranthambore National Park where our group experienced wonderful wildlife sightings (a five-year-old tiger, two rarely spotted sloth bears, blue bull antelopes, deer, and so much more),” said traveler Davara.
On our India tour, you’ll do more than have a chance to see Bengal tigers. You’ll also see how Dhonk, a female-run craft workshop, and Tiger Watch, an Indian nonprofit, work together to protect the endangered species while supporting the Moghiya and Bawariya tribes. The female artisans at Dhonk provide sustainable jobs to wives of ex-poachers by teaching them handicraft skills. You’ll visit their workshop, interact with the businesswomen, and can support them by buying a block-printed textile. Dhonk shows that one of the advantages of wildlife tourism is it can (and should!) protect animals while creating opportunities for marginalized, indigenous communities. Support for Dhonk and similar anti-poaching initiatives from travelers like you has helped Tiger Watch grow the local Bengal tiger population from just 18 in 2005 to more than 60 in 2020.
Support the locals and the tigers on our India: Delhi, Agra & Jaipur tour →
6. Travel to Costa Rica to tour a toucan ranch
Many travelers add responsible tourism destinations like Costa Rica to their bucket list so they can see diverse wildlife in an ethical, sustainable way. It’s one of the biggest travel trends for 2022. In fact, Costa Rica is on the forefront of the ecotourism movement. Over 25% of the country’s land is protected national parks, reserves, and wildlife refuges. It’s practices like this that truly showcase the pura vida lifestyle.
While seeing sloths and howler monkeys in the rainforest is one of the top reasons to travel for wildlife, rescue centers offer a unique look into how injured animals get a second chance at life. That’s where places like the Toucan Rescue Ranch come into play. The Ministry of Environment and Energy of Costa Rica brings injured or displaced wildlife to the ranch, where they’re rehabilitated and released back into their natural environment when possible. You’ll see everything from toucans and macaws to sloths and spider monkeys on an educational walk around the ranch. Your local guide’s expertise about how the animals arrived at the ranch will give you a peek into just how important conservation is in Costa Rican culture.
Visit a wildlife ranch on our Costa Rica: Rainforests, Volcanoes & Wildlife tour →
7. Put a tour of New Zealand on the calendar to learn all about kiwis
In the local lingo, Kiwi is what you call someone from New Zealand, but it’s also the name of the beloved bird that’s native to the country. So, it may be no surprise that the locals are passionate about protecting their namesake. That’s why the Rainbow Spring’s National Kiwi Hatchery in the Rotorua Region was created. It’s New Zealand’s largest kiwi hatchery and protects the birds from predators introduced by humans. It’s also one of the must-visit places featured in our New Zealand Travel Guide.
The hatchery is responsible for 66% of all kiwis hatched each year through their project called Operation Nest Egg. Without their work, kiwis would be on the brink of extinction, as only 5% of kiwis survive into adulthood. In the hatchery though, 98% survive and are introduced into the wild after eight months. This is when they’re large enough to fight off their most common predator: the invasive short-tailed weasel. Your expert local guide will show you the kiwi babies growing up at the hatchery and how they work to rescue and rehabilitate injured ones, too. “Several of the schedule sites and activities on the tour are outstanding… the Kiwi Conservation experience was fantastic (and we even got to see a one day old baby),” said traveler Jen.
Learn about these birds on our New Zealand: Untamed Landscapes tour →
8. Take a trip to South Africa to watch penguins waddle around Boulder Beach
South Africa is one of the world’s top wildlife travel destinations, especially when it comes to spotting safari animals. One animal you may not have had on your list to see? The endangered African penguin! Lucky for you, you’ll see a colony of these flightless birds living their best life on Boulder Beach in Cape Town.
Your entrance fee to this protected marine habitat, which is included in your tour price, benefits the Simon’s Town Penguin & Seabird Rangers. This NGO operates a rehabilitation program for injured and sick seabirds, including those affected by oil spills. They also raise at-risk African Penguin chicks in their labs to help grow the population. To this, day they’ve released more than 7,000 penguin chicks into the wild.
See penguins thriving on our South Africa: Cultural Cities & Wildlife Safaris tour →
9. Pay a visit Belize to swim alongside clownfish
One of the perks when you travel for wildlife is that you have local experts ready to fill you in on what makes the native animals so special, and what they’re doing to protect their ecosystems. That’s just what you get when you travel to Belize, one of the world’s top responsible travel destinations. The country is full of hidden gems, including two of the best snorkeling spots on the globe. You’ll meet up with a marine biologist to hear about the beauty of the MesoAmerican Barrier Reef and the responsible travel initiatives in place to protect it.
They’ll fill you in on how NGOs and the government are working to increase conservation efforts and address coral bleaching. Then, it’s your chance to jump into the water at Hol Chan Marine Reserve and Coral Gardens. You’ll see the country’s commitment to preserving the coral reef and marine life in action as you look for turtles, dolphins, and more than 160 species of fish while snorkeling.
Explore marine habitats on our A Week in Belize: Ruins, Reefs & Rainforests tour →
10. Book a tour of France to feast your eyes on flamingoes
When you picture flamingoes, you may envision these iconic pink birds standing on one leg next to a watering hole in Africa. Fun fact: These birds call Europe home, too! Head to Ornithological Park of Pont de Gau in France, located within the larger Camargue National Park, to see them in the wild. The park opened in 1949 as a bird sanctuary for migratory species. Today, it’s the only spot on the continent where flamingos reproduce.
Join our Small Group Tour of France to take part in a guided walk through the park. You’ll learn how the park supports the conservation and rehabilitation of migratory birds and rescued animals. Be sure to keep your eyes peeled for those flamingoes, and even other birds like herons.
Snap photos of wild flamingoes on our French Riviera & Provence Adventure tour →
11. Pop over to Vancouver Island to view sea lions and whales
Did you know that the Race Rocks Ecological Reserve near Vancouver Island is Canada’s first Marine Protected Area? How about the fact that rare birds, mammals, urchins, and fish call it home? Well, when you join our Vancouver Island Wildlife Cruise excursion, you’ll find that some of the best responsible travel destinations are found in your own backyard.
The company we partner with to run this excursion contributes at least 1% of their annual sales to environmental causes through the international organization 1% for the Planet. They’re also 100% carbon neutral, with offsets going toward restoring native habitats in Toba Valley, BC. Your excursion price even includes a $5CAD wildlife fee to fund conservation efforts in the Salish Sea. Sail to the reserve alongside local, certified naturalists and marine experts. You’ll learn about and take pictures of the animals the company helps protect, like sea lions, seals, and porpoises. Plus, wildlife experiences like this feel even better when you know you’re doing your part to protect the ecosystems for future generations of travelers.