12 Unusual Safaris You Can Try Around the World
The word safari may conjure images of vast grasslands and Jeeps rolling over dirt roads in Kenya in search of Africa's Big Five: lions, leopards, elephants, rhinoceros and buffalo. And while this kind of rugged adventure is certainly a wonderful experience, wildlife safaris have become way more diverse.
The Merriam-Webster dictionary describes the word safari as, "A journey or expedition," making almost every trip a safari of sorts, even my recent flight from Boston to Cincinnati.
But here at TPG, we think of safaris as an expedition or adventure taken with the goal of spotting, learning about and respecting wildlife in their natural habitat. Tom Marchant, owner and co-founder of Black Tomato — a company that specializes in organizing luxury travel experiences — had a similar definition in mind.
"A safari isn’t always about what you see but how you see it," Marchant told TPG. "The best interactions with the natural world come from the most authentic moments."
"Take, for instance, encountering gorilla families as you wade down a bai in Congo; kayaking alongside Beluga whales in Nunavut; or contributing to jaguar research on the Pantanal. A safari, to us, is not a show or a spectacle. It’s a connection with the world around you that can only be achieved by stripping it all right back. It therefore only seems right that a safari not be defined by geography, but by that connection."
And perhaps travelers are the ones actively responsible for changing the definition of a safari. Darshika Jones, director of North America's branch of Intrepid Group, told TPG they've seen an uptick in travelers looking for, "new ways to experience exotic animals."
"We have developed tours — in addition to the traditional safari — that allow travelers to experience the wild in a handful of ways," Jones said.
Looking to venture beyond traditional safari stereotypes? From budget experiences to serious splurges, these are a dozen unexpected safari experiences you can book right now.
Polar Bears in Canada
Explore Canada's frozen tundra and see polar bears up close from the Nanook Polar Bear Cabin with Arctic Kingdom. The cabin is located directly in the path of the bears as they wander the western coast of Hudson Bay. Days will be spent spotting bears, hiking with Inuit guides, snowmobiling and taking Arctic helicopter tours. In the winter, nightfall means stargazing and searching for the Northern Lights. Prices for a six-day package for four people, including guided tours and meals prepared by a private chef, start at $54,000 CAD ($40,500).
Orangutans in Borneo
With approximately 100,000 Bornean orangutans left in the wild, Uncle Tan's does their part to educate — but never endanger — the local population at their eco-safari camp. Float down the Kinabatangan River and camp in a remote location in open-air cabins perched on stilts over a swamp. River and walking safaris are led every night and day, where you'll catch glimpses of orangutans and proboscis monkeys, macaques, and birds and reptiles galore. Prices for a day trip including lunch, dinner, transport to the camp and both walking and boat safaris start at 328.60 RM, or about $80.
Kangaroos in Australia
Jump aboard a restored 1962 four-wheel drive Bedford truck with McLeod Tours to view groups of Western grey kangaroos in their natural habitat during sunset. While the 2.5-hour safari starts on the McLeod family farm, you'll head out to wild territory to see the kangaroos, as well as typical Australian flora such as the native grass tree. Prices start at 65 AUD, or around $46.
Wolves in Ethiopia
Yes, this safari will take you to Africa. But you're not searching for lions here. If you're itching to see one of the world's rarest canines, embark on this four-night, five-day safari to spot Ethiopian wolves with Bespoke African Safaris. The adventure takes place in Bale Mountains National Park and the Sanetti Plateau where you'll likely spot lots of other wildlife besides these endangered carnivores. The park is home to two-thirds of the remaining wolves left in the population, which is between 400 and 500. While most of the safaris will be walking, some vehicle drives are also offered. Prices vary.
Elephants in Sri Lanka
You don't have to take a standard African safari to see elephants. In fact, it's not unlikely to see hundreds of elephants gathering as the sun rises at Kaudulla National Park in Sri Lanka, when crowds of visitors are few and far between. The visit is just a day trip as there's no lodging available inside the park. Instead, grab a hotel in Habarana or Sigiriya (wild elephants roam the entire area, so keep your eyes open) and pick up the earliest safari you can find to avoid the crowds. Safari operators may change out Kaudulla for Minneriya, another nearby park, depending on the season (the elephants migrate between the two). Day jeep trips with Discover Sri Lanka start at just $30 per person.
Gorillas in Rwanda
Trek through the Volcanoes National Park with Volcanoes Safaris to see gorillas in the wild, just like The Points Guy himself, Brian Kelly, did a few years back. About half the world's remaining 700 mountain gorillas live in the park and the surrounding Virunga Mountains. A four-day safari that includes a stay at the Virunga Lodge, gorilla trekking, visits to Lake Kivu and Kigali and more start at $5,938 during the high season. This includes the $1,500 permit needed to enter the park.
Bengal Tigers in India
Your best bet for spotting tigers in India is between October and June at Ranthambore National Park, about four hours outside of Jaipur. The only safaris allowed are official tours operated by the government, two per day. As the park is separated into different zones, your best bet is to book the six-seater Jeep (called a gypsy) as that vehicle can enter all zones of the park in hopes of spotting one (or several) of the 60 or so tigers that reside there. Zone 2, 3, 4 and 5 are known as the best areas for seeing the tigers. Safari tickets can be booked on the official safari site for the park, and there are a number of budget camps and luxury lodges nearby that will book your safari for you. Prices start at 1714 INR, or about $24.
Jaguars in Brazil
An alternative to the more well-known Amazon, the Pantanal is the world's largest tropical wetlands area, which is extends as far as parts of Bolivia and Paraguay. Water safaris will help you spot jaguars, bobcats, wild boars and an abundance of tropical birds, in addition to some 3,500 plant species. For a unique Brazilian experience, Black Tomato combines three days exploring the Pantanal region via water safaris with a few days in Florianópolis to see right whales off the coast of Brazil's stunning shoreline. A 13-day trip with the aforementioned activities combined with stops in Rio and smaller colonial towns Ouro Preto and Tiradentes starts at roughly $7,800.
Andean Condors in Peru
Trek through one of the world's deepest canyons to see endangered Andean condors. Colca Canyon isn't an easy hike, but admiring the giant birds as they circle around the Cruz del Condor viewpoint is truly magical. Just remember, this hiking safari happens in a high-altitude destination, so be prepared with plenty of water and take it slow if necessary. Two-day, one-night trips with Peru Andes start at $40 and include some meals, a trekking guide, an overnight stay in a lodge and more. Plan to tack on another 70 soles (about $22) for your entrance ticket to Colca.
Penguins in South Georgia
Starting off in Argentina, this cruise will sail to South Georgia and the Antarctic Peninsula, where you'll be able to photograph thousands of penguins in their natural habitat. You'll likely also spot several different seal species, many Arctic birds and, if you're lucky, whales. The area may seem remote, but when you stumble upon a colony of 200,000 penguins, you'll feel like you've stumbled on a tiny avian city. A 16-day safari cruise from Stark Expeditions starts at $9,395.
Whales in Norway
If swimming and diving with pods of orcas and humpback whales seems like a dream getaway, you can do so in Norway on a whale safari. Just be prepared for cold weather, as these safaris are held from November to January, the time when the whales in northern Norway are most active. Hearing the whales communicate underwater is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Top off the adventure with the possibility of seeing the Northern Lights as you warm up on dry land each night. Eight-day safaris with Natural World Safaris start at $6,300 based on shared occupancy. Having PADI certification isn't necessary, but you must be a strong swimmer.
Chimpanzees in The Gambia
A unique take on seeing African wildlife, this adventure safari yacht cruise with Intrepid Group's Peregrine Adventures focuses more on the destination than the boat itself (don't worry -- you'll still cruise in style and comfort). Besides admiring chimpanzees on Baboon Island, you'll likely spot dolphins on the Gambia River and Eurasian spoonbills, flamingos and curlew sandpipers along the Saloum Delta, a UNESCO biosphere reserve. Prices for the eight-day cruise start around $2,300.