As we continue through our travel experience bucket list, we at Your Concierge NYC wanted to provide our readers with a unique type of vacation inspiration geared to the animal lovers at heart. Many other blogs or email subscriptions will readily send out travel ideas related to the most luxurious ways to spend a week with your toes in the sand and a drink in your hand. Don’t get us wrong, we really love those types of getaways, too – but we also want to send out some family-friendly vibes to get up close and personal with some of the world’s most majestic creatures. After all, to know an animal is to know pure, unadulterated love. What better way to enhance your next journey than learning about the important conservation efforts geared to protect these loving creatures, showing your family the love of an animal, and ethically participating in some of the most awe-inspiring opportunities of a lifetime? Scroll down to check out how you can give an elephant a mud bath, float along next to native swimming pigs, tango underwater with silly sea lions, observe the circle of life first hand, and learn about important conservation efforts at a theme park closer than you might think.
Chiang Mai, Thailand
The Kingdom of Thailand is another “all-in-one” destination, brimming with colorful temples, crystal clear waters, and the most gracious and welcoming people imaginable. It is especially magical for animal lovers because it affords the opportunity to interact with elephants in a socially responsible and humane manner. Your day might involve activities like feeding the playful pachyderms their favorite snacks of bananas and bamboo, applying a thick coat of mud to their backs to protect them from the intense sun of Southeast Asia, and following them down to a small waterfall to rinse off their extra spa treatments. Fair warning, if they like you they may suck up some mud spray it back at you!
The best part about true sanctuaries is that the animals have all been rescued from other less desirable ways of life. During these experiences, no elephants were ever forced to perform unnatural behaviors or interact with any guests. Whether or not you had an interaction with one of these gentle giants was entirely up to the elephant. While we did heavy research into finding the ideal sanctuary to support, all “sanctuaries” are not made equal and we would be remiss to not inform you appropriately. So, if you do decide to book this incredibly humbling experience – and we highly recommend it – please do so with caution and only support institutions that have the animals’ best interests at heart.
The Exumas, The Bahamas
When someone books a ticket to Nassau, the image usually conjured in their mind is one of relaxation replete with white sand beaches, luxurious waterfront resorts, and fruity umbrella drinks in hand. But what if I told you that only a short speedboat ride away there are numerous fun and unique ways to interact with indigenous animals in the Exuma Keys? Book a private charter to island hop your way to Allen Cay, home of the popular Bahamian Rock Iguanas. These massive reptiles associate tourists with food, so they will likely come out and greet you upon arrival. Next stop is Compass Cay, where the shallow waters are perfect for you and your family to take a dip … as long as you’re up for some aquatic company of the shark variety! If that last line got your heart moving a little faster, don’t worry! Nurse sharks are mild mannered and mostly harmless to humans. Lastly, hoist up your anchor and sail over to our final stop of the day, Big Major Cay, to encounter a truly mystical sight: the infamous swimming pigs of the Bahamas. Make sure you have a hefty supply of carrots, their snack of choice, because there are dozens of pigs strolling along the shore on any given day and they sure do have an appetite.
The Galapagos, Ecuador
Visiting these remote volcanic islands off the coast of Ecuador is not always the easiest of feats to accomplish. It wasn’t until the second half of the 1900’s that air travel was routinely used to access the national park famously used in Charles Darwin’s living, breathing biology studies. Today, there are a number of small group, luxury tour groups that take you for an in-depth look at what Darwin had the unique privilege of experiencing. Think of up-close wildlife viewing opportunities as the daring indigenous species are well known for allowing some close encounters. If you are lucky, you might even have a delightful underwater dance party with a silly sea lion that is just as curious about you as you are about them. For those that are PADI certified, the islands offer some uniquely stunning dive sites that are second to none. If you aren’t an advanced diver, or just prefer to stay dry, you can still engage with the natural landscape in a meaningful way. Take a stroll along the granular sand coast strewn with bathing sea lions and napping giant tortoises. Kayaking off the coast will provide the photography enthusiast ample opportunities to capture scenes featuring the likes of blue-footed boobies, Galapagos penguins, and giant iguanas. Without having experienced the pristine grandeur of these islands first hand, imagination can only scratch the surface of what you can hope to find in such a majestic portion of our world.
South Africa is widely considered one of the most popular African countries to visit on holiday, and for good reason. It offers poignant historical remembrances of Apartheid at Robben Island, abundant outdoor activities like hiking Table Mountain and visiting the penguins of the Cape of Good Hope, as well as a lively winery presence offering up authentic bottles of Pinotage. However, nothing can outshine the main attraction of the abundant natural wildlife. If a cage dive off the coast of Cape Town in the heart of Great White territory isn’t quite the animal encounter you had in mind, perhaps an early morning game drive through a privately owned wildlife reserve with a safari guide and ranger is more your speed. South Africa is renowned for big five sightings, which include lions, leopards, rhinos, elephants, and Cape buffalo, among other cute critters. Your lodge can likely arrange for a private meal replete with local dishes and unique flavors hosted within the wild landscape itself. The majestic natural scenery will make even the most novice of photographers seems like a veteran National Geographic explorer – if you close your eyes and randomly take a picture you’re likely to have captured something magnificent. So without further ado, go invest in a semi-decent camera and book a flight to one of the most popular countries on the African continent!
Walt Disney World Theme Park, USA
When people hear of the most magical place on Earth, they typically think of the world-class attractions and family-oriented nature of the parks. But what if I told you the House of Mouse goes well beyond colorful international dolls singing about the small size of the world? Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park and Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge are officially accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, which is considered the gold standard in animal care. The popular theme park offers behind-the-scenes a la carte experiences that take guests through the African savannah in a variety of ways. Consider hanging over a ledge peering down at the hippo habitat as your toss them some fresh vegetables, traversing a rope bridge dangling over the crocodile encampment, and enjoying an authentic African-inspired meal situated on the savannah itself while sipping a selection of premium African wines to pair with panoramic wildlife views. For those looking for a shorter experience, consider an in-depth look at either rhinos or elephants, focusing on their care and conservation. At Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge, a deluxe category resort on property, observe wildlife directly from your balcony, get up close and personal with okapi, giraffe, and ostrich, participate in the daily enrichment of red river hogs, and take in the beauty of the savannah at dark with specialized nighttime binoculars. We would be remiss if we didn’t mention the aquatic opportunities within The Living Seas at Epcot, which allows guests the opportunity to swim with dolphins, and either snorkel or dive within their 5.7 million gallon aquarium. They truly have something fun for all ages!
Our team has an incredibly varied set of travel experiences and is uniquely positioned to curate your family a truly one-of-a-kind itinerary to meet all of your wildest dreams, so please feel free to shoot us a quick message here to discover how we can give you the world.
Please note, we strongly recommend hiring a professional guide to help you to interact with all animals in a safe and rewarding manner. Always be respectful to the animals and exercise a reasonable level of caution when interacting with natural wildlife.