By now most of us have become so eager to travel that we would even consider taking dodgy low cost carriers and indulge in all-day buffets without any hesitation or thought. Talking about lowering our standards just to get out of our pandemic routine. Personally, I’ve been trying to cope just by planning ahead and dream about all the adventures and luxury experiences we’ve been putting on hold ever since this madness started.
Most of the experiences that are reoccurring in these dreams involve wildlife and luxury accommodations, but the latter shouldn’t be a surprise. Yes, I’m a fan of wildlife and nature in general (don’t get me wrong, I can still enjoy a good old concrete metropolis too) and I’m surely not the only one. When did it start? I don’t really know, but I’m convinced my early trips to the Galapagos Islands almost 30 years ago (before the large crowds arrived) and the Masai Mara must have something to do with it. Luck was on my side when I visited the mountain gorillas in early 2020 right before the pandemic paralysed the whole world, and it reminds me of the fact that we shouldn’t wait too long to take those amazing wildlife trips we’ve been planning for what seems like a lifetime. Hence why I made a list of wildlife experiences which you should definitely consider once we’re living back in pre-covid ages.
Mountain gorillas in Virunga NP, DRC
The mountain gorillas are basically our family as they share over 98% of our genes so instead of visiting the in-laws you might want to opt for another family visit, one in central Africa.Being an endangered species it isn’t always easy to see them, however there are 3 places where you’re almost certain to find them in the wild. There where the borders of Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) meet, there’s a mountain range covered with dense forests which is the ideal place for these primates to thrive.
Personally I recommend going to Virunga NP in DRC as this was the first national park in Africa and it is also the one that is most under thread even though it is a UNESCO World Heritage centre. Supporting them not only helps to protect the animals, but also to uplift the local economy. To see the mountain gorillas you need to buy a permit and it is by far the cheapest here, more than 1.000 USD less than the one you buy in Rwanda. nothing beats a life changing experience that is also a bargain!
Tigers in Ranthambore NP, India
India has a vast arsenal of wildlife even though most of it is ignored by the majority of foreign visitors. However, safaris and experiences in the wild are becoming increasingly popular in India and for good reason. No more need to be roughing it in the wild, as some of the most luxurious brands are now offering amazing wildlife experiences while still enjoying all those refined safari details you’ll find on the better known African safaris.
Lions, leopards, hyenas and bears are just a few of the animals which can be found in the land of the Maharaja, but the tiger is by far the most famous and iconic animal living in these territories and Ranthambore NP is the perfect place to increase your chances in seeing one. This is where royalty used to hunt and there are still plenty of historic landmarks to be found in the park, however these are now occupied by the tigers which in return often lends for great photo opportunities. It isn’t always easy to spot a tiger in the wild, but the tiger population is growing and if you are going into the park with an experienced guide I suggest to keep your camera ready as a tiger can pop up out of nowhere.
Brown bears in Katmai NP, Alaska
Rule number 1: don’t go look for brown bears in wintertime. Hibernation is a real thing guys and bears are masters at it (don’t be jelly as they’re missing Christmas and New Year celebrations on a yearly basis). However, if you have some spare time in July or September you might want to consider flying to Alaska as this is the prime time to spot brown bears fishing at Brook Falls in Katmai NP. The river will be teaming with salmon and this is an open invitation for the bears to join the “all you can eat” buffet.
For those who don’t have that much time, there are day trips available from Anchorage where you take a seaplane and fly straight towards the action. This might not give you the chance to discover the rest of the park, but it will surely make you look like the coolest kid in town that day. But still not as cool as the biggest brown bears that catch and devour up to 30 salmons in a day. Surely their Omega 3 intake is a little bit over the top.
Pangolins and meerkats in Tswalu game reserve, South Africa
Some places in this world are investing a lot of resources into research and conservation, Tswalu being one of it. Why? Well…obviously because the owners can afford it but more importantly because they recognise the importance of the research that is done and the effect it will have once we’ve got a better understanding of the specific animals but also the area they live in. Tswalu is situated in the southern part of the Kalahari and it tries to restore as much of the land as possible into its original state after farmers have abandoned or sold it. It is a gigantic task but with some great success.
Research into pangolin and meerkats is continuously ongoing and full time researchers are busy with these animals on a daily basis. As a guest, you have the advantage to meet one of the meerkat colonies which became semi-habituated to humans, meaning they don’t run away when you get closer to them. It is an incredible sight to see them dig right in front of you, hoping to find scorpions or worms underground. The pangolins are tougher to find, but with the daily follow up from the staff and researchers they mostly have a pretty good idea where one is hanging out. The illegal trade in pangolin is mind boggling and understanding the species might help their survival, hence why it is so important to get the word out: “No…their scales will not turn you into Mr. Grey in the bedroom, no matter which shade of grey you use”!
Komodo dragons in Komodo NP, Indonesia
While I always tell my kids dragons only exist in fairytales, I must conclude that I’m actually lying to them. Then again, their surprise will be even bigger when I do tell them they’re real and they can be seen in Indonesia. What a great parent I am! Komodo dragons are actually the largest living lizards in the world, and part of the monitor lizard family of which the African nieces and nephews are much more common.
There are only 4 islands where these amazing creatures live, and they are all located near each other in Indonesia. They are not that hard to reach and there are even several cruise companies that come to this area to offer excursions to see these prehistoric animals. Komodo dragons are impressive in every sense and can grow up to 3 metres. And unlike me, they aren’t the best parent as their newborns escape to higher grounds (also known as trees) in order to avoid cannibalism which is a common act. Note to self: do not visit Komodo dragons in and around April, as this is when their eggs hatch and I’m not a big fan of horror movies.
Are there any other unique wildlife experiences you are looking forward to once we can all travel again as if nothing really happened? Or were you lucky and did you enjoy one of the above mentioned adventures before the pandemic put a halt to everything? I would love to hear all about it.