Wildlife Experts' Top 5 Travel Destinations
Updated: May 5
From South Georgia to Svalbard, the Great Bear Rainforest to the Galapagos Islands, find out which destinations Mark Carwardine, Brian Jackman, Bruce Pearson, Jonathan and Angie Scott, Chris McIntyre, Simon King, Chris Breen, Amanda Marks, Andy Rouse and Wildlife Wishlist's William Gray pick as their all-time favourites.
Zoologist, writer, photographer, TV presenter
My Big Five
1. Baja California, Mexico
2. South Georgia Island
3. Sipadan Island, Borneo
4. Great Bear Rainforest, British Columbia
5. The Pantanal, Brazil
I’ve been whale watching for more than 25 years, in over 50 countries, and San Ignacio Lagoon is by far the best place for the closest encounters. I’m addicted to the place and go several times every year to see the friendly grey whales that congregate there every winter to breed. My most recent visit was as good as ever: at one point, we had three mothers and their calves rolling around our tiny boat for well over an hour. Normally, I would encourage people not to touch wild animals, but these gentle giants are exceptional – if you don’t scratch and tickle them they will go and find someone who will. It’s often hard to tell who is getting the most from the encounter.
Writer & author
My Big Five
1. Masai Mara National Reserve, Kenya
2. Serengeti National Park, Tanzania
3. Ruaha National Park, Tanzania
4. South Luangwa National Park, Zambia
5. Okavango Delta, Botswana
La Paz, Mexico. I’m in the Sea of Cortez on board a whale watching catamaran. Already I have seen 60 humpbacks and nine blue whales, but it’s the dolphins I will remember most. Joyfully they race towards us and within minutes we are engulfed by a Mexican wave of leaping bodies. They are chasing fish as they charge along. It’s a feeding frenzy and we are at the heart of it, with thousands of dolphins strung out on either side of us.
My Big Five
1. North Norfolk coast, England I spend a lot of time working here, especially during winter when the landscape is full of wildfowl and waders.
2. Luangwa Valley, Zambia After a number of visits over many years the smells and colours of Africa have become addictive.
3. South Georgia Living for six months each austral summer for three years on remote Bird Island was hugely formative – a young man set loose among countless penguins, albatrosses and fur seals.
4. Extremadura, Spain So exotic, so accessible and so beautiful.
5. Svalbard Painting in the low sunshine of midnight is a particularly memorable experience.
I was on a ship ploughing through the long swell and strong winds of the South Atlantic with scores of oceanic seabirds in our wake. Writing notes in my cabin one morning a non-birding shipmate suddenly put his head round the door and excalimed, “There’s a bloomin’ great chicken outside!” And there it was – my first wandering albatross, the largest flying bird in the world effortlessly riding the wind in long sweeps and rising arcs. It was breathtaking, the whole oceanic vista forming a powerful image and excitement about the rhythm and restlessness of the natural world that has lasted with me for 36 years since.
Jonathan & Angie Scott
Photographers, authors & presenters
Our Big Five
1. Masai Mara, Kenya
2. South Georgia, Antarctica
3. Okavango Delta, Botswana
4. Ranthambhore National Park, India
5. Katmai National Park, Alaska
One morning while filming Big Cat Diary I left Angie to keep an eye on Half-Tail the leopard. When I returned many hours later Angie was still sitting in her Land Cruiser, but there was no sign of Half-Tail. “What happened?” I asked. Angie smiled and pointed under her car. There was our favourite leopard curled up fast asleep. No other animal has brought us quite so much pleasure – not even Kike the cheetah sitting on the roof of our vehicle (and peeing on us!) could match having a wild leopard accept our company so completely. At one point Half-Tail looked up and made eye contact with Angie – no sense of fear or aggression, just a look of mild curiosity. Bliss!
Managing Director of Expert Africa & guidebook author
My Big Five
1. Okavango Delta, Botswana
2. Etosha National Park, Namibia
3. Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania
4. Mana Pools National Park, Zimbabwe
5. Galápagos Islands, Ecuador
Skeleton Coast, May 1996. On the long drive north, we stopped to stretch our legs in a dry river bed. The desert sun gave little warmth through the damp, salty air. Tracks and white droppings intrigued me to follow the trail upstream. Disturbed from a reedbed, a big brown hyena bounded onto a sandy mound, fixing me with penetrating eyes from within its magnificent mane. We stared at each other in disbelief, before the hyena vanished silently into the mist. I’ve yet to see another of this secretive species, but I cherish the memory of finding that first sighting for myself.
Wildlife film-maker and author
My Big Five
1. Shetland Islands, Scotland Sea birds, otters and orcas
2. Masai Mara, Kenya Big cats, wildlife spectacle
3. South Georgia Penguins and albatrosses
4. Peninsula Valdés, Argentina Orcas
5. False Bay, South Africa Marine life
I am hot and panting despite the bracing wind that blows into my face from the north-east. I have been running along the Shetland coastline trying to keep up with one of the most charismatic of the islands’ natural inhabitants: an otter. Now she surfaces from a hunting dive and I freeze, my silhouette shielded from the sky, and her gaze, by the peat bank that runs along the foreshore. She heads towards me, a large fish in her jaws, and I sink to my knees to further reduce my profile. No more than 4 m away, she comes ashore and begins to chew on the lumpsucker. For a moment I am as much a part of her world as the gulls and lapping water that offer a rhythm to her day.
Founder of Wildlife Worldwide
My Big Five
1. Luangwa Valley, Zambia
2. Great Bear Rainforest, British Columbia
3. Northern Territory, Australia
4. Pantanal, Brazil
5. Kanha National Park, India
I was desperate to see black lechwe. In fact, I had flown to Zambia specifically to visit the Bangweulu Wetlands to see the endemic black lechwe at the very best time of year – the end of March. This is when the grassy floodplains are a foot-deep in water and conditions are perfect for these most beautiful of water-loving antelope. Morning broke and it was a sight to behold – as far we could see in every direction were black lechwe, tens of thousands of them. And, overhead, pallid harriers, Montagu’s harriers, ducks, geese and no less than 83 wattled cranes.
My Big Five
1. Uganda for gorilla and chimp trekking
2. Galápagos Islands for incredible bird and marine species
3. Botswana for outstanding wild dog sightings and much more
4. South Luangwa for walking safaris
5. Tanzania – a perennial favourite
I wasn’t expecting my reaction to chimps in the wild to be quite so visceral. Their calls echo through the forest and reverberate through your chest well before you spot them – it’s a very primeval experience which makes your body tingle. It’s very different from meeting the generally more chilled out gorillas. The chimps move so quickly, they beat tree roots, they’re so loud, and seem so much more aggressive that it’s altogether a more edgy, thrilling experience. Yet they can also be calm and when you look into their eyes or watch their hands, you absolutely know that this animal is not so very different from us.
Photographer, author & presenter
My Big Five
1. Svalbard One of the most beautiful places on earth – and superb for polar bear sightings.
2. Rwanda An encounter with mountain gorillas strikes right to your heart. There is nothing quite like watching a playful youngster in its mother’s arms, under the watchful gaze of the powerful yet gentle silverback.
3. Alaska Rugged and wild, Alaska is home to so much cool wildlife. I always go there for my grizzly bear experiences, but Alaska is also a great place for whales, moose and wolves – all surrounded by incredible scenery.
4. Galápagos Islands Galápagos wildlife is unique and completely unafraid of tourists. For me, the real reward is below the waves, snorkelling with turtles, fur seals and penguins.
5. Bosque del Apache, New Mexico, USA Every year the migration of the snow geese ends at Bosque del Apache in New Mexico. Seeing these beautiful white birds erupt into crystal clear blue skies in their thousands is one of nature’s most awesome spectacles – and an unexpected treat.
If you only ever see one wildlife spectacle in the world, go and see the annual wildebeest migration as it crosses the Talek and Mara Rivers in the Masai Mara. Thousands of wildebeest make the long trek from Tanzania, forming huge lines which can be seen from space. As they reach these two mighty rivers they start to bunch up until the plains are literally alive with the sights, sounds and smell of wildebeest. The river crossings are incredible to watch as thousands upon thousands of wildebeest leap into the swirling waters and try to evade the waiting jaws of huge Nile crocodiles. Get there in September to guarantee a decent crossing.
Zoologist, writer, photographer and founder of Wildlife Wishlist
My Big Five
1. Galápagos Islands The ultimate wildlife extravaganza – above and below the waves.
2. Serengeti-Mara Head-spinning stage for the Great Migration.
3. Svalbard Arctic wilderness of such beauty that its incredible wildlife almost comes as a bonus.
4. Rwanda Few wildlife encounters compare with an hour spent in the company of mountain gorillas.
5. Great Barrier Reef I’d happily spend days or weeks on any seabird island – from Skomer to South Georgia – but Heron Island is one of my favourites.
On the island of Española, surf blooms white on the cliffs at Punta Suárez – a relentless procession of sinewy waves hurling themselves onto the rocks and filling the air with the salty sweat of their exertions. Anywhere else in the world and you would be spellbound by such a vibrant seascape. But this is the Galápagos and the boulder beach below us is twitching with sea lions and marine iguanas. Sally lightfoot crabs daub the rocks with splashes of red and gold; waved albatross cartwheel overhead and Nazca boobies stand sentinel on rocky pedestals, their fluffy white chicks crouched in crevices like snagged cotton wool. The sea can flex its muscles all it likes, but it will never upstage the wildlife on Darwin’s ‘Enchanted Isles’.