10 to try: Animal holidays

Turtles in the Galapagos, whales in Canada and more memorable animal trips

Bestof

Digging up a few worms in the park or spotting the occasional parakeet fly by does not constitute a love of animals.

If you are wild about nature then check out these top animal spotting holiday ideas from around the world.

Birdwatching in Camargue and Provence, France
Some 150-170 bird species place this national park among Europe’s best, with its colony of 15,000 Greater Flamingos and rare breeding birds, including the Little Bustard, Lesser Kestrel and the Pin-tailed Sandgrouse. Its array of wetland birds is most dazzling in May, when they stopover after winter in Africa as they head north. Nearby Arles was once home to Van Gogh, and inspired some of his best-known paintings.

Whale watching from Vancouver Island, Canada
Vancouver Island’s northern strait is famous for spotting orcas, but other species include minke and humpback whales, white-sided dolphins and porpoises. Visit the Orcalab research centre, which tunes in to orcas’ core habitats all day from its remote base on Hudson Island. Then catch the grizzly bears as they snack on shellfish on the river lowlands and take a hike through the wilderness along the new North Coast Trail. The best months to visit are July and August.

Swimming with dolphins in Kaikoura, New Zealand
Head to Kaikoura, on the east coast of New Zealand’s South Island, between October and April to see back-flipping, somersaulting Wild Dusky dolphins in their natural habitat. Pod sizes number up to a thousand in winter and while you’re encouraged to jump in and get close, don’t expect to touch them. This is not a Flippertype experience! Refuel on local rock lobster, scallops and delicious green-lipped mussels.

‘The big five’ safari in Kenya, Africa
The lion, elephant, buffalo, leopard and rhinoceros were called the ‘big five’ by hunters because they were the hardest to hunt on foot. In Kenya, you can track down these beasts and a vast array of others, including cheetahs, giraffes and zebras, on a safari tailor-made to your needs and budget. Thousands of flamingos, hippofilled rivers and the wildebeest migration are all part of the fun. What’s more, trips can be organised all year round.

Butterflies everywhere, in St Albans, UK
There are 54 species of butterfly in the UK, but you can discover another 250 tropical varieties at the newly opened Butterfly World. When complete (completion is scheduled for May-June 2011), the biome will count 10,000 specimens and the walkway will lead visitors through waterfalls, reproductions of ancient Mayan ruins, and underground caverns filled with artefacts, birds and spiders. For more information, visit www.futuregardens.org.index.php.

Orang-utans in Borneo, South-east Asia
Meet the so-called ‘wild men’ of Borneo – the orang-utans – at the conservation centres in the Malay states of Sabah and Sarawak on the island’s north coast. You can also visit Lankayan Island to see turtles, or take a cruise down the Kinabatangan River to spot proboscis monkeys. The ancient rainforest way of life survives with the Iban tribes, whose villages deep in the jungle can be reached by longtail boat. The best months to visit are March to October.

Big cats in Nagpur, India
Head to the city of Nagpur in India for the chance to join treks to spot tigers and leopards, who also share the forest with devilish langur monkeys, striped hyenas and a great many other mammals, such as Chousingha (the Four-horned Antelope). The success of Project Tiger reserves is partly due to the surge in ecotourism, which has added an economical incentive to set aside land for wildlife. Lodging may not be luxurious, but it’s worth the peaceful retreat off the beaten track.

Polar bears in Spitsbergen, Norway
The Norwegian island of Spitsbergen is the best/most accessible place in the northern hemisphere to spot polar bears in their natural habitat; the surrounding archipelago is home to several hundred of these beguiling and sadly endangered creatures. But it’s not all about the bears: Arctic foxes, seals and walruses are also common spots on expeditions deep into the Arctic Ocean. Only a few hundred miles from the North Pole, a purpose-built ice-breaker and its dinghies can take you to the feet of immense glaciers, round vast icebergs and through spectacular fjords (between June and August).

Alligators in Florida, USA
A trip to Florida’s Everglades Alligator Farm in the state’s national park doesn’t have to just stop at seeing these reptiles; if you really want to get involved, then, er, snap up the chance to give one of them a cuddle – a baby one at least, as there are always plenty of little nippers among the 2,000 specimens here. You can also watch their larger, scarier parents get fed, see exotic snakes and take an airboat trip down the green canals, home to soft-shell turtles, birds and fish. The farm has featured on BBC TV programmes and been used to train the Miami Fire and Rescue team to catch wild alligators.

Everything, in the Galapagos Islands
Retracing the steps of Charles Darwin as he made history, meet Giant Galapagos Turtles at their breeding grounds and snorkel with rays, penguins and sealions. Humans are not feared here; you’d do well to outstare the iguanas on Isla Fernandina. Be prepared, however, for landscapes more reminiscent of the moon than a tropical paradise, and rules introduced since Darwin’s time that bar riding or indeed eating the wildlife. It’s best to avoid travelling here from July to September, when the sea gets rough.

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