Love travel? Love animals? Fancy combining the two? Well there are several ways in which you can, from safaris in the Serengeti to horse treks in Mongolia.
Today I'm looking at five of the very best travel activities for animal fanatics, which enable you to get up close and personal with your favourite furry friends.
1. Go On Safari
No wildlife fan could possibly pass up the opportunity to go on safari and, whether you choose to go deep into the bush in northern Kruger, or follow wild cats in the Maasai Mara, a trip into the wilderness will change your life.
Obviously the best place to go on safari is Africa, but whereabouts on this vast continent will you choose?
The first thing to bear in mind is that, no matter where you go, it will not be a cheap trip. However, there are ways to ensure that you don’t spend TOO much money. A recent article on bugettravel.com called How to Find an Affordable African Safari is a useful resource, featuring the best times to travel, mobile camping options, self-drive safaris and more.
You could also choose to stay at a private game reserve, such as Kwa Madwala in South Africa, a whopping 4,000 hectares filled with magnificent wildlife.
2. Visit a Wildlife Sanctuary
More ethical than zoos, wildlife sanctuaries offer a chance to see animals in more natural and comfortable surroundings. Visiting one of these will make for an educational, interesting and inspiring experience and, if you’re looking to do something that’s extra rewarding, you can even contribute towards the animals’ wellbeing yourself by offering your services as a volunteer.
As part of The Leap’s 10-week volunteering placement in Cambodia, you get to spend a couple of weeks in Mondulkuri, aka ‘Elephant Valley’, where you’ll work alongside local mahouts (elephant keepers) and help to provide care for these gentle giants.
For more options, have a look at this page on Global Grasshopper’s website, where you’ll find a list of some of the best animal sanctuaries across the globe - featuring an array of wildlife including donkeys, orangutans and black bears.
3. See the Sights on Horseback
Love horse riding? Why not opt to see the sights of your chosen destination from the back of a horse – a truly wonderful way to explore any country. It doesn’t actually matter if you’ve never held a pair of reins either, as there are plenty of places where you can go riding without any previous experience.
If you’re totally new to the sport, you may want to get a couple of riding lessons in beforehand, just to give you a feel for it. Find your nearest approved riding school on the British Horse Society’s website.
If horse trekking sounds like something you’re keen to do, check out my blog post on Ten of the World’s Most Beautiful Spots to Go Horse Riding, which include treks through the Andes, Serengeti, Bryce Canyon National Park and many more.
4. Help With Animal Volunteer Work
With wild species all over the world under threat of extinction, it’s essential that we find ways to protect them and conserve their natural habitats. If you’re passionate about preventing the extinction of animals, being part of an animal conservation project is the way to go and, whilst this kind of thing can be a career in itself, animal volunteer work has the potential to be just as rewarding.
The Leap offers a range of volunteering placements that involve wildlife conservation, from washing elephants to hatching turtles, whereby you team up with full-time animal conservationists to identify endangered animals and protect them.
5. Scuba Dive Amongst Marine Wildlife
There’s no better way to explore the underwater world than via scuba diving, which enables you to experience unparalleled adventure and see the wildlife beneath the waves. You can go scuba diving for your own pleasure or you can go one step further and do it to carry out marine conservation work with the aim of protecting marine wildlife.
The Leap has two volunteering placements that focus on doing just this, one in Madagascar and the other in the Bahamas. In Madagascar, you’ll spend the first two weeks scuba training up to advanced level, diving twice a day for five days each week. By then, you will be up to scuba advanced level, enabling you to venture out into the nearby nature reserve and assist the Oceanographic Research Institute of Madagascar with reef data collection and turtle surveys.
The Bahamas placement provides the opportunity to work on the East Coast of Andros Island to help survey the underwater environment of the Andros coastline, with the aim of protecting the island against unplanned tourism. There are several other top spots to go scuba diving, which you can read all about in this post - The Epic Scuba Diving Spots No Gap Year Should Be Without.
Ready for Action?
Have you decided which option most tickles your fancy? Perhaps you’ve already done one or more of the above, in which case we’d love to hear all about your experiences – feel free to share them in the comments box below!
on 06 / 05 / 2015