Courtesy of Intrepid Travel
Photo by Murrrrr-s/Shutterstock
The jungles of Borneo are home to thousands of species of plants and animals found nowhere else in the world.
Head outside of Africa to these under-the-radar safari destinations for wildlife viewing that’s out of this world.
An African safari is one of the greatest trips of all time. But for those for whom the continent is a bit out of reach, those who have exhausted its many thrilling destinations, or those simply seeking something unusual, there is life beyond Africa—literally. When it comes to exotic wildlife viewing, the world’s your oyster. “The nice thing about searching the world for rare or interesting species is they tend to live in wonderful, remote, scenic areas where the wildlife feel at home, so we are strangers in their vast backyard,” says John Spence, president of luxury experiential tour operator Scott Dunn USA (which sends clients on bespoke trips to places including Sri Lanka and Peru). “The scenery is often as wonderful as seeing whatever [animal] you are looking for.”
The Africa expert has had outstanding adventures in other parts of the planet, like on an Amazon basin river cruise in Peru where he glimpsed an elusive jaguar as it came to the water’s edge to drink. On his current wish list: seeing snow leopards in India. From the Middle East and Asia to the Americas and Australia, there are unique species to be tracked down, observed, and photographed. Here, 11 opportunities to safari beyond Africa.
This rugged Asian island is incredibly biodiverse. Thick jungles and wild rivers are alive with an array of wildlife, such as proboscis and silvered leaf monkeys, wild boar, and macaques in Bako National Park to rescued orangutans in Sandakan (both figure into a GeoEx tour itinerary; Borneo Adventure takes small groups into the jungle to find orangutans).
The most exotic and exciting animal spotting may be the vulnerable clouded leopard, which lives alongside gibbons and mouse deer in the dense Danum Valley. To spot the island's rarest species, embark on an expedition with Natural World Safaris. The wildlife safari specialists take travelers on a conservation-focused adventure into the heart of Borneo's untouched wilderness during a five-day trekking safari led by expert staff and local wildlife researchers.
Comical orangutans—aka “man of the forest” in Indonesian—are the main event on the Indonesian island of Sumatra, where wild specimens have been observed using natural elements as tools. Bukit Lawang outfitters Trek Sumatra and Sumatra EcoTravel provide up-close-and-personal experiences with the primates, which are rarer than Borneo’s species and critically endangered.
It’s petite compared to India, but Sri Lanka is an island bursting with amazing life. Chief among them: leopards, which live primarily in Yala National Park. Staying at luxury safari “camps” like Chena Huts (their naturalist guide Harry is a dynamo at finding the elusive creatures) and Cinnamon Wild is one way to experience its wonders, which also include tiny-eared Asian elephants, crocodiles, and hundreds of bird species. Zegrahm’s “Natural Wonders” tour includes Sinharaja, which is home to half of Sri Lanka’s endemic wildlife.
A visit to Ranthambore National Park is non-negotiable for big cat lovers: It has a growing population of the ever-alluring Bengal tigers. (Crocs, leopards, sloth bears, and langur monkeys are also known inhabitants, amid runs and lakes.) GeoEx also offers a trip incorporating the UNESCO-listed Kaziranga National Park in Assam, which boasts not only the world’s highest density of Bengals but also spectacles like wild Asiatic water buffalo, Ganges river dolphins, and two-thirds of the world’s one-horned rhinoceroses.
Many of the majestic creatures you imagine—or have seen—in Africa are in fact wandering around in full view on a small island in the Philippines. Weird, yes. But true.
Thanks to a quirky call by a former president in the ’70s, giraffes, zebras, and several types of antelopes were brought by boat to live and roam—among native Calamian deer—in the 9,000-acre Calauit Safari Park on an island near Palawan, known as one of the world’s most beautiful isles. Nearby hotels can help make arrangements for the journey.
The Indian Ocean island of Mauritius has wonders both on land and underwater. At Casela Nature Park, visitors can take a walk with lions (it’s important to note they are not drugged). Meanwhile, Blue Safari takes guests in an intimate submarine—a different sort of safari vehicle—to view wildly exotic fish (think zebra fish, eels), corals, dolphins, and a shipwreck some 115 feet deep.
No, camels aren’t the only animal in Dubai’s desert—the stark expanse features hearty creatures that have managed to survive harsh conditions, including Arabian gazelles, lizards, and Arabian red foxes. The dramatically straight-horned native oryx can also be found, along with falcons. Platinum Heritage’s variety of luxury safari tours include transportation in a vintage Land Rover, falconry shows, and a visit to a lakeside bird sanctuary, among other offerings.
Australia is a massive country with many tempting draws—one of which is an outback adventure starring giant crocodiles and native birds. You can have this experience on a cruise through Geikie Gorge on Intrepid Travel’s wildlife tour of the Kimberley region (finishing with a sunset camel ride in Broome). In other parts of the country (in Victoria, for one), Aussie favorites koalas and kangaroos hang out in the wild, the latter in droves around the One&Only Wolgan Valley in the Blue Mountains.
It’s hard to imagine an animal that sounds more fantastical than a pink dolphin, but they are in fact real—in the Amazon, which Delfin adeptly cruises in a luxury craft. These trips traverse the Pacaya Samiria National Reserve, a vast protected flooded forest with extensive biodiversity. Night safaris reveal black caimans, bats and frogs, while daytime is when you can birdwatch, pet baby manatees, and actually hop into the water and swim near those magically colored dolphins.
South America is a very different world from much of Africa—instead of savannas and bush there are tropical forest and jungle where rare and lesser-known creatures thrive. Land-based safaris into these barely trafficked regions (on trips by outfitters Zegrahm and Pantanal Jaguar Safaris) may include sightings of caimans, Brazilian tapirs, maned wolves, capybaras, marmosets, giant river otters, masked titi monkeys, and, of course, the elusive jaguar, whose rosette patterned fur differs from a leopard’s because of spots in the center.
It doesn’t get much more wild than Alaska, where not only is the raw natural beauty worth experiencing, but there are also animals aplenty. Grizzlies, moose, caribou, horned Dall sheep, wolves, and bald eagles are some of the species Zegrahm’s national parks tour searches for, along with aquatic animals like sea lions, walrus, sea otters, and coastal brown bears (they forage on tidal flats in Katmai National Park). GeoEx creates choose-your-own-adventure itineraries that might include standup paddleboarding or kayaking to see whales.
Sign up for the Daily Wander newsletter for expert travel inspiration and tips
Please enter a valid email address.