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These extraordinary wildlife encounters offer unique experiences

For most of human history, a confrontation with an animal such as a 300-kilogram tiger, equipped with razor-sharp canines and an unfussy appetite, would not be at the top of one’s bucket list.

Nowadays, thankfully, humanity’s mastery over planet Earth has diminished the threat posed by the animal kingdom. But our modern lives have left us separated from the natural world and the wonder and joy it can provide.

However, with the help of the world’s leading travel companies and wildlife experts, you can reconnect with nature without compromising on the comforts – or safety – afforded to us by the modern world.

Here are 10 of the most enthralling and unforgettable wildlife encounters money can buy.

Take on Africa’s big five

When you think of wildlife tourism, the first thing that springs to mind is likely an African safari. Although this may not be the most imaginative wildlife experience available, safaris are popular for good reason: there is nothing that replicates the thrill of seeing Africa’s Big Five – the lion, leopard, elephant, rhino and buffalo – roam wild.

The Grand South Africa Safari Deluxe tour by andBeyond Travel is an African wildlife adventure with no-holds-barred luxury. After an opening night of five-star treatment in Johannesburg, the search for the Big Five begins at sunrise. You’ll bolt to the world-famous Kruger National Park where you’ll embark on a series of game drives and bushwalks.

Just one day in Kruger could see you encounter an imperious pride of lions, be eyeballed by a solitary leopard perched high in an acacia tree and frolic with a baby elephant. And such is the plethora of wildlife riches on offer at Kruger, you’d have barely scratched the surface. From African hunting dogs and zebras to sea eagles, the iconic springboks and more, wonder lies around every corner.

At night, take the chance to sleep beneath the stars at the Ngala Treehouse, a secluded luxury retreat in the middle of the park.

Two nights of opulence at Kruger is followed by two more at andBeyond’s Phinda Private Game Reserve, where the wildlife spotting continues. Here you can enjoy ocean safaris, night turtle drives and even a pangolin conservation experience.

The tour ends with a stint in Cape Town, where the sightseeing includes a meeting with the city’s noisiest inhabitants – a colony of African penguins at Boulders Beach.

Witness America’s wild wonders

Sprawled across the three states of Montana, Idaho and Wyoming in the north-western corner of the United States is the world’s oldest and perhaps most iconic national park – Yellowstone. Combined with the neighboring Grand Teton National Park, located just 16 kilometers to its south, it is a vast preserve of wilderness spanning more than one million hectares.

As well as its imposing mountains, dazzling canyons and enchanting geothermal features such as geysers and hot springs, the biodiversity of Yellowstone is globally renowned. The Iconic Wildlife of Yellowstone and Grand Teton tour by G Adventures, in partnership with National Geographic, is a seven-day round trip that offers the chance to observe it in all of its splendor.

The animal spotting begins with a guided wildlife float along the Snake River, with mule deer, pronghorns, elk and moose the star attractions.

The tour starts and ends in Jackson on the southern edge of Grand Teton. Here, the animal spotting begins with a guided wildlife float along the Snake River, with mule deer, pronghorns, elk and moose the star attractions. Then, visit the Teton Raptor Center for a private experience with the region’s impressive birds of prey.

The journey reaches its crescendo in Yellowstone in the Lamar Valley, which is known as the ‘Serengeti of North America’. Here you will be whisked away on a private wildlife tour, led by a park specialist, to observe elk, bison, wolves and grizzly bears.

This in-demand tour departs weekly from June to mid-September, with the option to upgrade to a private tour.

Hanging loose with sloths

In more ways than one, Costa Rica is a land of variety. Its landscapes range from spotless white-sand beaches to dense, mountainous rainforests.

Its culture is a melting pot of Spanish, Caribbean and Indigenous heritages, all united by the national slogan of ‘pura vida’, symbolizing a laid-back and optimistic outlook on life.

And there is a litany of wildlife wonders, from mammals to birds, reptiles and amphibians.

Led by award-winning travel curators Black Tomato, Pacuare to Papagayo: A Conservation Adventure in Costa Rica is a luxury conservation experience that will immerse you in all of the region’s spellbinding diversity without compromising on comfort.

Upon your arrival into the capital San Jose, you’ll head east in a four-wheel drive vehicle into the rainforest, tracing the Pacuare River on your way to a luxury rainforest lodge, where you’ll be treated to dinner by the riverbank.

Then begins your journey through the Talamanca Mountains with an expert naturalist guide, with the chance to spot species such as toucans, poison dart frogs, howler monkeys, jaguars and many, many more.

The next morning, you will travel via the unconventional method of white-water raft to Proyecto Asis, a sanctuary for Costa Rica’s most venerated and easygoing resident: the sloth. After meeting these endearing mammals, biologists will enlighten you on Costa Rica’s eclectic fauna and the conservation projects that are protecting it.

The trip finishes off in style on the beaches of the Papagayo peninsula, with a stay at the lavish Four Seasons. As well as best-in-class relaxation, enjoy one last conservation experience by meeting those conserving the spectacular coral reefs in the Bay of Culebra.

While you’re at it, you might be joined by a sea turtle, whose carefree attitude perfectly encapsulates pura vida.

Track down polar bears in the North Pole

A world away from the tropical reefs of Costa Rica are the icy waters of Svalbard, a Norwegian archipelago lying deep within the Arctic Circle. Despite the thoroughly inhospitable conditions, the Svalbard in Depth tour by Aurora Expeditions promises the chance to spot a variety of awe-inspiring wildlife.

This tour operates exclusively in the months of June and July during the midnight sun period. Such is the extreme northern latitude of Svalbard that between 20 April and 22 August the sun will never set. With 24 hours of daylight, you’ll be able to enjoy an unconstrained look at what is known as the ‘wildlife capital of the Arctic’.

An 11-day stay aboard the purpose-built Sylvia Earle icebreaker allows you to push through pack ice in search of polar bears, the world’s largest land predator. Also to be spotted are walrus and bearded seals, who will be hoping to stay well away from these fearsome carnivores.

Look out for beluga whales, humpback whales and even the unmistakable tusk of an elusive narwhal rising up from the waters below.

The trip will take you to the breathtaking glaciers and fjords of Svalbard. Look out for beluga whales, humpback whales and even the unmistakable tusk of an elusive narwhal rising up from the waters below. Nesting in the archipelago’s perilous cliffs are puffins, gulls and guillemots. Often on the prowl are arctic foxes, hunting for fallen chicks.

Back on land, unforgettable nature walks give you the chance to take in the incredible landscape, as well as spot unique wildflowers and friendly reindeer.

After a truly extraordinary wildlife experience, you will board Sylvia Earle for the final time and head south toward your first sunset for two weeks.

Swim with sea lions in South Australia

Cut off from the other continents for 30 million years, the wildlife of Australia has evolved in a manner unique from the rest of the world. Of all the species in Australia, 80 percent are endemic – meaning they’re found nowhere else.

Protruding outward into the Southern Ocean and rich in natural wonders, South Australia’s Eyre Peninsula is the perfect place to sample the idiosyncratic wildlife that is living down under.

Departing from Adelaide, Eyre Peninsula Wildlife & Ocean Encounters by Australian Wildlife Journeys offers visitors the chance to get close to some of the world’s most impressive marine life. This includes the chance to swim with sea lions and bottlenose dolphins and even cage dive with great white sharks.

And it's not just beneath the waves that the wildlife lies – look up to the skies to see an exceptional array of seabirds, such as osprey and white-bellied sea eagles. Venturing further inland, this tour allows you to encounter the on-land Australian icons such as western grey kangaroos, emus, wild koalas and southern hairy-nosed wombats.

After the sheer volume of wildlife on display, you’ll be in need of replenishment. Luckily for you, on offer is some of the finest and freshest seafood plucked from the surrounding waters, meticulously paired with the finest South Australian wines.

Watch dragons duel in Komodo

Upon first glance, the Indonesian island of Komodo has all the hallmarks of a tropical paradise. With its mountains, turquoise waters and even a pink beach, you’d assume that this place was lab-designed for human relaxation.

But lurking behind this enchanting exterior there is a perilous threat, the Komodo dragon. This corner of Indonesia is the only place in the world where the world’s largest lizard is endemic. These beasts can grow up to 3.13 meters in length and 166 kilograms in weight, and come equipped with a monstrous appetite and a venomous bite.

These beasts can grow up to 3.13 meters in length and 166 kilograms in weight, and come equipped with a monstrous appetite and a venomous bite.

Located on the adjacent yet equally beautiful Flores Island, the AYANA Komodo Waecicu Beach Resort offers the perfect base camp to experience the natural wonders of Komodo National Park. Its Komodo Dragon Quest experience not only offers the chance to trek through Komodo’s rugged landscape to marvel at the dragons, but also the chance to snorkel in the pristine waters among tropical marine wildlife.

Should you resist the deadly clutches of the Komodo dragons, the prize is a return to five-star island luxury at the AYANA Komodo Waecicu Beach, where all of your needs will be catered to.

Up close with a gentle giant

For most visitors to the Maldives, the chance to walk across pristine white sands and float gently in the turquoise-blue water is a bucket list experience. But if you’re in need of something a bit more pulse-raising, look no further than the Norma Whale Shark Experience offered by the St. Regis Maldives Vommuli Resort.

Departing from the private island that houses the luxury resort, guests board Norma, a 20-meter luxury yacht, and set sail into the Indian Ocean toward the southern tip of Ari Atoll. This is a known haunt of magnificent whale sharks, the world’s biggest fish and a true wonder of the natural world. Despite growing up to 20 meters in length and capable of weighing over 20 metric tons, these sharks are very placid by nature.

Once the majestic animals are spotted, Norma’s experienced crew will prepare you to jump in the water and swim alongside these gentle giants. The sharks’ slow swimming speed of only five kilometers per hour makes them the dream companion to journey through these paradise waters with.

Once it’s time to bid farewell to the sharks as they swim serenely off into the deep blue, the excitement isn’t over. On your return to the opulence of Norma, a selection of the finest cold cuts and beverages will be waiting for you. And as you journey back for an evening of well-earned luxuriating on your private island, the boat is often guided back to shore by a pod of exuberant dolphins.

Live with orangutans in the Bornean rainforest

Described as a ‘naturalist’s dream’, destinations don’t come much better for animal lovers than the emerald isle of Borneo. The South-East Asian island is globally renowned for its extensive biodiversity of more than 15,000 species of plants, 222 species of mammals, 100 amphibians and 394 fish – many of which are endemic.

Highlights include Borneo’s five species of cats, including the Borneo clouded leopard; 10 species of primate, such as macaques, proboscis monkeys and orangutans; and the Borneo pygmy elephant.

With the Borneo Adventure wildlife experience by World Expeditions, you can immerse yourself in the heart of these habitats. This 14-day tour of the Malaysian states of northern Borneo traverses multiple terrains, from its untouched rainforests to the gargantuan cave systems of Mulu National Park and the rugged mountain peak of Mount Kinabalu.

Highlights include Borneo’s five species of cats, including the Borneo clouded leopard; 10 species of primate, such as macaques, proboscis monkeys and orangutans; and the Borneo pygmy elephant.

Accompanying you will be local guides, who will take you to all the wildlife hotspots and whose expertise ensures the experience is as enriching as it is easygoing. Perhaps the highlight of the trip is the chance to stay in lodges tucked away deep in the jungle, where the fascinating wildlife of Borneo will be right on your doorstep – literally.

The wildlife in Borneo isn’t the only thing that is known for its striking polarity; so too is its weather. Glorious sunrises will give way to torrential downpours, before halting just as instantaneously. One thing is for certain – you don’t want to forget your raincoat.

Deer stalking in Patagonia

At the southernmost tip of the Americas lies the region of Patagonia, a vast expanse of wilderness famed for its jagged peaks and expansive plains, its monumental glaciers and spectacular lakes.

Yet less commonly revered, and for no good reason, is its wildlife. This tour offered by Extraordinary Journeys offers not only the chance to immerse yourself in the region’s natural beauty and rich cultural heritage, but also to come face-to-face with some of South America’s most stunning animals.

Extraordinary Journeys offer bespoke tours around Torres del Paine National Park, where a truly special wildlife experience awaits amid some of the Earth’s most stunning scenery.

Torres del Paine is home to the world’s densest population of pumas, also known as cougars or mountain lions. On this adventure you will have the chance to come face-to-face with pumas, as you pursue the big cats on a pre-sunrise and early morning tracking excursion.

Not only does this give you the best opportunity to spot pumas, but at this time the Torres del Paine is adorned in the glorious colors of the day’s first light. Other animals such as the grey fox, the endangered South Andean deer, the llama-like guanaco or even condor vultures can also be spotted on this trek.

And for those with a passion for horseback riding, this trip also offers the chance to take in Torres del Paine on the back of a Patagonian steed.

An audience with the king

As the largest of the world’s big cats, the tiger is the undisputed king of the jungle. As well as its status as an apex predator, it has also assumed an anthropological significance. Tigers are one of the faces of the global conservation movement and icons in their native lands.

The Bengal tiger is India’s national animal and a symbol of beauty, magnificence and ferociousness. Although the tiger is an endangered species, India is home to the largest population of tigers globally.

If you’re dead set on encountering a tiger, the India Wildlife Treasures tour by Audley is for you. With seven consecutive days of jeep safaris in lush national parks, no opportunity to spot the animal wonders of India is spared.

If you’re dead set on encountering a tiger, the India Wildlife Treasures tour by Audley is for you.

After a day in India’s bustling capital of New Delhi, you’ll take a short flight to Bandhavgarh National Park where the safaris begin among the park’s mountains, lush meadows and dense forests. The tiger is the star of the show, but the supporting cast is nothing to be scoffed at. Leopards, wild dogs, sloth bears, elephants and a wide variety of birds and insects vie for your attention.

After three nights at Kings Lodge, the tour ventures south to Kanha National Park, the inspiration for Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book, for four more days of tiger spotting.

Here, finish off the trip in style with a visit to Bamni Dadar, also known aptly as Sunset Point, for the perfect spot to relax as daylight fades over the jungle.

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