A month-by-month guide to some of the best wildlife experiences in the world, these 24 incredible animals are at the very top of the seasonal calendar. Whether swimming with whale sharks in Mozambique, trekking the Japanese Alps to see monkeys bathe in hot springs, lying in wait at sunset to be surrounded by a 1,000 elephants or having breakfast with orangutans in Borneo, think about when you want to travel this year and make the most of your holiday with these spectacular wildlife highlights.
Where to go in January
Snow monkeys, Jigokudani Monkey Park, Japan
As the steam rolls off the hot springs, watch as the Japanese macaques, or snow monkeys, take pride of place in the bubbling waters. Located in the Japanese Alps outside of Nagano, the winter covers the park’s valley in a blanket of white snow, and to combat the cold, these red-faced monkeys warm themselves up in the natural baths. Though the park is open all year round, the monkeys are particularly photographic with a wintry backdrop, so time your visit in January to catch these best-loved symbols of wild Japan in action.
Loggerhead and leatherback turtles, iSimangaliso Wetland Park, South Africa
The only remaining major nesting site in Africa where loggerhead and leatherback turtles still lay their eggs, the coastline of the iSimangaliso Wetland Park is known to the small, well-informed circles, as having South Africa’s best scuba diving. Protected for its biodiversity and spectacular wildlife, the pristine beaches stretch over 220kms towards the Mozambican coast and, come January, are littered with mother turtles making nests and little hatchlings escaping their burrows to waddle their way to the ocean.
Where to go in February
Humpback, sperm and orca whales, Antarctica
Whale watching is at its peak in February in the ice-choked waters of Antarctica with humpbacks, sperm and orcas breaching the surface showing dazzling displays of strength. The frozen continent is only accessible between late October and late March, but within this window January and February, the warmest months, are the best times to see these giant mammals as well as fledgling penguin chicks and blubber-heavy seals.
Blue-footed boobies, Galapagos
Though the Galapagos is a fantastic year-round destination, February sees the archipelago birds at their most active. With 30% of the world’s blue-footed boobies and the world’s largest red-footed booby and Nazca booby colonies all concentrated on the 13 major islands, hit the wildlife mecca during the breeding season to see some unusual mating rituals and dances. Also in February, the water is at its warmest with superb underwater visibility making the swimming and snorkelling even more enticing.
Where to go in March
Gorillas, Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda & Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Uganda
Many tourists avoid Uganda and Rwanda during March and April because of the rainy season, but it is the rain showers that make these countries flourish, providing plenty of food, such as bamboo, roots and leaves for the gorillas to eat in the lower valleys. With the rain keeping the sought-after monkeys on the lower slopes nearer to civilization, many trackers find the mountain gorillas after a short 2 hour hike meaning your smaller group can spend more time with these incredible animals.
Leopards, Yala National Park, Sri Lanka
Home to the world’s highest density of leopard, Sri Lanka’s national parks are teeming with great game and wonderful wildlife adventures. Though the park includes sloth bears, buffalo and elephants, it is the leopard that is the top draw. Coming out of its first monsoon season, venture to Yala National Park in the south-east of the island to spot the usually elusive leopard that now roams supreme through the park.
Where to go in April
Sea otters, Monterey Bay, USA
With rocky shores and bountiful kelp forests, Monterey Bay offers more than a dozen promising sites for viewing the undeniably cute sea otter, and being the city’s favourite mascot, it ranks among one of the most popular attractions to see in the area. If you carry binoculars around, you can spot these mammals napping or frolicking in the water but to really get an eye full of these creatures, hire a kayak and tour around the beautiful Monterey harbour and Fisherman's Wharf. Go in April when sea otters have just given birth to their pups and, at your own risk, consider taking a camera to snap a few close encounter photos.
Orangutans, Sepilok & Semmenggoh Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre, Borneo
Borneo is one of the only places in the world where you can still see orangutans in their natural habitat. With the two fantastic rehabilitation sanctuaries, Sepilok and Semmenggoh, providing a chance to see the orange monkeys up close during feeding time, all you have to decide on is when you want to go. With the monsoon season stretching from October to March, go in April to enjoy the best of the sunshine and, for the sun worshipper, combine your wildlife holiday with a few days on the beach.
Where to go in May
Anacondas, Pantanal Wetlands
The heaviest in the world, the green anaconda can reach up to 250kg in weight and 22ft in length and yet it is rare to glimpse this colossal snake. The greatest chance of seeing a wild anaconda is in the wetlands of Pantanal, a wildlife haven spread across Bolivia, Paraguay and Brazil. Hit the freshwater wetland after the rains in May during the breeding season, where the giant snakes entwine and coil into what’s known as a ‘mating ball’, which can include up to a dozen male anacondas. If you are lucky, you might see an anaconda hunt a caiman- a true battle of the reptiles.
Komodo Dragons, Lesser Sunda Islands, Indonesia
Definitely the month for reptiles, May sees the end of Indonesia’s rainy season and the beginning of the shoulder season, making it the perfect time to spot the fabled Komodo dragons. Catch a glimpse of the world’s largest lizards, which grow to an incredible 10ft, in the national park of the Lesser Sunda Islands, where these creatures roam freely.
Where to go in June
Sardine run, Indian Ocean
A spectacular phenomenon that is even visible by satellite, the world famous- sardine run takes place every year when billions of sardines spawn off the South African coast and then head up the eastern seaboard. The dark cloud of the sardine shoals spans 15 kilometres long and three and a half kilometres wide, and having swum for more than 30 days, are joined by dolphins, which employ a tactical hunting strategy to herd the shiny fish into densely packed groups, called bait balls, towards the surface. Thus begins the feeding frenzy where dolphins, large fish, sharks, whales, diving sea birds and even fisherman pillage the bait ball from all directions. Watching as the caravan of predators from the earth, sky and water band together, you can enjoy the run from the coast, on the boat deck, or for an absolute once-in-a-lifetime opportunity underwater in the heart of the frenzy, and as the run occurs between May and July, aim for the middle and go in June.
Jaguars, Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary, Belize
If you want to see a jaguar, make sure to take an umbrella or waterproof with you as these graceful cats are most active between rainy June and July. The third largest feline in the world, behind the tiger and lion, the jaguar makes its home quietly in the jungles rooted between northern Mexico and northern Argentina. With a whole sanctuary dedicated to jaguars, visit the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary in the early morning to try and spot these masters of stealth in the Belizean forest, but don’t despair, as with tapirs, toucans, howler monkeys and peccary, your trek will be filled with wildlife spottings. A few tips if you missed spotting a jaguar during the day: go at night, be really quiet and take a knowledgeable guide who can track the cats’ prints.
Where to go in July
Puffins, Heimaey, Iceland
Spending the autumn and winter in the open ocean of the cold northern seas, Atlantic puffins return to coastal areas at the start of breeding season in late spring. Nestled into the clifftops, Iceland has one of the world’s largest colonies of puffins, which can be seen between May and August. Find these adorable little birds clinging onto the edge of the Arctic Circle on the island of Heimaey, where eight million puffins, with their beaks blazing bright orange in summer, nest their young and dive for small spawning herring.
Coral beds, Great Barrier Reef, Australia
There are over 2,900 individual reefs that merge to form the world’s largest coral system, the Great Barrier Reef. Weaving from the Tropic of Capricorn to the fringes of Papua New Guinea, the reef is composed of and built by billions of tiny organisms, which are best seen in July, when the visibility is excellent and where the waters are a deep, clear blue. The ideal time for scuba diving, lower yourself into the depths of the Coral Sea to witness the incredible kaleidoscopic marine life, or if you are not a diver, go for a reef walk, as many reefs in the southern parts are exposed at low time meaning that all visitors will have a chance to see the dazzling corals, sea turtles, rays and tropical fish of every colour and shape.
Where to go in August
Wildebeest migration, Masai Mara, Kenya
One of the natural wonders of the world, seeing the wildebeest migration, around 1.5 million of them, in action is such a phenomenal and spectacular experience. Migrating from the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania to the greener pastures of the Masai Mara in Kenya, the ultimate time to travel to this iconic region is August. Planning on catching the migration is more of an art form than a science as you will want to be perched along the Mara River to see these beasts jumping off cliffs and racing down hills to cross the crocodile-infested rivers. You may have to wait for a couple of hours to see the herd cross, but it is absolutely worth it!
Lions, Chobe National Park, Botswana
With one of the largest concentrations of game in Africa, Chobe National Park is a force to be reckoned with. Marooned in the north of Botswana, the park boasts four distinctly different eco systems, each with fabulous and exciting wildlife. Fringing onto the Okavango Delta, the emerald floodplains and sweeping grasslands offer a profusion of migrating herbivores, such as tsessebe, waterbuck, wildebeest and elephant, which are followed closely by a glorious group of predators, such as leopard, wild dog, cheetah and hyena. Leading the pack, this is the month to watch lions stalk their pray as the dry climate drives hoards of animals to the watering holes, where lions wait in the receding bush grasses.
Where to go in September
Elephants, Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe
Zimbabwe’s largest national park, Hwange, is cocooned in the country’s western tip and is famous for its elephant populations, as well as for its excellent wildlife viewing of the Big Five. An absolute magnet for large herds, Hwange holds up to 75,000 elephant in its 1.4 million hectares of protected land. Hitting Zimbabwe during its peak dry season, let your guide pick the best sun-downer spot and wait as literally thousands of these gentle giants quietly walk passed you on their way to the shrunken water holes and river banks, which has to be one of the most breath-taking experiences available.
Red deer, Isle of Rum, Scotland
Loud, frenetic and primal, the red deer rut on the Isle of Rum is a star feature in the BBC’s Autumnwatch programme, showcasing one of Scotland’s most impressive wildlife spectacles. Deer can be found all over the island but it is around the north of Rum in Kilmory where much of the action is. With around 900 red deer, the males engage in fierce mating battles by assessing their opponent’s size and strength, thrashing the ground so that vegetation gets caught up in their antlers to make them look larger and finally fighting it out by hooking horns in a full-body tug of war. With the rutting season starting in September, roam the Scottish hills at dawn when the action kicks off with a bang.
Where to go in October
Polar bears, Churchill, Canada
With a wintry wonderland setting, Churchill in October is prime polar bear viewing time. As snow starts to settle, the bears begin their move from their summer habitats on the tundra back to seal-hunting territory on the pack ice that forms over Hudson Bay. To see these well-camouflaged bears, you can take a local tundra vehicle on a safari, stay in a wilderness lodge built on the bears’ migration route or even just wander through the town of Churchill, as sometimes they can be seen in the area (many locals even leave their cars unlocked in case someone needs to make a quick escape). Fall is also a great time to go dog sledding and see the northern lights, so make sure to take your thermals.
Whale sharks, Tofo, Mozambique
Swimming next to the largest fish in the sea is an ultimate bucket-list thrill, and it’s lucky that in-season sightings of whale sharks are almost guaranteed along Mozambique’s beautiful coast. Tofo, located on a peninsula in the Inhambane province, is a small fishing town that is almost totally dependent on the sea, whether fishing in it or relying upon it for tourism. An untapped gem, this tiny diver’s haven is home to one of the largest concentrations of whale shark in Africa thanks to a never-ending supply of plankton. Seeing whale sharks, along with many other shark species, is not uncommon on scuba and if spotted from the boat, you can grab your snorkel gear and try to keep up with the graceful sharks.
Watch this video to see our marketing executive, Shona, dive under the waters in Tofo:
Where to go in November
Red crab migration, Christmas Island, Australia
Quite a large crab with a carapace measuring up to 116mm, the Christmas Island red crab is bright red and is most commonly found in the moist environments of the rainforest; however, come November, around 40-50 million of these land crabs scuttle across Australia's Christmas Island in a wave towards the coast. Abandoning their sheltered burrows, they travel to the shores to mate and spawn for one week in the wet season, usually between late October and November. Completely taking over, roads are closed during the migration, effectively bringing the island to a standstill to let the clattering chorus of crabs march on.
Flamingos, San Pedro de Atacama, Chile
Flamingos do make a bizarre sight, with knees that bend the wrong way and long necks that twist in a bone-breaking fashion, but combine these gangly birds with the eerie oasis of the Atacama Desert, and you will have a stunning photograph with vibrant pinks reflected in the blue waters with an expansive background. Located in the lunar landscape of Chile’s Atacama Desert, Laguna Chaxa is a breeding site for three of the five known species of flamingo, so aim for the golden hours in November when the sun hits the enormous Chilean peaks and the surrounding colours come alive.
Where to go in December
Hummingbirds, Costa Rica
Costa Rica is a whirlwind of formidable backdrops, pristine coasts and impressive wildlife. Soak in the sights of towering volcanoes and trek through the coffee-scented mountain forests, but make sure to keep your eyes peeled for the tiny flitter of iridescent wings, as hummingbirds dash across your eye-line towards the honeysuckles and sweet nectar. With roughly 50 different species of hummingbirds in Costa Rica, avid birders and novice twitchers will be in ornithological heaven, especially with the dry season getting into full swing. For more on birding adventures in Costa Rica, click here.
With the same number of people as reindeer, Laplanders have depended on the deer for a long time to transport them over the thick snow in open sleighs during the winter months. Now semi-domesticated and owned by a herder, reindeer husbandry is still a major source of income for many in Lapland, and twice a year, all the animals are rounded up for earmarking and counting of heads. Spotting a reindeer during your trip is a given as they often feed close to the roads and dwellings, but as they embody everything to do with Christmas, the reindeer is an icon of both Lapland and of the festive season. Spend Christmas in Sweden to get close to these animals with a sleigh ride, try your hand at ice driving or watch as the professionals practice for the racing season in January.