Top 10 holiday destinations for animal lovers

Top 10 holiday destinations for animal lovers

From swimming with dolphins to spotting a wild tiger in its natural habitat – make this the year you tick that amazing animal experience off your bucket list

From swimming with dolphins to spotting a wild tiger in its natural habitat, make this the year you tick that amazing animal experience off your bucket list

1 Whale watching in the Azores, Portugal

They may be part of Europe, but the nine islands that make up the Azores, off the coast of Portugal, are still relatively undiscovered. Nature lovers will drink up the prehistoric landscape – think verdant extinct volcanoes and dark sand beaches – but the real draw here is the year-round whale-watching opportunities.

“The Azores are a feeding ground for many cetaceans and you can see a variety of species, including blue, sperm and fin whales,” says Dr Matthias Hammer of Biosphere Expeditions, which offers a volunteer whale and turtle conservation expedition to the area. Fly to Sao Miguel; for more information, visit

2 Hop with the rabbits on Japan’s Okunoshima Island

For a heart-melting Watership Down moment, take a trip to Japan’s Okunoshima Island, found off the south-east coast, and home to hundreds of friendly bunnies. A short ferry ride from Tadanoumi on the mainland, Rabbit Island, as it is now known, has become a tourist attraction for those in search of the ultimate kawaii experience (the Japanese appreciation of all things cute). The destination is also worth a visit to see its pretty beaches and onsen – a traditional hot-spring resort.

Fly to Hiroshima; for more information, visit

3 Discover Durrell’s Corfu

These days it may be better known for its lively bars and packed beaches, but the Greek island of Corfu was first made famous for its rich wildlife, rather than nightlife.

Having played a starring role in Gerald Durrell’s 1956 autobiography My Family and Other Animals, Corfu became a number one destination for those seeking the ‘paradise’ he described. Due to its sub-tropical climate, the island is still home to a wide range of mammals and birds, particularly in the mountainous interior.

Among the wild orchids, you can spot snakes, tortoises and Dalmatian lizards (which have a bright blue throat). Visit in May for the Gerald Durrell Week, led by Dr Lee Durrell, the writer’s widow, for close encounters of the animal kind.

Fly to Corfu; for more information, visit

4 Mixing with pigs in Devon… or the Bahamas

For those wanting to get their hands dirty (literally), book into Smallicombe Farm in East Devon. The smallholding offers a pig-keeping course for holidaymakers staying in one of its newly renovated self-catering barns. You’ll learn all there is to know about breeding and rearing rare pigs, and enjoy the added bonus of having the Jurassic coast on your doorstep.

For more information, visit

More adventurous swine aficionados, meanwhile, should take off for the Bahamas. Here you can famously swim with wild pigs on the uninhabited island of Big Major Cay, a boat-ride from The Exumas.

Fly to Nassau; for more information, visit

5 Go on a (photographic) bear hunt in Finland

One of the best places to see the elusive brown bear is in the north of Finland, close to the Russian border. The Martinselkonen Wildlife Centre, tucked away in dense woodland in the great Kainuu wilderness, is as remote as it gets. Visitors stay in wooden hides among the pine trees, which are ideally located for capturing bears and their cubs on camera.

Fly to Kajaani; for more information, visit

6 Explore by horseback exploring in Costa Rica

Recently opened in Costa Rica’s Perez Zeledon district, renowned as one of the last areas to be untouched by tourism, is Hacienda Alta Gracia. By night, you’ll stay in hillside casitas on a private estate. By day, you’ll saddle up and learn about Costa Rica’s cowboy culture, riding to wildlife refuges in the tropical rainforest.

Also on offer are whale-watching tours from ultra-light planes, which take you just 10m above the ocean’s surface.

Fly to San Jose; for more information, visit

7 Peek at the puffins in Scotland

The unusual, pensive-looking bird with its brightly coloured beak is everyone’s favourite winged creature. Between May and August each year, the birds congregate on the Scottish islands of Orkney. Head to Castle O’Burrian on Westray, where you can sit on the cliffs and watch the birds fly around. The RSPB also has a reserve at Papa Westray, where you can get close views.

Fly to Kirkwell; for more information, visit

8 Camp close to the Big Five in Botswana

Botswana’s Okavango Delta is home to a range of Africa’s most awe-inspiring animals – hippos hide in lagoons, elephants and buffalo roam around and giraffes stretch their necks among the grasslands, not to mention the 450 species of birds.

For an experience you’ll cherish forever, book one of the tented safari adventures, such as &Beyond’s Nxabega Okavango Tented Camp. Day and night safaris, bush walks and canoe cruises mean you’ll come face to face with some of the world’s most precious beasts.

Fly to Maun; for more information, visit

9 Holiday with Croatian butterflies

Lovers of the pretty, fluttering insects will adore Nature Trek’s butterfly holiday. Run in conjunction with Butterfly Conservation, the eight-day trip takes in Croatia’s Plitvice Lakes National Park, home to a range of rare butterflies, and the remote Velebit Mountains on the Dalamatian coast, which is a haven to some 130 species of butterfly. Expect to see rare ‘blues’ such as the Short-tailed and Chapman’s Blue varieties. It’s a lepidopterist’s paradise.

Fly to Zagreb; for more information, visit

10 Cruise the Galapagos

Famous for their incredible bio-diversity and range of endemic creatures are the Galapagos Islands. The land, skies and waters are teaming with incredible species, famously studied by Charles Darwin. From the giant tortoises to the blue-footed booby, this archipelago, found either side of the Equator in the Pacific Ocean, is a treasure trove for animal lovers. The best way to see the area is by cruise boat, such as the MV Santa Cruz, which is led by naturalist guides.

For more information, visit

PACKING TIP: We love animals but there’s no denying they can be on the stinky side. With this in mind, pack a bottle of Febreze Fabric Refresher so you can eliminate any bad odours from your clothes when you don’t have access to a washing machine.

What’s your favourite destination for animal spotting? Let us know in the comments section below.

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