Best destinations for wildlife and wilderness
These extraordinary and often untouched wildernesses can be challenging to get to, but reward you with wildlife at its most prolific and diverse.
1) Malilangwe Wildlife Reserve, Zimbabwe
This 130,000-acre reserve sits in Zimbabwe’s south eastern corner, a region which is largely dominated by the Gonarezhou Transfrontier National Park. This truly wild and untouched area of rolling Mopane forest pitted with sandstone hills, winding creeks and Baobab trees has some superb game, and what some might a call a real safari.
The Park is part of one of the largest bio-refuges in all of Africa(spanning from the Kruger in South Africa to the South Gonarezhou Park in Zimbabwe and the Gonarezhou Transfrontier Park and Limpopo National Park of Mozambique), and which this reserve is linked to.
2) Bahia Bustamante, Argentina
Along this wild and remote stretch of Patagonian coastline in southern Argentina you will find some of the richest marine bird life to be found anywhere on the Planet. Its rugged coastline is pitted with petrified forests and stark cliffs, and is also where many marine mammals such as humpback whales and sea lions choose to frolic, mate and feed.
Way off the beaten track, Bahia Bustamante is a rewarding destination for marine wildlife and well worth the journey. Choose to explore the region and fauna by boat, horse back, bicycle or foot.
3) Central Kalahari Game Reserve, Botswana
Still considered a true wilderness, which some might say isn’t hard being the second largest game reserve in the world (52,800km²), the Central Kalahari Game Reserve in Botswana’s Kalahari Desert remains fairly inaccessible and remote with Africa’s highest concentration of cheetah and a very exclusive safari to be had.
Home to the nomadic San Bushmen for hundreds of years, one of the most exciting features of this terrain is Deception Valley in the north, formed by four fossilised river systems, whose sweet grasses attract large herds of herbivores and hungry predators.
4) Nha Trang, Vietnam
Nha Trang is the entry point for Vinh Hy Bay and Nui Chua National Park, which are both a world away from the popular beach resort lying two hours south of this. The bay is incorporated into the national park, and famous for its beautiful beaches and dramatic boulder filled coastlines. The National Park is heavily protected conservation area of 25,000 hectares including 7,352 hectares of marine park, home to coral reefs and beaches for turtle nesting sites.
It has a recorded 72 mammal species and 181 types of bird, including a number of endangered species such as the Black-shanked Douc, Pygmy Loris, the Asian Black Bear, Sun Bear, Large-antlered and Siamese Fireback. There are also 12 recorded species of bat. Long story short: you’ll be spoiled for choice.
5) Raja Ampat, Indonesia
This is the ultimate destination for scuba divers, yet its forested slopes and thick jungle make it a rare joy to explore on foot and spot birds of paradise and marsupial cucus to name a few highlights. The marine landscapes here hold enormous biodiversity such as leatherback turtles and 1,427 species of fish, and the islands’ coastal ecology shelter a wondrous array of terrestrial species as well as valuable forests.
Raja Ampat’s four islands (Waigeo, Misool, Salawati and Batanta) in Papua, Indonesia are part of what is called the “Coral Triangle” and “hold perhaps the richest variety of species in the world, including an incredible 75 percent of all known coral species” according to the Nature Conservancy.
6) Katavi National Park, Tanzania
Completely off the beaten track, Katavi is one of those game reserves that remains isolated and undiscovered. Joining with the surrounding game reserves of Rukwa, Lukwati and Luafi adding to the array of ecosystems and habitats, this now spans an astounding 25,000 square kilometres through which the game has to traverse. With such a variety of landscapes, the individual environments change and as they do, the wildlife also varies.
Flat plains, marshland, rugged hills, lakes and rivers all make up this great western Tanzania ecosystem and all of this makes for a few fantastic close encounters and some excellent photographic opportunities. For a wildly adventurous and untamed safari like no other, Katavi is the ultimate.
7) Sandakan, Borneo
Well worth the journey; Sandakan is the gateway town on Borneo’s north eastern coast to the Kinabatagan River wilderness and offshore islands in the Sulu Sea. The river’s surrounding forests, mangroves, swamps and lakes are home to some of the island’s most unique and wondrous wildlife including Proboscis Monkeys, Macaques, Pygmy Elephants, lizards, Crocodiles, and birdlife including Kingfishers and Hornbills.
The town is also where you find the Sepilok Rehabilitation Centre where rescued or orphaned Orang-utans as well as Sun Bears, Gibbons, Sumatran Rhinos and Elephants cane be seen up close before embarking on a trip into the rainforest in hope of spotting them in the wild.
8) Southern Peruvian Amazon, Peru
Peru’s generous swathe of the Amazon rainforest and mighty river system has long been regarded as having the best and most frequent wildlife sightings in South America. There are two Amazon regions in Peru: the larger river systems around Iquitos in the North and the Madre de Dios tributary in the south near Puerto Maldonado.
9) Selous Game Reserve, Tanzania
The largest game reserve in east Africa, located in southern Tanzania, there’s no permanent human habitation or permanent structures permitted in the Selous. Road access is difficult, so most visitors fly in by small aircraft to their designated lodge or camp – many located along the reserve’s river and lake systems. The habitats that feature here include grassland, typical Acacia savanna, wetlands and extensive Miombo woodlands.
Both 4WD and walking safaris can be conducted here, and although animal populations are high and healthy, in comparison to the size of the reserve their concentration is not as good as say other smaller national parks or reserves. However some may argue that this makes for a more realistic safari.
10) The Cloud Forests, Ecuador
Not many are aware that Ecuador has cloud forests, which has much to do with their unspoilt charm. From where the Andean highlands run down to the Pacific coastline, these tumbling hills of the Mindo Cloud Forest are part of a wider bioregion known as the Chocó (Tumbez-Choco-Darien) which stretches all the way from Panama, through Colombia and Ecuador.
These areas possess thriving ecosystems relied upon by thousands of species. In particular, the assortment and diversity of birdlife found in these forests is incredible, not to mention other fauna, mammals and plants.
11) The Komodo Islands, Indonesia
The three Indonesian islands Komodo, Rinca and Padar are what make up the Komodo National Park (marine and land), all typically remote and rugged and with only one village and no vehicles. The park was set up to protect and conserve many of the endemic animals such as the Komodo Drago, but also other species such as Timor Deer, wild horses, water buffalo and wild pigs. However its the waters and rich marine environment around these islands that afford the park its greatest renown and protection.
It has 250 recorded species of coral, plus many types of sponge, bone fishes, sharks, sea turtles, dolphins, whales and even dugongs. Those who make the journey here are rewarded with some of the most beautiful beaches too, unspoilt and solitary.
12) The Pantanal, Brazil
As the World’s largest wetlands, the size of the Pantanal is difficult to digest yet its size has much to do with its remote appeal and arguably the reason for remaining so unspoilt. With a rainbow array of habitats to support a varied and prolific collection of species, Brazil‘s Pantanal offers the best wildlife safari in all South America on account of its wide open terrain especially when you compare it to the Amazon rainforest.
It is home to many exotic and endangered species including hyacinth macaws, toucans, tapir, giant anteaters, giant otters, the maned wolf, jaguar and capybara. You can explore and observe the wildie of these wetlands by jeep, horse back, plane or foot.
13) The Danum Valley, Borneo
No human settlements existed at all in this (now protected) 43,800-hectare conservation area in Borneo’s north eastern region of Sabah. This primary lowland forest is a sparkling, undisturbed haven to Borneo’s prolific and unique flora and fauna and has been recognised worldwide for its outstanding biodiversity value. Notably, the Conservation Area and its surrounding environment are an important habitat for orangutans and, due in part to minimal hunting pressure, are particularly rich in other large mammal species.
These include the Bornean pygmy elephant, banteng, Malayan sun bear, clouded leopard, bearded pig and five species of deer. Danum Valley also provides one of the last refuges in Sabah for the critically endangered Sumatran rhino. Bird diversity is very high and over 300 species of bird have been recorded, including the Bulwer’s pheasant, seven species of pittas, the Borneo Bristlehead and all eight species of hornbill found in Borneo.
14) Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, Uganda
The clue is in the name: Uganda’s most famous of national parks is known for its topography of bamboo thickets, dense foliage and challenging terrain spanning 32,000-hectares in the Great Rift Valley. But it is also where some 350 of the Planet’s last remaining mountain gorillas call home, as well as being one of the most biologically diverse places on Earth and one of Africa’s richest ecosystems, host to some 1,000 flowering plant species, 163 tree species and 104 types of fern.
These ecosystems are home to a recorded 120 species of mammal, 348 species of bird, and a dazzling collection of butterflies, frogs, chameleons and geckos. Gorilla tracking permits are strictly limited to protect these and other endangered animals in the national park (which is only accessible on foot), thus making any expedition there highly exclusive. We advise booking far in advance.
15) Corcovado & Osa Peninsula
National Geographic calls this “the most biologically intense place on Earth”, based on the great array of habitats (montane, cloud, prairie, swamp and mangrove) and tree species that exist on this remote peninsula – and this really is one of Costa Rica’s most inaccessible regions.
Home to rare mammals such as jaguars, pumas, tapirs, margays, and ocelots plus abundant birdlife, not to mention the humpback whales and dolphins that cavort in the gulf inlet, the other highlight is that you won’t be bumping into many humans either.
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