From Alaska to Ecuador, mixing up island life with your wildlife vacation is a dream getaway.
Puffins, penguins, seals and birds of every feather – surround yourself with nature on your wildlife vacation. These idyllic islands are home to some of the most intriguing flora and fauna, and there’s much peace to be had by just watching them play.
Baranof Island (Sitka Island), Alaska
“Beware of bears” – That’s what one of the popular signs in Baranof Island, Alaska says. Located in the northern Alexander Archipelago in the Alaskan Panhandle, this small island is home to not only grizzly bears, but also bald eagles, humpback whales, owls, otters, and many other animals that give Alaska’s wilderness its distinct appeal.
Regardless of the season, the forests and waters are always beaming with life and its constant cycles. Hiking up and down the trails, kayaking in and out of the big bays and little inlets, and taking photos of this stunning views – there’s much to do! Also, learn more about the original people of the Island, the Tlingit Indians. Many are descendant of the Tlingit, so don’t be surprised if a local decides to share the story of his/her people with you.
Hatcheries and warm springs also figure on the list. Hidden Falls and Sitka Sound Science Center are great spots for watching a grizzly bear have a salmon feast. For the latter, Baranof has about nine hot springs, but the most visited the spring that lies close to the Baranof River’s waterfalls.
Sweeped by howling winds, white mountains chains of more than 80 meters tall form the gelid landscape of Svalbard. This Nordic island, literally translated as “cold shore”, is the half point between Norway and the North Pole. Seemingly inhospitable, this place is home to arctic wildlife only seen in these remote parts of the globe, such as polar bears, seals, walruses, minke whales and seabirds, both endemic and migratory.
Guided tours companies offer wildlife expeditions that gives you a closer encounter with this majestic habitat. In summer, you can ride on the boats to watch whales, belugas, seals and walruses, kayak, and trek in the mountains. During winter, snowmobiling, visiting glacier caves and watching the Northern Lights are brilliant here.
To arrive at this archipelago and contemplate its vast and silent beauty, plane and boat are the best options, usually departing from Tromso to Longyearbyen, Svalbard’s capital. Once inland, you can rent a snowmobile to get around.
Vancouver Island, Canada
Located in the Canadian province of British Columbia, Vancouver Island is an oasis for those who crave a taste of adventure in a quiet, off-the-beaten-path destination. Nature and animal lovers will feel in their element surrounded by a magical vibe that emanates from the high pine trees, rugged mountains.
Guided wildlife tours are one of the most popular activities here. Roaming orcas, playful dolphins, peaceful elks, and the big grizzlies and black bears make Vancouver their habitat. There is something powerful about witnessing nature in its truest form.
Besides the wildlife, each region of the island has something to offer. South Island has Canada’s best hiking and biking routes. North Central Island is the hip place with many options of entertainment, such as festivals, cafes, spas and boutiques. The Pacific Rim offers the best sample of the Canadian rainforest and waterways.
Central Island hosts secluded beaches and pairs them with trendy cafes, museums, and caves. Cowichan has a vibrant art scene and Gulf Island is where you can relax in a lovely spa. Finally, the North Island is where viewing wildlife, camping, and being one with nature happens.
If so far we covered tundra and ice, now it’s time to make things more caliente. Holbox Island (or Isla Holbox) in Mexico will please those who crave a wildlife vacation in warmer temperatures. To get here, you can fly from Playa del Carmen and Cancun. Once here, you will see colorful, rustic kiosks by the beach and palm trees everywhere. This is just the beginning.
Birds like seagulls, flamingos, and pelicans are easily seen and bring even more color to Holbox. The warm, turquoise water is also home to marine turtles, dolphins, and – guess what – whale sharks! These docile giants swim to the beach from May to September. By hiring local and competent professionals with years of service on the island, you can swim with whale sharks but please remember to do it responsibly.
Other marine species observed in Holbox include crocs, manta rays, octopus, lobsters, dolphins. Isla Pajaro is also an unmissable place if you have a love affair with our feathered friends. In terms of hotels, Holbox is not the “all inclusive resort” kind of destination. Try living simple and small by staying at one of the local inns. Much more eco-friendly!
Located in the southernmost point of the Galapagos archipelago, Darwin’s precious place has not lost its magic over time, attracting those who seek to be with animals and understand them in their natural habitat. Research and observatory centers are spread all over the island, and Espanola is especially remarkable for the variety of species found there. Most of the endemic animals to Galapagos inhabit Espanola, and those include tortoises, albatrosses, sea lions, colorful tropical fish, and the iconic Christmas Iguana.
Besides watching the animals interact among themselves, you can go hiking, snorkeling, take a boat expedition to smaller uninhabited islands, and go kayaking. The observatories and research centers tend to be open for visiting, but make sure to check before going. Some common sites include Gardner Bay, Suarez Point, and Osborn Inlet where you can swim too. The island is made of volcanic rocks and its vegetation is usually dry and not very colorful, but the diversity more than makes up for it.
Santa Cruz, Ecuador
Santa Cruz is the second largest island on the archipelago and it’s located right in the center of it all. Its proximity to Baltra airport makes it a hub for tourists arriving and leaving Galapagos. Some visitor sites include the Charles Darwin Research Station and Las Grietas. You can see firsthand the Galapagos Iguana, a species endemic to Santa Cruz.
There are also six marine diving sites and four conservation sites, including the El Chato Tortoise Reserve. Explore the lava tunnels with their dark, amorphous interior of molten lava, the remainders of the island’s volcanic activity. After going underground, emerge to the surface again and head to the breathtaking Tortuga Bay beach. This stretch of white sand and turquoise sea is known as one of the most beautiful beaches of the whole archipelago. Not crowded at all, relax and soak in the sun here.
Finally, around 4 to 5 PM, visit the local fish market and watch sea lions looking for leftover fish from the stands. When it comes to accomodations, Puerto Ayora, the island’s capital, is usually where most inn and hotels are located.
Whereas political terms are still debatable in Falkland, there’s no question about the island’s beauty and diversity. From Sea Lion Island, populated by the one and only that gives the name to the island to the rugged beauty of Yorke Bay, the fauna and flora of the region will capture your heart.
For penguin lovers, this island is one of the best hubs to watch them in their natural habitat without freezing in the Arctic. Rockhopper penguins and the famous King penguin are found year round in points of the island, including Sanders Island for the former and Volunteer Point for the latter. Elephant seals are easily seen as well. During mid to late October, sea lions mating season, there can be more than 2000 individuals on the island.
Finally, black browed albatrosses in Falkland correspond to 70% of the world’s population of the species. Watching them is a curious activity, as these creatures are both majestic and clumsy – it just depends if they are flying or landing.
Molokai Island, Hawaii
Molokai is the fifth largest island in Hawaii. Its landscape is formed by the world’s highest sea cliffs, preserved fauna and flora in the Kalaupapa National Historical Park and beautiful white sandy beaches like Papohaku Beach. The island is also one of the most diverse of the state. Some endemic species include bats, rodents like the Polynesian rat, carnivores such as the Hawaiian Monk seal, and even-toed ungulates like the Axis deer and the wild boar.
The island is divided into three regions: East End, West End, and Central Molokai. A highlight of East End is the Halawa Valley with impressively beautiful hiking trails surrounded by abundant, dense vegetation possible due to the humid tropical climate. Also check out the Kamakou Preserve that holds 250 rare Hawaiian plants.
West End is a quiet retreat to relax and enjoy the slow paced, yet cool Hawaiian beachy vibes. Papohaku Beach is one of the best points to camp by the sea or just have a nice picnic, and watch a vibrant orange sunset. Finally, Central Molokai is the more lively hub and it’s where the airport is located. Fresh fruits, bakeries, and ancient landmarks set the tone of the visit to this region of the island.
Isle of Mull, Scotland
If prehistoric beasts catch your attention, head to the Isle of Mull in Scotland to spot the ancient basking shark. As big as the whale shark, these two species share a lot in common. The basking shark is a pacific, plankton-feeding animal. They are known to travel in deep waters, but the mating season brings some to the surface, and most are actually pregnant females.
Bird watchers will also have a blast in Mull. Eagles, seabirds, moorland and woodland birds make the island their home or a stop on their way. Even though the bird population is quite abundant, it is recommended to take a tour with a bird expert. Once you got the hang of it, grab your binoculars and find a station where you can spend time enjoying this delightful hobby.
You can also spend the day learning how to craft the traditional Mull willow weaving on this special wildlife vacation.
Kangaroo Island, Australia
On Kangaroo Island there are no doubts you’re visiting the Aussie land. The third largest island of the country is home to this endemic species and offers many opportunities for you to interact with them. Try Kangaroo Island Wildlife Park, Raptor Domain, and Hanson Bay Wildlife Sanctuary – pro tip: Hanson offers nocturnal tours.
Besides iconic animals, Kangaroo Island suits all tastes and travel styles from luxurious dining and cellars to extreme adventures. Hop on a four wheeler and face the irregular terrain that passes through 250 acres of land, braving rivers and winter lagoons on the way. Sail into the bays for a swim and a dive.
Wherever you go for your wildlife vacation, remember the golden rule: look, but don’t touch!