Best Places to Get Face-to-Face with Wildlife

Nature is a centerpiece at almost every property in the National Geographic Unique Lodges of the World collection, but the lodges below place a special emphasis on celebrating and protecting the fascinating creatures in their midst. Whether you're a birder, a diver, or a big cat enthusiast, these lodges offer a range of naturalist-led excursions that will put you face-to-face with wildlife.

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ol Donyo Lodge

CHYULU HILLS, KENYA

Rising from the arid landscapes of southeastern Kenya, the Chyulu Hills hold patches of lush, misty forest that attract a variety of wildlife, including some of the world’s largest tusked elephants. The watering hole at ol Donyo Lodge is frequented by these majestic bulls, and guests can take in up-close views of this hydration station from a nearby log-pile hide perch. Great Plains Conservation, which owns the lodge, works closely with the Big Life Foundation to train Maasai rangers to protect these endangered creatures from poachers and other threats, ensuring that the area remains a wildlife safe haven.

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Southern Ocean Lodge

KANGAROO ISLAND, AUSTRALIA

Although kangaroos and koalas are often seen as synonymous with the land down under, they are not the only remarkable animals peppering Kangaroo Island. Located just off the coast of Southern Australia, the island is often called Australia’s Galápagos for its wealth of endemic species and its wild, unspoiled landscapes. Fur seals, dolphins, whales, parrots, gliding marsupials, and white-bellied sea eagles number among the most memorable species. Guests can get a close look at these unique creatures on guided tours by foot, bike, and kayak.

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Sabi Sabi Private Game Reserve

SABI SAND RESERVE, SOUTH AFRICA

Set within the Sabi Sand Private Game Reserve, Earth Lodge offers an exceptional safari experience—on wildlife drives and bush walks, but also from the property itself, which commands excellent views of the surrounding bushveld, and is so skillfully blended into the landscape that an elephant recently meandered onto the roof. Away from the safari crowds, you'll have time and space to observe rare creatures such as rhinos, leopards, lions, and wild dogs with top guides and trackers.

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Lizard Island

GREAT BARRIER REEF, AUSTRALIA

Lizard Island is surrounded by some of the most pristine swaths of the Great Barrier Reef, but it's also home to fascinating birds and terrestrial animals. Don your snorkeling or diving gear and discover an underwater universe of vibrantly colored fish, dolphins, whales, stingrays, and fantastical coral formations. Peer beneath the ocean's surface in a glass-bottomed kayak, or go on nature walks to spot sea turtles (in the summer) and vibrant birdlife.

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Tswalu Kalahari

KALAHARI, SOUTH AFRICA

Tswalu Kalahari is home to unique habitats where savanna, desert, and mountain meet. A wealth of unusual wildlife—including quite a few of the so-called "elusive eleven"—make their home here. Exploring by horseback, private safari vehicle, or on foot, you might see a critically endangered pangolin, meerkats, black-maned lions, or an aardvark. With a quarter of a million acres to discover, your own safari guide, and never more than 30 guests, the wildlife experience here is as rare and intimate as it gets.

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Lapa Rios Lodge

OSA PENINSULA, COSTA RICA

The Osa Peninsula sustains 2.5 percent of the world’s total biodiversity, making it a fantastic location for any wildlife lover. See squirrel monkeys, spider monkeys, white-faced capuchin monkeys, and howler monkeys as well as jaguars, Baird's tapirs, white-lipped peccaries, scarlet macaws, and harpy eagles. Plus, a visit to the nearby Golfo Dulce may yield unforgettable baby whale sightings as many humpbacks choose the area for calving.

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Sukau Rainforest Lodge

SABAH, MALAYSIAN BORNEO

Every year, monsoon rains flood Malaysian Borneo’s Kinabatangan River basin, filling jungle waterways and nourishing the habitats of some of the planet’s most unusual species: wild orangutans, pygmy elephants, proboscis monkeys, and bearded pigs. Bird species number more than 200, and include Storm's stork, crested serpent eagle, brahminy kite, black-and-red broadbill, scarlet-rumped trogon, hooded pitta, buffy fish owl, among many others. View these remarkable creatures and more on guided nature walks as well as morning, noon, and nighttime river cruises.

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Rubondo Island Camp

RUBONDO ISLAND NATIONAL PARK, TANZANIA

Virtually untouched for centuries, Rubondo Island is a thriving wilderness that harbors unusual endemic species such as the sitatunga (a swamp-dwelling antelope), as well as bushbucks, vervet monkeys, genets, spotted-necked otters, hippos, and crocodiles. They share the island with 200 endemic and migratory bird species and a number of species that were introduced here decades ago: elephants, giraffes, suni, and chimpanzees, to name a few. Encounter creatures both aquatic and terrestrial on game drives, canoe safaris, and swamp excursions.

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OLARE MOTOROGI CONSERVANCY, KENYA

Adjacent to one of the most iconic national parks in Africa, the Masai Mara, Mara Plains Camp is a portal to 100,000 acres of protected land where wildlife abounds but people do not. Daily safaris and bush walks get you close to the incredible creatures here. But with migrating wildebeest filling the nearby savanna at certain points of the year, hippos calling from the river, and monkeys playing in the trees, you don't even have to leave your tent to feel immersed in the East African wilderness.

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SOUTH LUANGWA NATIONAL PARK, ZAMBIA

Every November, a family of elephants makes a beeline for the fruit of a certain mango tree. Their path leads them straight through the reception area of Mfuwe Lodge, to the delight of guests who happen to be checking in. This close encounter is indicative of the wildlife experience offered at the main Mfuwe Lodge and the six intimate Bushcamps situated throughout South Luangwa National Park. The is the home of the walking safari, and guests are invited to join some of the best safari guides in the business to experience wildlife great and small from the intimate perspective of exploring on foot.

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AMAZON RAIN FOREST, PERU

From the Madre de Dios River, Inkaterra Hacienda Concepción appears nothing more than a parting in a wall of vegetation. The thatched cabanas, much like the animals, are tucked in among the trees, waiting to be discovered. Here, your wake-up call is the bark of howler monkeys and the songs of a million birds. Spot giant river otters, butterflies, caimans, and macaws while paddling on nearby Lake Sandoval. Peer at prehistoric birds called hoatzin and many other species while canoing on a lagoon on the property, and take a guided nocturnal walk to reveal night monkeys, frogs, and so much more.

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BIG SKY, MONTANA, UNITED STATES

Home to bison and moose, grizzlies and wolves, Yellowstone is sometimes referred to as the Serengeti of North America. From Lone Mountain Ranch, take the lesser-known paths into the park, horseback riding or cross-country skiing with a naturalist. Or join a lodge guide for a full-day excursion to Yellowstone, no matter the season. Wildlife abounds in the wilderness around the lodge as well, and hikes, fly-fishing excursions, and dogsledding trips are just a few of the ways to encounter it.

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GALÁPAGOS ISLANDS, ECUADOR

Among the lava-formed landscapes of the Galàpagos, marine iguanas and sea lions loll, penguins dart through the shallows, and rare bird species put on whimsical shows for their mates. None of these creatures have an instinctive fear of humans, making it easy for travelers to get an up-close look at some of nature's most unusual species. Peer at giant tortoises and stroll among sea lions right near the lodge, go snorkeling, and visit neighboring islands by yacht to find more fascinating widllife.

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