Want to make some animal friends in your travels? I think that’s a great idea! Whether you love turtles, elephants, whales, dogs, cats, or flamingoes, there is an amazing destination for you. My only recommendation for choosing an animal-loving adventure is to do your research. Don’t support companies that mistreat their animals. Take a deeper look into animal experience company websites, and when you get there, keep your distance from the animals as instructed. Need some inspiration? Check out these epic trips!
Play with Hundreds of Cats on Lana’i, Hawai’i
This was such a fun thing to do on one of Hawai’i’s less-visited islands! Here, you’ll find literally hundreds of cats that live at the Lana’i Cat Sanctuary! Visiting the Sanctuary is completely FREE, so you can go play with them every day if you want, for as long as you want. You can even choose a cat to “adopt-in-place” for a month or a whole year to pay for its care: food, veterinary needs, etc. And while it’s a bit of a more involved process, if you happen to fall in love with one of them for real, you can adopt it!
The mission of this Sanctuary is two-fold. First of all, it’s a place for the cats to live without overpopulating the island, since cats are not indigenous to the Hawai’ian islands. Secondly, giving the cats this Sanctuary protects the native Hawai’ian birds. Cats are naturally predatory, which, of course, is not good for the true locals–the native birds!
Get all the fluffy details: What It’s Like Visiting Lana’i Cat Sanctuary
Swim with Manatees in Crystal River, Florida
Who doesn’t love a gentle giant, right? Manatees are the sweetest, gentlest, most graceful animals you’ll ever see, and you can safely swim alongside them in Crystal River, just north of Tampa, Florida. Not so sure about swimming with them? Try kayaking or stand-up paddle boarding instead!
The manatee is one of the most protected (and endangered) animals in the world, and their protected home in Crystal River and Three Sisters Springs is well-patrolled by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. You are not allowed to touch, ride, pet, or get too close to manatees. The best way to interact with them is to go on a guided tour, then wait for the manatees to come to you. They will, so just be patient!
Go on an African Safari
Full disclosure: I haven’t done this yet! But my husband has. He had just gotten back from his safari a few weeks before our first date, so we spent part of our date at a coffee shop looking at his photos! Lions, tigers, and elephants–oh, my! It’s one thing to see pictures and watch documentaries about Africa’s “Big Five” and more, but seeing them in person is next-level amazing.
When choosing a safari company to go with, look for companies that work with conservation groups, and avoid companies that offer experiences like walking with lions or riding elephants. And remember, you’re on the wild animals’ turf. Don’t get too close taking those once-in-a-lifetime photos!
Read next: 10 Trips to Take in Your Lifetime
Stay at Giraffe Manor in Kenya
This is a true dream of mine! This is another one I have done yet, but it’s one worth mentioning here. This “manor house” is located just outside of Nairobi, Kenya. Rothschild giraffes come to visit at-will, usually morning and evening, and they may even poke their head in to join you for breakfast or tea time! When they’re not making friends with human guests, the giraffes are spending time in their nearby forest sanctuary. Many people add this on to a Kenyan safari experience.
More here: 30 Trips to Take in Your 30s
See the Monk Seals on Niihau
Hawai’ian monk seals are endangered, but they’ve been making a comeback thanks to conservation efforts and a few special places of refuge in the islands, like the island of Niihau! You can only get here by helicopter, but it’s the best place in the world to see these beautiful seals.
Niihau is nicknamed the “Forbidden Island,” and there are no hotels, restaurants, or tourist attractions here. Just some monk seals, living their best lives. You’ll need to keep your distance, especially with protective mamas and their babies, but seeing them waddle and roll around then catch a snooze on a deserted beach is one of the most memorable Hawai’ian experiences I’ve ever had!
Visit the Galápagos Islands, Ecuador
This was one of the most unique trips we have ever taken, and we got to see so many different animals! There are some species here that are found nowhere else in the world, and they are all so well-protected that they have no fear of people. They truly live their lives as they’re meant to do, without fear of humans or other unnatural predators. While we were there, we visited a giant tortoise sanctuary, saw blue-footed boobies, swam with penguins, and so much more!
What I loved about the Galápagos Islands was that people are not allowed to just wander with the animals. There are many protected areas that people cannot visit without a certified, professional guide. This keeps the animals truly wild and protected, and it keeps humans safe as well. We visited with Galapagos AlterNative, which I recommend as often as possible because they took such good care of us and made sure we had a wonderful time with the animals as well!
Want more? Check out all my travel-inspiring destination lists on my Travel Tips Page!
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