|Exotic animals add flair, fascination, and fun to foreign travel. Sometimes they’re simple variations on the familiar: colorful birds, various types of lizards and wolves, or larger fish, but most of the time, new lands mean new species. While many of these unfamiliar creatures reside at the local zoo for easy viewing, observing them in the wild induces a feeling that captivity can’t replicate. Watch a fully-grown Humpback Whale soar through the sky. We feel small, yet inspired. Even under the shadow of the smallest of creatures, we feel smaller still. For that moment we remember how big the world is and how everything has its place. These wild animals serve as a means to reconnect with nature in ways humanity has lacked since we discovered fire.|
Despite our dominance over the natural world, many species still flourish in their natural habitats. Thankfully, some saw the wisdom in preserving these ecosystems. Better still, most of these locations are easily accessible (though not all) allowing visitors to see and sense what is normally too distant from the backyards of comfortable suburbia.
Galapagos Tortoise | Galapagos Islands
Few animals reach 100 years old, humans average about 80. The Galapagos Tortoise, on the other hand, remembers the American Civil War. Ok, not really, but many of them live to an astonishing 180 years. These living tanks usually weigh in at a quarter of a ton and when fully grown have no real natural predators (except humans). No worries though, only friendly feelings exist between us. In their own way, the tortoise helped Charles Darwin formulate his theories on natural selection. These days, tours to the island chain don’t require years of preparation like they did for Darwin, just a working credit card. Under the watchful protection of the Charles Darwin Research Center, these ancient creatures freely roam their stomping grounds.
Monarch Butterflies | Mexico
This staple species of “butterflydom” may not immediately strike someone as wondrous. The Monarch loves to hang in the backyards of North America, so chances are you’ve seen one. At the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve in Michoacán Mexico, however, their numbers block out the sun. Every year the Monarch migrates from the United States into Mexico then back again, though their short lifespan ensures no single butterfly ever books round-trip tickets. When November rolls around, they arrive in Michoacán by the millions, congregating throughout the thick forest. A single butterfly weighs less than a nickel, but millions bend tree trunks. When they take flight, their beating wings sound like a rainstorm. Two of the conservation centers are open to the public during their stay, allowing spectators a view of the orange and black cities.
Reindeer | Norway
Onward Rudolph, Prancer, and Comet… the reindeer, or caribou as they’re known here, populate the arctic freezers of North America, Europe, and Russia. In Norway, the Saami people, an old-world shamanic tribe, raise herds of these animals and every year follow the reindeer to their summer grazing grounds. The Saami permit a select number of outsiders (12 to be exact) to participate, but be warned, this isn’t simple farm herding. The long trail winds through a wilderness the Saami ominously call “The Land of Nothing” where winter storms blend the land and sky. Experience and stamina are vital. The reindeer have their own clock and the Saami abide by it, which means when the reindeer start the day, so do you. For those with a highly adventurous nature, this is a rare opportunity to commune with these arctic legends.
Humpback Whales | Hawaii
Among the biggest animals that live on this sapphire sphere, Humpback whales travel to Hawaii during the winter months to raise their calves. The Hawaiian Island’s Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary (whew!) hosts their arrival to ensure proper space and respect. Though they seek to protect the whales, the sanctuary fully supports watching and communing with these creatures. Whale watching, or ecotourism as the Hawaiians refer to it, allows people to understand more about these underwater leviathans. Though massive and seemingly intimidating, Humpbacks approach whale-watching boats with friendly and curious predispositions. Known to play with other marine species like dolphins and other whales, Humpbacks seem to simply love life. They sing, dance in the air (jumping some 45 to 50 feet above the water), and live within a community called pods which consist of several whale families. When in Hawaii, don’t pass up the chance to watch these peaceful creatures.