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While zoos and aquariums have likely played big parts in our childhoods, you cannot beat coming face to face with some of the earth’s most beautiful creatures in their natural habitats. Here are 5 humane bucket list animal encounters that you can experience while traveling.

RELATED: 11 awe-inspiring animal photos to make you want to safari

See the “Big 5”

Safari tips - At Giraffe Manor at the end of our family safari

Credit: @Travelbabbo

Fondly known as the “Big 5,” this group of animals includes lions, leopards, elephants, rhinos, and buffaloes. The “Big 5” can be seen at the “Big Seven” destinations in Africa, including South Africa (Kruger National Park and Sabi Sand Game Reserve), Tanzania (Serengeti National Park and Ngorongoro Crater), Kenya (Masai Mara), Botswana (Okavango Delta), Zambia, Zimbabwe, and Namibia.

Safari options are numerous and include walking safaris, self-driving, hot air ballooning, horse riding, canoeing or the typical safari vehicle tour, known as a “game drive.” This is best taken at dawn or dusk when the animals are most active. Bonus: If in Kenya, head to Giraffe Manor to share your breakfast with a Rothschild Giraffe or two (get your advance tickets here).


Trek with gorillas

Here’s a bucket list animal encounter to tack on with your African safari. There are only two populations of mountain gorillas left in the world. The first is in in the Virunga volcanic mountains of Central Africa, with groups scattered between Uganda, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The second population lives deep in Bwindi.

It does require a fair amount of trekking, but nothing too strenuous for reasonable fitness levels. Just be aware it’s relatively dirty work. But the reward is clear. 99% of trekkers see and watch gorillas for 30 to 45 minutes. Make sure you look into booking at least 6 months in advance as permits are limited.

Snorkel with whale sharks

Off the coast of Mexico or even in Western Australia you can snorkel with the gentlest and largest fish in the ocean. We had the opportunity while we were staying in Cancun. Our boat headed out to the middle of the Caribbean and we jumped in to snorkel with these bus-sized fish. Read more about our experience here.

Releasing sea turtles

A great way to take your vacation to a whole other level is by adding a volunteer experience to it. After lying on the beaches of the Caribbean all day, head to Punta Sur in Cozumel to help baby sea turtles make their way into the ocean at sunset. If they make it and survive, these turtles can live up to 80 years. But the odds are against them, which makes volunteers an important part of the effort to ensure healthy populations of sea turtles.

Have your camera ready, because baby sea turtles are completely adorable.

Hang with a ‘roo at the beach

The land Down Under has native wildlife you won’t encounter anywhere else on Earth, including kangaroos, koalas, dingos, wallabies, Tassie devils, and more. As it happens, Australia’s bounciest marsupials enjoy sand between their toes and much as humans do and given that they outnumber humans nearly two to one, they aren’t hard to find. See them at numerous beaches across the continent, including Lucky Bay in Western Australia’s Cape Le Grand National Park, Pebbly Beach in Murramarang National Park in New South Wales, or at the beach near Diamond Head Campground in Crowdy Bay National Park, on the Barrington Coast in Queensland.

What’s on your animal bucket list? Comment below.

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