Every Wildlife Refuge, Conservancy, and Reserve That We Visit on our Tours
Posted August 20, 2019
At Odysseys Unlimited, we take pride in crafting high-quality, compelling, and affordable trips for small groups of curious travelers. We make sure to include a mix of historic sites, cultural experiences, and visits to interesting cities and towns to give our guests the full flavor of a destination. But one aspect of a trip excites all of our guests, no matter what part of the world they’re visiting.
There’s nothing like the feeling of encountering a native species in its natural habitat, be it a rare butterfly flitting through the rainforest or a giraffe ambling across the savannah. And on many of our trips, we visit locations specially designated as protected wildlife zones, where animals can roam free without threat of poaching, habitat loss, or human encroachment.
Best of all, our visits to these sanctuaries help support the work being done to maintain the parks and keep the animals safe, and we often learn about the programs and goals of the wildlife refuges from our tour director or a local guide. When the trip is over, we return to our communities ready to share our newfound knowledge, along with our photos.
Below, we’ve highlighted all of the fascinating wildlife refuges, animal sanctuaries, and protected areas we visit on our small-group tours. If you want to join us on one of these trips, click the tour name or call us toll-free at 1-888-370-6765.
During our stay at Victoria Falls, we head into this small reserve in search of the elusive, and extremely rare, black rhinoceros. This is one of the few locations in Southern Africa where guests can observe the black rhino in its natural habitat. Operated by local preservation groups, this game-viewing experience educates us about the challenges facing Africa’s wildlife – from poachers to encroaching civilization – and also gives us some hope for the animals’ future survival.
Chobe National Park
The 4,500-square-mile Chobe , which we also visit on Southern Africa Odyssey, boasts one of the largest concentrations of game in all of Africa. During our three days here, we take a boat safari on the Chobe River to see hippo, crocs, buffalo, and some of the park’s 450 species of birds. We then have two full days in the park with game drives (on which we encounter elephant, zebra, lion, giraffe, impala, and more), visits to neighboring villages, and time to relax at our lodge.
Lower Zambezi National Park
Our final preserve on this tour is Lower Zambezi National Park, the former private sanctuary of Zambia’s president. Located in a rich river valley on the banks of the Zambezi River, the park allows our safari guides to drive off-road and get us up close to the animals.
While in Nairobi, we visit the Giraffe Centre, a wildlife sanctuary which provides nature education to Kenyan schoolchildren and where we meet the endangered Rothschild’s giraffe. Notable for their unique brown-and-cream coat, these giraffes stand taller than many other giraffe species, with some individuals reaching 20 feet in height. We feed and visit with the 10 individuals housed at the center, each of whom has a distinct personality.
Amboseli National Park
Set in the shadow of Mt. Kilimanjaro, Amboseli covers only 150 square miles, but we encounter a huge diversity of landscapes and wildlife during our two days here. Fifty species of large animals live here, and elephants are the stars, as the population of some 1,200 has been extensively monitored and studied by members of the Amboseli Elephant Research Project since 1972.
Ngorongoro Conservation Area
Ngorongoro is simply spectacular. A UNESCO Conservation Area and International Biosphere Reserve, it’s named for its eponymous crater, at 2,000 feet deep and 100 miles square the world’s largest intact volcanic caldera. On the crater’s floor is Africa in microcosm: grassland, swamps, lakes, forests, mountains, and unparalleled wildlife, including the rare black rhino and black-maned male lion among its 25,000 or so creatures.
These two contiguous national parks, the Serengeti in Tanzania and the Masai Mara in Kenya, combine to form Africa’s premier game reserve. We spend five nights across the two, giving us ample time to encounter a stunning variety of wildlife, including lion, leopard, cheetah, zebra, giraffe, gazelle, and many more.
A relatively small park at just 53 square miles, Arusha offers a varied topography that’s home to nearly 400 bird species, along with antelope, monkey, buffalo, warthog, and more.
Tarangire National Park
Tanzania’s 1,100-square-mile Tarangire is known especially for its high concentration of elephants and for the many baobab trees dotting the savanna. The park’s namesake Tarangire River acts as a migration hub for thousands of wildebeests, zebras, and buffalo, and we may see these and other animals on our game drives here.
Tortoises, Sea Lions and Penguins: Wildlife in South America
On both of our Galapagos tours, we spend ample time exploring Darwin’s “living laboratory” – the Galapagos Islands.
On Machu Picchu to the Galapagos, we visit the Charles Darwin Research Station and the Fausto Llerena Tortoise Center to see and learn about the iconic giant Galapagos tortoises being bred here for later release in the wild. These celebrated creatures can weigh up to 900 pounds and live to more than 150 years old; the famous Pinta Island tortoise Lonesome George – last of his subspecies and for a time the world’s rarest creature – lived here until his death in 2012. Here we also have a chance to see Darwin’s finches, Galapagos flycatchers, great blue herons, and yellow warblers.
For a similar adventure on Ecuador & the Galapagos Islands, we visit the David Rodriguez Breeding Center, dedicated to conserving and increasing the population of the Galapagos giant tortoise. We learn about the origin and evolution of this species, and the center’s vital role in safeguarding the future of these incredible creatures. Walking through the trails of the reserve, we can see baby tortoises being reared in semi-natural conditions – a brilliant demonstration of the commitment the local people have to preserving the wildlife that makes the Galapagos so special.
For much more on these teeming isles, read our blog posts:
Similarly, on both of our Patagonia tours, we explore the breadth of this beautiful region. While we don’t visit any wildlife refuges specifically, both tours include a cruise to tiny Magdalena Island, where we have the opportunity to see for ourselves an animal that most people have only seen in captivity: the Magellanic penguin, the two-foot-tall flightless bird that numbers in the millions along the southern tip of South America. This island is home to a colony of more than 120,000 penguins that coexist peacefully with cormorants, sea lions, and other species found here.
In the Arenal region of Costa Rica, we pay a visit to Ecocentro Danaus, a biological reserve focused on conservation, environmental education, and sustainability. Here we see diverse flora, including orchids, bromelia, and heliconia, along with some of the preserve’s 150 species of birds; sloths; and bats; among other fauna. We also tour a butterfly farm with 30 different species and a natural water spring that attracts waterfowl, alligators, and iguana.
Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve
Costa Rica ranks as one of the most biologically diverse countries on Earth, and on our walk through Monteverde’s biological reserve we see that firsthand. Highlights include the Hummingbird Gallery and the Monteverde Bat Jungle, where we view and learn about both species.
Monteverde Butterfly Garden
We also visit Monteverde’s delightful Butterfly Garden, with a great variety of species – including the stunning blue morpho; the unique calico (or “cracker”) butterfly which produces sound; and the virtually transparent Greta oto, or glasswinged butterfly. After a brief overview, our guide leads us through the four butterfly gardens and demonstrates how to observe these delicate creatures both above and below ground.
Guests on our Alaska tour enjoy their time with the husky puppies
We enjoy a truly authentic Alaskan experience as we visit a local Iditarod sled dog kennel. Covering 1,000 miles of some of the roughest terrain in the world, the grueling Iditarod, “The Last Great Race on Earth,” draws nearly 100 competitive mushers and their dog teams annually. The event began in 1973 and has been pushing the boundaries of sled dog racing since the beginning; the first winner took more than 20 days to finish the course that stretches halfway across Alaska, while 2017’s winner Mitch Seavey finished in eight. At the kennel, we learn about the history of the race and the deep connection between Alaskans and sled dogs. We then meet (and cuddle with) the kennel’s husky puppies, who will soon start their training to become working sled dogs.
A moose at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center.
Near the end of our Alaska tour, we visit the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center, a non-profit organization dedicated to providing quality animal care and preserving Alaska’s wildlife. With 200 acres of spacious enclosures, the center provides us with an opportunity to witness injured or orphaned bears, moose, elk, lynx, caribou, and more, displaying their natural behavior in a safe environment.
Though mostly known for their staggering scenic beauty and natural power, Yellowstone and Grand Teton serve as refuges for more than 70 species of mammals. We’re sure to see the massive American bison, and we’ll keep our eyes peeled for elk, moose, black bear, mountain lion, lynx, fox, and grizzly bear.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site that runs along the coast of Queensland for more than 1,400 miles (making it the longest living reef in the world), the Great Barrier Reef is a true wonder of nature, with many species of fish and coral, some at depths of just 10 to 15 feet below the surface. We sail to Michaelmas Cay, where we can swim, snorkel, and view the reef from a semi-submersible vessel. A protected seabird sanctuary playing host to migratory seabirds, the cay ranks as one of the most important nesting sites in the Southern Hemisphere.
Featherdale Wildlife Park
At Featherdale Wildlife Park, our guide will take us through the grounds – home to koalas along with kangaroos, dingoes, wallabies, and a variety of native birds. The park provides a true hands-on wildlife experience and boasts a collection of over 1,700 native Australian animals, including the massive saltwater crocodile.
Rainbow Springs Nature Park
Rainbow Springs Nature Park, which we visit on both tours to Oceania, offers an up-close look at New Zealand’s biodiversity. The park features native trees, a freshwater spring, and a host of endemic plant and bird species, along with a nursery pool for the noted New Zealand rainbow trout. Here we visit the state-sponsored National Kiwi Trust, New Zealand’s largest kiwi hatchery, where guests can watch the country’s famous birds as they are nurtured before being released into the wild.
On our New Zealand tour, we visit the West Coast Wildlife Centre, home of the hatching and incubation program for the Okarito kiwi, the world’s rarest species of kiwi bird. Only about 450 of these unique birds exist in the wild, though the Okarito kiwi (also known as the Rowi) often lives for more than 50 years. The Centre also includes displays on the Franz Josef region and explains what life is like in this part of the country.
On our trip through India, we spend two nights in Ranthambore National Park. The former hunting grounds of the Maharajah of Jaipur, Ranthambore is now a 512-square-mile nature preserve (one of India’s largest) that is home to diverse plant life; historic ruins; and hundreds of species of birds, reptiles, mammals, and of course, Bengal tigers (though tiger sightings are not guaranteed).
One of India’s best known national parks, Ranthambore belongs to India’s groundbreaking Project Tiger, dedicated to preserving and protecting the once plentiful Royal Bengal tigers that roamed the land here. Now threatened by poachers, illegal logging, and encroaching civilization, India’s tiger population has decreased precipitously; it is believed that just 74 tigers currently live in Ranthambore (which actually represents a net gain in the past decade or so). Nationally, Project Tiger has seen the Bengal population rise to about 2,500 at latest count in 2016 from the 1,800 counted when the project launched in 1973.
On our trips through Southeast Asia, we have the opportunity to visit two separate elephant sanctuaries to see how locals here care for these majestic creatures. Considered endangered in the wild, the elephants in this region face external threats from logging and poaching, as well as trainers intent on using the animals in circus-type shows.
On Southeast Asia Odyssey, we call upon the Chiang Rai Elephant Sanctuary, where see these beautiful animals in their natural setting. A 40-acre swath of bamboo groves, forest, grassland, and swamp, the sanctuary provides the elephants with room to roam as they wish. We also have the unique opportunity to feed the elephants before enjoying lunch together here.
On Treasures of Thailand, we visit the Thai Elephant Care Center, dedicated to caring for elephants that have retired from the difficult life of human entertainment. We have the opportunity to feed and bathe these animals, cherished by Thais, and learn about the center’s efforts to care for them towards the end of their lives.
On our new Discovering Provence tour, we travel to Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, capital of the Camargue region of vast plains, wetlands, lakes, and lagoons. A UNESCO Biosphere Reserve at 360 square miles, the Camargue is known for unique breeds of white horses and bulls, its pink flamingos, and as a staging point for thousands of migratory birds. Our touring takes us to the Pont de Gau Ornithological Reserve in the heart of the Camargue Regional Natural Park. We’re likely to see the pink flamingos for which the park is known, as well as species of heron, birds of prey, and seasonal migratory birds.
During our Icelandic exploration, we stop at Gauksmyri Horse Farm to see Icelandic horses, a unique variety that has been bred only with other Icelandic horses since first brought here by the Vikings in 800 CE.
A highlight of our Iceland touring comes when we head to the picturesque fishing and whale-watching village of Husavik for our afternoon excursion: a Puffin Island bird cruise. Weather- and season-dependent, we embark on a boat for a better view of the rich bird life on this island, aptly named for the thousands of puffins that congregate here. Sailing out of Husavik harbor, we pass a small cliff near the town’s lighthouse where we see kittywake and possibly black guillemot. As we proceed to the island we may see Artic tern, fulmar, and Arctic skua wheeling above, and if our luck holds, great skua and gannet as well.
Though not technically wildlife, sheep outnumber people in Scotland, and they all take some herding. On our trip, we stop in the village of Kincraig, where we watch a sheepdog demonstration with working border collies, known for their herding abilities. The energetic and athletic collies rank among the smartest of canines, as we see when their handlers put them through their paces.
While history, culture, and natural scenery all play their part in making a destination sparkle, it’s the wildlife that often shine brightest. We hope this breakdown will help you plan your next animal-centric adventure!