6 Adventures to Experience Animal Encounters

Last updated December 21, 2023

Travel is starting to open up as destinations move towards fewer restrictions, yet the recent world changes certainly shifted priorities and our description of a perfect holiday.

Many of us appreciated hearing the positive stories about our environment and also marveled about animals taking advantage of the world devoid of human activity. 

So, now may be the perfect time to get back into the wild for a dose of nature’s therapy. For inspiration how, here are six animal encounters to consider. Best wishes planning your next adventure out in the wild.

1. Snorkel with Whale Sharks

Swimming with whale sharks remains on my personal bucket list and for those looking for a late summer vacation, a flight to Cancun can be the perfect play to dive into this experience.

Nearby the mega-resort town visitors can still find the remote locations of Isla Mujeres and Holbox both with easy access to the very waters these gentle giants can be found swimming and feeding. Of course, the resorts Cancun can also provide easy access too. 

A tour can bring visitors close to manta rays, dolphins and even sea turtles at times, but the focus is the largest fish in our oceans — the whale shark. Normally swimming at 3 mph, you will need to keep it up with these enormous creatures once you jump in to join them.

And from what I hear, it will be an experience you’ll never forget.

2. Snorkel with Sea Lions

On the opposite coast of Mexico, there is another chance to snorkel with sea creatures. This time the playful sea lion will enchant you off the waters of the Baja Peninsula in the Sea of Cortez.

Dive boats leave the La Paz, Mexico and take adventurers to the national protected water around Isla Espiritu Santo. There a guide jumps in to lead small bands of snorkelers to meet and mingle with the curious sea lions. 

These mammals have been known to nip at some divers, friendly gestures, but normally just swim around you.

Most trips make it a day-long adventure and take you to one of the many isolated beaches in the area for cervezas and ceviche. It makes for a perfect early fall adventure.

3. Visit Where the Buffalo Roam

Often called Buffalo, American Bison don’t roam across the plains in the numbers they once did but there are still plenty of herds to see.

The recently reopened National Park Yellowstone remains one of the most popular places. Upon entering the park, rangers will advise you to do keep a safe distance as often times people mistake these often slow-moving giants for docile creatures. 

Yellowstone also offers a chance to witness geysers and other unique landscapes along with many other wildlife species such as the grizzly (brown) bear, black bear, bighorn sheep, elk, moose and gray wolf. I witnessed most during my visit. 

4. Swim with a Dolphin

Famous for one of the largest coral reefs in the world, visitors can swim with a local species without even boarding a boat in the Florida Keys. People of all ages can sign up to swim with the dolphins.  

Many places offer the opportunity to get in the water with dolphins, but only one allows you to also visit the resting place of Flipper, the famous dolphin “actor.”

The Dolphin Research Center, located in Marathon offers swim sessions, but there you can learn about specific research on these smart animals and also the specific therapies offered to individuals with special needs including veterans.

Animal encounters with dolphins can be a very healing experience.  

5. Observe the Monarch Butterfly Migration

The monarch butterfly can be spotted across America and the lower parts of Canada during the summer months, but once summer transitions to autumn the species begins its incredible migration to Mexico.

The first butterflies often arrive around the Day of the Dead in November, but the best time to visit is January through March when millions of monarch butterflies drape the forests just outside Mexico City. 

In this rural and rugged part of central Mexico, small mountainous towns such as Zitacuaro in Michoacan offer lodging within a short drive (or taxi) to the local butterfly reserves.

I visited El Rosario in Ocampo to witness perhaps one of the most incredible displays of nature available to a traveler. The glowing orange forest, whispering sounds flying butterflies among the blanketed forest canopy. The monarch butterfly migration remains one of the most incredible animal encounters I’ve experienced in my travels. 

6. Kayak with Beluga Whales

Churchill — a remote town on the Arctic Circle in Manitoba, Canada — is famous for its opportunity to see Polar Bears in the late fall months.

But Churchill offers other adventurers too. On my visit, I braved its darker, colder winter months to experience dog sledding, snowshoeing and riding tundra buggies to view the must-see northern lights. 

I plan to return to the town, not be for Polar Bears but rather for the opportunity to swim alongside beluga whales. 

From June to August, these white wondrous whales migrate through the Churchill River to feed on the bounty of fish that await them in Hudson Bay.

Visitors can either jump in the chilly waters to swim alongside them or kayak among them as they swim through this area. Regardless of the season, it seems Churchill has outdoor adventures with plenty of animal encounters for you.

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