Galapagos Islands, Ecuador
Probably the most famous of the planet’s animal menageries, these islands 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador have been sheltered from interaction with the outside world for so long that they’ve developed into a treasure trove of unique species: penguins, swimming vegetarian iguana, giant tortoises and more. And the scarcity of human history here has made them all less wary of the two-legged, upright visitors. A zoom lens is typically not necessary—you’ll be stepping back to take some shots.
More than just “endless plains” (which is what its name means in the language of the Maasai), the Serengeti also holds rich forest and swampland, and is home to a number of national parks and preserves in Tanzania. This is the place for the safari of a lifetime. Along with the massive herds of wildebeest (2 million), gazelle (half million), and zebra (quarter million), there are the predators: lions, leopards, cheetahs and crocodiles. Add the elephants and giraffes and the Serengeti is really a surreal dream for anyone who’s never ventured beyond their local zoo.
The Amazon Basin
Only 40 per cent of the area drained by the mighty Amazon River is in Brazil. So extensive are these forests and tributaries that you can visit them in several other countries, including Peru, Bolivia, Columbia, and Venezuela. The Napo River in Ecuador is but one of many places to find eco-lodges that put travellers in the jungles and along the waterways to see the vibrant local floral and fauna. Sacha Lodge, for example, offers a walkway above the canopy, jungle mud-and-boardwalk paths and a secluded lagoon just a short hike from the Napo.
Sea of Cortez, Mexico
Set between the long narrow peninsular Baja California and the Mexican mainland, this nutrient-rich sea attracts a wide variety of marine life. Designated a World Heritage Site, the Sea of Cortez attracts whale sharks, dolphins, manta rays, ten species of whales, sea turtles, colonies of sea lions, and a variety of shorebirds. Join a whale watching tour or paddle yourself in a kayak to get close to them. Snorkel with whale sharks or see the largest creature on earth: the blue whale.
The world’s third largest island, Borneo is part of the Malay Peninsula and is divided between Malaysia, Indonesia and tiny Brunei. It’s home to Asian elephants and Sumatran rhinoceros and sadly, one of the last natural homes to the endangered orangutans. Don’t bother trying to count how many species are here: the list grows every year as new ones are discovered. The bird species alone top 400. Head to the Malaysian state of Sabah at the north end where you can climb Mount Kinabalu, snorkel the surrounding seas or watch sea turtles lay their eggs on nearby Selingan Island.