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7 unforgettable safari destinations beyond Africa

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We share this Earth with a dizzying wealth of wildlife, and so much of it awaits to be explored up-close across each continent. It goes without saying that Big Five sightings and gorilla treks are steady bucket list-toppers – yet go beyond the great plains and mountain trails of Africa, which have come to epitomise the classic safari experience, in search of more underrated sightings and interactions with equally wonderful creatures. You’re guaranteed to be just as mesmerised by what you find.

From Sri Lanka to Scotland, Canada to Colombia, we recommend a few of the best destinations to visit for safaris outside of Africa. Some are well-known and sought-after while others are perhaps a little more surprising, but all will delight wildlife-lovers for the sheer array of species you’ll get to observe and admire in their natural habitats.

See Sri Lanka’s soaring birdlife and gentle giants

From the slinking Sri Lankan leopard to the endemic Ceylon junglefowl, the country’s national bird, Sri Lanka’s wildlife is as varied as it is unique – and whether you’re exploring inland, along the coast or down beneath the water’s surface, a safari within the Pearl of the Indian Ocean never disappoints. In fact, despite its modest size (a land area of about 25,300 sq mi), Sri Lanka is one of the world’s top five biodiversity hotspots, and lovers of flora as well as fauna are bound to enjoy an enriching visit.

Take to the wetland trails of the Kalametiya Bird Sanctuary, where a birdwatching safari offers the chance to see around 150 species amidst a calm atmosphere – look for the long curved bill of the glossy ibis, the spindly legs of the black-winged stilt, and the unique colourings of the slaty-legged crake. Venture into Minneriya or Udawalawe National Park, where a jeep safari can see you getting up-close and personal with the island’s endemic elephants alongside leopards, deer and more. Within Udawalawe’s park grounds you can also pay a visit to the Elephant Transit Home, dedicated to the protection and conservation of these beautiful creatures.

Male elephant grazing in Udawalawe National Park, Sri Lanka

Enchanting wildlife in Scotland’s Cairngorms

You need not travel to lands deemed exotic and otherworldly to make wondrous connections with nature. In the rugged expanse of the Scottish HighlandsCairngorms National Park, you’ll soon be surrounded by epic scenes of ancient forests and tranquil lochs, home to some fantastic wildlife and birdlife.

Bring your binoculars with you and keep your eyes peeled – you’re bound to notice ospreys and golden eagles as they soar elegantly up ahead in search of their prey. Down on the ground, you may be lucky to come face-to-face with a herd of red deer: the largest land mammals in the Cairngorms, they are breathtaking to behold as they quietly graze on grass and heather, and can be seen wandering around woodland and up into the hilly moorland. Other animals you may come across on your travels include red squirrels, Scottish wildcats, pine martens and bottlenose dolphins (more commonly seen breaching waters along the east and west coasts), as well as Scottish crossbills and puffins.

Red deer stag gazing upon a river in the Scottish Highlands

Night safari experiences in Vietnam’s Cat Tien

Nighttime safaris offer very special opportunities to experience the local wildlife differently, and observe nocturnal animals at their most active as they emerge to feed or hunt. This is one great way to explore Vietnam’s Cat Tien National Park, which will see you venturing into the jungle-clad heart of this UNESCO-listed World Biosphere Reserve for a chance at spotting mongooses, civets, macaques and other small animals.

Of course, the park brims with a marvellous array of wildlife to witness at other times of day, including wild boar, Asian elephants, sun bears, a variety of deer, a wealth of primates, and endemic species such as the Cat Tien slender gecko and bent-toed gecko. The park is also known to feature more than 750 species of insects; around 450 species of butterflies have been documented here, for an even more vivid and vibrant safari experience.

Close-up of a butterfly in Vietnam's Cat Tien National Park

Go off-grid on a horseback safari in Colombia

Could there be a more intrepid and adrenaline-fuelling activity than a horseback safari through Colombia? Venture deep into the tropical grassland plains of Los Llanos to find abundant regional birdlife as you ride (quite literally) into the sunset. If travelling on horseback isn’t quite your speed, walking safaris are just as readily available – and offer a slower pace to help you soak up the finer details of your wildlife sightings.

The birds in Los Llanos are bountiful and beautiful, ranging from the fiery tones of the scarlet ibis to the softer pink shades of the roseate spoonbill; enthusiasts will relish a chance to spot oddly adorable potoos and the rare Eurasian scops owl. Across the forest and open savannahs, the mammals you’ll find here are just as captivating, from tapirs, capybaras and red brocket deer to ocelots, jaguars and pumas.

Capybara in the waters of Los Llanos, Colombia

Nepal: Bengal tigers and more majestic creatures

A playground for nature-lovers, Nepal teems with iconic wildlife – from its adorable red pandas and elegant grey wolves to its sought-after royal Bengal tigers. When it comes to the latter, no Nepalese itinerary would be complete without a trip into Chitwan National Park, a designated UNESCO Natural Heritage Site and the best place for spotting these elusive, endangered animals.

With the help of an expert naturalist guide, roam its grasslands and tropical forests at the foot of the Himalayas, and learn all about the tigers as well as the rest of the park’s rich biodiversity, which encompasses more than 60% of all birds, 30% of mammals, 34% of reptiles and amphibians, and 65% of fishes recorded in the country. It’s also home to one of the last remaining populations of one-horned Asiatic rhinoceros, so any sightings of these will be truly precious.

Bengal tiger slinking across a path in Nepal

Immerse yourself into Canada’s Banff National Park

If you’re looking for extraordinary encounters with wildlife, don’t disregard the depths of Banff National Park, a Canadian treasure that sprawls out across 6,641 sq km in Alberta’s Rocky Mountains. As the country’s oldest national park, it comes as no surprise that its wildlife is profuse and fascinating; from endearing pikas and hoary marmots to the more terrifying grizzly bears, with beavers, coyotes and so much more in-between, your wildlife-filled visit certainly won’t lack in variety.

One unforgettable way to explore Banff National Park is by embarking on an evening safari, during which you’ll learn about the challenges the park faces in protecting its fauna, as well as observe the animals that roam its grounds at dusk – from bull elk to bighorn sheep, which become more active in the cooler hours before dark. You’ll journey along a paved road by bus and little walking will be involved, yet this won’t make the tour any less fascinating, as you witness the park come to life after sunset.

Grizzly bear in Banff National Park, Canada

Marvel at the jungle fauna of Costa Rica

The natural riches of Costa Rica are no secret to any lover of the great outdoors, and getting close to the legendary animals that fill its rainforests is always a unique and magical experience, from the lazy sloths and colourful toucans that dot its trees, to the jaguars and anteaters that roam its grounds – not forgetting, of course, the small yet surreal resplendent quetzal, considered one of the most beautiful birds in the world.

More than 50% of Costa Rica is made up of rainforest, so you’ll have little trouble getting acquainted with its wildlife. If you’re looking to put a unique spin on your safari, why not choose to enjoy the tranquillity of the rainforest from a different vantage point? In the comfort of an inflatable raft, drift serenely down the Rio San Carlos from Boca Tapada to take in all manner of birdlife, marine life, and monkeys hanging out along the water’s edge; you may well come across tortoises, iguanas, crocodiles and more, as a knowledgeable guide teaches you all about the region and the species that inhabit these treasured grounds.

Vibrant portrait of a resplendent quetzal bird in Costa Rica

Make it happen

Feeling inspired to connect with nature and the beautiful animals that roam this Earth alongside us? Get in touch with one of our local experts today – they’ll help you plan a safari experience unlike any other.

  1. Sri Lanka
  2. Scotland
  3. Vietnam
  4. Colombia
  5. Nepal
  6. Canada
  7. Costa Rica

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