The word safari usually conjures up images of the African savannah, with elephants nibbling acacia leaves, sunbathing lions sprawled on rocky kopjes, and leggy giraffes silhouetted by the setting sun. Sure, with destinations like the Serengeti, the Okavango Delta, and the Zambezi Valley, the continent is undoubtedly home to some of the planet’s most iconic safaris. But there are rich animal habitats all over the world, from the foothills of the Himalayas to the forests of Europe.
Here are six of the planet’s epic safari spots outside the African continent.
1. Kakadu National Park, Australia
Covering nearly 12,430 square miles of Australia’s Northern Territory, Kakadu National Park offers a jaw-dropping diversity of ecosystems, including coastal wetlands, billabong-dappled lowlands, and waterfall-streaked sandstone bluffs. The land has been home to Australia’s Aboriginal people—the oldest living culture on the planet—for more than 50,000 years, and ancient rock art is still found amid the landscape.
As the largest national park in Australia, Kakadu supports an astounding array of wildlife, including harboring one-third of Australia’s birds and more than 60 native mammals. The park is also home to some formidable predators, including muscle-rippled water pythons and nearly 10,000 crocodiles, both the freshwater and saltwater variety. Best of all, with offerings like backcountry hikes, crocodile-spotting wetland tours, and even scenic flights, Kakadu can be explored by land, air, or water.
2. The Pantanal, Brazil
For nature lovers heading to South America, the Amazon is the obvious choice. But wildlife-viewing opportunities can be even better in the Pantanal, the largest inland wetland on the planet. Most of the 70,000-square-mile Pantanal is located in Brazil, but the massive seasonal floodplain also extends into Bolivia and Paraguay. Home to capybaras, giant anteaters, howler monkeys, and maned wolves, the wetland supports the highest concentration of wildlife in South America, and it was declared a World Heritage site in 2010.
The Pantanal is also an undisputed jaguar hotspot, claiming one of the highest densities of the cats on earth. Jaguars in the Pantanal tend to be bigger due to the abundance of large prey. The Amazon may feature greater biodiversity, but wildlife is easier to spot among the open floodplains of the Pantanal, especially during the dry season from July to October, when animals convene around dwindling bodies of water.
3. Yellowstone National Park, United States
Yellowstone National Park is rightfully revered for its geological wonders, including more than half of the geysers on the planet. But America’s oldest national park is also loaded with large, impressive animals. Yellowstone is home to the highest concentration of mammals in the contiguous United States, including seven different types of large predators. Bison roam the Lamar Valley, bighorn sheep clamber the slopes of Mount Washburn, and herds of elk congregate in Gibbon Meadows.
Then there are the predators: Nearly 700 grizzly bears roam the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, as well as cougars, black bears, and nearly 100 gray wolves, reintroduced to the park in 1995. You can explore the 3,472-square-mile protected area in any season, although some like the tranquility of winter, where you can find some solitude on skis or snowshoes. Just be aware that sub-zero temperatures are common—and heated snowcoaches are also available.
4. Chitwan National Park, Nepal
Crowned by the highest peaks in the Himalayas, Nepal has lured globetrotting climbers for decades. But the mountainous country also offers the chance to encounter some of the planet’s rarest creatures. A lowland region tucked against the Indian border, Terai is home to Chitwan National Park, a World Heritage site harboring an assortment of imperiled wildlife. The national park was established in 1973 as a haven for the greater one-horned rhinoceros, which had been pushed to the brink of extinction.
Chitwan’s other claim to fame is big cats, namely endangered Bengal tigers. The 360-square-mile park is currently home to nearly a hundred of the cats. Eagle-eyed visitors also can spot leopards, sloth bears, and stocky Indian bison in the park’s grasslands and riverine forests. While the protected area features opportunities for guided walks and game drives, the most unique way to see the resident wildlife is from the back of a domesticated elephant on one of the park’s pachyderm-powered safaris.
5. Belovezhskaya Pushcha National Park, Belarus
Hulking bison are usually associated with the American West, but the brawny creatures also roam some of Europe’s wild spaces, including Belovezhskaya Pushcha National Park in southwestern Belarus. Recognized as a World Heritage site, the national park protects a portion of one of the continent’s oldest woodlands, the Bialowieza Forest, which extends into neighboring Poland. This was once the hunting ground for regional royals, including Russian czars and Polish monarchs. Today the primeval forest feels like the backdrop for a fairy tale, with oaks trees more than 500 years old and abundant wildlife.
The iconic bison were reintroduced to the national park in the 1920s after the species was brought back from the brink of extinction as a result of captive breeding efforts. Now nearly 900 bison plod through the Bialowieza Forest. Predators, including packs of wolves and Eurasian lynx, also prowl the protected area. Visitors can explore the park on organized tours or in a private vehicle (with the required permit), and trails for hikers and cyclists make it easy to head out on your own.
6. Cocos Island, Costa Rica
Some of the planet’s best safari spots are underwater, like Costa Rica’s Cocos Island National Park. Located in the eastern Pacific, about 340 miles from mainland Costa Rica, the island is a hotspot for marine life—especially sharks. Declared a national park in 1978, and later deemed a World Heritage site in 1997, the protected area includes nearly 20 million acres of marine habitat, including richly diverse coral reefs bustling with life. Nutrient-rich currents mingle just offshore, ensuring the waters surrounding the island are trolled by formidable predators, like white-tip reef sharks, black-tip sharks, and tiger sharks, along with vulnerable species, like bigeye thresher sharks and Galapagos sharks. But the island’s real stars are the scalloped hammerheads, with massive schools of the endangered sharks congregating around the island. Seasoned divers have even affectionately named Cocos Island, Ecuador’s Galapagos Islands, and Colombia’s Malpelo Island the “Hammerhead Triangle.”
The terrestrial portion of Cocos Island National Park is also enticing, and it even made a cameo at the beginning of the first Jurassic Park movie. The volcanic atoll may not harbor dinosaurs, but the island’s jungle of tangled peaks are threaded with waterfalls and support a handful of endemic birds and reptiles.Written by Malee Baker Oot for RootsRated Media in partnership with Safari Supply.
Featured image provided by Bernard DUPONT