Capture lions, tigers, and bears: 12 amazing wildlife photography destinations

December 17, 2015                 6m read time
Stephanie Mee


Gone are the days when safaris were about hunting big game. Now it’s all about capturing exotic animals on film. Photograph polar bears in Norway or snap pics of jaguars in Brazil—you too can take Nat Geo worthy shots of wild animals in the following destinations.

1. Spot Jaguars in the Brazilian Pantanal

Jaguar in the Brazilian Pantanal Dagget2

Jaguar in the Brazilian Pantanal

Dagget2

 

The Pantanal is the largest wetland in the world, with marshes that stretch across Brazil and into Bolivia and Paraguay. Capuchin monkeys, macaws, ocelots, and a staggering number of other creatures roam the forests here. This is also where you’ll find the highest density of jaguars in the world. Ground transportation is hard to come by in the Pantanal, so a motorboat photography tour is your best bet. For a unique nine-day experience photographing jaguars, birds, and many other animals in the heart of the Pantanal wetlands, try a Jaguar Wildlife Photo Tour with professional wildlife photographer Roy Toft. The tour also includes accommodation in the Jaguar Flotel, a unique floating lodge.

 

2. Photograph Polar Bears in Svalbard

Polar bears in Svalbard Martha de Jong-Lantink

Polar bears in Svalbard

Martha de Jong-Lantink

 

The scenic Svalbard Islands sit halfway between Norway and the North Pole, and their plentiful fjords and ice floes make them a primo spot for polar bears. There are about 3,000 polar bears who frequent the islands year round, so your chances of capturing one on film is quite high. You’re also highly likely to come across other cool creatures like walruses, bearded and ringed seals, and reindeer. It might go without saying, but polar bears can be pretty unpredictable and downright dangerous, so we suggest grabbing a local guide to take you out into the wild on a skiing, dog-sledding, or kayaking photo expedition.

3. Swim With Manatees in Crystal River, Florida

Manatees in Crystal River in Florida USFWS Endangered Species

Manatees in Crystal River in Florida

USFWS Endangered Species

 

Manatees can grow up to 10 feet long and weigh in at up to 1,200 pounds, but fear not—these slowpokes are gentle giants. One of the best places to see manatees is in Crystal River in Citrus County, Florida, between the months of November and March. Sign up for a manatee tour, or rent a boat and spend the whole day out with the beasts without the crowds. The Three Sister Springs is a favorite spot for underwater photographers. The waters are clear, shallow, and warm, and the manatees often play in the soft white sand at the bottom.

4. Safari it up in Kruger National Park

Rhino in Kruger National Park in Africa Martin Barendse

Rhino in Kruger National Park in Africa

Martin Barendse

 

Gone are the days when African safaris were about hunting down big game. Now it’s all about hunting the Big Five (lions, elephants, buffalo, leopards, and rhinos) by camera, and Kruger National Park is one of the best places to get some seriously stunning shots of these large mammals. Covering nearly 2 million hectares, the park offers plenty of opportunities to see animals like zebras, wildebeest, and cheetahs either with a guided safari tour or in a rented 4x4 at your own pace. There are also plenty of gorgeous lodges in the park that make for stylish safari bases, including the Singita Lebombo Private Game Lodge and the Imbali Safari Lodge.

5. Commune with Gorillas in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest

Silverback and blackback gorillas in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest Nick Ribaudo

Silverback and blackback gorillas in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest

Nick Ribaudo

 

Located in the southwestern corner of Uganda, the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and home to half the world’s population of endangered mountain gorillas. Follow your guide through mist-shrouded forests, up volcanic slopes, and through deep valleys to catch glimpses of these magnificent creatures as they swing among the foliage and nibble on greens. If you really want to be in the midst of the action, stay at the Sanctuary Gorilla Forest Camp, an intimate retreat set deep in the rainforest. If you’re lucky, a roaming gorilla family might pop in for a visit.

6. Track Tigers in the Kanha Tiger Reserve

Bengal tigers in India Allan Hopkins

Bengal tigers in India

Allan Hopkins

 

Seeing Royal Bengal tigers lounging next to streams and slinking through the jungle of the Kanha Tiger Reserve is pretty jaw-dropping. Located in Madhya Pradesh, India, this spectacular national park has dense forests and meadows teeming with big cats, including Royal Bengal Tigers and leopards, as well as barking deer, the ox-like guar, and sloth bears. The park is open for wildlife spotting from mid-October until July, and you can stay at luxurious campsites like the Shergarh Tented Camp or the Banjaar Tola Lodge. Try an elephant-back safari to explore the forests and get close enough to the wildlife to snap some close-ups (and a selfie or two.)

7. See Elephants in Hwange National Park

Cape buffalo and two young elephants play in Hwange National Park Jason Wharam

Cape buffalo and two young elephants play in Hwange National Park

Jason Wharam

 

Just one hour south of the famous Victoria Falls lies the Hwange National Park, known for being Zimbabwe’s largest park and home to a large elephant population. The elephants here love gathering at waterholes created by Zambezi River overflow, and they often share space with giraffes, zebras, and other animals. Within the park, you have your choice of camping and caravan sites. If you want to stay in a truly superb location, try The Hide, a safari camp set on a waterhole on the eastern boundary of the park. There, you’ll witness elephants and big cats roaming the surrounding savanna either from your own veranda or on one of their thrilling wildlife tours.

8. Swim with Blue Whales in Sri Lanka

Blue whale off the coast of Mirissa, Sri Lanka SurangaSL

Blue whale off the coast of Mirissa, Sri Lanka

SurangaSL

 

If the thought of getting up close and personal with a pod of massive blue whales gets your adrenaline pumping, head to Sri Lanka. After all, how many people can say they’ve swam next to the world’s biggest mammals? The best time to go is in late March or early April, as this is when the whales come closest to land to feed on krill. You’ll want to set aside some time, as most of the whale-watching expeditions run for a week. Although they can be a little costly, the experience of swimming with whales, sea turtles and dolphins is one you’re not likely to forget.

9. Roam the Range With Bison in Yellowstone

Bison in Yellowstone National Park  Michael Matti

Bison in Yellowstone National Park 

Michael Matti

 

Enter a world of snow-capped mountains, gushing geysers, and open plains in Yellowstone National Park, America’s first national park. It’s home to a bevy of beasts, including bison, which have been roaming here since prehistoric times. Take your pick of photography tours run by Yellowstone National Park Lodges including early morning bison-spotting tours, trips to thermal areas, and sightseeing tours in the wildlife-rich Hayden Valley.

10. Walk With Wild Asian Elephants in Khao Yai National Park

Wild Asian Elephants in Khao Yai National Park Tontantravel

Wild Asian Elephants in Khao Yai National Park

Tontantravel

 

With more than 200 elephants inhabiting Khao Yai National Park, this is one of the best places in Thailand to see pachyderms in the wild. Situated three hours north of Bangkok, the park is part of the Dong Phayayen-Khao Yai Forest Complex, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that stretches from Khao Yai to the Cambodian border. Here you can explore the trails that weave past waterfalls, streams, and open grasslands to see elephants and deer as they graze. Boost your chances of seeing the elephants by taking a night safari or guided walk.

11. Go on an Alaskan Wildlife Photo Safari

A brown bear in Denali in Alaska Gregory "Slobirdr" Smith

A brown bear in Denali in Alaska

Gregory "Slobirdr" Smith

 

Eagles, otters, and bears ... oh my! The Alaskan wild is a nature photographer’s dream with its magnificent glaciers, dense pine forests, and vast coastlines. If you want to skip the heavily touristed spots and head into more remote areas to capture images of bears catching salmon and whales breaching, join Natural Habitat Adventures on their Ultimate Alaska Wildlife Photo Safari. They’ll take you on a private yacht to cruise icebergs and snap shots of sea lions before driving you to a backcountry wilderness lodge 90 miles into the heart of Denali National Park and Preserve.

12. Snap Shots Along Newfoundland’s Rugged Coast

Eagles in Newfoundland, Canada Wayne Norman

Eagles in Newfoundland, Canada

Wayne Norman

 

Newfoundland, an eastern Canadian province, is one of the most famous whale-watching places in the world. The Atlantic waters off its coast are home to the world’s largest population of humpbacks, as well as other whale species like blue, orca, and minke. Take a boat tour or rent a sea kayak to explore icebergs, caves, and waterfalls along the coast—and snap great pics of whales and birds too. The best time to go is between May and September when the weather is warmer and the whales are out in full force.

Stephanie Mee

Stephanie Mee is a freelance writer and editor currently based in Bali, Indonesia. Her work has been featured in numerous magazines, newspapers, and websites, and she is constantly on a mission to seek out new stories and adventures. In addition to being an avid wordsmith, she is also an incurable foodie and wanderluster.

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