Go wild on the water: 10 wildlife kayaking trips
From river dolphins in the Amazon to whales off the coast of Greenland, below are some of the world's most spectacular places to paddle past animals in their natural habitat.
Fun Fact: Kayaks are old. The Inuit people built the first ones about 4,000 years ago by stretching animal skins over a whale bone frame. While we don't normally use them for hunting like people did back in the day, our speedy plastic ones now make it easy to navigate inlets and hidden coves, slide over wake, or have a leisurely paddle—without disturbing surrounding sea creatures. For the adventure of a lifetime, check out the following wildlife kayaking trips for paddlers of all levels.
1. Explore the World's Largest Fjords in Greenland and Svalbard
For an icy Arctic adventure, join sea kayaking experts Southern Sea Ventures on a 14-day trip that takes you past massive ice floes along the coasts of Svalbard and Greenland. They will supply you with a kayak, paddling equipment (like a dry suit), and a guide. You'll visit remote Eskimo villages to see musk oxen, reindeer, and arctic fox. Out at sea, watch polar bears and walruses play on the pack ice while whales surface in the distance. Your journey ends with a cruise across the Denmark Strait to Iceland and a flight to beautiful Reykjavik.
2. Do Some Whale Watching in Patagonia, Argentina
Join Sea Kayak Adventures on an exhilarating tour of the Peninsula Valdes in Argentina, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that is brimming with wildlife both in the water and on land. The lagoons here are calving grounds for Southern Right whales, and the shores are home to a number of fascinating creatures including armadillos, guanacos, and rheas. Camp out at a secluded beach and watch whales surface and blow while you enjoy local delicacies like Argentine beef, scallops, and Malbec wine. Last, but definitely not least, you'll visit a penguin colony and the only elephant seal rookery in South America.
3. See Evolution in Action in the Galapagos Islands
If touring the Galapagos Islands is top on your bucket list, don't miss this unique hiking and kayaking expedition by Natural Habitat Adventures. You'll visit deserted islands and coves that you just can’t reach from larger ships. Each day you'll explore a different island by kayak and on foot to see native wildlife, including iguanas, sea lions, and Darwin’s famous finches. The trip includes a stay in a safari camp—on a private volcanic island!—in tents and tree houses amid lava caves and roaming tortoises. There are also plenty of opportunities to snorkel and see penguins, dolphins, and sea turtles.
4. Play Tarzan in Khao Sok National Park, Thailand
Paddle Asia is renowned for its incredible eco-tours and highly certified guides. One of their most popular packages is the easy-going Khao Sok National Park Kayaking Tour. Set in a gorgeous nature reserve in southern Thailand, the tour takes you through limestone karst and into the jungle to see long-tailed macaques, hornbills, elephants, and more. Spend your days embarking on sunrise and sunset wildlife-spotting paddles and jungle treks, and your evenings chilling out in your own floating bamboo bungalow on the waters of the reservoir.
5. Frolic With Seals in Namibia
The waters of Namibia's Walvis Bay are home to humpback and southern right whales, dolphins, and a colony of about 15,000 to 20,000 Cape Fur Seals. Join Namibia Kayak Tours and head out into the shallow waters at Pelican Point to paddle next to hundreds of seals playing around your kayak. On a good day, you may even see dolphins surfacing just feet away. The whales are a tad shy, but they have been known to swim within sight, sometimes with their calves in tow.
6. Track Brown Bears on Admiralty Island, Alaska
The native name for Admiralty Island is Kootznoowoo (that translates to “Fortress of the Bears") so it's no surprise that this southeastern Alaskan island is home to about 1,800 brown bears. Join Above and Beyond Alaska on an eight-hour journey with an experienced guide. The trip includes a scenic float plane flight to the island, paddling your kayak along the tranquil coast, and hiking through old growth forest. You'll observe brown bears in their natural habitat and watch salmon swim upstream. If you’re lucky, you may even see seals and humpback whales from the shore.
7. Watch Bats Soar Overhead in Austin, Texas
The Ann W. Richards Congress Avenue Bridge in Austin, Texas, is home to the world’s largest urban bat colony, and the best way to see them is on a kayaking trip up Lady Bird Lake. Live Love Paddle offers a tour perfect for first-time kayakers and families, as they will provide you with gear and a friendly guide. They'll also teach you about local history and fun bat facts before taking you out on the water to see the colony take flight en masse. The best time to go is between March and November when the bats make the bridge their home.
8. Glide Down a Rainforest River in the Ecuadorian Amazon
Imagine sliding through the waters of an Amazonian river and hearing nothing but water rushing past your oars and monkeys chattering overhead. Experience just that on an Amazon Kayaking Trip with Tofino Expeditions. The tour offers unrivaled access to small tributaries and flood forests where you can see Amazon river dolphins, jungle macaws, and various species of primates. At the end of each day’s adventure, you will return to a gorgeous jungle eco-lodge to dine on local specialties and drift off to the sounds of the jungle.
9. Paddle Among Tropical Fish in Belize
The Belize Barrier Reef stretches for 180 miles off the coast of mainland Belize, which makes it a prime spot for sea kayaking, snorkeling, and diving. Join a guided tour here, or rent a kayak for days (or even weeks) to explore small cays, mangroves in sheltered lagoons, and incredible coral, turtle grass, and tropical fish. Island Expeditions offers a 10-day Ultimate Adventure trip that includes paddling to coral reefs, treks in jungle rainforests, and excursions to Mayan ruins and ceremonial caves.
10. Watch Wild Horses Graze Along the Shore in Virginia
Assateague Island is a unique nature refuge in Virginia where hundreds of wild ponies roam the marshes, pine forests, and beaches. Legend has it that the horses are descendants of those who came from a Spanish galleon that sank during a storm in the 18th century. One of the best ways to see the horses and other wildlife on the island, like great blue herons and snowy egrets, is on a kayaking tour with Assateague Explorer. No experience is necessary, as their guides will teach you the ropes and take you to remote beaches, creeks, and channels where the horses graze. It's the movie "Misty" in real life, and yes—their manes really do flow that majestically in the wind.