10 Animal Experiences and Wildlife Days
Meeting the local wildlife on holiday is a great way of engaging with nature, educating the kids in conservation and having fun in the outdoors together. You might also provide vital funds for conservation projects. This list of top 10 animal experiences and wildlife days are all family adventures we have had with our children at different ages in various locations around the world. The post is part of our ultimate guide to family adventure; 100 Things to do Before your Kids Grow Up. In the first post in the series we featured 10 family water sports activities, while our second looked at winter sports for kids. Read on for our third post filled with family friendly animal encounters…
Ready for Animal Experiences, Wildlife days and Wild Encounters?
Steel yourself for creepy crawly, animal friendly, wild, free and potentially hazardous encounters with the natural world in this post of our top 10 animal encounters. Although sometimes, admittedly it might only be a little nibble. Ill leave you to decide how hungry you want them to be…
1 Get snorkelling and feed fish out of your hands
Ok, let’s face it. Snorkeling and deep sea diving are more fun in some places than others. We gained our PADI certificates in the shallow waters of Ko Phi Phi in Thailand and looked for Nemo with the kids in the deep waters surrounding Cebu in The Philippines. In both cases it was a tropical wonderland. Snorkeling in The Philippines was like floating in shafts of sunlight; the water was clear and that shade of aqua blue you imagine only exists in films. We booked a day’s snorkelling with Islands Banca Cruises. Paragliders drifted overhead as we sailed off on a traditional Filipino outrigger. We hand fed several different species of fish on the marine reserves of Nalasuan and Gilutungan and amidst the coral and the rainbow swirl we found Nemo.
If you fancy bathing in Filipino waters but want to step it up a little adrenaline wise, you can chase dolphins at dawn just off Pamilacan Island from boats that whale fishermen once hunted with. Or you can swim with whale sharks; the most popular tourist hub is Oslob on Cebu. The whale sharks roam free and are human friendly, but if you prefer the thrill of Jaws then maybe you could go for a caged experience in South Africa instead. (You are caged not the sharks!) Check out travel photographer Gary Arndt’s exciting experience of diving with Great White Sharks in South Africa’s Shark Alley.
2 Go horse trekking
Any post on animal experiences and wildlife days for families has to involve trekking. Because kids and horses go together. They will have no problem finding their rhythm; it’ll more likely be you making yourself and the horses nervous. But then, if you find the right provider, you’ll settle in to it really quickly too. Sometimes this can come by accident. On our honeymoon cycling adventure when we needed to get across the Andes quickly, we put an advert out on a local radio station and a man came forward with a set of horses. Both man and horses were endlessly patient with our lack of skills and our bicycles digging into their backs.
On another horse encounter in Iceland, the staff and animals at Laxnes Farm got the kids mounted straight away and that was the last I saw of them until Hannah trotted home last a couple of hours later.
If you are in the mountains in winter you should also try ski joering. In this case you don’t mount the horse but are towed around after it on the snow. It’s tricky to master but a peaceful and pleasurable experience.
3 Go slow with donkeys
Taking it down a notch, it’s impossible not to fall in love with donkeys isn’t it? Visiting Rucs Del Corredor Donkey Sanctuary was one of the most relaxing days of our travels in Costa Barcelona. The experience was all about gentle petting, learning about the locals and slow travel -a trek takes ages and no one so much as breaks into a trot. By the end of a morning here you’ll feel like you’ve just read three books on mindfulness.
4 Pet kitty at a cat cafe
I hesitated before adding this to the list. Personally I hated my cat cafe experience. But if you have children who are pet starved, mad on Hello Kitty or just like cute furry things then you might have a better time. We stumbled across our cat cafe in Azumino City near Tokyo on a visit to Japan. We were given two menus- one food and one animal related followed by an hour of petting and playing. It was late in the afternoon which might explain the grumpy mood of the cats. Quite frankly they did not want to be there and kept trying to escape into the back room. There wasn’t much in the way of atmosphere either; we drank coffee out of polystyrene cups with straws and were herded in and out on the dot of our allotted hour. I will leave you to make up your own mind abut them if you choose to visit – there are lots worldwide, including European cities like London.
5 Have a woodland ambush
This one is only stressful to humans! It appears boys take catapults very seriously and I was in the firing line. On our woodland ambush adventure we split up and hid in the woods and tried to outdo each other. You can go the whole hog and get the costumes and bug hunt kits or you can just improvise. Bring binoculars – we were on the lookout for grey squirrels and took a book to identify birds. But mostly we just fired catapults.
6 Stay at a nature resort
“This is your first time in The Philippines.” said one hotel receptionist in the first few seconds of meeting us on our tour of two Philippines islands. When I asked her how she knew she pointed out we were all wearing boots. The rest of the country wears flip flops. At Loboc River on Bohol we spent an evening in bare feet, drifting along, watching nature on a boat heading to a waterfall. When we arrived a community choir were waiting on a floating platform to sing and dance for our pleasure. Later on we took canoes out and watched fireflies dance. But the best part of staying at the resort was watching the six resident Macaus being fed on their own island. We observed them from the opposite bank as they came swinging through the trees, lifting bananas and throwing playful punches. In this simple but charming riverside resort we also had the option of riding a carabao water buffalo. Not often you get to do that?
8 Seek out shy tree dwellers
Staying with primates in The Philippines, one of the most special experiences of our trip was an encounter with tarsiers. Tarsiers are one of the world’s oldest primates and can be found in four parts of the country. Their eyes are like frisbees and are apparently bigger than their brains, while their heads can revolve almost 360 degrees. They are dozy and shy. And they reminded me of Dobbie. Once hunted for use as domestic pets, they are now a protected species; thanks partly to our guide Carlito Pizarras, who begged his hunter father to halt the trade when he was a boy. We peered into the trees to try and find them with our guide stopping to listen and sniff as we made our way around the enclosure.
If you like spotting things in trees then butterfly sanctuaries are also worth a look. We visited Jumalon on Cebu and Habitat on Bohol where guides educated us on their life cycle and the variety of species. Hannah found herself wearing a butterfly in her hair. At Bohol’s eco tourism attraction, the Chocolate Hills Adventure Park (CHAP) we met forest animals native to The Philippines. We were offered the chance to hold a python We declined.
9 Take an eco tour
If you have a decent budget and a thirst for seeing wildlife where it belongs and learning about conservation, you could look at booking an eco tour for your family. We did a week with Green Turtle Tours on the pacific island of Western Samoa. It was a crazy adventure meeting rescue turtles, eating food straight from the ground, sleeping in fales in small villages and hanging out with wildlife Expert Steve. On our first morning he managed to pack in sea kayaking and a visit to a mangrove swamp with two toddlers, where we went looking for presents left by Santa on the trees.
10 Fly past gators
Florida is the place to see alligators. They hang out in parks and golf courses, live in wildlife theme parks and float around freshwater lakes. The Everglades are the best place to start. This World Heritage Site is the largest subtropical wilderness in the USA and you can often spy reptiles from the walking trails. You can also take an air boat ride or paddle a kayak on the Tamiami Trail. The best time to see them is apparently evening in winter. According to Visit Florida there are 1.3 million all over the state so it shouldn’t be difficult to spot one. Gators were once almost extinct until conservationists turned that around and gave their story a happy ending. Read Visit Florida’s post about where you can see alligators in Florida here.
If you don’t mind visiting animals in captivity (these days I wouldn’t do it myself) you’ll probably like Gatorland near Orlando. You can zip wire over a selection of lakes writhing with alligators. If the sign below doesn’t put you off!