5. Similan Islands, Thailand
[Also see our travel article “Liveaboard Scuba Diving Experience in the Similan Islands“]
This archipelago of nine islands is known as one of the top diving destinations in the world. Whether diving or snorkeling, it’s possible to see spectacular coral reefs, schools of tropical fish, manta rays and sea turtles during the short November-April open season. Mu Ko Similan National Park allows visitors the pleasure of seeing air, land and sea-based wildlife, from birds and sixteen species of bats, to vipers, pythons and lizards, to much friendlier bottlenose dolphins.
4. Calauit Wildlife Sanctuary, The Philippines
[Also see our travel article “Travel Guide to Busuanga and its Wreck Diving“]
Going on an African safari can, in fact, be done on a friendlier budget and possibly closer to home at the Calauit Wildlife Sanctuary, an island off the coast of Busuanga in the Philippines. Established in 1976, the sanctuary took in 104 animals, including zebras, gazelles, giraffes and impalas that were at risk of drought and being affected by war in their native Kenya. The animal population has grown nearly five-fold since its inception. The sanctuary has also been beneficial for local wildlife. Calamian deer, once on the edge of extinction, are now flourishing, and the protected coral reefs have mostly recovered from damaging fishing practices.
3. Danum Valley Conservation Area, Sabah, Malaysia
[Also see our travel article “Exploring the Islands of Malaysia“]
Spread over nearly 440 square kilometers in lowland rainforest, Danum Valley was unoccupied by humans when it opened. Once in the valley, visitors can take guided walks and drives and nighttime safaris to try and spot the Borneo pygmy elephant, Sumatran rhino, Malay sun bear and more. During durian season, the chances of seeing orangutans increase. The real treat here, however, is the birdwatching, as it’s the only place where the spectacled flowerpecker has been spotted.
2. Bonin Islands, Japan
[Also see our travel article “Ten Incredible Destinations Off the Beaten Path“]
The Bonin Islands (known as the Ogasawara Islands in Japan) have the distinction of being the most isolated destination on this list, as the only way to get there is by a 25-hour ferry from Tokyo. It’s totally worth it, though, as visitors have an astounding 90% chance of seeing humpback whales from February-April. Visitors can also see sperm whales in the summer and fall, and dolphins all year around. The islands are also unusual in that they were never connected to the Japanese mainland or any other continent, and therefore are home to crabs, insects and birds not found anywhere else in the world.
1. Gunung Leuser National Park, Indonesia
This national park is home to over 500 species of animals, including nearly 200 types of mammals. Sumatran tigers and flying lemurs, along with clouded leopards, flying frogs and sambar deer are just a sampling of one of the most diverse animal populations in Indonesia. Gunung Leuser also includes a rehabilitation house for orangutans. Situated in the near-pristine Bukit Barisan Mountains, the park’s altitude shoots from zero to 3,381 meters, with the Alas River cutting the park in half.