Why simply admire wild animals from afar when you can get as close to them as your own pets? Here are some unique and unforgettable ways to experience that special bond.
Splash with Dolphins
Swimming with dolphins — Photo courtesy of Dolphin Discovery
Water sports are so much more fun when you have a couple of experts taking you for a ride. Dolphin Discovery in Puerto Vallarta offers a rare opportunity to get in the pool with these gorgeous mammals and let them show you their stuff. They’ll happily give you a high five and a smooch but they’ve also got quite a sense of humor and will just keep swimming gracefully after they face plant you in the water.
Love a Leopard
Can you spot the one having more fun? — Photo courtesy of Lois Alter Mark
You can visit Harnas Wildlife Foundation in Namibia as a tourist but if you go as a volunteer (there’s a minimum two week commitment), you get to live with a wide variety of wildlife and take part in the animals’ everyday lives. Be amazed as you find yourself doing everything from feeding meerkats to accompanying orphaned baboons on bush walks to rubbing a young leopard’s belly. Admire the lions from the other side of the fence, and fall asleep to their chill-inducing roars.
Play with Elephants
Trunks of love — Photo courtesy of Lois Alter Mark
You haven’t understood true joy until you’ve been tickled by an elephant. Doug and Sandi Groves adopted Jabu, Thembi and Morula more than two decades ago after rescuing them from culling operations that left them orphaned. They created the Living With Elephants foundation, raising awareness and funds for their charges by inviting guests to interact and picnic with the trio in their natural habit in Botswana’s Okavango Delta. This is a fun, humbling and surprisingly spiritual experience which should top your bucket list.
Dive with Sea Turtles
Diving at the Aquarium of the Pacific — Photo courtesy of Lois Alter Mark
Imagine experiencing an aquarium on the other side of the glass. Through the Dive Immersion program, you become part of a popular exhibit by literally diving into the largest tank at the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach, California. If you're a certified diver, you can join more than 1,000 fish in the warm water of the 350,000 gallon Tropical Reef Habitat, where you're provided with a camera to capture this once-in-a-lifetime experience. Selfie with a sea turtle, anyone?
Hang Out with a Cheetah
A cheetah steals a kiss — Photo courtesy of Lois Alter Mark
Stay at The Elephant Camp in Victoria Falls so you can spend time with Sylvester, their wildest and most-famous resident. The Cheetah Ambassador for the Victoria Falls Wildlife Trust, Sylvester is often seen with an entourage of caretakers and fans, and joining them on their daily walks through the gorgeous African landscape, where Sylvester is free to be himself, is a highlight of any trip. If you’re especially lucky, you may even get a kiss.
Walk with Lions
Walking in line with lions — Photo courtesy of Lois Alter Mark
While in Zimbabwe, don’t miss the chance to meet the future kings of the jungle at Wild Horizons' Lion Encounter. Walk with the adorable cubs and try to keep up with them as they run around like toddlers, wrestling with each other and curiously exploring the wondrous world around them.
Hug a Koala
A hug from Down Under — Photo courtesy of Lois Alter Mark
WILD LIFE Hamilton Island is one of the few places in the world where you can actually hold a koala. Oprah and Gayle did it when they visited Australia, and you should follow their lead. Cuddling the koalas is a truly amazing experience, and you may never want to let go. Their cuteness factor is off the charts.
Mush with a Husky
Dogsledding in Norway — Photo courtesy of Lois Alter Mark
Get ready for your own private Iditarod. Arctic Adventures gives you a dog's-eye view of Tromso, Norway, as your team of huskies chases the Northern Lights, leading you through a winter wonderland. The temperature may be frigid but, as you get to know and appreciate the dogs' individual personalities, your heart will be melting.
Feed a Giraffe
Feeding giraffes at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park — Photo courtesy of Lois Alter Mark
Book a seat on the Caravan Safari at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park and be prepared to smile. When those 14 foot giraffes amble over to your truck, you'll gladly stick your neck out to make their wishes come true. Luckily, that's easy to do, thanks to a supply of leaves that you feed them, only to be rewarded with a bow of their beautiful little heads–and maybe a little drool.
Swim with Sharks
Swimming with sharks — Photo courtesy of Xcaret Park
Cue the music from Jaws! Face your fears and jump into the water at Xcaret Park Cancun, where you’ll get up close and personal with nurse sharks. These marine creatures will astound you, as will the fact that you're actually swimming right next to them.