© Craig Brady
Nature deficit disorder is all too prevalent in modern life and the cost of alienating ourselves from the natural world may not yet be known. Connecting with nature is life affirming, invigorating and revitalising. It is something that we should do in the countryside that surrounds us where we live but also when we travel further afield. We need to take advantage of the experience of being immersed in the natural world.
If you want the ultimate thrill then the diverse wildlife of South America has to be pre-eminent. African aficionados and snow leopard snobs might argue otherwise but, for a moment, consider the following wildlife encounters:
© Craig Brady
Seeing a puma in the wild is a breathless experience both literally and metaphorically. The project at Eco Camp Patagonia in Chile is one of the best places to do this. It is located within Torres Del Paine National Park, with fantastic views of the majestic towers of the Paine Massif. The camp is designed without permanent impact on the surrounding landscape, providing a unique and comfortable close-to-nature experience. Spend your time exploring in and around the Park’s snow-capped granite mountains, lakes and glaciers. Home to an estimated 50-100 Andean pumas, this is the ultimate trip if you are interested in photography, mountain scenery and wildlife.
11 days Puma Tracking group tour in the Torres del Paine National Park $5,865 pp, excluding flights.
Seeing a jaguar is a visceral experience that makes your stomach somersault, your heart pump and the adrenaline fizz around your body.
The best places to see jaguars are in Brazil and in particular Uakari Lodge in the Amazon and Caimain Lodge in the southern Pantanal.
Caiman Ecological Refuge, situated on 53,000 hectares in the southern Pantanal, runs a conservation programme, including successful projects focusing on jaguars, hyacinth macaws and blue-fronted parrot. Onçafari Jaguar Project is the newest conservation project and unique to South America. Between June and October it offers the opportunity to track wild jaguars in safari-style jeeps. The jaguars have been habituated which allows their fascinating behaviour to be witnessed. Ecotourism is being used as an key conservation tool, providing an important source of income for landowners and local communities.
4 days at Caiman Lodge from $2,120 pp including a day with the Oncafari jaguar team excluding flights.
The Uakari Lodge is a community-run floating lodge in the Mamiraua Reserve, the largest area of flooded Amazonian forest. Reachable by a one-and-a-half-hour boat ride from the town of Tefe, which is just a one-hour flight from Manaus. The lodge has 10 bedrooms spread across the floating structures which rise by up to 12 metres during the wet season. Each of the thatched rooms has its own terrace with views of the surrounding forest for an immersive experience. Each year, during May and June when the area is flooded and the jaguars are sleeping and hunting from the tree tops, you can join a select number of people to travel by boat to see these cats and their unique behaviour. Spend time with the jaguar researchers and see their work first hand. Proceeds from this expedition fund scientific research as well as an educational programme, Jaguar School. The School teaches science and environmental conservation to children in the communities of the reserve and is essential to the reduction of hunting and conflicts between jaguars and the local communities.
5 day Jaguar Expedition with researchers from $3,065 pp excluding flights.rchers from £2,595 pp excluding flights.
Eagerness and anticipation will fill your every waking moment in the Galapagos. Wildlife here will make your heart sing.
Exquisitely colourful decorated faces of the red-footed boobies will remind you of the make-up of the Chinese Opera. Charming courtship rituals of the blue-footed boobie could be straight out of the ministry of silly walks. The purposeful and ponderous gait of the giant tortoises contrast with the torpedo-like diving of penguins. The soft, dewy-eyed demeanour of the newly born pup seals will hypnotise as much as the haughty standoffish stance of the marine iguanas will make you smile. All these go to create a visual feast and a wildlife experience that is hard to beat.
Don’t overlook the most common of mammals either. Go snorkelling and see the sea lions wheeling, twisting, turning and somersaulting effortlessly around you. Blow bubbles and see what happens? The essence of the Galapagos is while you may come away with some fantastic photographs it is impossible to capture the inimitable charm of the islands without experiencing them first-hand. There is simply nothing else like them in the world as Charles Darwin said on his discovery…“The natural history of this archipelago is very remarkable: it seems to be a little world within itself; the greater number of its inhabitants, both vegetable and animal, being found nowhere else.”
9 day holiday to the Galapagos from $4,840 pp excluding flights.
Costa Rica is re-energising if only for its forwardthinking government, the fact that it disbanded its army and has dedicated around a quarter of the country to national parks. The people of Costa Rica take their responsibility for protecting the environment very seriously – such a view is both refreshing and enlightening.
Lush green vegetation, birds of all sizes and colours, fabulous butterflies, active volcanoes and exciting wildlife, Costa Rica is one of the most biodiverse countries on the planet. Hatchling turtles scampering wildly from sand to surf will pluck at your heart strings. Zip-lining through the forest canopy will get your heart beating faster and rafting into your luxury lodge for the night will keep the adrenaline flowing.
Take aerial trams up volcanoes, hike to waterfalls, swim under waterfalls, take night hikes, stroll along forest canopy walkways, kayak through coastal mangrove forests, ride horses, mountain bike, do canyoning and river tubing. Costa Rica will recharge your soul.
13 day tailor made wildlife holiday to Costa Rica from $4,865 pp excluding flights.
© Rita Daubeney
Without doubt Baja California is the best place on our Blue Planet to see the greatest of mammals, the whales. Many of these wonderful species can be found here: grey, blue, fin, humpback, sperm, Bryde’s and pilot whales as well as other marine wildlife like dolphins, sea lions, elephant seals and fur seals. More than anything, time spent in Baja and the Sea of Cortez is incredibly fun, surprising and spectacular.
“Remembering even now, my spine tingles at the thought of seeing 2,000 to 3,000 common dolphin along with 10 to 12 Brydes whales, all feeding in the same area on small bait fish. Brydes whales lunging through these large balls of baitfish, dolphins in the same area along with pelicans, frigates, gulls and a few boobies. There is so much going on, such frenetic activity in front, behind, to the left, to the right – all around us – that it is hard to decide where to look, difficult to take the immensity of the scene in.
After about two hours of observing we decided to leave and head for a tall spout in the distance and found it to be a blue whale. It was diving deep and down for several minutes so we continued on and the boys up top found another blue whale that turned out to be a cow and calf. The calf surfaced right next to us, we stopped and the calf, about 35 feet in length, came alongside us and went right under the bow. It circled us for about half an hour staying very close. It was incredible to have this happen, magical and exhilarating.” John Faithfull
13 days whale watching from $5,245 pp excluding flights.
Departing 22 Jan 2018.