My Top 5 Animal Encounters

I was asked by travel clothing company SCOTTEVEST/ SeV to write an article for their weekly Pocket Guide newsletter. I am happy to announce that this post will be featured there!
a man and woman standing in front of a giraffe
My wife and I are both animal lovers, so when traveling we always look for opportunities to see wildlife in their natural habitat.  I’ve had many amazing experiences and thought creating a Top 5 list would be a lot of fun!
Here are some of my favorite animal experiences from around the world.

#5 The Giraffe Center– Nairobi, Kenya

a man licking a giraffe
Our First Kiss
I’ve read about and seen Giraffe Manor on television a few times. When I booked my trip to Kenya, I was really hoping to visit. (The Giraffe Manor is a hotel with beautiful grounds. While eating meals, the Giraffes might pop their heads through the windows to join you.)

I looked into visiting but it was not in the budget. However, I saw that there was another option- The Giraffe Center. The center offers great, close-up interactions, an open feeding platform where you could check out the giraffes at their eye level and is the only place that I know where you get the chance to kiss a giraffe!

Find out more about The Giraffe Center HERE
#4 Snorkeling with Turtles– Folkestone Marine Reserve, Barbados
a turtle swimming in blue water
On our recent trip to Barbados I really wanted to go snorkeling with the giant sea turtles.  I didn’t expect to get to go since we were traveling with a newborn.We were told that children must be at least 2 years old to go out on these trips. I gave up hope but then when we visited the Folkestone Marine Reserve we were approached by a friendly guy asking if we were interested in seeing the turtles. Hope was renewed- my wife and I could take turns snorkeling while the other watched the baby.
a man swimming with turtles in the water
We decided to give it a shot and had a glass bottom boat all to ourselves. There were lots of turtles in the water, which was crystal clear and made for amazing viewing. The turtles were all different sizes, some pretty huge and they came swimming right up to us.
#3 Elephant Nature Park– Chiang Mai province, Thailand
a man and woman touching elephants
While researching things to do on a trip to Thailand, I came across the Elephant Nature Park.
The park is a sanctuary and rescue center for elephants. It also runs programs to educate people about the issues Asian elephants face. The trip was an incredible experience.
We started the day stopping to pick up fruit for the elephants at a local market. After the drive through the countryside we arrived at the park and had the opportunity to feed elephants of all ages and sizes from a viewing platform. I kept going back to feed the babies which were so cute. We also heard the stories of many of the rescued elephants and also learned about the problems they face in Asia. It was great to see them in such a giving and caring place.
a group of people washing an elephant
After lunch, we had a chance to bathe the elephants in the river. They gave us some safety instructions and then we were off to scrub away.
Never in my wildest dreams would I imagine that I’d be scrubbing the back of an elephant. I hope that I didn’t forget to wash behind their ears!
Find out about Elephant Nature Park HERE
#2 Swimming & Snorkeling with Manatees– Crystal River, Florida
a manatee swimming in the water
While reading Nat Geo Adventure Magazine, I came across an article about kayaking with manatees in Florida. I did a little research online and found out that you could also swim with them! In fact, Crystal River is the only place in the world where it is legal to do so.
We ended up spending two days in the area- day one we got to swim and snorkel with the manatees, on day two we did a kayaking trip.
a group of sea lions swimming in water
While kayaking was fun, the snorkeling was amazing! The manatees were very friendly and curious. Once I entered the water, this friendly manatee swam right over to me. At first you wonder if this is a smart thing to be doing- manatees weight around 1,000 pounds. However, they are harmless and the simplest splash can startle them and cause them to swim away.
If you are interested in swimming & kayaking with manatees, find out more HERE.
#1 Trekking With Mountain Gorillas– Bwindie Impenetrable Forest, Uganda
a gorilla sitting in the jungle
This isn’t just my #1 animal experience, it might be one of the most memorable travel experiences I’ve ever had! Trekking with mountain gorillas is a unique experience which can only be done in 3 countries in the world. It’s estimated that there are less than 800 left and I got to see about 15 of them!
a gorilla lying on its back in the woods
This is an extremely expensive experience- permits cost around $500 for a chance to visit the gorillas. My wife and I both thought it was well worth it. The money keeps out the masses and also goes towards helping to protect the gorilla’s habitat.
I’ll never forget my first glimpse of the silverback as he came out of the bushes followed by the rest of his family.  They came very close to us and went about their business- eating, playing, napping and just enjoying life.
Top Two Animal Encounters I’d Love To Do:
  1. Visit the Giant Pandas in Chengdu, China
  2. Trip to the Galapagos Islands, Ecuador (I get really bad sea sickness so when the time comes I will do a land based trip)

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