ARK & TENT frequently updates this geographically categorized list of tour companies, organizations, environmentally-friendly lodges, indigenous organizations, and individual tour guides to help you plan your next animal-interactive trip.
If there's a company, facility or individual you'd like to see listed here, feel free to send us the information at: firstname.lastname@example.org
you're longing to really get away from it all, but don't have the
inclination, time or funds to travel to some far-flung corner of the
globe to fulfill that desire; what are your options?
50 miles from Port Hardy, BC is a floating lodge that offers
outstanding opportunities to view wildlife in its natural surroundings,
while still enjoying the "creature comforts" of a decked-out retreat. Great Bear Lodge has
five bedrooms, a comfortable common area, and hot showers in the
downstairs part of the building. In keeping with their commitment to
offer a low-impact ecotourism option, the owners of the lodge have
tapped into wind and solar power, and offer "wilderness-gourmet" meals
that use local and (when available) organic ingredients. Wildlife
viewing includes more birds than you can imagine, mammals from the
grizzly to seals, otters and sea lions, deer, mink and mountain lions,
and members of the amphibian and reptile family as well. Two
bear-viewing sessions are scheduled each day at the lodge, with the
specific viewing needs of photographers kept in mind. Designed by Great
Bear River Tours' owner Tom Rivest (a professional guide and wildlife
biologist), the sessions are also sometimes held from a boat, when the
bears move from the river into the estuary. (www.greatbeartours.com)
Lest you think Santa Rosa, California is all about vineyards and viticulture, think again: the Safari West Wildlife Preserve and African Tent Camp offers visitors the chance to interact with over 400 exotic mammals and birds in the heart of California’s wine country. Founded in 1989 by Peter Lang, it is one of only six private facilities in North America that belong to the prestigious American Zoo and Aquarium Association. Some of the more noteworthy efforts undertaken by Safari West are the propagation of endangered species, such as the Saharan Desert Antelope, which is currently extinct in the wild.
Home to over 80 species of animals including cheetahs, giraffes, cape buffalo and zebras, the facility is not a drive-through park but you can take guided tours through the estate. Additionally, overnight lodging is available in either “luxury” safari tents or cottage-style accommodations. Lunch or dinner can be enjoyed at the Savannah Cafe, or quick bites are served up in Delilah’s cafe. (www.safariwest.com)
It might be hard to imagine having an “eco-experience” 15 minutes form downtown Fort Lauderdale, but a quick trip to the Seminole Okalee Indian Village will set that notion to rest. Owned and operated by the Seminole Tribe of Florida, the attraction is a replica of an 1800s Seminole village that enables visitors to learn about the tribe’s way of life, as well as providing an opportunity to see some of Florida’s native animals (alligators, panther, birds) and introduced species.
If you want to extend your visit to the area, consider spending the night in one of the rustic cabins in the camping village located at the Billie Swamp Safari - also owned and operated by the Seminole tribe. The native-style dwellings, called chickees, have no electricity or running water, so there will be a bit of “roughing it.” Overnight guests need to bring towels and shower items, and mosquito repellent wouldn’t be a bad idea either. (www.semtribe.com; www.swampsafari.net)
Mexico's tourism industry has taken a pretty hard beating of late, but the area in and around Puerto Vallarta has remained quiet and relatively off the radar. In a small pueblo named San Pancho, 30 miles north of Puerto Vallarta, you'll find the Hotel Cielo Rojo. The hotel's onsite Bistro Organico features Mexican food crafted from organic produce, and arrangements can be made for horseback rides on nearby beaches, or day trips to the bird sanctuary at Isla Marietta. Nearby, you'll find the surrounding jungles are home to iguanas, mongoose, armadillos and the occasional jaguar. (www.hotelcielorojo.com)
Rancho Margot, located in the Lake Arenal area of Costa Rica, might be considered an "off the beaten track" kind of place but for the multitude of activities that are available to visitors. Nestled on a 400-acre spread on the shores of Lake Arenal, the family-friendly ranch caters to those seeking a respite from the hustle-and-bustle of other Costa Rican areas. Located just 15 km. from the Monteverde Biological Reserver, Rancho Margot was set up with the deliberate intent of creating a facility that's entirely self-sustaining. Additionally, the Sostheim Family (owners of the ranch) have entered into an agreement with the Monteverde Conservation League to create the Rancho Margot Ranger Station inside the Children's Eternal Rain Forest.
Visitors to the ranch are able to take horseback rides (both day and night rides are available) around Lake Arenal, where birds such as king fishers, toucans and fly-catchers can be seen. Trail rides also include visits to either the serpentarium or the butterfly gardens in El Castillo. Meals are prepared onsite using organic fruits and vegetables from the ranch's gardens. (www.ranchomargot.org)
Executive director Douglas McMeekin of the Yachana Lodge and the nonprofit Yachana Foundation states the merits of his adopted home this way: "I'm from Kentucky, came to Ecuador to visit friends and fell in love with the country. It's the Switzerland of South America, it's accessible and boasts four distinct regions. It also has one of the highest levels of biodiversity of any nation." The Yachana Lodge sits near 4,000-plus acres of protected rain forest and welcomes visitors year-round. One visitor to the lodge describes his experience this way: "Located just above the Napo River and 2 1/2 hours by canoe east of Coca, the lodge provides an authentic Amazon rain forest experience. Nature hikes were absolutely fantastic." Visit their extensive website to find out more about the National Geographic award-winning lodge. (www.yachana.com)
Manu Wildlife Center is a small ecolodge on the banks of the twisty Madre de Dios River in the remote Amazon jungle. The 17-cabin, non-profit Wildlife Center is surrounded by a large, private reserve of old growth forest – a powerhouse of biological megadiversity found no where else on Earth.
More than 30 miles of forest trails branch out from the main lodge. Manu is a place for extreme nature lovers and especially for birders. With over 800 species of birds including endangered macaws, hoatzins and parrots, 200 species of mammals such as monkeys, tapirs, caiman, and 2000 species of plants, Manu deserves its status as a Biosphere Reserve.
The comfortable cabins have running water, hot showers and toilet. A generator runs several hours each day but otherwise the Wildlife Center is a power-free zone. Meals include many Peruvian dishes.
The best time to visit Manu is May through October. Even in the dry season, the jungle is hot, humid and buggy. Bring plenty of insect repellent with DEET, and pack your suitcase with quick-drying, long-sleeved shirts and pants. You’ll be sweat soaked, but you’ll love every minute of the experience. (www.manu-wildlife-center.com)
On the N4 road outside of Dublin, en route to County Sligo, is where you'll find the Ballyaghboy Lodge Farm. Owned and operated by Karen and Eddie Litton, the family-run farm is a culmination of the couple's dream to protect the environment and provide comfortable lodgings for their guests. Geo-thermal heating provides a sustainable energy source, and the farmhouse is constructed of recycled materials and products. As part of their efforts, they've planted over 15,000 broadleaf trees to attract wildlife, and have simultaneously adopted dogs and cats from a local animal shelter, as well as given refuge to a host of abandoned farm animals. (www.ballaghboylodgefarm.com)
If breathtaking scenery and one-of-a-kind opportunities to interact with some of India's endangered snow leopards are what you crave, consider booking an Ecotour Excursion in Ladakh. Located in northern India, Ladakh is home to the Hemis High Altitude National Park, which spans an impressive 3,350 square kilometers. Travelers who go through the Ecotour Excursion will participate in a 16-day expedition through the Himalayas with Dr. Raghu Chundawat. Visitors will have the chance to view wild snow leopards, while at the same time utilizing locally-owned and operated lodges, goods and services - which employ local people. More information, including excursion dates, can be found by calling 1-877-GOEXPLORE toll free.
Travelers who want more freedom in designing their individual travel adventures to Ladakh have 16 homesteads to choose from via Himalayan Homestays. This option may be less expensive as most homesteads charge about 400 rupees per night (roughly $4 U.S). However, extra activities including guided nature walks, mountain treks, river rafting, and snow leopard safari sighting tours (in winter) come at an additional cost. (www.himalayan-homestays.com)
KarmaQuest Ecotourism and Adventure Travel offers a 16-day trip that boasts remarkable success at seeing snow leopards on every trip. Coordinated in collaboration with the Snow Leopard Conservancy, KarmaQuest's trip takes place in November when the chances of spotting the elusive cat are most favorable. In addition to the wildlife-viewing trek, the trip introduces participants to the Ladakhi lifestyle via an overnight homestay in the village of Rumbak. This is an active trip with an emphasis on trekking. (www.karmaquests.com/winterquest2010.htm)
Biosphere Expeditions (an Official Partner of the United Nations) is offering animal-lovers the chance to participate in a study to help determine flatback turtle nesting numbers in an effort to determine how far they're dispersed along the seashore of western Australia. The study will take place along "one of the most strikingly beautiful stretches of coastline in the world" - which is approximately 80 miles south of Broome. Because these particular reptiles are listed as "Data Deficient" by the IUCN Red List, they figures that are gathered and correlated will help fill in missing gaps in information. The projects run between November 8-15, 2010 and from November 15-22, 2010. (www.biosphere-expeditions.org/1-week-projects/voluntourism-with-turtles-in-western-aust.html)
In a country that's had more than 90% of its reefs damaged by cyanide poisoning, agricultural runoff and dynamite fishing practices, it's all the more important to patronize areas like the Tubbataha Reef National Marine Park, among the region's most bio-diverse marine ecosystem. Club Noah Isabelle, on the island of Apulit in Taytay, northeastern Palawan, is a model of responsible development, maintaining a "Do Not Disturb" policy that prohibits the collection and removal of shells and corals from their natural environment. The resort has 50 cabanas that are situated over the water, connected to land by short walkways. Local fish use the shallow water as nurseries, and each cabana has its own balcony where you can sit back and commune with nature - while simultaneously leaving it undisturbed. (www.clubnoah.info)