Why do you travel? For many, the reason for travelling is the opportunity to be immersed in a new culture, see new sights, or simply experience a different way of life. While these are all great reasons to book a holiday, animal lovers you might have another to add to that list: the chance to interact with the local wildlife.
Every corner of the world offers their own array of wildlife, but there are some places that have become known for a particular species of animal. Whether by chance or with the help of humans, these destinations offer the perfect ecosystem for a particular species to not only live, but thrive. So if your dream vacation involves some serious one-on-one time with your favourite animal, these destinations should be at the top of your list.
Exuma Islands, Bahamas
Pigs may not seem like particularly buoyant creatures, but don’t tell that to the wild pigs of the Exuma Islands in the Bahamas. No one knows how these pigs came to call the uninhabited island of Big Major Cay their home, but visitors and locals alike are certainly happy they did. While still feral, these wild pigs are extremely friendly, happy to swim up to approaching boats in hopes of a tasty treat. Visitors can’t spend the night on Big Major Cay, but there are numerous places to stay on the other nearby islands that make up the Exumas, all of which are just a short boat ride away.
Ōkunoshima, Takehara, Hiroshima Prefecture, Japan
Does the thought of being surrounded by hundreds of fluffy bunnies make you want to squeal with happiness? Then Ōkunoshima Island is the place for you. After WWII, this small Japanese island was converted into a nature park where visitors can camp, hike, golf, and enjoy time outdoors. Rabbits were intentionally let loose in the park when it first opened and since then their population has, unsurprisingly, boomed. If you want to re-create the videos and picture of you’ve seen of visitors being smothered by bunnies, food can be purchased at the visitors centre or you can bring it yourself. Whether you want to get right in the middle of a bunny feeding or admire their fluffiness from a distance, a visit to Ōkunoshima Island makes for a perfect day trip from the nearby city of Mihara which is conveniently accessible by train.
Assateague Island, Virginia, USA
Did you grow up reading the novel Misty of Chincoteague? You’ll be happy to know that Assateague Island is, in fact, a real place and yes, there are wild horses. Assateague Island is home to the Chincoteague Pony, also know as the Assateague horse, made famous by the book Misty of Chincoteague. There is much debate about how the breed first came to live on the island, but the two main theories are that they were brought by pirates or are descendants of shipwrecked Spanish horses. Regardless of how they arrived, it’s important to remember that these horses have remained untamed since that time. For the safety of both the visitors and the horses, animal-human contact is prohibited, but that doesn’t mean you can’t admire them from afar. Visitors interested in seeing these beautiful creatures in their natural environment often stay in the neighbouring island of Chincoteague, for which the horses were named.
Aoshima, Ozu, Ehime Prefecture, Japan
Calling all cat lovers! Aoshima, also known as Cat Island, is a small island in Japan where the feline residents outnumber the human ones 6:1. This may sound like an insane number, but it becomes slightly more manageable when you keep in mind that there are only about 15 human residents on the island. Originally brought to the island to deal with the mice that plagued fishermen’s boats, the cats of Aoshima enjoyed their new island life so much they decided to make themselves at home. Since they were first introduced, the cat population on the island has multiplied, with current numbers of felines in the hundreds. As there is no accommodation on the island itself, most travellers choose to visit this 1.6km (1 mile) long island as a day trip from the nearby Matsuyama.
Kaikōura, Canterbury, New Zealand
The little town of Kaikōura has a secret: their unique combination of ocean currents, mountain ranges, and tectonic plate movement creates a rich marine environment for a wide array of seals, dolphins, whales. Most notable among this wildlife are Kekenos (New Zealand fur seal), dusky dolphins, and sperm whales. For serious dolphin and whale watchers, there is no better place than Kaikōura, as both species can be seen swimming close to shore year-round, offering the perfect opportunity to get up close and personal with these beautiful creatures.