Gers, Mongolia

Best Wildlife Holidays to Remote Places for 2021/22

Dominic CouzensBy Dominic Couzens
16th November 2020

Dominic is a Naturetrek tour leader and one of Britain's
best known and most prolific natural history writers.

The chances are that just about everyone reading this will be desperate to travel soon, to book an escape far away from our current circumstances as soon as possible. But where should we venture? For many, the preference may be to visit some of the earth’s wildest corners, perhaps places with low human populations, their remote locations isolating them from the rest of the world. So where are these wild refuges where we can seek wildlife with a freedom that we’ve almost forgotten about? Here are 16 of our favourites to book for 2021/22.

Mongolia must be the ultimate place to get away from it all. Much of the country is seriously off the beaten track, and it doesn’t take too long to get into landscapes where you literally cannot see another human, even on the far horizon. And while you are there, how about looking for one of the world’s most exciting animals, the near-mythical Snow Leopard? A few days in the Altai Mountains gives you a chance, and the holiday includes seeking out the Przewalski’s Horse, too – quite a double. Or how about a very different kind of trip in search of dinosaurs past and present? One of the world’s most famous dinos, Velociraptor, was originally described from Mongolia, although it is much smaller than the animal featured in the movie Jurassic Park, which was actually Deinonychus (the writers preferred the more dramatic name). Our fossil-hunting holiday allows you to make some genuine finds, as well as seeing some great modern dinosaurs – birds such as Pallas’s Sandgrouse and Henderson’s Ground-Jay.

Rock Formations, Mongolia

In lockdown, who hasn’t been tempted by the thought of drinks on the veranda of a luxury tropical lodge? And even better, why not be somewhere surrounded by so many birds that you barely have to move from the poolside to see many of them? If this was your lockdown dream, your eventual destination could well be The Gambia, in tropical West Africa. On our ‘The Gambia in Style’ tour you spend your time at the beautiful, secluded and private Mandina Lodges, within the 1,000-acre Makasutu Cultural Forest and a short distance from quiet, mangrove-lined stretches of the River Gambia. With short walks and gentle canoe trips, you can see a marvellous array of gorgeous colourful birds such as sunbirds, rollers, bee-eaters, kingfishers and turacos, all with the sun on your back. If ever there was a world away from the UK in winter, this is it!

Mandina Lodges, The Gambia

Once the challenging times of the pandemic ultimately subside, perhaps it will be time to finally treat yourself to the wildlife holiday you have always dreamed about? For a large number of wildlife enthusiasts, nothing can beat the charisma, uniqueness and downright strangeness of Madagascar, that isolated island where the trees (baobabs) look like they’ve been planted upside down, spiders build the world’s largest webs, moths grow the longest tongues and the cockroaches hiss. And a destination that even counts some of the world’s most exciting animals, the incomparable lemurs, some of which yodel, some run on two feet, and others have greatly elongated central fingers and pretend to be woodpeckers! One thing’s for sure. Nobody comes back from Madagascar without a renewed sense of wonder for the natural world.

Avenue of the Baobabs, Madagascar

For some people, nothing quite stirs the soul as much as mindboggling scenery, and while Ethiopia is a top-class wildlife destination, it is also a magnificent assault on the senses. It is a very ‘different’ Africa to the standard safari destination, with an extraordinary diverse landscape and stunning melting pot of history and culture. Despite its land borders, it also hosts a remarkably high number of birds and mammals that occur nowhere else on earth, such as the Gelada Baboon and Ethiopian Wolf, as well as endemic birds such as Thick-billed Raven and Wattled Ibis. From the bizarre alpine world of the Bale Mountains to the iconic Blue Nile and Coptic Monasteries, Ethiopia is a classic all-rounder’s destination.

Bale Mountains, Ethiopia

In our previous life, Ghana was one of the great up and coming wildlife destinations on the planet. Stable politically, and with a fine mix of habitats from tropical rainforest to game-rich savanna, there is no reason why it shouldn’t soon shoot back to the top of the list. Some of the wildlife treasures here are truly mindboggling: there is nowhere else in the world where you can pick off a unique bird-and-mammal double – a Yellow-headed Picathartes in Kakum National Park, and if you’re really lucky, a Long-tailed Pangolin in Ankasa Forest. Other iconic targets include Rosy Bee-eater, Egyptian Plover, Standard-winged Nightjar and African Bush Elephant.

Kakum National Park, Ghana

Sit back for a moment and imagine next summer. Where would you like to be? For the all-round naturalist, what could beat a place with stunning scenery, dripping with birds, alive with butterflies and sparkling with a wonderful array of special flowers, including orchids? If this takes your fancy, why not try Slovenia, a small central European country bordered by Austria, Croatia, Hungary and Italy? You can spend eight idyllic days taking walking trails around the flower-rich limestone karst surrounding Lake Cerknica, wander the forests that flank Mount Snežnik and revel in the rich scrubby meadows of the Pivka River system. You’ll see Barred Warblers and hear Quail, spend time decoding the fritillaries and blues and pore over the colourful charms of masses of wildflowers. Doesn’t that sound heavenly?

Lake Cerknica, Slovenia

The ancient villages in the rugged Palentian Mountains are today largely deserted, this wild region left for reclamation by Wolves, Brown Bears, Wild Boar, and numerous Chamois, Red Deer and Roe Deer, not to mention a host of smaller mammals. Our base for this week-long exploration of this wildlife haven is in one such village, where our guide Tino and his wife Rosa have sympathetically restored three terraced farm cottages. From these, we will explore the mountains with Tino, spending the majority of each day on foot, either walking from our base or accessing remote valleys by minibus or 4WD, before returning each evening to a hearty meal, freshy prepared by Rosa.

Palentian Mountains, Spain

What better way to experience true awe than in the wonderland of Lapland, with its deep pristine snow and dark nights illuminated regularly by the phenomenon known as the Northern Lights, or Aurora Borealis? This very unusual holiday brings out the thrilled child in you, with sledge rides pulled by huskies, trying out snowshoes, standing or sitting by roaring fires and even spending the night ‘glamping’. There is also a chance to see a few far northern birds such as Siberian Jay and Siberian Tit, but it’s the ethereal green display of the Northern Lights that is likely to provide that welcome moment of silent wonder.

Northern Lights, Lapland

There are crowds in Iceland, alright, but they aren’t the sort you want to avoid. They are crowds of Arctic Terns, and Puffins, and even ducklings, a world away from human density, with clean air and stark scenery. This tour goes to the least visited parts of the country, the east and south, where you can enjoy natural wonders such as icebergs (at Jokulsarlon Iceberg Lagoon), hot springs, huge tumbling waterfalls and bubbling mudpools, amidst a fabulous range of wildlife. Highlights should include Minke and Humpback Whales, Reindeer, Gyr Falcon and Europe’s finest duck nursey, Lake Myvatn, where Harlequin Ducks and Barrow’s Goldeneye are the specialities.

Godafoss, Iceland

If it’s clean air you want, it would certainly make sense to find yourself a colony of penguins; and if you fancy fresh – sometimes very fresh – air, then you can’t go wrong with albatrosses. And here, in Chile, there is plenty of all that, with the world’s only continental colony of King Penguins, plus Magellanic and Humboldt Penguins and Black-browed Albatrosses. The country boasts a lot more wildlife thrills, too, with the chance of Blue and Humpback Whales, Orca, Guanaco, Andean Condor, skunks, foxes and armadillos, as well as that apex predator, the Puma. And you can enjoy all this among some of the world’s most spectacular landscapes. This is an escape to suit everybody.

Torres del Paine, Chile

If it’s adventure for which you thirst, it would be hard to better this exciting tour looking for one of the world’s most elusive animals in a part of the world that few of us have ever visited – Siberia. The dense forests of the Sikhote-Alin in the Russian taiga are home to good numbers of this magnificent big cat, and although they are difficult to see, their sheer presence and the possibility of an encounter are enough to send shivers down the spine; you will certainly find tracks and signs. There are other animals in this remote outpost, including Asiatic Black Bears, Siberian Roe Deer and Ural Owls. But it’s the Tigers that are the big prize, and the chase is the thrill. Our presence also contributes directly to the conservation of these rare mammals.

Durminskoye, Siberia

The Pantanal is well known as one of the great wildlife destinations of the world. What many people don’t realise, though, is that within this region, Pantanal National Park includes a very remote and hard-to-reach core, accessible only by boat and seldom visited. This tour includes a 6-night cruise into this pristine wilderness, a wondrous place of waterlily-clad backwaters, gallery forest and even dry forest on granite hills. The wildlife will be spectacular, with Giant Otters, Black Howler Monkeys and, of course, the incomparable Jaguar, along with a huge range of birds such as the Hyacinth Macaw. We will also travel along the Transpantaneira, the road traversing the Pantanal, a journey that might bring about extra sightings of such animals as Giant Anteater and Ocelot.

Pantanal National Park, Brazil

If you’re looking for somewhere to which to escape, how about ‘The Lost World’? It was the tepuis – the sandstone, table-topped mountains that rear up in sheer splendour above the forests of parts of northern South America – that inspired Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous dinosaur novel. Most are in Venezuela, but a few are in neighbouring Guyana, and on this tour we will visit one, as well as delving into the depths of the lowland rainforest and exploring the savanna of the north of this marvellously biodiverse country. There are more than 800 bird species here and, amazingly, 800 species of reptiles and amphibians in Guyana, too, and 200 mammals. The list of highlights is impressive: Harpy Eagle, Guianan Cock-of-the-rock, Hoatzin, Giant River Otter, macaws, the giant Arapaima (a fish), Black Spider Monkey and Giant Anteater. It will be spectacular; the only thing missing will be the odd Brontosaurus or Tyrannosaurus rex.

Kaieteur Falls, Guyana

If you have an adventurous spirit, combined with a passion for some incredible mammals, this tour to the rustic, less-known part of the Bornean rainforest in Sabah could be for you. Deramakot Forest Reserve has recently acquired fame for being the only place in the world that gives you a decent chance of seeing the extraordinarily elusive Sunda Clouded Leopard, but even the back-up species are those that dreams are made of: Bornean Pygmy Elephant, Bornean Orangutan, Sun Bear, Bornean Colugo and Otter Civet are just a few. This is an incredible tour, biased heavily in favour of night drives, some of them long, but for those who want to be immersed in the heart of a rainforest in the darkness, with thrilling animals just around any corner, it is a rare chance indeed. We also have three more luxurious days along the Kinabatangan River to look for Proboscis Monkeys and more Orangutans.

Kinabatangan River, Borneo

The inevitable conversation will come up: “Where did you travel to after the pandemic?” If you want to give an interesting answer, how about Albania? This beautiful, mountainous Balkan country to the north of Greece and south of Montenegro has long been under the shroud of an oppressive political regime but is now opening up to tourists and has superb wildlife potential. Unspoilt, with a long coastline and pleasant Mediterranean climate, it provides an idyllic setting for birds, butterflies and flowers. There are lakes, saltpans, forests, gorges, olive groves, ancient cobbled streets and much more. Birds such as Bee-eaters, shrikes, warblers and Black-winged Stilts are typical southern European fare, but others such as Nutcracker, Rock Partridge, Dalmatian Pelican and White-backed Woodpecker make this an exciting destination.

Albanian Alps

We all have a version of perfect Africa in our heads, one with vast savannas dotted with acacia trees and filled with abundant game. Of all African countries, few fulfil this image better than Botswana, a huge landlocked country in the south of the continent which is far more unspoilt than many rival ‘safari’ destinations – just two million people rattle around an area as big as France and Germany combined. The game reserves are huge, the wildlife abundant and free – and very wild. Here you can enjoy animals such as Lions, Leopards, Elephants, African Buffalo, Zebras, Cheetahs and many more. The birdlife is varied, colourful and unmissable; few people ever visit without coming back as birdwatchers. In the north of the country is the mighty Okavango Delta, one of the finest wetlands in the world, let alone Africa. And there is even a visit to the Victoria Falls to enjoy. Sit back and revel in the safari of a lifetime.

Okavango Delta, Botswana