Awesome Animals of the World and Where to See Them

This is a Hipmunk guest post from Jodi Ettenberg. Her views and opinions are hers alone and do not represent Hipmunk. 

1. Land Iguana.  Endemic to the Galapagos Islands, Charles Darwin described these yellow and orange reptiles as “ugly animals . .  from their low facial angle they have a singularly stupid appearance.” Stupid or not, they’re incredible to see in person and at a length of up to 5 ft (and 25 pounds), a sea of land iguanas is a wondrous thing to behold. 

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Land iguana on Fernandina Island, the Galapagos

Where? The Galapagos Islands, off the coast of Ecuador. Fly into Quito, and onward to San Cristobal on the Galapagos. Boat trips must be booked to see most of the islands; many are off limits because of the fragile ecosystem and can only be visited with accredited tour guides. Boat trips can be booked with a wide variety of agencies, but I’ve used Sangay Touring with great success.

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View from Bartholome Island, the Galapagos

2. Blue Poison Arrow Frog. The dendrobates azureus is a type of poison dart frog, iridescent and shimmering blue and found in the forests of Suriname and Brazil. Also known as the blue poison dart frog, it’s one of the more beautiful – and dangerous – frog species out there.

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Where? Probably best to view these extremely poisonous frogs at New York’s Museum of Natural History, where their “A chorus of colors” exhibit of the world’s most bright, poisonous and enormous frogs has been lauded as a big success.

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New York sunset from the Brooklyn Promenade.

3. Goats. I’m a big believer that goats are underrated animals, falling to the wayside while shiner ones take center stage. In my travels, I’ve had many great sunsets and quiet moments made even better by the presence of an adorable goat like this one, taken at Burma’s Bagan.

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Where? Bagan, the site of thousands of ancient Theravada temples strewn on plains the size of Manhattan. Located in Myanmar, Bagan is a lesser known but beautiful place to see temple ruins if the crowds of Cambodia’s Angkor Wat are too claustrophobic. To get there, you’ll need a visa ahead of time and a flight to Yangon (most easily accomplished via Bangkok). No tour agency is needed – independent travel is the best way to see Myanmar.

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Buledi temple at dawn, Bagan.

4. Elephants. Certainly tough to see these beautiful animals in the wild, regardless of where you are in the world. The unfortunate prevalence of trekking trips that include elephant rides or elephant shows don’t afford a responsible way to appreciate these big grey beasts.

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Elephant at Chiang Mai’s Elephant Nature Park. [Photo credit]

Where? The Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai is a perfect solution for those who love elephants but don’t want to take tours that might be damaging to them. The Nature Park serves as a sanctuary for abused and mistreated Asian elephants, rescued from a wide variety of situations. Some were worked to the bone while logging or trekking, others were street elephants, begging with their mahouts for change. See Justin’s one-week volunteer wrap up for a personal account of a week at the park.

5. Camels. Like goats, there are many places to get up close and personal with camels on a your travels, from Jordan desert trips to Wadi Rum to the Sinai in Isreal to Morocco. But my favourite was a trip to Mongolia, staying with nomads in the Gobi Desert. Nothing like hugging a camel before you go to bed in a yurt

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Camels!

Where? You’ll have to fly into Ulaanbaatar and drive 8 hours into the Gobi desert, but it will be worth it. Alternatively fly into Beijing and take the Trans-Mongolian train into Ulaanbaatar, a slow but fascinating way to see beautiful scenery and experience local culture. Trips into the Gobi can be booked with Shuren Travel.

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Erdene Zuu monastery in the Gobi Desert.

(Note: any tour companies I recommended in this post are ones that I’ve used and are recommended on that basis. Unless otherwise noted, photos were ones I took from each of the destinations mentioned here.)