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To See or Not to See: get the most out of wildlife viewing expeditions

Traveling to national parks, reserves and other wildlife habitats throughout the world can be an exciting and rewarding experience, but a little understanding of how to prepare and what to expect is essential to help make sure you have an unforgettable adventure.

Be prepared for your excursions and plan ahead
Do your homework before booking your trip. Learn the best time(s) of year to visit, ideal animal-spotting locations, and which animals you can realistically expect to see.

Understand the migratory patterns and daily habits of the different animals and what impact variables like weather and crowds can have on conditions.

If visiting a national park, or wildlife reserve or habitat, check out their website for relevant information regarding hours, lodging, and rules and regulations so you are fully informed prior to your trip.

Whenever possible, go with a guide
Travel with an escorted group tour (like an Orbridge program!), which offers accompanying local guides or naturalists, or hire a guide to usher you.

A skilled leader will typically have specialized knowledge of the area visited, including its flora, fauna, and history, which can serve to be invaluable for your overall experience.

Dress appropriately
Pay attention to the weather you may encounter and pack accordingly.

Dress to blend in with your surroundings—avoid packing bright colored clothing or noisy accessories, as they may be distracting both to the wildlife and other travelers.

Don't forget to pack appropriate footwear. Comfortable shoes or hiking boots can make a real difference if your trip involves significant walking, especially over uneven ground. And make sure to break in footwear well ahead of your trip.

Bring proper equipment
If traveling on a group tour, ancillary equipment, like walking sticks or specialized footwear (if traversing through icy conditions, for example), will typically be provided. If not, plan to pack these items if you think you may need them. Also make sure to bring plenty of water, a hat, and sunscreen—these items are a must for expeditions in all types of climates.

Bring a good camera and proper lenses. Some wildlife may appear nearby while others may be spotted only through scopes or high-powered lenses. Whether you choose to use your cell phone camera or something more sophisticated, make sure you understand your equipment well and all its capabilities.

If bringing binoculars, know the best size and features for your situation. Full-size binoculars have a wide field of view and are great for low light situations, while smaller, more compact models are easier to carry but may be less comfortable for all-day viewing opportunities. Keep in mind any need for weather resistant or waterproof options as well.

Binoculars come in many magnifications—10 x 42, 7 x 35 and others. The first number listed is the magnification (i.e. 10x or 7x larger), the second measures lens diameter (42mm/35mm), basically telling how much light the lens will capture.

Price can obviously vary greatly, but there are many affordable models with great features from well-known brands that have positive customer reviews.


Know the rules for being a responsible and ethical visitor:

  • Respect park rules and any posted signs.
  • Stay on marked trails.
  • Take only photographs and leave only footprints.
  • Do not litter, including food debris, as this can be hazardous to the animals.
  • Be respectful of other travelers—remain quiet when close to wildlife and help younger travelers do the same.
  • Stay clear of nests and dens, and never get between a mother and her offspring.
  • Follow your guide’s instructions, they are watching out for both your safety and ensuring your very best viewing experience

Remember three basic rules for viewing:

  • Observe from a distance.
  • Use binoculars to get close.
  • Allow wildlife to act naturally and do nothing that causes their behavior to change. If an animal withdraws or a bird flies away, you are too close.
  • Observing your favorite wildlife in their natural habitat can be a thrilling and rewarding experience. Plan carefully, keep your expectations realistic, and definitely have your camera ready!