5 Don’t-Miss Overseas Animal Adventures
We loved our recent U.S.-based guide to the best resorts and attractions for animal lovers across the country so much — I mean, who doesn’t want to check out a ranch packed with giraffes? — that we decided to do a sequel story.
This time, the focus is on cool places abroad to get your critter fix. From pandas to prancing Spanish horses, it’s clear that Americans aren’t the only ones with a soft spot in their hearts for all things animal.
Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding, China
What’s black and white and quite possibly the cuddliest thing you’ve ever seen? That’s right. Pandas. At this breeding facility and conservation center in Chengdu, Sichuan, visitors can watch the roly-poly bears in up close action. Need more convincing? Check out this photo. And this video. Enough said.
Details The center is open year-round from 8 A.M. to 6 P.M. Hint: The best time to visit is 9 in the morning — a.k.a. breakfast! Admission is $10; panda.org.cn.
Cheetah Outreach Centre, South Africa
It may not be one of Africa’s infamous “big five” game animals, but the cheetah has its own claim to fame: This spotted cat is known for being the fastest land mammal, clocking speeds of up to 70 miles per hour. At the Cheetah Outreach Centre, outside Cape Town in Somerset West, you can spend time in a pen petting adult cats and cubs. But it gets better: The sanctuary also offers visitors a chance to take grown cheetahs for a “walk” along a nearby beach — and experience handler-led cub strolls on the center’s grassy grounds.
Details The facility is open 365 days a year. There’s a nominal entrance fee, but you need to pay extra to pet such beautiful cats as Hemmingway and Enigma (from $7 for kids and $12 for adults). Cheetah walks must be booked in advance, and start at $65; cheetah.co.za.
Tortuga Lodge & Gardens, Costa Rica
You’ll need to take a boat or a small plane to get to this naturalist-guide-staffed property located along a riverbank in Costa Rica’s over-51,000-acre Tortuguero National Park, but it’s worth the extra travel effort. Between late June and September, you can spot Atlantic green sea turtles laying their eggs along the beach — and witness the hatchlings crack out of their shells starting in late August. And there are plenty of other critter encounters at this jungle retreat, which is also home to howler monkeys, long-nosed bats, toucans and parrots, just to name a few.
Details The 26-room lodge offers several packages, including a three-day Tortuguero Jungle Expedition that includes transfers to and from the San Jose airport and starts at $502 per person; tortugalodge.com.
Jerez de la Frontera, Spain
Rafalca may have mad horse skills, but there’s an entire region in the Andalusia area of southwestern Spain dedicated to the art of equestrian dance that combines classical dressage, flamenco — and riders dressed in eighteenth-century garb. At the Royal Andalusian School of Equestrian Art, you can catch a show featuring six to eight different forms of choreography, such as Doma Vaquera, the “cowboy” form of dressage used to herd cattle in the countryside.
Details Performances are held every Thursday throughout the year, as well as select Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, so it’s best to book ahead online (from $27). Don’t miss the museum of equestrian arts and the horse carriage museum, which even showcases a dog-cat carriage tethered to an iron horse; realescuela.org.
Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve, Mexico
OK, it’s not technically summer travel, but if you’re willing to wait until autumn to head south of the border, you’ll witness one of nature’s greatest migrations. Each year, between October and March, millions of monarchs make their way en masse from eastern Canada to the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve, a natural protected area that spans 200 square miles in western central Mexico. Once they land, the butterflies cloak the forest’s tree trunks and branches, producing a gorgeous orange-and-black panorama.
Details Natural Habitat Adventures offers six-day, naturalist-led trips to the region, but book ahead because groups are limited to 14 people. And be prepared to hoof it: To get to the monarchs, you need to hike up into the mountains, sometimes at altitudes of over 10,000 feet. From $2,995; nathab.com/central-america/monarch-butterfly-tour.
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