Leaving our vehicles behind, we strike out on foot across the red rock desert of western Namibia. Our guide motions to us to be absolutely silent as we follow animal tracks up and over a stony ridge. All of a sudden, our prize appears: a large male rhino, who looks our way but doesn’t seem to be bothered. We continue to creep up, far enough that we won’t anger him, but close enough to get some great photos.
The Kunene region of Namibia is one of the world’s best places to get up close and personal with rhinos, and one of the only spots in Africa you can do so on foot. Similar places are scattered all around the globe, offering thrilling chances to observe and photograph iconic species in the wild.
Imagine waking up at a mobile lodge perched on Canada’s northern tundra and pulling back the curtains to see a polar bear staring you straight in the face. Or confronting an eight-foot Komodo dragon—smelling you with a flick of its tongue as he determines whether you’re his next meal—on a narrow trail through an Indonesian forest.
From snorkeling with marine iguanas in the Galápagos to tracking gorillas in the mists of Uganda, read on to discover the coolest places on the planet for close-up encounters with 20 different amazing animals.