Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary
Best for: Giant Malabar squirrels, (wild) elephants, guar (giant bison), bird life
Logistics: Located in the Western Ghat mountain range, this picturesque, 192,000-acre wildlife sanctuary offers a supremely lush habitat in eastern Kerala on India’s southwest coast. (The nearest airport is in Madurai, 90 miles east in the neighboring state of Tamil Nadu.) Tiger sightings are uncommon, but there’s plenty to see and do. Birders enjoy the park for its tropical species; boaters can watch elephants gather at the water’s edge; and those on foot have a chance to meet the bashful guar up close. An innovative eco-tourism project funded by the World Bank creates unprecedented recreational opportunities, including guided hikes and boat trips around a central reservoir that allow visitors to observe various animals quenching their thirst. You can even ride in an ox-drawn cart to nearby villages. The park is open year-round, but is almost unbearably crowded from September to December.
Accommodations: Spice Village has 52 villas in total, well-tended gardens, its own wildlife interpretation center, and a poolside restaurant. The facility hosts some naturalist events, but its eco-tourism development staff runs most activities (doubles from $250; www.cghearth.com).
Tip: Hike hut-to-hut South Indian-style with a night at the forest cottage at Kokkara within the preserve. Periyar’s staff will arrange the entire trip, which includes an armed guard in case of unwanted animal encounters.