Track gorillas in Rwanda, shadow polar bears in Canada, and more on these incredible walking safaris around the world.
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For most travelers, a safari is a once-in-a-lifetime trip, an epic splurge underscored by ultra-luxurious lodging, sublime food, sundowners, and guided wildlife viewing from the comfort of an oversized 4x4. But this classic narrative is changing in select destinations as game drives compete with a growing number of action-packed walking safaris, inviting travelers to become one with the animal kingdom.

Relying on highly skilled naturalists, the adventurous can now engage in mindful encounters with some of world's most incredible animals beyond the confines of a Land Rover. From tracking gorillas in Rwanda to shadowing polar bears in Canada, here are eight amazing experiential walking safaris around the world.

Mountain Gorillas in Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda

Gorillas in Rwanda
Credit: Courtesy of Paul Rubio

In Rwanda's northernmost reaches, 12 habituated gorilla troops dwell within the mystical, mist-shrouded mountains of Volcanoes National Park. Through special permits, visitors can embark on guided treks in search of Earth's largest living primates, ultimately resulting in one-hour of face time with these critically endangered animals.

With newborns in some troops, multiple silverbacks in others, each family is unique in size and dynamic. And given the gorillas' constant movement within this land of plenty, hikes range from an easy two-hour journey along the foothills to a half-day near-vertical climb through dense forest, blanketed in stinging nettles — no two are alike.

Count on luxury outfitter Micato Safaris, which received top marks in Travel + Leisure's 2021 World's Best Awards, to handle all the minutia required in making this life-changing safari possible, including accommodations, internal transportation, and requisite advance permits, plus the guidance of a personal safari director.

African Icons in South Luangwa National Park, Zambia

African icons in South Luangwa National Park Zambia
Credit: Courtesy The Bushcamp Company

Zambia's South Luangwa National Park is regarded as the birthplace of the African walking safari, pioneered circa the early 1960s, and it arguably remains the best location for partaking in adrenaline-filled days of communing with elephants, spotting lions, roaming among giraffes, and lunching with zebras.

African icons in South Luangwa National Park Zambia
Credit: Dana Allen/Courtesy The Bushcamp Company

Of note, The Bushcamp Company operates six intimate tented camps across the national park — Bilimungwe, Chamilandu, Zungulila, Kapamba, Kuyenda and Chindeni — where safaris by foot headline the daily agenda. What's more is that guests can journey between five of the camps as extended walking safaris, thus traversing as much of South Luangwa's diverse terrain as possible while maximizing wildlife sightings.

Polar Bears in Hudson Bay, Canada

Polars Bears in Hudston Bay
Credit: Courtesy of Robert Postma and Churchill Wild

Though climate change has taken a toll on polar bears globally, there's still one region where the Arctic's most famous residents still thrive: western Hudson Bay, north of Churchill, Canada. Here, a healthy resident population of approximately 1,000 polar bears rule the tidal flats and prairies, and one outfitter, Churchill Wild, holds the exclusive permits to track these apex predators on foot (versus Tundra Buggy). From a trio of fly-in lodges, Churchill Wild offers twice-daily walking safaris to spot the furry white giants. Though the bears have a reputation of being ferocious, there hasn't been a single injury for either human or bear, thanks to the smarts and skills of seasoned guides.

Meerkats in the Kalahari Desert, Southern Africa

Meerkats in the Kalahari Desert, southern Africa
Credit: Courtesy of Paul Rubio

Brimming with personality and cuteness, meerkats are every bit the superstars in real life as they are on television. Among the prolific colonies scattered throughout the Kalahari Desert (which transcends Botswana and South Africa), a handful have grown accustomed to human presence over the decades, allowing us to observe their daily routines of foraging, burrowing, babysitting, and scouting for predators, all while enjoying the symphony of their vocalizations (meerkat chatter is so mesmerizing, it deserves a podcast).

At Tswalu in South Africa, discover one of three habituated colonies on a guided walk, and anticipate complete immersion in meerkat mayhem. In the early morning hours at Jack's Camp in Botswana, look forward to resident "meerkat whisperer," Blake, organizing an interactive morning with his four-legged companions. If timed and positioned right — and it usually is — Blake will have you seated or reclined outside the meerkats' burrow before they wake. This way they'll simply use you as a mound for scanning the otherwise flat terrain for predators, often going to the top of your head for the best views. The experience is simply unreal.

The Big Five at andBeyond Phinda Private Game Reserve, South Africa

The Big 5 at andBeyond Phinda Private Game Reserve
Credit: Courtesy of andBeyond

Conceived in 1991, conservation-led company andBeyond started off as an ambitious project to revitalize 32,311 acres of overgrazed farmland in KwaZulu-Natal, reintroduce the region's original biodiversity, and develop a new archetype for ecotourism.

Fast-forward 30 years later and this pilot project, andBeyond Phinda Private Game Reserve, has blossomed into a veritable African Garden of Eden, rife with the Big Five and the rest of the "Lion King" cast. From any of Phinda's six, design-driven game lodges, set out on riveting walking safaris, tailored to personal species goals, fitness levels, and approximate duration. Choose from lighter "nature walks" or more rigorous "big game viewing walks," delicately trailing the likes of elephants and rhinos, often with a heart-stopping big cat encounter along the way.

Primates in Nyungwe Forest National Park, Rwanda

Misty sunrise over Nyungwe Forest National Park Rwanda
Credit: Courtesy of OneandOnly

The forested highlands of western Rwanda stun as the mist rolls in at sunrise and the sounds and sights of nature ambush the senses. Here, the enchanted and biodiverse Nyungwe Forest National Park is home to 13 primate species, including the elusive chimpanzee and gregarious Angolan colobus monkey, both of which can be seen through walking safaris.

Chances of seeing the chimps are best as they feed in trees during the early morning hours. To access their home deep in the forest interior, visitors must wake up by 3:45 a.m. and prepare for a highly challenging yet deeply rewarding hike alongside park rangers and trackers. Far easier are the treks to see the photogenic Angolan colobus monkeys. Base yourself at the forest's edge at One&Only Nyungwe House, one of the most extraordinary and thoughtfully designed lodges in today's safari circuit, and balance endurance with downtime (and spa time) in the magical surroundings.

Greater One-horned Rhinoceros in Chitwan National Park, Nepal

Greater one-horned rhinoceros in Chitwan National Park, Nepal
Credit: Courtesy of Taj Safaris

In the early 1970s, Nepal established its first national park, Chitwan National Park, to prevent the country's dwindling one-horn rhino population from disappearing entirely. Since then, staunch conservation efforts have helped the park's numbers rebound from less than 200 to over 600 individuals and counting. While gaining praise from the conservation community, this trailblazing park also caught the attention of Taj Safaris, which had successfully pioneered a luxury tiger safari circuit in neighboring India. In 2017, the brand debuted a lodge on the outskirts of Chitwan, Meghauli Serai, A Taj Safari, focused primarily on rhino spotting. Nowadays, you can embark on daily adventures in search of these leviathans — by jeep, canoe, boat, or foot — with excellent chances of sightings every time.

Great Migration in the Northern Serengeti, Tanzania

The great migration in the northern Serengeti, Tanzania
Credit: Courtesy of Paul Rubio

Many wildlife enthusiasts time their East Africa safari to witness the drama of the annual Great Migration, during which millions of wildebeest, zebras, and gazelles cross the Mara River in search of fresh grass and water. While vehicle overcrowding remains an issue in much of Kenya's Masai Mara, the Tanzanian side of the Mara River typically reveals a more intimate migration experience (read: less people and cars).

Even better? Located near this waterfront action in the northern Serengeti, Asilia Africa's Sayari Camp allows guests to achieve a completely different point of view of the Great Migration (June to October): the rare chance of exploring the banks of the Mara River on foot.