9 Under-the-radar Safari Experiences Travel Experts Recommend for the Trip of a Lifetime

Travel + Leisure’s A-List advisors weigh in on the most epic wildlife-viewing trips, in Africa and beyond.

Wild jaguar (Panthera onca) on the move in a beach. Pantanal, Mato Grosso, Brazil.
Photo: Carlos A Carreno/Getty Images

Embarking on a safari game drive — waking up before dawn, setting off in the land cruiser with the sunrise, and spotting lions, elephants, maybe even a leopard — is a thrilling, iconic travel experience. But it’s a misconception to think all safaris take place in the African savannah — or even Africa at all. 

“People are often surprised when I recommend Southeast Asia for a wildlife safari experience,” says A-List travel advisor Jack Tydeman. “But one of my favorite lesser-known properties for wildlife viewings is an eco-glamping site in the Cardamom Rainforest in Cambodia.” 

From tracking wild chimpanzees in Tanzania to exploring the Pantanal wetlands in Bolivia and Paraguay, unique safaris are available around the world. Travel + Leisure’s A-List of expert travel advisors share their favorite places and experiences.

Yala National Reserve in Sri Lanka

"I've sent numerous travelers here who loved this experience. While you can’t see all of the Big 5, you can see elephants and leopards, and stay at boutique luxury properties such as Uga Chena Huts and Wild Coast Tented Lodge. Private game drive are available ... and you can also take a hot air balloon. February to June is the best time to visit." — Kemi Wells, Wells Luxury Travel

Ol Jogi Wildlife Conservancy in Kenya

"This massive private estate is home to a large percentage of the world's remaining rhinos. It includes extensive conservation projects, with plenty of hands-on experiences for guests. I consider this conservancy the best lesser-known destination in Africa, with it's awesome helicopter experiences, whimsical decor, and interesting history." — Mark Lakin, The Legacy Untold

White-Rhinos at the Ol Jogi rhino sanctuary, in the Laikipia county, Nairobi.

Pantanal Wetlands in Brazil, Bolivia, and Paraguay

"The Pantanal is the world’s largest wetland and South America’s premier wildlife destination — yet very few people have even heard of it, let alone visit. The region is incredibly biodiverse, with nearly 700 bird species, such as the hyacinth macaw and jabiru stork, and more than 200 mammals, including rare large animals such as giant anteaters, tapirs, and jaguars. Although accommodations in the Pantanal aren't quite up to the level of some African safari lodges, there are many charming family run pousadas and lodges with dedicated and talented nature guides." — Paul Irvine, Dehouche Travel

Mahale National Park in Western Tanzania

"A visit to this national park and its legendary camp, Greystoke Mahale, truly fits the bill. Located in one of the wildest parts of Africa, Mahale is one of the few places on earth where you can track wild chimps. The adventure begins with a flight to a sun-bleached airstrip on the banks of Lake Tanganyika, where guests are met and transported to Greystoke via wooden dhow, “escorted” by graceful hippos gliding just below the surface of the gin-clear water. Rounding the corner, a glimpse of white sand and thatched chalets rising up from the jungle confirms you're arriving to someplace special. The chimps of Mahale are part of an ongoing scientific study spanning more than 50 years, making the experience of tracking and observing them here the cornerstone of the visit. Beyond the primates, Lake Tanganyika is the second oldest and the second deepest freshwater lake in the world, offering remarkable snorkeling, fishing, swimming, and kayaking along with some of the most spectacular scenery imaginable." — Karin Jones, Anastasia's Africa

A Chimp Family, Mahale Mountain National Park, Tanzania
GarySandyWales/Getty Images

Guadiana River Valley Nature Park in Portugal

"Near the Portuguese-Spanish border and eastern Algarve region, this park is home to the bustard, a bird that rarely flies (it prefers to run when in danger). Anyone lucky enough to see one — there are very few, only 1,150 were counted in 2002 — will be in the presence of Portugal’s most corpulent bird. Females' wingspan can reach more than seven feet long, and males are larger. For the nearby lodgings, travel a bit further south to the Fazenda Nova Country house in the coastal town Tavira to spend a beautiful weekend enjoying perfect wine and Algarvian fish." — Danilo Cerqueira, Tempovip Portugal

Cardamom Rainforest in Cambodia

"One of my favorite under-the-radar safari properties is the Canvas and Orchids Retreat, an eco-glamping site with just 13 luxury tents. Some of the tents sit on floating platforms over the Tatai River, with private sundecks facing the Peam Krasaop Wildlife Sanctuary on the opposite bank. You can swim, boat to waterfalls, take guided jungle treks and nature walks, and visit local fishing villages to learn about local life. Apart from the hundreds of bird species, the region is home to wild monkeys, cats, crocodiles, and even wild Asian elephants." — Jack Tydeman, Audley Travel

River through the jungle near Chi Phat village Cardamon mountains Cambodia
Jennifer Sanerkin/Getty Images

Conservation Projects in the Samburu National Reserve in Kenya

"I recommend spending a day with the conservationists who work with Save the Elephants or the Ewaso Lions Conservation Project in the Samburu National Reserve."  — Stephanie Fisher, Huffman Travel

Iberá Provincial Reserve in Argentina

"I arrange for travelers to participate in rewilding experiences in the Iberá wetlands, where projects can include freeing jaguars, reintroducing anteaters and red macaw parrots. (You can also swim with horses to secluded islands.) There are also so many lesser-known safari experiences in Patagonia, from snorkeling with sea lions in Punta Loma Wildlife Preserve on the Valdes Peninsula to condor-watching in the Andes Mountains, where you can watch them glide and learn about their habitat and life from world expert Lorenzo Sympson." Maita Barrenechea, Mai10

Lion Sands Game Reserve in South Africa

"In this private sanctuary (where the Sabi Sand Game Reserve meets Kruger National Park), you can sleep in a treehouse complete with a romantic picnic dinner and, in the morning, fresh delivered coffee." — Josh Alexander, Journeys Josh

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