Dubai may have that huge aquarium, and San Diego may have its famous zoo. But nothing beats seeing an animal face-to-face in the wild. Time to get up close and personal with nature’s finest.
1Wade with PigsF 1.2/Conde Nast
Pig Beach, Bahamas
Pigs still can’t fly, but there is a group of swine that loves to swim in part of the uninhabited Big Major Cay, known as Pig Beach. How the pigs got there is quite the mystery. One local theory is that the animals found their way to the island after getting tossed overboard from a shipwrecked supply boat.
2Frolic with RabbitsAFLO CO. LTD/Conde Nast
Rabbit Island (Okunoshima), Japan
Okunoshima, a.k.a. Rabbit Island, housed a secret chemical weapons plant in the 1920s that was shut down after World War II. Today the island is known for a far more pleasant reason: It’s home to a massive population of rabbits, who aren’t afraid to jump into visitors’ laps in exchange for a carrot. (Some believe that these furry residents are descendants of the test bunnies that were freed after the plant’s closing.)
3Scuba with Whale SharksiStock
Isla Mujeres, Mexico
Isla Mujeres, in the Yucatán Peninsula, is home to the largest population of whale sharks in the world. Luckily, these gentle giants—which can grow more than 40 feet long and weigh up to 15 tons—don’t have teeth and are not afraid to interact with humans. That’s why many tour operators allow you to snorkel or scuba dive near the massive creatures.
4Stroll with Sea LionsAP
When your ferry returns from Alcatraz, head over to San Francisco’s famous Pier 39 and follow the barking sounds to the West Marina K-Dock—where you will find hundreds of California sea lions sunbathing, chatting, and jumping in and out of the water. These lovable creatures first arrived in late 1989. By 1990, the population had grown to 300, pushing out marina tenants. Today, 1,000 sea lions call K-Dock their home each winter. Not headed to California any time soon? Watch the action on the Sea Lion Web Cam.
5Swim with JellyfishPalau Visitors Authority
Jellyfish Lake, Eil Malk, Palau
On the island of Eil Malk snorkel and scuba diving tours often stop at Jellyfish Lake so guests can swim with the jellies. The resident golden jellyfish in these secluded waters have lost their ability to sting and live predator-free.
More from Condé Nast Traveler