New cultures, breathtaking water views, and a sense of “getting away from it all” are just some of the things that make island vacations memorable. While you might not think about seeing animals in the wild when considering an island tour, the destinations in this article are truly unique. From arctic archipelagos to lush rainforests to sandy dunes, these 30 amazing islands to visit with wild animals will have you mulling over your next holiday with a fresh perspective. Read on to start planning the adventure of a lifetime.
1. Wolves—Fidalgo Island, Washington
At Predators of the Heart Sanctuary on Fidalgo Island, wolf lovers can get their fill of these wild canines. Nestled among towering old-growth forests, the 10-acre preserve is home to opossums, owls, hawks, vultures, bobcats, lynx, cougars, skunks, exotic reptiles, and foxes. But the main attraction on Fidalgo is seeing one of the largest wolf packs in the Pacific Northwest.
Visitors to the island can book a wolf encounter via Airbnb. Be aware that all visitors to the sanctuary must be 18 or older and walk-ins are not permitted. Tours are conducted twice a day, Monday through Saturday, with the preserve closed on Sunday. This is one adventure you will want to reserve long in advance.
2. Wild Rabbits—Ōkunoshima, Japan (Rabbit Island)
Bunnies in the wild? This small island in the Sea of Japan didn’t get its nickname—Rabbit Island—for nothing. After World War II, the area was made into a park, complete with walking trails, campsites, and yes, lots and lots of rabbits.
The park is accessible by ferry, with boats leaving Tadanômi Port every 30 to 45 minutes. While there is a hotel on the island, space is limited, so you will want to plan any overnight visits well in advance. Keep in mind that these are wild and feral rabbits, so picking them up or feeding them is prohibited. Instead, you are asked to keep your distance and share photos online!
3. Swimming Pigs—Big Major Cay, Bahamas (Pig Beach)
Big Major Cay is an island in Exuma, the Bahamas, whose principal inhabitants are a feral pig colony. Swimming pigs, to be more precise. There are various stories as to how these pigs came to inhabit Major Cay. One tale suggests that the pigs were left there by sailors who intended on eating them later on. Another story says that the pigs were the sole survivors of a shipwreck. A less romantic narrative implies that authorities deliberately placed the colony on the island to attract tourism.
There’s no way of confirming any of the narratives, but that shouldn’t stop you from seeing the swimming pigs of Big Major Cay. If you’re visiting Nassau, you can get a private charter out to the island from one of several local operators. It takes about two hours to reach Pig Beach via speedboat.
4. Red Crabs—Christmas Island, Australia
In the Indian Ocean, over 1600 miles Northwest of Perth, lies Christmas Island. Often dubbed the “Galapagos of the Indian Ocean,” it’s a spectacular place to see whale sharks, coral reefs, sea birds, and over 50 million red crabs.
You’ve probably seen the annual migration of these creatures on National Geographic, but viewing the spectacle up close and personal is a whole different story. From late October through November, the crabs make their way from the forests to the shores to spawn. Despite the name, Christmas Island is more of a tropical paradise with beautiful beaches, waterfalls, cliffs, and forests.
5. Wallabies—Lambay Island, Ireland
Off the coast of North County Dublin in the Irish Sea, you’ll find Lambay Island. At just under one square mile, it’s the largest island off the East Coast of Ireland and home to various species. Visitors to Lambay will find thousands of seabirds, including puffins, razorbills, Manx shearwaters, and more. You will also likely spot gray seals, harbor porpoises, and wild rabbits.
However, most people find the most exciting animals on Lambay Island are the 100 or so red-necked wallabies. The creatures are not native to the island. Instead, they were introduced in the 1950s by Rupert Baring. If you’re interested in ecology and sustainability, you will likely find Lambay Island a delight all its own. Owned by the Revelstoke Trust, the island is off-grid and works hard to maintain the delicate ecosystem.
6. Quokkas—Rottnest Island, Australia
What is a Quokka, you ask? Only the cutest little macropod you’ve ever laid eyes on! These unique marsupials are about the size of a house cat and can be found on Rottnest Island, a 45-minute ferry ride from Perth.
There are between 8,000 and 12,000 Quokkas on Rottnest, and they are considered vulnerable since they only give birth to one joey a year. These adorable animals look like they are always smiling and have been dubbed “the world’s happiest animals” on the internet. They are pretty approachable, which accounts for the many “Quokka selfies” online.
7. Wild Horses—Assateague Island, USA
Assateague Island is a 37-mile long barrier island off the coasts of Virginia and Maryland. Visitors can wander the salt marshes, pine forests, and pristine beaches of Assateague Island National Seashore, but the main attraction here is the herd of over 300 wild horses who make it their home.
Some say they are survivors of an early shipwreck, and others say they descended from horses that were brought to the island by residents who were attempting to avoid taxation of the animals. Either way, they are a delight to see. If an urban vacation is more your style, the island lies just a quarter of a mile from Ocean City.
8. Blue Iguanas—Grand Cayman Island
If you have the pleasure of visiting the Caribbean, the self-governing British Overseas Territory of the Cayman Islands is a wonderful place to see an abundance of plants and small animals you won’t find anywhere else.
On Grand Cayman, however, the draw is Blue Iguanas. In 2001, there were fewer than 30 of these stunning creatures in existence. Thanks to the Blue Iguana Conservation (BIC), the National Trust for the Cayman Islands, and other stakeholders and partners, the population is now over 1,000. To view them, you’ll need to book a tour at the Blue Iguana Conservation facility.
9. Puffins—Machias Seal Island, Maine
People come to Machias Seal Island in Maine for many reasons. Built in 1832, the Machias Seal Island Lighthouse sits on this rocky, barren island shrouded in fog a good part of the time. But the heavy mist makes it a haven for several seabirds, including the most extensive colonies of Puffins on the Maine Coast.
These black and white alcids are best known for their broad chests and large orange beaks. Their short wings allow them to dive for their food, and they have perfected a unique underwater flying technique. Scientists have discovered that these colorful birds are remarkably intelligent, and they have been seen using sticks as “tools” to scratch themselves with.
Visitors will need to book a tour with an approved operator since access to the island is limited. There is some dispute as to whether the property belongs to Canada or the United States. While Machias Seal Island is located in Maine waters, the Canadian Coast Guard mans the lighthouse.
10. Wild Deer—Miyajima Island, Japan
Hundreds of Sika Deer inhabit Miyajima Island, where they have lived for around 800 years. Considered sacred animals and messengers of the Gods, the deer are primarily assembled in Nara Park, about 45 minutes south of Kyoto.
The deer at Nara Park have grown accustomed to tourists. Vendors are scattered throughout the property where you can purchase Shika-senbei, a special rice cracker made just for the animals. It’s relatively easy to get into the park, which is just a five-minute walk from Kintetsu Nara Train Station. Accommodations are plentiful in the area as well.
11. Whale Sharks—Dhigurah, Maldives
You’ve heard of swimming with Dolphins, but what about sharks? The Maldives are the perfect destination to swim with the world’s largest fish and enjoy a tropical paradise at the same time.
Whale Sharks are actually quite docile creatures and will sometimes even let swimmers catch a ride. They are not dangerous to humans. In fact, a Whale Shark attack on a human has never been documented. Visitors can book a diving/snorkeling tour and check out these sea monsters up close and personal.
12. Brown Bears—Admiralty Island, Alaska
Sure, there are plenty of opportunities to see bears in a zoo or wildlife sanctuary, but visiting them up close and personal in their natural habitat is a different experience altogether. Admiralty Island, Alaska, has the world’s biggest density of brown bears globally—around 1500 to be exact, which translates to one bear for every square mile of this island.
To see them, you’ll want to stay in Juneau and get there by taking a floatplane or boat into the area. This is a true wilderness in the Tongass National Forest, so don’t expect facilities or restrooms. The Alaska Department of Fish & Game manages an observation tower (Pack Creek Bear Viewing Area), and in late summer, only 24 visitors per day are allowed on the island.
13. Penguins and Elephant Seals—Macquarie Island, Australia
Located in the Southern Ocean of the Sub-Antarctic, Macquarie Island is an Australian-administered isle that is the final stretch of land before Antarctica. Also known as Macca, it boasts a thriving population of elephant seals, seabirds, and four different types of penguins. Over two million penguins land on Macca every year to breed and raise their chicks.
Colonies of rockhopper, king, royal, and gentoo penguins can be found in this remote area, along with approximately 80,000 elephant seals that come to breed each year. Understandably, access is limited, but it’s not impossible. You can book tours through Heritage Expeditions.
14. Sea Lions—Sea Lion Island, Falklands
The British-overseen Falkland Islands is an archipelago of 4700 square miles. There are numerous areas in the Falklands to spot sea lions, but the most well-known is Sea Lion Island. This three-square-mile isle was designated as a National Nature Reserve in 2017.
Tourists can stay at the Sea Lion Lodge, where the wildlife viewing is spectacular. Visitors can catch the gentle sea lions swimming offshore or sunbathing on the cliffs. You may also spot orcas, penguins, and the world’s largest colony of elephant seals, who come to breed in October.
15. Spider Monkeys—Homosassa, Florida
Visitors to Florida’s Gulf Coast can have a unique experience in viewing spider monkeys in a sort-of natural habitat. Monkey Island is a small, human-made patch of land in the Homosassa River. The monkeys were initially brought into the country by polio researcher Dr. John Hamlet. When they were no longer needed for research, their hijinks and antics made them a nuisance on the mainland, and they were banished to this tiny island.
It’s not all bad for the monkeys, though. They have their own little amusement park, complete with a lighthouse, boat, and stylish huts. If you want to see them, a stay at Florida Cracker Riverside Resort will put you within reach of Monkey Island, where you can view them from a safe distance.
16. Eurasian Otters—Isle of Mull, Scotland
If you’ve ever watched Coast or Springwatch on BBC, you’ll be familiar with the presenter, Gordon Buchanan, who is originally from Mull. This isle is part of the Inner Hebrides and the largest Island in Scotland and Great Britain. It’s also home to some fascinating wildlife and the perfect place to go if you want to see red deer, seabirds, eagles, seals, and basking sharks.
One of the more interesting species on the island is the Eurasian Otters. These adorable semi-aquatic mammals can be seen in several places on Mull. While you are not guaranteed an otter sighting, the elusive creatures will be easier to spot with an experienced guide during a tour of the area.
17. Giant Pacific Manta Ray—Revillagigedos Islands, Mexico
The Revillagigedos Islands have often been dubbed the “Galápagos of Mexico.” There are actually four separate volcanic islands that make up this archipelago—San Benedicto, Socorro, Roca Partida, and Clarion. It’s one of the premier dive spots in the world, and at 148,000 square kilometers, Revillagigedo National Park is the largest protected marine reserve in North America.
The area is home to humpback whales, tuna, sharks, sea turtles, and a large aggregation of giant pacific manta rays. Socorro Island is the most famous of the Revillagigedos. Three hundred seventy-five miles off the coast of Baja, divers can spot over 500 different types of manta rays, with the best time to see them in May and June. An up-close encounter with these huge gentle giants is an experience not to be missed.
18. Proboscis Monkeys—Borneo
Proboscis monkeys are one of the most interesting and unusual-looking primates in the world, and they can only be seen in the wild on the coast, swamps, and mangrove forests of Borneo. These endangered Old World species are graced with a comically long nose that hardly looks real. Additionally, they are prolific swimmers and can even outpace one of their main predators, crocodiles.
Proboscis Monkeys live in harems consisting of one male and up to seven females along with their offspring, and they never stray too far from home. The best way to see these delightful creatures is by taking a guided tour down Borneo’s Brunei River, where you may also be lucky enough also to spot hornbills, orangutans, and pygmy elephants.
19. Polar Bears—Svalbard, Norway
Situated between Norway and the North Pole, Svalbard is a majestic arctic archipelago and home to some 3000 polar bears. Despite the ice, snow, and deep fjords, the ecosystem here is still quite delicate. Visitors to Svalbard will want to familiarize themselves with all of its essential guidelines when planning a trip to this winter wonderland.
The endangered polar bear roams free on the island and is protected by strict laws. It is advised that an experienced and armed guide accompany you before venturing from any Svalbard settlement. Keep in mind that you may need permission from the local government before your visit.
20. Red Colobus Monkeys—Zanzibar Island, Tanzania
While this species is often overlooked, Red Colobus Monkeys are some of the most fascinating primates in Africa. Adorably photogenic, the Red Colobus is graced with a crazy hairdo and pink lips and nose. They live in large troops with harems that have been known to number 80 individual monkeys, although most commonly, 20 to 40 cohabitate together. They have a robust social system, with sexual partners, grooming, and food distributed among higher-ranking animals within the group.
To see the Red Colobus Monkeys of Zanzibar, you will want to go with an experienced guide who can point them out. There are plenty of friendly operators available, and tours are relatively inexpensive, with half-day trips starting at around $66 per person. Visitors will find plenty of lodgings on the island ranging from modest beach bungalows to all-inclusive resorts.
21. Sea Turtles—Maui, Hawaii
Between Nahuna Point and Makena’s One’uli Black Sand Beach lies a stretch of coastline called Turtle Town. It’s one of the premier snorkeling destinations on this Hawaiian island for a good reason—you’ll find a wide range of marine life here that you won’t see anywhere else on the planet.
Also known as honu, the sea turtle is a revered creature in Polynesian culture, and sightings are pretty much guaranteed by booking a snorkeling experience through one of the local companies. Along with turtles and colorful tropical fish, you may also be lucky enough to spot Hawaiian spinner dolphins, manta rays, spotted eagle rays, or even Hawaiian monk seals.
22. Humpback Whales—Vava’u, Tonga
The crystal-clear blue waters of Vava’u are one of the only places in the world where you can swim with humpback whales. Tonga has a large population of them who mate and birth in this region, so they stay close to the area for several months out of the year. The other islands surrounding Vava’u act as a protective cove that makes it ideal for visitors who want to get up close to these gentle giants.
Scuba divers will probably be disappointed since whales move so quickly. Instead, opt for a snorkeling experience. Be aware that there is a lot of swimming involved, and you should have at least some basic snorkeling skills before booking the experience.
23. Koalas—Kangaroo Island, Australia
On Australia’s Kangaroo Island, the Hanson Bay Wildlife Sanctuary is one of the top places to spot koalas, kangaroos, wallabies, and other species. While you can visit the sanctuary on your own, your best chance of seeing these creatures is with an experienced guide. The sanctuary’s Koala Walk, for example, is only accessible by signing up for a guided tour.
There are numerous operators to choose from if you have your heart set on seeing these lovable animals. Tours begin at just $30 for a two-hour guided walk to $130 and up for a full-day excursion. Visitors should plan on spending some time here—Kangaroo Island is 93 miles long and 35 miles wide. This is not the type of place you can fully appreciate in one visit. There are Five Wilderness Protection Areas and 19 National and Conservation Parks within its borders.
24. Lemurs—Madagascar, Africa
Madagascar lies off the Eastern Coast of Africa and is a destination most people associate with the Disney movie of the same name. The film is a bit misleading, though. There are no zebras, giraffes, or lions on the island. However, it is here that travelers will discover over 100 species of lemur, all native to the region.
Because lemurs are such social animals, it is effortless to spot them in their natural habitat. If taking an Indian Ocean vacation sounds like a great time, you won’t be disappointed. Madagascar is an incredible destination thanks to its vibrant coral reefs, turquoise blue waters, and white sandy beaches. If you’re touring with children, it’s an excellent place to visit, as the island is quite kid-friendly.
25. Long-Tailed Macaque—Bali, Indonesia
The mischievous long-tailed macaques of the Uluwatu Temple in Bali have developed a unique system of robbing and bartering. They will swipe anything within reach of an unsuspecting visitor—sunglasses, hat, purse—and then only relinquish their plunder when offered a tasty treat in exchange. And not just any treat, either. You never know what might tickle their fancy, and they will repeatedly chuck perfectly good munchies on the ground until you offer them something deemed suitable.
Despite their delinquent behavior, these small primates are revered in temples throughout Bali, where they are held sacred among the residents. To see them up close, visit Padangtegal and book a tour at Monkey Forest, a natural habitat and sanctuary for these animals. There are over 1000 Long-Tailed Macaque in the park.
26. Sumatran Tigers—Sumatra
On the western edge of the Indonesian island of Sumatra, Kerinci Seblat National Park is a thick rainforest of rare and unusual flora and fauna. Sumatra is home to endangered rhinos, elephants, orangutans, and ground cuckoos. Still, one of the primary reasons tourists come to Kerinci Seblat is for the chance to see Sumatran tigers.
Notably, the tigers are elusive and nocturnal, which means spotting them in the wild is not as easy as one might think. However, there are guided walks that will provide the opportunity. Perhaps your best bet at seeing the Sumatra tiger is to commit to a multi-day tiger trek. These trips are not cheap, but they do offer the chance of a lifetime at traveling deep into the Sumatran rainforest.
27. Marine Iguanas— Santa Cruz Island – Galapagos
The Galapagos are quite possibly some of the most breathtaking places in the world to see unusual wildlife. Located a little over 600 miles off the Ecuadorian coast, this archipelago of ancient volcanoes comprises 18 primary islands, three smaller ones, and over 100 rocks and isles. Known for its vast number of endemic species, this region was studied extensively by Darwin in 1835.
It would be impossible to hone in on all the creatures one might encounter here, but those who visit Santa Cruz Island are likely to come upon marine iguanas. These black lizards are the only iguanas that can swim and feed from the sea, and they grow to be up to 33 inches with their tail. They are not particularly aggressive but will bob their heads comically to scare away predators. There are plenty of other things to see and do on Santa Cruz Island, and lodging is relatively plentiful, although you will want to book this popular destination well in advance.
28. Elephants—Phuket Elephant Sanctuary, Thailand
Phuket Province is Thailand’s largest island, with a population of around 525,000. Thanks to the warm climate, sandy white beaches, and clear ocean water, it’s a popular tourist destination.
For elephant lovers, the Phuket Elephant Sanctuary is a pricey but rare opportunity to observe how retired working elephants are rehabilitated and acclimated back into the wild after years of neglect and abuse. The operation is the first ethical elephant tourism experience in the region. Visitors will need to book far in advance and can choose either a morning or evening tour of the sanctuary, complete with the chance to meet, feed, walk with, and observe the elephants.
29. Seals—Monomoy Island, Cape Cod
Monomoy Island is an eight-mile stretch of sand and dunes off the coast of Chatham, Massachusetts. Home to the Monomoy Island National Wildlife Refuge, this small island swath has no human residents and no accommodations for tourists. Still, you can charter a local boat operator to take you out for a few hours to check it out and enjoy perfect tranquility.
Among other wildlife, the gray and harbor seals are plentiful in this area, and approximately 30,000 to 50,000 seals make it their stomping grounds. The seals come to shore to breed, give birth, raise their pups, or just lounge around, then return to the Atlantic to feed on shellfish and other crustaceans. As with all of nature, pack in and pack out, leaving everything as you found it so that others can enjoy this unspoiled gem.
30. Bison—Catalina Island, California
Located 29 miles southwest of Long Beach, Catalina Island is a part of California’s Channel Islands and resides within Los Angeles County. The warm Mediterranian-like climate makes it a top tourist destination for boating, sightseeing, and just enjoying its historic charm.
The island is also home to a herd of about 150 bison leftover from a movie filming in the 1920s. The Catalina Island Conservancy maintains the herd, and visitors can take a four-wheeling expedition into Catalina interior to see the American bison in the wild. It’s a fun adventure that is available year-round and requires minimal planning.