Best Places to Interact With Animals in the U.S.
From the November/December 2010 issue of National Geographic Traveler
Skip the scuba certification. In Swim with the Fishes, you’re fitted with a small tank, regulator, mask, and flotation device that allow you to float on the surface of the 500,000-gallon coral reef exhibit to watch thousands of aquatic creatures, including moray eels, grouper, and a sea turtle. Ages 6 and older; $85 (includes admission).
New England Aquarium
Harbor seals love nothing more than fishsicles—dog toys and squid frozen together into blocks of ice—and a good water-spray massage from a hose. At Play with the Seals, go behind the scenes of their outdoor habitat, meant to simulate a rocky New England beach, with marine mammal trainers to help entertain the pups. Ages 9 and older; $45.
Pull on a pair of waders and step onto an underwater ledge in the Beluga Encounter Habitat for an intimate look at these highly social creatures, also known as white whales or sea canaries, so-called for their high-pitched twitter. Touch the whales’ skin, try out a few training techniques, and go home with a framed photo to remember it all. Ages 10 and older; $250.
Ventana Wildlife Society
Spend the day at a remote base camp high in the Big Sur wilderness—one of five condor release sites in the United States—helping the staff to collect data and track California condors as they gracefully soar above the jaw-dropping ocean views 2,800 feet below. $250.
Yellowstone Association Institute
Wolves are best observed in the quiet backdrop of winter. Join a team of naturalists in the three-day Winter Wolf Discovery Lodging and Learning program to snowshoe in the Northern Range of Yellowstone National Park, often called the American Serengeti because of its abundance of wildlife. Ages 12 and older; from $650.
- Nat Geo Expeditions
In the wild, giraffes graze on acacia twigs, grasses, and fruit—as much as 75 pounds a day—but at the new 11-acre Giants of the Savannah exhibit, where visitors can hand-feed them at eye level, their favorite snack is romaine leaves. $5.
San Diego Zoo
Scratch a rhino’s belly, hug a flamingo, and get a lesson from the trainers on how to talk to some of the animals on this VIP Backstage Pass tour of one of the largest zoos in the country. Perks include a professional photo session with a cheetah and reserved show seating. Ages 5 and older; $99.
New Orleans, Louisiana
Touch arthropods in a re-created entomologists’ field camp, “shrink” to bug size to explore the subterranean world, and dine on insect specialties like Cajun-fried crickets. $15; $10 for ages 12 and under.