10 Best Safaris to Take Right Now

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Going on safari is one of life's ultimate thrills. The word itself means “journey” in Swahili, making treks through the bush a pursuit closely associated with Africa, but a new breed of safari is a emerging, taking intrepid travelers around the world. Polar bears in Arctic Canada, mountain gorillas in Rwanda, and pandas in China are just some trips whisking adventurers into a world of natural wonders. This list emphasizes the most bold, iconic and emerging safaris today and into 2015.

by Anisha Shah

Anisha Shah is a luxury and emerging destinations travel journalist. Her background as BBC TV & radio news reporter combined with long-standing love affair for travel, sees her first on the scene of new and exciting travel hotspots. Her work has appeared in Huffington Post, Fodor’s and Billionaire. Follow Anisha on Twitter: @anishahbbc.

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Borneo

WHERE: Indonesia

Famous Residents: Orangutans

The journey into Indonesian Borneo is itself an adventure—flying to Kalimantan's teeny rural airport, walking the plank onto a boat, navigating a narrow black river loaded with crocodiles deep into thick jungle, and staying in remote eco-lodges on stilts. Your first glimpse of a wild orangutan will make the journey will worth it. The naturally curious species will delight travelers with their rolling, hanging, and swinging, but be wary of getting too close, as they are incredibly strong.

When To Go: March to October

Insider Tip: Indonesian Borneo is remote and less accessible than Malaysian Borneo, but you could have the orangutans to yourself. Pre-book the trip through a travel agent for trusted insider information.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor's Indonesia Guide

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NAGARHOLE NATIONAL PARK

WHERE: South India

Famous Residents: Tigers

This former royal hunting reserve in Karnataka state, once exclusively reserved for Wodeyar Kings, later became a tiger reserve and national park, also home to leopards, wild dogs, sloth bears, and hyenas. Alternate between a coracle floating raft, a motorboat, and a Jeep for the best viewing of the lush valleys, rivers, and large focal reservoir, where you can spot elephant, wild boar, several snake species, and 270 bird species.

When To Go: September to May

Insider Tip: With so much beauty outside, the Kaav boutique hotel does an admirably job of grabbing your attention, hidden away in a tranquil wilderness setting with an infinity pool.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor's South India Guide

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Volcanoes National Park

WHERE: Rwanda

Famous Residents: Silverback Mountain Gorillas

The “land of a thousand hills,” Rwanda features a skyline punctuated with mountains, volcanoes, and stepped vertiginous fields. Volcanoes National Park, Africa's first, covers 48 square miles and encompasses six volcanoes, bordering Uganda and DR Congo. Tracking the critically endangered mountain gorillas is challenging, and requires scaling steep volcanoes, up three-foot grooves and down five-foot plunges. Trekking gear is essential but a glimpse of the enigmatic silverback will make the journey will worth it.

When To Go: Mid-May to Mid-October

Insider Tip: For comfort in rustic luxury, stay at the hilltop Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge, with breathtaking volcano views.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Rwanda Tourism

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GALAPAGOS ISLANDS

WHERE: Off the coast of Ecuador

Famous Residents: Marine Iguanas

It can be a startling sight to behold the first time you see thousands of the scaly-skinned marine iguanas covering the black volcanic rock beach in the Galapagos. Famously dubbed “hideous-looking” by Charles Darwin, their bulging eyes track voyagers, as they carefully place their steps. In the distance, you'll hear bull sea lions fighting, blue-footed boobies performing a synchronized mating dance, and dolphins surfing the shallow waves. Watch a shark fin coast offshore, whilst overhead, Frigate birds bear giant red heart-shaped chests, in search of a mate.

When To Go: Year-round (June-November is the cold season)

Insider Tip: The best way to explore Galapagos Islands is by boat. Opt for a small intimate cruise, such as Yacht La Pinta, with renowned guides, gourmet meals, and plentiful water and land activities.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor's Galapagos Islands Guide

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HIGH ARCTIC

WHERE: Canada

Famous Residents: Polar Bears

Few locations are as remote or daunting as the Canadian arctic, with its untameable wilderness dotted with jagged glaciers and rolling tundra. Ride aboard custom-built polar rovers into a frozen land of towering cliffs and epic fjords. The lords of the Arctic, polar bears cavort and prowl the ice, while mothers and cubs leap across ice floes.

When To Go: March to November (except April and September)

Insider Tip: Visit Isabella Bay to see the threatened bowhead whale population. Kayak amongst pods of Beluga whale families to hear their songs and chatter. Add helicopter flights, dogsledding, and kayaking for added wow factor.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor's Canada Guide

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COCKSCOMB BASIN

WHERE: Belize

Famous Residents: Jaguars

One hundred and fifty square miles of Belizean tropical rainforest contain the world's only jaguar preserve. Concealed within its borderless boundaries are flora, fauna, wildlife and a hidden Maya ceremonial site. The highest mountain in Belize soars above, offering largely unexplored territory. Using pugmarks and deposits, track the elusive jaguar through the park. Sightings are extremely rare, but the thrill of the chase makes for a great expedition. Take a night trek for an added dose of adventure.

When To Go: January to May

Insider Tip: Expert guides combine uniquely Belizean jungle activities, such as cave tubing, Maya ruins explorations, and horseback riding. Check into the plush Blancaneaux Lodge, Hollywood director Francis Ford Coppola's hideaway retreat.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor's Belize Guide

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KRUGER NATIONAL PARK

WHERE: South Africa

Famous Residents: The Big 5          

Kruger is the quintessential South African safari in one of the most popular African destinations. Family-friendly, well-established, and safe, this park almost guarantees a sighting of most of the Big 5—the Africa lion, elephant, Cape buffalo, leopard, and rhinoceros. Set out in a Jeep, on foot, in a hot air balloon, or on a small Cesna plane. The excellent guides perfectly showcase the epic, world-renowned wilderness.

When To Go: July to November

Insider Tip: Book well in advance to stay at the luxurious Exeter River Lodge is first to fill. For an equally opulent alternative, try the beautifully furnished Savanna Lodge.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor's South Africa Guide

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ISALO NATIONAL PARK

WHERE: Madagascar

Famous Residents: Ring-Tailed Lemurs

Shady gorges and cool streams offer respite amidst the Isalo sandstone massif, a Jurassic-era barren wonderland of twisted rock formations. Trek to higher levels of deciduous woodland to seek out the curiously cute ring-tailed lemurs, native to Madagascar. Leaping from rock to rock and wandering through the pathways, these wide-eyed creatures make for a highly entertaining, cartoon-like spectacle.

When To Go: April to December

Insider Tip: This area doesn't offer the same kind of luxury as other safari destinations, but the wildlife sightings here can't be found anywhere else. Live and eat well at family-owned Le Relais de le Reine, with rooms built from granite, camouflaged beautifully into surrounding nature.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Madagascar National Tourism Board

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ETOSHA NATIONAL PARK

WHERE: Namibia

Famous Residents: The Big 5

The stark, arid scenery of Etosha National Park makes the Big 5 easily spottable, and you'll also be able to see some species unique to the area. Watering holes swell in the heat with zebra, lion, cheetah and leopard, and at Waterberg Plateau, look out for black rhino.

When To Go: Year-round

Insider Tip: Close to a popular waterhole, Onguma Tented Camp is perfectly positioned for doorstep sightings amidst luxurious surroundings.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor's Namibia Guide

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CHENGDU

WHERE: China

Famous Residents: Giant Pandas

Wolong Nature Reserve is one of 50 areas established by the Chinese government to protect giant panda populations. With poaching and deforestation curbed, pandas are now better protected, affording trekkers the opportunity to see these rare giants in the Alpine Valley on the Tibetan Plateau. See the animals up close at the giant panda research base in Chengdu, home to 100 of the monochromatic creatures. Visit Bifengxia Panda Center in the mountainous Ya'an area to see pandas in more natural environs.

When To Go: Year-Round

Insider Tip: Book through a travel agent to gain special permits and access a different side of China. In Chengdu, hotels are abundant and the Crowne Plaza garners consistently good reviews. For those visiting Ya'an, try the comfortable Honghzu Hotel.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor's Chengdu Guide