Best Places To See Wild Animals

I love Animals. I plan my holidays usually all around seeing (and finding) all sorts of creatures and this passion has sent me to many places all around the world.

But it’s hard to find good info online about the best spots. You need to google like crazy, and for that you need to know what you’re looking for.

So I decided to share some places with you and hopefully encourage you to do (sustainable) trips to some of the most amazing animals left on this planet. I know, flying billions of miles is not sustainable per se. But without tourists most animals would be extinct already. But use good operators, travel with locals, buy from locals. Donate to education in these areas so people understand the necessity of wildlife conservation.

So here we go. Not in a specific order. I’ll update regularly.

Giraffes in Murchison Fall NP | UGANDA
Best place to see Giraffes in Uganda, maybe in the world. We’ve seen probably a hundred of them, sometimes in large herds of 20 or more. Plus lions, elephants, hartebeest, Crocodiles and Hippos. Not to forget the powerful Murchison Falls feeding the Nile river. Some Uganda Wildlife Photos

Chimpanzees in Kobe NP | UGANDA
Also in Uganda, this is the place to see (and hang out with) wild Chimpanzee. You can get your (semi-) private guide and follow these magnificent creatures for a whole day. Beautiful camping at chimpanzee forest guesthouse close by. Some photos from our chimpanzee trekking

Gorillas in Bwindi | RWANDA
Standing just a few meters from a silver back, having his eyes fixed on you, this is a feeling you will never forget. Bwindi is one of the few places left where you can get close to Mountain Gorillas. It’s not cheap but worth every penny. Tricky if you want to self-organize the tour. I will post more info on that later.

African Wild Dogs in Imfolozi | SOUTH AFRICA
There are not much places left in the world were you can see Wild Dogs. Don’t say „in Bucharest!“ because I don’t mean domesticated dogs running wild but the actual Lycaon pictus. Highly intelligent, but very vulnerable to diseases and therefor close to extinction. Imfolozi is one of those places and maybe the most accessible one. It’s not far from Durban, South Africa, and not so large. I’ve spent one day there and got lucky! It’s still not easy to find them and there’s no guarantee. We later learned that there’s a whatsapp group where people chat about animals sightings. We didn’t need it. A group of 20-30 animals was slowly passing us, 5 meters from the car. What a moment.

Bears in Yellowstone | USA
Yellowstone was a surprise to me. I knew I was going to see some animals, and I knew there are all kinds of amazing creatures running around, but I wasn’t aware of the amount of animals and the high probabilities to see really rare species such as grizzlies or wolves. We didn’t see latter, but we saw a grizzly mom with two cups, we saw hundreds of buffaloes in huge herds, antelopes, deer, foxes, elks, eagles, and much more. By far the best wildlife spot in the US and some dramatic landscapes on top. Come in September, when the masses of tourists are leaving, ideally go right at the beginning or ending of the snow-free season, this differs each year. Here are some landscape and animal photos from Yellowstone.

Oregon and the pacific northwest | USA
Another great place to spot wildlife is the Oregon coast and the pacific northwest in general. depending on the time of year you can see whales right off the beach (saw them in late September), there are colonies of sea lions all around (for example at the Newport Docks or at the Florence Light house), deers running around in basically every state or national park, in Olympic National Park we watched wild salmon makes it’s way upstream (end of September) and if you’re lucky you might see a bear around Bend or the Crater Lake. And close to British Columbia you can go on a boat tour to see Orcas.

Condors of the Andeans | BOLIVIA
Flat, dry, only tiny scrubs and bushes, and active volcanoes elevating from already 4000m to 5000m and higher. And in between good chances to see herds of the shy Vicuñas, Guanacos (both part of the Llama family), the great Andean Condor, desert foxes, Viscachas and if you’re lucky even a Nandu (a smaller member of the Ostrich family). And let’s not forget the thousands of flamingos at laguna verde or laguna blanca.

Orang Utans in Bukit Lawang | INDONESIA
One of the few places to see wild Orang Utans. The base, Bukit Lawang, is a cozy little village deep in the Sumatran Jungle, unfortunately Backpackers looking for full moon parties are slowly becoming a problem. Make sure you get a good guide that has an actual license and you’ve read many good things about online. Many so-called guides are feeding Orang Utans to get them close to the village. Accidents happen and farmers shoot them. Stay three days in the jungle, camp out and enjoy the beautiful nature. Orang Utan Trekking Photos  

Tigers in Ranthambore | INDIA
A bit touristy, hard to organize individually and sometimes it feels like a huge zoo, but it’s not. It’s just that for environmental reasons you can only drive into the park with guides, and you can only stay for a few hours. Luckily the tigers are not so shy and if you stay for two or three days you should be able to see one. I did, just for a few seconds, and it was breathtaking to see this majestic animal in the wild.

Sea lions on Kangaroo Island | AUSTRALIA
Such a beautiful island with sandy beaches, little sleepy villages, cliffs and rocks, sand dunes and yes, many animals. As the name suggests there are plenty of kangaroos, but also wombats, tiny penguins, sea lions, snakes, wallabies and lizards. When you enter the island make sure you don’t have any food with you, the local fauna is very sensitive.

Wombats in Wilson’s Promontory | AUSTRALIA
One of my favorite hiking spots in the world, there are many walks from 30min to 7 days. You can easily walk 5 different paths all over the park in one day and see many different animals. Among them of course kangaroos, wallabies, wombats but also many different birds and reptiles. A nice place to camp and hang out with lazy wombats at the campfire

Dingos in the Red Centre | AUSTRALIA
If you rent a 4WD and head out onto the dirt roads you will most likely see wild camels, rock kangaroos and my favorite: wild dingos. And seeing these animals in this surreal landscape of red and orange is definitely something else.

Penguins on Isla Damas, La Serena | CHILE
With a small boat from La Serena you will get close to hundreds of sea lions and even more penguins not far from mainland Chile. The water can be very rough so if you’re easily seasick don’t even bother. If you’re lucky you will see dolphins on the way to the island.

Cows | INDIA
Ok, these are not wild animals, or are they? Nevertheless it’s crazy how many cows you see in the streets, even forcing their way into stores and houses. India is cow-country, here’s a little photo-series all about Indian cows.

Another Day In Paris

Just came back from Paris. Again. Most shops where closed, it was rainy and cold, I stepped into dog-shit and my nose was running. So basically not your ideal holiday. Did I love it? Yes.

I cannot not like Paris. No matter what. Paris is something else for me, a melancholy, a women who stays a dream. I could walk around that city for ages, visit the same spots, cafes and shops for the hundredths time, listen to the same old cheesy chansons in the metro played by the same poor Romanian guys over and over again. I will always complain about the stairs in the metro, I will always cry about the horrible Cappuccino thrown on your table by moody waitresses and I will never enjoy stepping into dog shit that seems to put a layer all over the city, and yet… I love Paris.

So let me try to explain why.

Paris is history. No matter where you look, everything is older than anything you’ve seen before. It feels like running around in a history book. Somehow I do understand why Parisians tend to be arrogant. I would be too if I lived in some random king’s playground.

Paris has the right amount of dirt. Let’s face it, a city without dirt is boring, looks fake. There’s a reason why all former red light districts turn into expensive hip areas these days, be it in Berlin, Copenhagen or New York. We need some dirt, patina, rust, however you call it, to make things look real. A completely restored city centre looks fake, like a super-sized miniature model. So Paris has abundance of patina (let alone dog-shit)

Parisians don’t give a fuck. I gotta admit, that can be a bit annoying sometimes, but mostly it’s inspiring. Women grow hair under their armpits if they want to. Because fuck you. Parisians flock to the same coffee place that has been ambushed weeks before by terrorists, still flowers for the victims all over the place. Because fuck terrorism. And Parisians use their public bike-system more than any other city does. Because fuck fixies.

Parisians like the arts. There isn’t a stretch of a few meters within Paris that is not plastered with announcements for theaters, exhibitions or concerts. There’s even barely a few hundred meters in the city without a venue for theater, exhibitions or concerts. And if you still do find that magic 100m without any of the mentioned, than you’ll surely find a bookstore dedicated to the arts.

Paris gave me Henri Cartier Bresson

(more paris photos: http://www.robinsimon.com/photography/portfolio/travel/paris)

„You Know That This Is The Congo?“

So we decided to drive to the southern part of Queen Elizabeth National Park, the Ishasha sector, where supposably lions on trees could be seen (spoiler: We didn’t see any). At the park entrance the ranger was pretty surprised when I said „we’re camping“. She showed me on a print-out map the place where we could pitch the tent, no facilities, right at the river, the Congo on the other side. That’s right, civil-war-torn Congo. But it couldn’t be that bad if they let us stay there, right? So we drove for about two hours until we reached the „campground“, a stretch of gras between thick bushes, aggressive baboons all around. And indeed, 50 feet from our tent was the river, hundreds of hippos in there, and right behind, the Congo.

We hurried to set up the camp, no one else was there besides us, we even thought about going back but there wasn’t any lodging option for many driving-hours and it was already dark. We just wanted to get into the tent when suddenly a man was coming out of the bushes, no shoes, torn clothes, swinging a machete in his right hand. He slowly walked to us. So that’s it we thought, goodbye life. The guy stopped in front of us, starred for a moment, then said in English, with a thick Uganda-accent, „you know that this is the Congo!“. Pointing his machete towards the river. We nodded, sweating all over. He looked towards the other side and then said „but should not happen anything, should be ok“ as if to calm us down. By then we almost shit our pants. And then he walked away, vanished in the dark bushes.

Great, so now we had baboons, hippos and a machete-swinging guy with blood-red eyes around us, no civilization for hundreds of miles. We got into our sleeping bags, calmed down, when suddenly we heard voices. Not english, but some African language (excuse the superficiality, but at this moment I didn’t give a fuck), at least three people. It was pitch-dark outside by now. Suddenly a torch-light was pointed at our tent. We rushed together, to the middle of the tent, heartbeat skipping. That was it. Probably rebells from the Congo, having a good time slaughtering us and feeding our guts to hungry nile crocodiles. The voices came closer, knocking on our car, flashlights on, off, on. Then we heard wood bursting, a fire. So they were either preparing a us-on-a-stick BBQ, or they were actually just camping here? After about one hour and still alive we started calming down a little bit. Maybe it wasn’t so bad after all?

Then the music started. Loud, Uganda radio-rap. No bass, just the Android-trebble on full blast. I hate bad music, did I mention? So after a while I decided to talk to these guys, ask them to be a bit quieter. I opened the tent and shouted into the dark, towards the fire where four large men where standing, something about turning down the music, if possible. Great move. A second later, a torchlight was pointed right at me and the guy with the cell phone in his other hand walked towards me. Shit, just this one time I could have shut up. This was the end, finally, I knew it. So the guy, about 10 feet high, got in front of me, when I realized that the torchlight (now pointing right into my iris) was mounted on top of a machine gun. In my face. And the guy said „so you don’t like my music?“. Fuck. „No, of course, good stuff, didn’t hear it before really“. He took a moment. People here like to take a moment. Then he said „But you know that this is the Congo?“, pointing the light towards the river. „But should nothing happen tonight“.

And so it turned out these guys where rangers. To protect us from Hippos, and the Congo. How great was that? Four guys staying awake just to make us feel safe! If just anyone could have told us before… The next morning when we arrived at the park-gate again the ranger asked how the night was. I said „great, besides the machine guns“, and she said „oh, yes, should have told you. But you know, there’s the Congo“. Now we know that there’s the Congo. Halleluja.

Must Have Camera Equipment

As soon as you’ve decided to travel to Uganda and Rwanda, stalking the amazing Mountain Gorillas, driving through remote areas of the Queen Elizabeth National Park and breathing the vibe of Kampala or Kigali you start organizing the necessary camera equipment in your head already. Now, you need to get working on that shopping list. As a serious photographer you need to buy stuff. We just have to. Maybe Robert Capa didn’t use 20 different lenses, tools, gadgets and stuff, but that was ages ago (If you’re now wondering who Robert Capa is you’re not qualified yet and you should refer to my blog post „Must Have Photography Knowledge“). Buying that new 16-35mm 2.8 is so important because you simply can’t work with that 17-40mm 4.0 anymore, how could you? „There are worlds between them“. But then a friend suggests that owning a pancake lense really makes a difference and guess what, it does. Can’t live without it. You get the idea.

So Uganda, Rwanda, safari. That means you pack your basic stuff: two cameras, two battery packs, 7 lenses including the white 400mm monster, all sorts of cables, adapters, filters, spare batteries, spare lenses, spare anything. You need spare stuff if you take the game seriously. In addition you’re worried about a possible data loss so you pack the external photo-backup drive as well. We’re now reaching the 15Kg, well ahead of the hand luggage allowance and definitely too much for your weak and slim shoulders. We’re getting there.

The grand finale: you need to bring a flash. Yes. Despite the fact that you’re going on a safari, that you’ve probably shot two pictures with a flash in your life (and those two shots where tests if the flash works) you just need to bring that flashy tool, because you never know. „Never knowing“ is important when you pack your equipment. To make sure you won’t run out of batteries (one set of 4x AAA only lasts for roughly a billion shots) you need to pack another 24 (+6!) batteries to feel comfortable.

That’s what it takes to be a serious photographer. Nothing less.

Meanwhile on the trip you meet these disgusting semi-pros fumbling one-digit EOS cameras in P-mode, launching build-in flashes (how could you) while trying to capture a sunset over the vast plains of Murchison Falls National Park. You joke about their non-L lenses or L-lenses mounted on three-digit EOS cameras and deep inside you hope for that bloodthirsty beast jumping into their jeep, goring on their arms and gorilla-pods while you can shoot 12 frames per second in silent mode. Full frame.

Back at home, when you import those 8.500 zebra photos into Lightroom (and you wonder how Lightroom actually works), when you export these photos to meaningless websites without followers or bad agencies where you make $2.78 per image, you will reminisce about the trip, the dislocated shoulder and the power adapter that fit but there was no power, and you’ll realize that something was missing, probably another monopod, a bean-bag, additional filters, more pouches and probably some lens-cleaning kit. And when all this is done, bought, carried, and reminisced about you will reach the point where I am right now, the next level: switching to another system. Probably Leica. More expensive. Starting over all again. Yeah baby.

(PS: If you’re a guitar player and you’re member of an unknown band, please read my (not yet written) blog post „Must Have Music Equipment“)

Road-Trip(ping) Uganda

Uganda in general is not the easiest place to travel through. First of all, driving happens (mostly) on the left side. The wrong side. Then, there’s not much of a reliable (safe) bus system and unless you’re an adrenalin-junkie or you want to end your life sooner than later I wouldn’t recommend boarding a bus. They speed with 2 gazillions mph through tiny roads, mile deep bump holes, destroying anything in their way: bicycles, dogs, mankind.

So most tourists choose the more reliable option: booking an operator or a designated driver. It has several advantages: you don’t die in the bus, you have someone who knows his way around, there’s someone who can talk to locals and usually cars are well maintained so you get places.
The disadvantage is: You die by being hit by a bus, you rely on the driver instead of communicating yourself through Uganda, and the biggest issue for me: you have someone driving you. Don’t want that. Neither do I want a group of 14 Germans traveling with me, popping out their well-equipped, overrated Nikon camera systems and eating boiled eggs all day long.

So the best option is to drive yourself and go camping. Sure, you’ll die because either a bus forces you down the cliff or you’ll hit one of the million mile-deep pot-holes on the road, but at least there are no German tourists with you in the car, or else. And there’s actually a great company renting out 4WDs in Uganda, they’re called „Road Trip Uganda“. We came from Rwanda and for some extra fee they delivered the car right to the border town so we didn’t have to detour all the way to Kampala. The car was a tiny two-door Toyota Rav4. Ugly as hell and boy, did we love that car. It even had a name, Hulkie. The rear mirror was broken, fell down with every tiny shake, the driver seat had a loose spring harassing my butt, the steering wheel was unbalanced so you had to steer straight in order to go right, the car was so packed that not even a mosquito fit between the roof and the equipment but boy, did we love it. Within two weeks we managed to hit bumps and holes and walls and whatnot, and each time we thought „that’s it“. But that wasn’t it. Hulkie kept on going, sturdy little worker. We drove through three-feet deep water, stretches of heavy mud, but Hulkie showed no signs of weakness. We once parked dirt-covered Hulkie somewhere in a park when a ranger stopped by, looked at the car, silently nodded and just said „that’s a strong little bastard“.

So for two weeks the three of us (including Hulkie) went on a road trip. Road Trip Uganda provided the whole camping equipment. Tent, sleeping bags, pillows, tools, lights, plates, pots, chairs, a table, gas, everything. We made pasta in the evening and slept like babies, hearing Hippos grazing around us. Besides that one time when I had a machine gun pointed at my face, at the border to the Congo.

Other than that, camping in Uganda is smooth, there are simple camp grounds everywhere, and as long as you don’t mind very basic showers and restrooms you will love the nature, the friendliness of Uganda and the freedom you’ll have. Plus the money you’ll safe.

After two weeks we had to return Hulkie in Kampala. The transition was smooth, no-one minded the thorn-scratched car, and we had to say goodbye to our sturdy little bastard. If I ever drive through Uganda again, then only with a Rav4 and a map of the border to the Congo.

(more uganda images: http://www.robinsimon.com/photography/portfolio/uganda)