Some people travel to see famous monuments, like Paris’ Eiffel Tower or Phnom Penh’s Angkor Wat. Others travel to take in the more ephemeral offerings a place has to offer, like the street art of Sao Palo or a warm beignet from the French Quarter in New Orleans.
These 10 destinations offer a different kind of attraction, their resident animals. None of these cities would be the same without their native creatures. Every year, millions flock to feed a monkey, ride a camel or mimic the penguins. It is the rare person that doesn’t claim the experience to be one of the best of the trip.
From the deer in Nara, Japan, to the narwhals of the Arctic Circle, these destinations will bring to life your spirit animal.
1. Deer at Nara Park
Photo by Lauren Kilberg
This ancient capital city makes a perfect day trip from Kyoto. The city is home to T?dai-ji, a temple and UNESCO World Heritage Site that houses the largest wooden Buddha in Japan. While there’s no denying the significance of this structure, the real splendor of a visit to Nara is the more than 1,000 wild deer that roam the temple grounds and greater Nara Park. The deer are considered a natural treasure. While the deer roam freely, they might not let you do the same. Watch your back (literally), many of the deer aren’t shy and have been known to approach aggressively in hopes of getting fed by the crowds of people visiting the temple. Vendors just outside the temple sell crackers for feeding the deer. Don’t worry too much about getting nudged by the hoofed animals, their horns are cut every October in an event known as the Deer-horn Cutting Ceremony.
2. Elephant Nature Park
Chiang Mai, Thailand
Photo by Christian Haugen / Flickr
The elephant is Thailand’s national animal. While elephant treks and riding these animals is a popular activity among backpackers stopping in Chiang Mai, there are arguably better ways to appreciate and experience Thailand’s most revered animal.
Just under 40 miles outside Chiang Mai is the Elephant Nature Park, a sanctuary that has been rescuing dozens of mistreated elephants from the tourism and logging industry. The park offers single-day, overnight and weeklong visits that will put you face-to-face with the elephants. ENP is all about protecting and caring for these wild animals, so elephant rides are one experience you won’t have while visiting. Instead, you’ll spend meaningful time with the animals while helping feed and bathe them. Proceeds from your visit, along with donations to the Save Elephant Foundation, help to provide a safe environment for elephants.
Photo by Sandwich / Flickr
There are few animals more closely associated with the barren and frigid landscape of Antarctica than penguins. While it’s not an easy destination to visit, if you do make it to the end of the Earth, you’ll likely find seven of the 17 species of penguins there, including the mighty emperor variety. Visiting is only possible between November and March, during the Southern Hemisphere’s summer, and is typically accomplished via cruise. A number of lines offer routes to Antarctica, including G Adventures.
4. Pushkar Camel Fair
Camels play an important role in the culture in India, especially in the northern state of Rajasthan where you can ride a camel back into the Thar Desert on an overnight caravan or catch a camel polo match (it’s just what it sounds like) while visiting Jaipur. One of the greatest events involving this animal, however, is the Pushkar Camel Fair (pictured above) that’s held every November. The event draws hundreds of thousands of locals and tourists to the village of Pushkar. They gather to partake in an array of festivities, the majority of which involve the reported 50,000 or more camels in attendance each year. The camels are elaborately decorated and put on parade, raced and even sold during the fair. This is one of the most famous events in India, so be sure to book your accommodations well in advance if you’re planning a visit.