Apr 15 2013

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Animal encounters: Go wild on your next trip

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Monarch Butterfly Preserve, Mexico

Spread your wings at Mexico’s Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve, a Unesco World Heritage Site. Photo: Thinkstock

If you love animals but are tired of looking at them through bars at the zoo, here are a few places where you can safely and ethically see beautiful beasts in their natural habitats.

The Four Seasons Resort in Jackson Hole, Wyoming offers half- or full-day safaris guided by experienced naturalists through Grand Teton Park and Yellowstone. The area is a national elk refuge and you can also see bison, brown bears, antelopes, mule deer, river otters and trumpeter swans depending on the season. On select evenings from July to September you can travel through the Teton Range to observe wolves and their pups as they rendezvous with their pack. The Four Seasons Resort provides transportation in luxury SUVs, gourmet meals and everything else you need to enjoy the flora and fauna of the parks.

In Crystal River, Florida, you can get even closer to the animals at the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge, the only place in the world where you can interact with West Indian manatees. From November to March the manatees flock to the warm water of Crystal River to wait out the winter. Tour guides will take you to the secluded pools to snorkel alongside the manatees while they play, eat, and socialize in the 75°F waters. Crystal River is a little more than an hour north of popular vacation destination St. Petersburg and there are numerous local tour operators that will provide transportation to the refuge.

If you’re looking to head south for the winter, you can follow hundreds of millions of butterflies to the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Preserve near Mexico City. From November to March you can observe butterflies covering the trees and filling the sky as you walk through the preserve.  In February the weeklong Festival Cultural de la Mariposa Monarca celebrates the butterflies with food, music, dance, and exhibitions of local arts and crafts. January and February are the peak season, so book your accommodations early if you plan to travel during those months.

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More About: Jamie Smith

Jamie Smith is a writer, traveler and lover of cities currently living in Austin, Texas. Follow her on Twitter at @shameonseamus.
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