I’ve been obsessed with wildlife for as long as I can remember; as a life-long fan of Sir David Attenborough and anything to do with natural history, it’s no surprise that a lot of my destination choices have been based on wildlife encounters.
I’ve been really fortunate in my travels to have had some of the best animal experiences at some of the most amazing wildlife destinations in the world.
I’ve gradually been ticking stuff off my wildlife bucket list, although I’m sure this is getting longer rather than shorter at times!
Of course, the best way to experience wildlife is in its natural environment, however, it can take some planning to know where and when to see certain animals. You can download this handy infographic and checklist here.
So are you ready? it’s time to check out some of the best animal experiences in the world.
How many have you done?
Too busy now? Pin this wildlife bucket list article for later.
What you can expect in this article...
THE BEST ANIMAL EXPERIENCES IN THE WORLD
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BEST ANIMAL EXPERIENCES #1 - GALAPAGOS ISLANDS, ECUADOR
Located about 620 miles off the west coast of Ecuador, The Galapagos Islands are an absolute haven for wildlife and undoubtedly provide some of the best wildlife experiences in the world.
Over 100 islands make up the Galapagos archipelago and of these 13 of them are classed as main islands. One of the best ways to get the most out of your Galapagos experience is on a liveaboard like this.
Made famous by Charles Darwin’s book ‘The Origin of Species’, Darwin made observations about how each species across the different islands had adapted slightly to its environment to survive. These observations went on to become the ‘Theory of Evolution’.
What can I see on The Galapagos Islands?
This is a long and extensive list. However, the iconic creatures are the giant Galapagos tortoise and the Darwin finches. In addition to this, you’ll come across hundreds of fur seals, marine iguanas and the super cute blue-footed boobies.
Look out for the large colony of albatross and flamingoes as well as a ton of sea life. Green turtles can frequently be seen feeding on the seagrass, if you go snorkelling you’ll probably be joined by the nosy seals too. If you’re lucky you might spot a Galapagos shark and blue-spotted eagle rays. Seriously, The Galapagos Islands are phenomenal for wildlife encounters.
When is the best time to visit The Galapagos Islands?
The Galapagos Islands essentially have only two seasons; the dry, or garua, season (July – December) and wet season (January – June) with March and April generally being the wettest months. It’s warm all year round with excellent wildlife spotting opportunities whichever season you go.
Getting to The Galapagos Islands
The easiest way to get to The Galapagos Islands from mainland Ecuador is by plane. There are two airports; one on Baltra Island and one on San Cristobal Island. If you book on to an inclusive tour, they will arrange the transfers from mainland Ecuador, getting between the different islands, a guide, equipment and more.
If you are travelling there independently, then you could book daily tours to visit the different islands. True, you will save a little bit of money, but it’s also not the most efficient way to see the islands. To get the most out of your time in The Galapagos Islands, I highly recommend booking an all-inclusive liveaboard tour for several days sailing around the archipelago.
I can highly recommend G Adventures, who offer a wide range of top quality Galapagos tour options – they also do regular flash sales, so you can grab an absolute bargain! You can check out their current trips here. I did one of their 10-day tours which covered Central, South and East Islands of the Galapagos.
For the ultimate experience, it’s worth checking out this 10 Days Sailing North Central and West Islands of the Galapagos
If you’re pushed for time, then this is a great alternative option; 8 Days Sailing Galapagos to the Central and East Islands with G Adventures.
If neither of these are suitable, then check out some of these other Galapagos Islands Tours
BEST ANIMAL EXPERIENCES #2 - AMAZON RAINFOREST, SOUTH AMERICA
If you are in South America and want one of THE BEST animal experiences, then make sure you visit The Amazon Rainforest. The Amazon Rainforest is immense, it’s a staggering 5.5million kmsq² and spreads over a ton of countries in South America; Brazil (approx. 60%) Peru (about 13%) Columbia, Ecuador, Venezuela, Guyana, Bolivia, Suriname and French Guiana.
Hint: If you’re visiting Quito in Ecuador, check out this homestay excursion to the Amazon Rainforest from the nations capital.
The Amazon Rainforest is the world’s biggest tropical rainforest and according to figures from the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), it’s also home to 427 different mammals, 1,294 birds, as well as 30 million people, including more than 220 indigenous groups.
What can I see in The Amazon Rainforest?
What won’t you see is a better question to ask! I had a 6 day stay in the Amazon Rainforest, so I was able to do a variety of hikes and treks both in the day and night to see different species.
My guide showed me various trees and plants, explaining what they were used for in terms of medicine. During the day time hikes, some of the highlights were seeing the parrots, monkeys, giant otters and piranhas. We also did nighttime hikes to see bugs like the cicada and firefly as well as the snakes and frogs which were more active then.
I kept a logbook everything that I saw, I noted down over 250 wildlife species!
If a jungle hut isn’t your thing, then you might prefer this Amazon River Cruise instead.
When is the best time to visit The Amazon Rainforest?
Any time of year is good to visit The Amazon Rainforest, it’s always warm and humid. The clue in the name RAINforest means it’s no secret that it rains a lot.
The seasons are better divided into the “low water” and “high water” times of the year. Low water season (June to November) boasts fewer daily showers. Less rain means less water in the rivers which can impact getting to places on a boat, therefore some places won’t be accessible. On the other hand, having less rainfall does mean that more of the foot tracks and trails are available.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, the high water season (December to May), there are more options to take a boat to get to certain areas of interest but the offset is that some of the trails are submerged.
Related Article: If you’re visiting Peru one of the most bucket list worthy things to do is the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. This is a 100% must!
If you’re thinking of doing this, be sure to read my review on trekking the Inca Trail here.
Getting to The Amazon Rainforest
This will depend on which country you start in. I visited the Amazon Rainforest from Peru where there are two main points of entry; Iquitos in the northeast and Puerto Maldonado in the south-east.
The specific part of the Amazon Rainforest I visited was Tambopata Reserve which is near to the Bolivian border. I took a flight from Cusco direct to Puerto Maldonado and then a combination of minibus and boats to get to my destination in the jungle.
If you’re looking for an authentic jungle hut experience, I can highly recommend staying at the G Lodge. The comfortable lodge is located close to the river, surrounded by thick rainforest which fills the air with the sounds of birds and monkeys.
You mightbe interested in;
From Peru: Amazon Rainforest 4 Days Jungle Stay
From Peru: Amazon Riverboat Adventure
From Ecuador: Amazon Rainforest Homestay
For two bucket list worthy adventures at once, check out this ultimate combination tour! The Inca Trail to Machu Picchu & The Amazon Rainforest Adventure
BEST ANIMAL EXPERIENCES #3 - GORILLA TREKKING IN EAST AFRICA
This once-in-a-lifetime wildlife experience probably ranks high on most peoples bucket lists. After all, we share 98.3% of our DNA with these primates which make them one of our closest relatives!
There are a few pockets of forest in East Africa; both Uganda and Rwanda offer the opportunity to encounter this endangered species. You can also opt to visit Gorillas in the Congo, however, there have been several reports in recent years of kidnappings of tourists.
The only way to visit the gorillas is part of an official tour with a qualified guide, you will also need a permit. Before you book, make sure you check what is included in the price. For example, in Uganda, a gorilla permit will cost in excess of $600 per person.
What can I see in Uganda and Rwanda?
There are two species of gorilla that you can see in Africa. Either, the eastern gorilla or the western gorilla.
If you’re visiting Uganda and Rwanda, you will encounter the Eastern Gorilla.
Both the western and eastern gorilla is divided into a further two sub-species; the lowland gorilla and the mountain gorilla. Both species of gorilla are on the endangered species list.
You can tick off two amazing wildlife experiences at the same time by combining Gorilla Trekking with a Masai Mara Safari!
Check out this ultimate combination tour! Gorilla Trekking and Masai Mara Safari Adventure
When is the best time to visit Uganda and Rwanda?
Gorilla trekking is an all year round activity in Uganda, although the best time to visit is during the dry season. The perfect months to visit Uganda for gorilla trekking is either January to February or from June through to September.
Nearby Rwanda has a similar season. So if you choose to visit Rwanda for a gorilla trek aim for the dry season which starts in mid-December through to early February and then again between June and September.
Getting to Uganda or Rwanda
The easiest way to visit the gorillas is to fly direct to either Rwanda or Uganda. The distance between the two countries is about 510km, so it is possible to arrive in one country, spend some time there before driving to the other. The drive takes about 7 hours.
You can arrange gorilla trekking independently, or as part of an all-inclusive tour like this.
BEST ANIMAL EXPERIENCES #4 - MAASAI MARA GAME RESERVE, KENYA FOR THE BIG 5
If you’re wanting to see some of the biggest creatures on Earth, then one of the best animal experiences for this is on an African safari. The infamous Maasai Mara is located in south-west Kenya in Narok County, it merges with the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania.
It covers a staggering 1,510 km2 is home to over 90 species of mammals, amphibians and reptiles and over 400 species of bird, including some of the worlds most endangered and biggest land animals. The area is made up of mostly open grassland dotted with shrubs and small forested areas with rivers traversing through.
Although the Massai Mara always steals the limelight, while you’re in Kenya, it’s also worth visiting Lake Nakuru.
What can I see on The Maasai Mara Game Reserve, Kenya?
‘The Big 5’ are the mane (haha bad joke) attraction here; lion, leopard, African elephant, cape buffalo, and black rhinoceros. Other iconic residents to look out for are hippopotamus, crocodiles, wildebeest, topi, zebra, and Thomson’s gazelle, impalas, Maasai giraffe, antelope, hyenas, jackals, cheetahs, bat ear fox, baboons, ostrich, secretary bird, hornbills and vultures. Basically, you’re going to meet the cast of The Lion King!
If you’re really lucky you’ll get to see one of the best animal experiences here. A hunt! I’m a veggie, I’ve been a veggie for years, but this is nature in all its essence. It was outstanding. If you’re even luckier, you might even spot the elusive jaguar.
You can tick off two amazing wildlife experiences at the same time by combining Gorilla Trekking with a Masai Mara Safari!
Check out this ultimate combination tour! Gorilla Trekking and Masai Mara Safari Adventure
When is the best time to visit The Maasai Mara Game Reserve, Kenya?
There are going to be plenty of animals all year round to see in The Maasai Mara Game Reserve. However, the most popular time is during migration season. Thousands of wildebeest herd together in the search of better feeding grounds. This happens around July through to October, with July and August tipped as the best times to go. as well as November however this will vary slightly from year to year.
Getting to The Maasai Mara Game Reserve, Kenya
You have two options to get The Maasai Mara; by land or air. To generalise air is quicker but more expensive and by land is cheaper but takes a lot longer. Your timescale and budget will govern which one you choose. I went by land via a 4×4 I and loved it!
Once outside of Nairobi, the nation’s capital, the landscape is sublime. You also get a slightly better insight into village life as you will pass through lots of them. The bone-shaking journey takes approximately 5 hours so if you suffer from motion sickness I’d recommend taking tablets to alleviate the symptoms.
BEST ANIMAL EXPERIENCES #5 -HUMPBACK WHALE WATCHING IN GREENLAND
We’ve all see the stunning iconic shots of the humpback whale tail vertically out of the water just before it takes a deep dive. One of the best ways to see this is in the waters surrounding Greenland on a multi day Arctic cruise.
As whales go, humpback whales are a lot less jittery when it comes to boats in the vicinity, which makes spotting them much easier than other whale species.
If you’re really fortunate, then you might even glimpse flippers lifting out of the water and slamming into the surface to create a splash to scare fish during a feeding session. And if you’re even luckier, then look out for displays of whales jumping out of the water as they hunt as a pod.
What can I see in Greenland?
Greenland is a great destination to see these giant marine mammals. They are actually protected throughout the whole of Greenland and at the peak season, about 3000 whales reside in the waters around Greenland.
It’s not just the humpback whales that you want to keep a lookout for. Other species of whale also inhabit the waters, with common sightings of both fin whales and minke whales.
If you’re incredibly lucky, then beluga and narwhales have also been spotted as well as blue whales and orcas or perhaps even a polar bear!
When is the best time to see Humpback Whales in Greenland?
Unless you’re wanting to specifically do dog sledging, avoid Greenland in the winters, this is when waters can freeze over.
In terms of weather, the best months to visit Greenland are between June and August, at this time of year, you’ll get to experience the midnight sun!
Whales can be spotted at most points of the year, however, the optimum time to see humpback whales in Greenland is during the migratory summer months, so if humpback whales are your goal, then plan your visit at any point between May and October.
Getting to Greenland
The largest airport in Greenland is Kangerlussuaq Airport. If you can not find a direct flight from your country of origin, look into arriving in Reyjavik (Iceland), Copenhagen and Norway instead and getting a transfer.
BEST ANIMAL EXPERIENCES #6 - KOMODO ISLANDS, INDONESIA FOR KOMODO DRAGONS AND MANTA RAYS
The Komodo Islands has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1990, and then was listed as one of the new 7 Natural Wonders of Nature in 2011.
Situated in Indonesia to the west of Flores Island, the Komodo National Park is an archipelago, with the 3 main islands; Komodo, Padar and Rinca. It’s home to the world largest lizard, the infamous Komodo Dragon. The waters surrounding these islands also offer some top dive spots, in particular, Manta Rays.
What can I see on The Komodo Islands?
Above land, Komodo Dragons are the obvious draw to the island. They can be sighted on both Komodo and Rinca Island. These giant poisonous lizards share the island with about 2000 residents, who go about their everyday life without too much bother from the dragons.
When you visit the islands, you have to go with an official guide bearing his weapon of choice, a wooden stick! For a creature weighing more than a person and with a venomous bite, I think I’d rather hedge my bets on running away, rather than poking it away with said stick. Let’s just hope the dragons are well fed and sleeping it off.
For the dinosaur geek in me, I rank this up with one of the best animal experiences I’ve ever had.
Under the water of Komodo National Park, you’ll find loads of pristine scuba dive sites. Sightings of the gigantic manta ray are common here. If you’re lucky you will spot them at one of the cleaning stations and you can lay on the bottom of the seabed next to them.
When is the best time to visit The Komodo Islands?
Like in lots of south-east Asia, the Komodo Islands have a wet (January – April) and a dry season (May – December). The islands are open all year round though.
From a diving perspective, June and July are the better months to visit due to clearer waters and therefore better visibility.
Getting to The Komodo Islands
The only way to get to The Komodo Islands is by boat. Saying that though, there are a lot of options to choose from. Rickety and noisy wooden day boats with hard wooden seats right up to executive-standard yachts, as well as everything in-between.
Entry to the Komodo Islands is through the small town of Labuan Bajo. It’s located on the west of Flores in south-east Indonesia. This is also the town where you’ll find a ton of dive shops offering various dive trips and excursions to the islands. It’s a good idea to book onto one of the multi-day trips. I did a 4-day/ 3-night trip which included 10 dives and lots of island hopping including the famous Komodo Island for the unnerving animal encounter of meeting the dragons.
Manta Point, Nusa Penida
If you’re spending time travelling around Indonesia, and you’re adding Bali to your list of islands, then make sure you head to Manta Point Nusa Penisa just off the south east coast of Bali to see Manta Rays up close.
BEST ANIMAL EXPERIENCES #7 - GANSBAAI, SOUTH AFRICA FOR GREAT WHITE SHARKS
For some, jumping into a cage to get up close and personal with a potential killer would be the stuff of nightmares; granted it’s not for everyone.
I’ve got a bit of a thing for sharks, I honestly think they are one of the most misunderstood creatures in the sea. Sure, I don’t want to go and give them a cuddle, but equally, they aren’t the savage monsters that the media makes out. To put it into perspective, humans have killed a million times more sharks than sharks have killed humans.
The opportunity to see the Great Whites up close had been on my animal experiences bucket list for a long time. I was finally going to tick it off.
There’s been A LOT of controversy and debate about the ethics behind White Shark Cage diving with valid arguments from both sides. Some say that it’s just a money-making gimmick. True. However, from my personal experience, there was a ton of information given about the sharks before we even set foot on the boat. It was an educational experience more than anything and with how misunderstood these creatures are, I believe this is a good thing.
Once on the boat, our marine biologist guide explained the behaviour of the sharks and what to look out for. For example, the bite marks on the tails most likely meant it was a female shark and these were war-wounds from mating. Talk about rough sex!
At no point were the sharks fed. Nor were they touched in any manner – by hands or objects.
What can I see in Gansbaai, South Africa?
Hopefully, Great White Sharks are going to be on top of your list as well as a horde of seabirds following the boats.
You might also see Cape Fur Seals. A 40,000 strong colony these Seals reside on nearby Geyser Island. It’s the seals which make up the main diet of the Great Whites, and partly why they congregate here.
If for whatever reason there are no Great Whites, it might be because Killer Whales have swam through the area. Keep your eyes peeled for these too.
When is the best time to visit Gansbaai, South Africa?
There is potential to view the sharks all year round and even though you’re likely to see a Great White Shark it’s never going to be 100% guaranteed.
Sometimes, Killer Whales swim through the channel, however, the Killer Whales actually kill Great White Sharks, they are one of their few natural predators. When Killer Whales have been in the area, sightings of Great Whites diminish.
Getting to Gansbaai, South Africa
Gansbaai is a small town located on the southern coast of South Africa. To get to Gansbaai from Cape Town it’s about a 2 ½ – 3 hours car ride. If you’re based in Cape Town then a transfer can be arranged as part of your excursion. Unless you have a car of your own, this is the easiest way to do it.
If you’re up for jumping in the water with this apex predator, check out this Great White Shark Full Day Dive from Cape Town
BEST ANIMAL EXPERIENCES #8 - GREAT BARRIER REEF, AUSTRALIA
The Great Barrier Reef is huge; covers 344,400 km2 to be exact making it the world’s largest coral reef ecosystem meaning it’s going to be a wildlife experience on epic proportions.
In fact, it’s so big that it can be seen from Space and is home to a whopping 600 types of soft and hard corals, more than 100 species of jellyfish, 3000 varieties of molluscs, 500 species of worms, 1625 types of fish, 133 varieties of sharks and rays, and more than 30 species of whales and dolphins. Yeah, epic!
What can I see at The Great Barrier Reef?
So to break it down a little, you are guaranteed to have some pretty amazing wildlife encounters. Although you could snorkel here, to get the most out of visiting The Great Barrier Reef, naturally, you’d want to go scuba dive here.
Look out for the hundreds of Anemone Fish (think Nemo!), Damsel Fish, Trigger Fish, Parrot Fish and Angel Fish all flitting about the colourful coral and sponges.
You’re probably going to see green turtles too and if you’re super lucky, the giant Mauri wrasse. Also keep your eyes peeled for sightings of black-tipped and white-tipped reef sharks skulking about the rocks as well as eels, rays and barracuda.
If you get the chance I highly recommend doing a night dive here too, this is when you’ll get to see the slightly creepier fish and crustaceans being more active.
When is the best time to visit The Great Barrier Reef?
The Great Barrier Reef offers top animal experiences whichever time of the year you choose to visit. However, bear in mind that it’s better to visit outside of the wet season (Dec – Feb) due to storms and monsoons; no one wants to be on a boat in that, plus the underwater visibility isn’t as good.
For the best visibility, June and November are the better months. I visited in January and had about 25m visibility.
Be aware of ‘Stinger Season’. There are two bad boys you really want to be aware of; the Box jellyfish and Irukandji, as their stings can be fatal. Stinger season varies slightly each year so make sure you check with the local information centre, dive shop or lifeguard to find out when it is. As a general rule, it’s during the Australian summer or wet season. If you are planning on doing water activities during stinger season make sure you are wearing a stinger suit to protect yourself and follow any advice given.
Getting to The Great Barrier Reef
The main gateways to The Great Barrier Reef are Airlie Beach and Cairns and at various smaller points between both towns. If you just want to view the reefs from above, you can get a flight, but to really enjoy it you’re going to need a boat.
There is a whole myriad of options to experience The Great Barrier Reef; snorkelling, glass-bottom boats, along with options for day trips, island hopping and liveaboards. For the best wildlife encounters though, you’ll want to scuba dive here.
BEST ANIMAL EXPERIENCES #9 - ORANGUTAN TREKKING IN ASIA
Several places in south-east Asia boast opportunities to see wild Orangutans. I chose Sumatra island in Indonesia. The Gunung Leuser National Park has been a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2004.
Located along the Bohorok river, Bukit Lawang was home to the Orangutan rehabilitation centre. In 1973 two Swiss zoologists set up the centre to care for Orangutans that had been caught up in Indonesia’s logging industry.
Want to know more, then check out this article about Jungle Trekking in Sumatra to see the Orangutans
What can I see in Bukit Lawang?
Hopefully, you will see Orangutans, lots of them. You’ll also see lots of Macaques, if you’re unfortunate, you might also get mugged by them. They are overconfident and opportunistic.
You’ll probably alos see the cute Thomas Leaf Monkey along with plenty of birdlife, insects and plants. Near the rivers keep your eyes peeled for the large Monitor Lizards, which essentially are the Komodo Dragons little cousin.
If you’re really after an up-close-and-personal (and no-so best animal experience) then look out for small leeches at the rivers. I’ve done loads of jungle treks before but this was the first time I’ve managed to get a few of them attached to me!
You can read all about my animal encounters along with my full account on the Orangutan Jungle Trekking experience here.
When is the best time to visit Bukit Lawang?
Rains falls all year round in Bukit Lawang (up to 4000mm of rain a year!) although October through to December are the wettest months. March to August are generally a bit drier but with rains typically falling in the late afternoons and evenings.
Getting to Bukit Lawang
I caught a flight into Medan, the capital of Sumatra in the northeast of the island. From there you have two options; if time is on your side take the public bus. Going via bus will take you the best part of a day, with several transfers needed.
Alternatively, get a taxi, even this option is a 4-hour journey at best! Once in Bukit Lawang, there are plenty of places that will organise the Orang-utan Trek. Some of them just 1-day others up to a full 7 days in the jungle. If this sounds like too much hassle to get here, then the equally awesome yet easier option is to head to Boreno to see Orangutans.
BEST ANIMAL EXPERIENCES #10 - TORTUGUERO, COSTA RICA FOR TURTLES LAYING EGGS
Costa Rica is the perfect destination if you’re looking at some of truly memorable animal experiences. For starters, there are so many national parks, 27 to be exact, scattered across the country.
The National Park of Tortuguero is in the top east corner of Costa Rica on the Caribbean coast with a tiny population of just 500. The only way to get about on this little island is on foot or by bike or as part of an organised excursion to Tortuguero, like this.
Tortuguero essentially translates to ‘Land of the Turtles’. This little spit of land is separated from mainland Costa Rica by canals, rivers on one side. The other side is the sea. The area surrounding Tortuguero is surrounded by beaches, mangrove forests, rivers and lagoons which makes it a haven for wildlife.
What can I see on in Tortuguero?
So given the islands name, there’s no surprise that Turtles are high on the list of stuff to see here. If you’re lucky you can witness turtles laying their eggs or hatchlings dashing to towards the sea. Green, Leatherback, Hawksbill, and Loggerhead turtles have all been known to nest on the beaches here with Green Turtles being the most common.
Birds, reptiles and insects are all in abundance here, including the adorable sloths. Your guide will talk you through the individual species. There are also monkeys. LOTS of monkeys. In particular, the Capuchins cause absolute havoc around some of the nearby resorts and frequently come uninvited into the guest areas to steal food or whatever else they can get their little hands on.
When is the best time to visit Tortuguero?
Tortuguero is in the tropics, so it’s warm and humid, also expect frequent downpours. You can see tons of wildlife all year round, however, if it’s the turtles you are after then be there from July to October to watch them nest along the beaches of Tortuguero.
Getting to in Tortuguero
There are only two ways to get to Tortuguero; boat or plane. The majority of the tours start from the capital, San Jose via minibus stopping off at various points of interest before arriving at one of the ports.
If you’re planning on travelling to Tortuguero independently there are a few options where you can catch the boat from; Moín (close to Limón), La Pavona (north of Cariari) and Caño Blanco (accessible through Siquirres).
If you’re visitng the countyr, take a look at this article if you’re wondering where to see sloths in Costa Rica.
Book onto one of the trips that depart from the capital, San Jose. Then spend a few days exploring the National Park.
Prebook now: 4 days in Tortuguero National Park
Which wildlife encounter are you going to do first?
So, how many of these amazing animal experiences are you going to do? It’s so difficult to choose. I would do all of these in an instant! Don’t forget to download your FREE infograpic and checklist for future reference.
Pin it for later
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What amazing wildlife experiences have you had? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.