Best animal experiences in the World
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Best animal experiences in the World

I’ve always loved wildlife so it was only natural that a lot of my destination choices have been animal orientated. I’ve been really fortunate to have  witnessed some of the best animal experiences at some of the World’s top wildlife destinations.

Check out some of the Worlds best animal experiences that any wildlife buff should add to their bucket list.

If you love wildlife then read on to find some of the best animal expeiences in the World.

Over the coming months I will be adding to this post as I trawl back through my archives. In no particular order, these are my first 10!

1. The Galapagos Islands, Ecuador

2. The Grat Barrier Reef, Australia

3. The Maasai Mara Game Reserve, Kenya

4. The Komodo Islands, Indonesia

5. The Amazon Rainforest, South America

6. Great White Sharks, Gansbaai, South Africa

7. Oran-gutans in Bukit Lawang, Indonesia

8. Turtles in Tortuguero, Costa Rica

9. Mola Mola (Sunfish), Indonesia

10. Bull Sharks, Mexico

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1. Galapagos Islands, Ecuador

The Islands, made famous by Charles Darwin’s book ‘The Origin of Species’ where Darwin got his idea of the ‘Theory of Evolution’ by making observations about how each creature had adapted to its surroundings.

Set about 620 miles off the west coast of Ecuador, the Galapagos Islands are a haven for wildlife and enthusiasts alike.

 

How can I get there?

There are over 100 islands that make up the Galapagos archipelago, 13 of these are classed as main islands. The biggest being Isabella Island. The easiest way to get to the Islands from mainland Ecuador; either by boat or by plane. Two airports (Baltra; often called Santa Cruz or San Cristobal). Once on the islands, there is a decent choice tourist buses or taxis (if you booked a tour in advance you will probably have transfers included). To get around to the different islands you will need to go by boat. Do some research into this beforehand as there are a lot of options available; think about what you want to do and see (day trip/ live aboard) and what your timescale and budget have.

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Galapagos Seal.....and the Galapagos Becki

What can I see?

To list a few species; Giant Tortoise, Dolphins, Green Turtles, Fur Seals, Blue Footed Boobies, Albatross, Darwin Finches, Iguanas and Flamingos. One of the best animal experiences here is swimming with the seals!

When is the best time to go?

The Galapagos Islands essentially have only two seasons; the dry, or garua, season (July – December) and the hot or wet season (January – June) with March and April generally being the wettest months. Overall it’s a year-round destination with good wildlife spotting opportunities whenever you choose to go.

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Iguanas are EVERYWHERE!

2. 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. It’s so big that it can even be seen from Space and is home to 600 types of soft and hard corals, more than 100 species of jellyfish, 3000 varieties of mollusks, 500 species of worms, 1625 types of fish, 133 varieties of sharks and rays, and more than 30 species of whales and dolphins.

reference: http://www.gbrmpa.gov.au/about-the-reef/facts-about-the-great-barrier-reef

How can I get there?

You can access the Great Barrier Reef from a number of towns along the northeast coast of Australia. The main gateways being Airlie Beach and Cairns. The main mode of transport is by boat, but flights are also available. There is a whole myriad of options to see the Great Barrier Reef, snorkelling, scuba diving, glass-bottom boats, along with options for day trips, island hopping and liveaboards.

 

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Green turtle

What can I see?

Being home to such an abundance of organisms, you are guaranteed to see some pretty amazing stuff. For the full Great Barrier Reef experience, my recommendation is to scuba dive. Coral and sponges as well and thousands of tropical reef fish such as Anemone Fish (think Nemo!), Damsel Fish, Trigger Fish, Parrot Fish and Angel Fish to name a few iconic species. Sightings of Green Turtles are a fairly common too. If you’re really lucky look out for the beautiful and gigantic Mauri Wrasse. Also keep your eyes peeled for sightings of reef sharks skulking about the rocks as well as eels, rays and barracuda. If you have the chance I highly recommend doing a night dive here, where the slightly creepier fish and Crustaceans are more active.

When is the best time to go?

The Great Barrier Reef will offer 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 or desert island in that!

With regards to visibility, June and November are supposed to be the best. I visited in January, and although apparently in the height of storm season, experienced no storms on my dive trip and had good visibility, about 25m.

SAFETY POINT: Be aware of ‘Stinger Season’. The two bad boys in this mix that you really want to be aware of are the Box Jellyfish and Irukandji. The season varies slightly each year so make sure you check with the local Information Centre/Dive Shop/ Lifeguard etc. to find out when it is, as a general rule it’s during the Australian Summer/Wet season. If you are planning on doing water activities during stinger season make sure you are wearing a stinger suit to protect you and follow any advice given.

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Titan trigger fish - watch out for those 'teeth'!

3. Maasai Mara Game Reserve Kenya

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.

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Solo cheetah on the hunt

How can I get there?

There are two ways to get to 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 the Nairobi, the landscape is sublime and 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 definitely recommend taking tablets to alleviate the symptoms.

 

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Photographer being photographed

What can I see?

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, Horn Bills and Vultures. One of the best animal experiences here was having the opportunity to watch a hunt! It was outstanding.

When is the best time to go?

There will be plenty of animals all year round to see, however, the most popular time to go is when the Migration is happening. July/ August are tipped as the best times to go as well as November however this will vary slightly from year to year.

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Baby elephants play fighting

4. Komodo Islands, Indonesia

The Komodo Islands have recently been listed as one of the New 7 Natural Wonders of Nature in 2011 and as a UNESCO Heritage site in 1990. It’s not difficult to see why.

Situated in Indonesia to the west of Flores Island, the Komodo National Park is an archipelago made up of 3 main islands; Komodo, Padar and Rinca, and several other smaller islands. It’s home to the world largest lizard, the infamous Komodo Dragon. The waters surrounding these islands also offer some top dive spots.

How can I get there?

The only way to get to the Komodo Islands is by boat. There is quite a selection to choose from ranging from rickety and noisy wooden day boats to executive standard yachts, as well as everything in-between. Entry to the Komodo Islands is through the town of Labuan Bajo on the west of Flores Island in South East Indonesia. This is also the town where a myriad of Dive Shops have taken residence offering various dive trips and excursions to the islands. I used well established dive shop for my 4Day/3Night trip.

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Komodo dragon, beautiful but deadly

What can I see?

Above land, Komodo Dragons are the obvious creature to see here. Komodo Dragons can be sighted on both Komodo and Rinca Island; however, these giant lizards are poisonous. Although omodo and Rinca Island; however, these giant lizards are poisonous. Although the humanoid residents to the island go about their everyday life without too much bother from the Dragons (around 2000 people live on the islands!), you can only walk about as a tourist with an official guide and his wooden stick to protect you. For a dinosaur nut like me, this was an awesome animal experience. It’s proabably as close to a prehistoric looking creature that I will ever get.

Under the water of Komodo National Park boasts a whole plethora of wildlife to be spotted. One of the biggies in the area are the Manta Rays. There is a wide range of dive sites here and enough for even the most experienced diver feel spoilt for choice; coral and sponge, wall/rock, muck and drift dive sites are all here with the abundance of things to spot.

When is the best time to go?

The Komodo Islands have a wet (January – April) and a dry season (Many – December). For diving, June and July are the better months to visit the Komodo Islands.

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Face of a dragon

5. Amazon Rainforest, South America

If you are in South America, and want THE BEST animal experience then make sure you visit The Amazon Rainforest. The Amazon Rainforest is immense, it’s a staggering 5.5million kmsq². It spreads over a ton of countries in South America; Brazil (approx. 60%) Peru (about 13%) Columbia, Ecuador, Venezuela, Guyana, Bolivia, Suriname and French Guiana. The Amazon Rainforest is the world’s biggest tropical rainforest and according to figures from the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), it is also home to 427 different mammals, 1,294 birds, as well as 30 million people, including more than 220 indigenous groups.

How can I get there?

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 which is near to Bolivia. 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.

 

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Tree Frog

What can I see?

What won’t you see is a better question to ask! I had a 6 day stay in the jungle so I was able to do a variety of hikes and treks both in the day and night to see different animals. Parrots, Monkeys, Piranhas, Bugs, Snakes, Spiders just to give categories of animals. I kept a log book of everything that I saw – in a 6-day trip we spotted over 250 species.

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This was a tiny little twig sized snake, anyone know what it is?

When is the best time to go?

Any time of year is good to visit the Amazon, it’s always warm, humid and the name RAIN forest is a pretty big clue 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.

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Super cute looking Wine Glass Fungus

6. Great White Sharks, Gansbaai, South Africa

For some, jumping into a cage to get up and personal with a potential killer would be the stuff of nightmares; granted it’s not for everyone. However, I have a thing for sharks so the opportunity to see the Great Whites up close had been on my animal experience bucket list for a long time and was something I was adamant that I would do in South Africa.

 

Gansbaai is a small town located on the southern coast of South Africa. Seals make up the main diet of the sharks main and Great Whites congregate here due to 40,000 strong population of Cape Fur Seals on nearby Geyser Island. Although not 100% guaranteed due to the fact that they are a wild animal, the chances of seeing a Great White here are fairly high.

Note: there has been A LOT of controversy and debate about the ethics behind White Shark Cage Diving with valid arguments for and against it. From my personal experience, there was a ton of information/ education given about the sharks before we even set foot on the boat. Once on the boat, the marine biologist on board explained the behaviour of the sharks and what to look out for (e.g. bite marks on the tails of female sharks from mating). At no point where the sharks actually fed (there were some fish scraps on the end of a rope but that was it) or poked/jabbed with a pole.

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...and this was a 'fairly small one'

How can I get there?

From Cape Town it’s about a 2 ½ – 3 hours drive out to Gansbaai. Transfers can be arranged when you book your dive, usually at an extra cost.

What can I see?

Great Whites are pretty much the only thing to witness here unless you include the seagulls that follow the boats. Even though there is a high chance that you will see the Great Whites, it’s not 100% guaranteed.

When is the best time to go?

There is potential to view the sharks all year round.

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Best seat in the house - from the safety of the cage!

7. Orang-utans in Bukit Lawang, Indonesia

Several places in both Malaysia and Indonesia boast opportunities to see wild Orang-utans; I chose Sumatra Island in Indonesia. Situated on the Bohorok river, Bukit Lawang is a village located on the edge of the Gunung Leuser National Park. It’s been a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2004 as well as being home to a variety of bird, plant and mammal species as well as the iconic Sumatran orangutan.

In 1973 two Swiss zoologists set up an Orang-utan rehabilitation centre to care for Orang-utans that had been caught up in Indonesia’s logging industry. The Orang-utans in this jungle were initially semi-wild however over the years they have been breeding so now this jungle also includes Orang-utans which would have had next to no human interaction; these Orang-utans were certainly on the more shyer side and preferred to hide up in the dense trees opposed to the rehabilitated ones which were quite curious of people.

Interested in finding out more about Jungle Trekking in Sumarta to see the Orangutans? Then click here to read the full article.

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She was a rehabilitated orang-utan.

How can I get there?

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 bus – it 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.

What can I see?

Aside from the Orang-utan, you will also see lots of Macaque and Thomas Leaf Monkey. Plenty of species of birds, insects and plants. Near rivers, you’ll probably see Monitor Lizards (the Komodo Dragons smaller cousin). If you’re after an up-close-and-personal animal experience then look out for small leeches in the rivers – I’ve done lots of jungle treks before but this was the first time I got a few of the critters attached to me.

If this animal experience sounds right up your street, then why not read my full article on my Jungle Trekking exeperience in Bukit Lawang to see the Orangutans; click here to read  it.

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Monitor Lizard, the cousin to the Komodo Dragons

When is the best time to go?

Rains falls all year round in Bukit Lawang (up to 4000mm of rain a year!) October through to December are the wettest months and March through to August are generally a bit drier. Rains typically falls late afternoons and evenings.

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This Thomas Leaf Money was very disgruntled that we wouldn't let him into our rain shelter

Want to find out more? Then check out my full article on the Jungle Trek in Sumatra to see the Orangutans, click here to read  it.

8. Turtles in Tortuguero, Costa Rica

Costa Rica is an absolute haven for anyone who loves the natural world; from waterfalls, rivers, forests, volcanoes, beaches and that’s not even mentioning the wildlife! It has so many national parks (27 to be exact) it’s unreal. It certainly should be a must-go destination for anyone after animal experiences.

Tortuguero is a national park located in the top east corner of Costa Rica on the Caribbean coast. It’s accessible by boat or plane only. The little village of Tortuguero has a population of about 500 people, with bike and foot traffic only allowed on the little spit of land situated between the canals and the sea.

The name Tortugerro translates essentially to ‘Land of the Turtles’. This area is not only surrounded by beaches, it also has mangrove forests, rivers, canals and lagoons which are a haven for wildlife. Various tours to see the residents of this National Park can be booked through local accommodation or the main town..

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Caimen chilling in the sun

How can I get there?

There are only two ways to get to Tortuguero; boat or plane. Lots of tours start from San Jose and do excursions via minibus stopping off at various points of interest before arriving at a port. If you are doing it independently there are a few options to get a boat from; Moín (close to Limón), La Pavona (north of Cariari) and Caño Blanco (accessible through Siquirres).

 

What can I see?

So given its name, there’s no surprise that Turtles are high on the agenda. If you are lucky you can witness egg laying or hatching; Green, Leatherback, Hawksbill, and Loggerhead turtles have all been known to nest on the beaches here (Green Turtles being the most common) It’s not just turtles to see; with the surrounding terrain there is a plethora of mammals, birds, reptiles and insects. Including monkeys – LOTS of monkeys – the Capuchins cause absolute havoc and frequently come uninvited into the guest areas or hotels/resorts/guesthouses and steal food and are a general nuisance

*unfortunately I don’t have any photographs of the Turtles I saw. The guides are very strict about what you can and cannot take: cameras were one of the items that are banned when you go to witness egg laying.

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One very content looking sloth

When is the best time to go?

Because of its location, Tortuguero is warm and humid with frequent downpours. All sorts of wildlife can be spotted all year round, however, if it’s the turtles you are after then Green Turtles will be the most likely ones you’ll spot. They nest along the beaches of Tortuguero from July to October. Other turtles do come here to nest although they are much less common in this specific region.

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Green tree frog sleeping

9. Mola Mola (Sunfish), Indonesia

Probably one of the most out-of-this-world animal experiences I had was while scuba diving in Indonedia. Indonesia is a Scuba Divers heaven with outstanding reefs and rock formations with aquatic creatures in abundance. During certain months of the year, a very strange looking fish comes to visit the region. The Mola Mola is commonly known as the Sunfish. This giant swimming ‘dinner plate’ is the heaviest bony fish in the sea, some can weigh in at over 2 tonnes! – It’s essentially a big, flat round-bodied fish with a couple of fins stuck on and they are MASSIVE!

One of the top places to see them is in Bali, Indonesia; Nusa Penida, Nusa Lembongan and Padangbai & Candidasa offering some of the best viewing opportunities.

How can I get there?

I dove at a site called Crystal Bay, you can get to this site from Nusa Lembongan and also from mainland Bali – Padangbai being the best place. There are loads of dive shops in both Nusa Lembongan and Padangbai offering the trips to see the Mola Mola.

What can I see?

Crystal Bay admittedly isn’t the prettiest or interesting dive site; there are much nicer places to go in Indonesia if pretty reefs and colourful fish is what you are after. The one you are after is the Mola Mola which is why this is such a great dive site. It wasn’t until dive 4 at this site before we actually managed to spot one. It was huge! Although according to the dive instructor the one we saw was a medium sized one, they really are ghostly odd looking creatures but awesome and was well worth the perseverance with going back to the same dive spot.

*due to me being at my maximum dive depth and the Mola Mola still being a good 20 metres away, my GoPro footage just doesn’t do this fish justice.

When is the best time to go?

To get the best chance of spotting a Mola Mola you need to go between July and November.

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Fabulous Mola Mola -Stock photo Getty Images

Are you into Scuba Diving? Yes? Great, then check out my review of Great Blue Hole in Belize.

10. Bull Sharks, Mexico

I have a real thing for sharks, so to find out I would be in Mexico during Bull Shark season there was no doubt that I would jump at the opportunity to go dive with them in their natural habitat. 

Not convinced about diving with Bull Sharks? Check out my GoPro footage.

The Bull Sharks congregate every year in the waters just off Playa del Carmen in Mexico. Several theories as to why they come back here time after time range from there being an abundance of food for the pregnant females (which are the sharks we saw), the coast of Playa del Carmen is close to mangroves forests which is a safe haven for the baby sharks to grow, or that the bull shark being one of the few sharks that can live in fresh and salt water is attracted here due to the flow of fresh water into the sea from the surrounding Centoes is what attracts them.

As with my notes on viewing the Great Whites earlier, there is controversy surrounding shark interactions. The Bull shark is classed as an aggressive breed. I know there are dive companies out there the take food down to feed the sharks to attract them, thus encouraging sharks to associate humans with food. A few of the dive companies we spoke to did feed them, this which are frowned upon by the majority of companies which don’t feed. Their response is simple, they said the sharks are there every year and that they don’t need to be fed to encourage them.

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Cageless bull shark diving

How can I get there?

There are numerous dive shops in Playa del Carman all offering similar tours at a similar price – avoid the ones that feed the sharks! We used teh shop that we got the best vibe from. The dive site is very close to the shore so they will arrange the boats to get out there.

What can I see?

Bull Sharks and tons of them! This is certainly one of the animal experiences not for the feint hearted. You will be taken down to a sandy area approx. 24m depth. In the sand, there is a long rope that you can anchor yourself to and then just sit and watch. The sharks come fairly close and they are a decent size – some of the bigger ones are about 3 metres, so if you do have a nervous disposition then maybe think twice about doing this as if one person in the group starts to freak out then the dive is called off and everyone has to go up – thankfully we had a very cool group.

 

When is the best time to go?

The Bull Sharks come to this area between November and March.

 

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Bull Shark

Are you into Scuba Diving? Yes? Great, then check out my review of Great Blue Hole in Belize.

How many of these are on your bucket list?

I’ve only talked about 10 of my best animal experiences so far, believe me there are tons more animal encounters which are all equally worthy of being listed here. I just need to get around to documenting them, so please pop back soon!

 

Have you had any awesome animal encounters? What animal encounters are on your bucket list? I’d love to hear from you.

 

Happy travels,

 

Becki

 

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Do you love wildlife and travel? The worlds best animal destinations. Places to travel to for the best wildlife experiences. Bucketlist wildlife and animal destinations #animaldestinations #wildlifetourism #animals #WildlifeEncounters #BucketListDestinations #BestWildlife #TravelBloggers #Backpacking #TopWildlifeDestinations #BackpackBecki
Love wildlife? You won't be able to resist adding these animal-inspired destinations to your bucket list. Read on some of the Worlds best animal experiences.
Do you love wildlife and travel? The worlds best animal destinations. Places to travel to for the best wildlife experiences. Bucketlist wildlife and animal destinations #animaldestinations #wildlifetourism #animals #WildlifeEncounters #BucketListDestinations #BestWildlife #TravelBloggers #Backpacking #TopWildlifeDestinations #BackpackBecki

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Becki from Meet Me In Departures

Adventure travel blogger with a big addiction to the World. An ex-rat-racer who was fed up with sleep-work-eat-repeat materialistic mentality that plagues modern living. I love anything to do with off-beat travel, abandoned places, temples & ruins, street art, wildlife in its natural habitat, adventure sport.....basically anything but the 9-5!

This Post Has 6 Comments

  1. Great article Becki! I’d love to visit the Komodo dragons! I also appreciated the lion pun 😉

    1. Thanks for reading 🙂 The Komodo Dragons were awesome, a little scary as they make this funny hissing, low growling noise but was awesome to see them in the wild.

  2. Love the photos and the details about how to get there and what to see. Pinning this for later, I am hoping to visit the Galapagos.

    1. Thanks for readinng. The Galapagos islands are amazing, you’ll absolutely love it! It’s expensive but IMHO worth every penny. I’d do it again in an instant 🙂

  3. Thanks for sharing these, I love the photo of you and the seal, how you managed to get the sync is just awesome. Love the comprehensiveness of your posts they help in deciding where your next destination will be.

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