Wildlife Kayaking: Best Places to Paddle with Animals

Is there anything more exciting than spotting animals while you’re paddling? Wildlife kayaking across the globe allows you to get up close to amazing creatures, from giant elephants to humpback whales and exotic lizards. Get set to make your wildlife viewing dreams come true, at one of these incredible kayaking destinations.

Wildlife Kayaking: Where to Go

Tortuguero National Park, Costa Rica

Paddle deep into tropical rainforests, hidden coves and miles of canals, in the Tortuguero National Park. The conservation area swarms with wildlife, especially in the early hours of the morning, when they’re most active. Along with monkeys leaping through lush trees lining the banks, look forward to spotting sloths, crocodiles, exotic birds, river turtles and otters. The stepping off point for adventure is Tortuguero village, which is only accessible via boat from Puerto Limon.

Everglades National Park, USA

Florida’s stunning Everglades National Park offers wildlife kayaking at its best, across a range of paddling routes. Kayak through the bird-filled mangroves of Hell’s Bay, keep your eyes open for alligators around Nine Mile Pond or paddle across the open waters of the West Lake trail and spot turtles as you go. It’s possible to rent kayaks within the park. Or, take your own touring kayak, like the Ocean Kayak Zest, with plenty of storage room for snacks.

Katmai National Park, Alaska

Have you always wanted to spot a brown bear in the wild? Kayaking through Katmai National Park might be your best bet, as it’s home to one of the largest brown bear populations in the world. Choose from hundreds of miles of waterways for your expedition into the wild, including Naknek Lake and the Savonoski Loop. If the thrill of spotting bears isn’t enough, white water rapids await at American Creek.

Monterey Bay, USA

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Monterey Bay is a haven for sea otters, harbor seals, sea lions and pelicans. The sheltered area is perfect for beginner paddlers or families with kids and pristine conditions at sunrise make it the best time to launch. There are plenty of kayak tour companies within the vicinity, if you want a guide. For a family trip with your own yak, choose a stable, recreational model, like the Wilderness Systems Pungo. That way, you’ll stay steady despite all the excited screams when you spot seals.

British Columbia, Canada

Take sea kayaking to a whole new level, on the Johnstone Strait between Vancouver Island and the mainland. The area is a whale watching hub, with orcas and humpbacks feeding throughout the channel. You’ll also spot dolphins and sea lions, and explore serene bays, inlets and rainforests. The later summer months of July and August are the best times to see resident orcas, so keep your camera ready and your paddle steady.

Bay of Islands, New Zealand

Get your Packayak ready to make friends with dolphins while kayaking in the Bay of Islands. This marine paradise offers more than 140 islands to navigate, with caves, waterfalls and abundant fishing opportunities. Don’t forget to pack your mask and snorkel, to stop off at deserted beaches and plunge off the side for a look at the dazzling underwater world.

Galapagos Islands, Ecuador

The Galapagos lacks natural predators, therefore it’s home to some of the world’s most unique wildlife. When you paddle along the shore, you’ll see birds nesting, sea lions playing, schools of sharks and exotic lizards sunning themselves on craggy rocks. Island landscapes range from volcanic rocks to dream-like beaches and the best way to see as much as you can, is on an organized kayaking tour.

Zambezi River, Africa

If you’ve always wanted to go on safari, why not paddle your way past the Big Five, or at least a couple of them? The upper and lower sections of the Zambezi River provide incredible wildlife kayaking experiences. Elephants, lions and buffalo graze along the river banks, while hippos and crocodiles may lurk in the water. This is definitely a trip to take with a local guide.

Have you spotted wildlife on your paddles recently? We’d love to know where, so leave a comment below. For more kayaking adventures, check out a guide to European kayaking.
Nicole West

Nicole Leigh West is an internationally published travel and lifestyle writer. She's traveled to more than 60 countries and you'll most often find her kayaking, diving and swimming across the globe.

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Nicole West

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