Top 10 wildlife conservation vacations

From monitoring turtle nests on remote beaches in Costa Rica as a family, to preparing daily meals for rescued bears in Romania, wildlife conservation vacations will take you all over the world. As varied as the wildlife each focuses on, one thing our top 10 wildlife conservation vacations have in common is a commitment to a sustainable, long-term approach to conservation. But don’t expect to be too hands on with the animals you’re working alongside – this is conservation, not cuddling, and the two rarely go hand-in-hand.

1. Turtles in Costa Rica

One of the best projects for budding conservationists aged five years and older, turtle conservation projects involve monitoring nests, protecting hatchlings and recording data on turtle sightings – mostly at night when turtles are most active on the beaches. Costa Rica itself, as well as being a mecca for green, leatherback, hawksbill and olive ridley turtles, is a safe yet adventurous family vacation destination.
When to go: July to December
Our top trip: Family volunteering with turtles in Costa Rica
See all our trips: Turtle conservation vacations
Read more: Turtle conservation travel guide

2. Endangered wildlife in South Africa

Support permanent research teams in underfunded game reserves in South Africa, monitoring populations of leopard, rhino and cheetah. This is no safari but a no-frills insight into life in the heart of the African bush. Expect as much camp-based data entry as game drives, as well as the odd opportunity to join teams capturing and radio-collaring big cats and game.

When to go: All year round, but best in July to September
Our top trip: Endangered wildlife conservation in South Africa
See all our trips: South Africa wildlife conservation vacations
Read more: South Africa wildlife travel guide

3. Orangutans in Borneo

Work alongside research teams aiming to rewild and re-release orangutans rescued as habitats – or parents – have been destroyed by logging and forest fires. Expect construction, maintenance, feeding and the creation of enrichment materials to be part of your day to day work – but not cuddles. As little human contact as possible offers the greatest opportunity for successful release back into the wild.

When to go: All year round
Our top trip: Orangutan volunteering in Borneo
See all our trips: Borneo conservation vacations
Read more: Orangutan watching travel guide

4. Bears in Romania

The Romanian relationship with bears is complex – stemming from cruel circus and ‘bear dancing’ traditions and wild conflicts with livestock farmers in the Carpathian Mountains. Conservation projects are focussed at a sanctuary working to improve attitudes to bears – and provide rescued, previously captive animals with the relative freedom of large, wild forested enclosures, and release into the mountains where possible.
When to go: All year round
Our top trip: Volunteering with bears in Romania
See all our trips: Bear watching vacations
Read more: Bear watching travel guide
Travel Team
If you'd like to chat about Volunteering with animals or need help finding a vacation to suit you we're very happy to help.

5. Monkeys in South Africa

This is one of the only wildlife conservation projects where there is significant time spent hands-on with the animals. You’ll be responsible for the round-the-clock care of rescued orphaned baby monkeys and baboons – nursing and bottle-feeding them back to health and preparing them for life in the wild. Expect some maintenance and administrative tasks too, as well as long, messy days.

When to go: All year round
Our top trip: Volunteer with monkeys in South Africa
See all our trips: South Africa volunteer travel vacations
Read more: Volunteering with animals travel guide

6. Dolphins in the Mediterranean

If you love dolphins then joining a research team in Italy is the perfect way to spot huge numbers of these cetaceans, and in doing so contribute to vital ongoing data monitoring dolphin populations and behaviour. You’ll spend your days at sea photographing dorsal fins for identification and logging GPS coordinates of sightings, with evening talks on dolphin behaviour available from research biologists.

When to go: May to October
Our top trip: Dolphin conservation vacation in the Ligurian Sea
See all our trips: Marine conservation vacations
Read more: Marine conservation travel guide

7. Sanctuary volunteering in Namibia

This hands-on volunteering trip at a working sanctuary will see you working on a wide range of tasks, as you help injured and orphaned animals, some of which are being prepared to re-enter the wild. Your days will be taken up with feeding, maintenance and enrichment duties, perhaps patrolling the reserve on horseback, and – vitally – engaging with the local community around conservation.

8. Elephants in Sri Lanka

Far removed from the tourist-touting sanctuaries offering elephant-back rides and circus shows, genuine elephant conservation projects in Sri Lanka focus less on the care of rescued pachyderms but instead on the monitoring and research of wild populations – and initiatives to reduce human-elephant conflicts. You might be tracking and identifying wild elephants, conducting village surveys or building fences to protect houses and farms from elephant damage.

When to go: All year round
Our top trip: Elephant conservation vacation in Sri Lanka
See all our trips: Elephant conservation vacations
Read more: Elephant trekking travel guide

9. Sharks in South Africa

Immerse yourself in the world of some of the world’s mightiest, and most misunderstood creatures. You’ll be observing and monitoring shark movements from the research boat and via a series of thrilling cage dives; capturing much-needed identification photographs and feeding records of sightings into the marine biologists’ ongoing datasets. Travel in June to December and you’ll come face to face with whales too, while penguins are never far away year round.

When to go: All year round
Our top trip: Shark conservation in South Africa
See all our trips: Shark diving vacations
Read more: Shark diving travel guide

10. Rhino and elephant conservation in Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe is known the world over for its fantastic safari experiences, but if you want to go a little deeper, then you could take part in monitoring and tracking as well as the standard game drives. Eight black and four white rhino call Imire Rhino & Wildlife Conservancy their home – and you can too, for an eight day conservation vacation. Activities include following herds on horseback – not your average cowboy round up!
When to go: All year except December
Our top trip: Rhino and elephant conservation in Zimbabwe
See all our trips: Elephant conservation vacations
Read more: Zimbabwe travel guide
Written by Sarah Faith
Photo credits: [Page banner: Brian Gratwicke] [1. Turtles in Costa Rica: Laranapeleona] [4. Bears in Romania: Modzzak] [7. Carnivore research in Namibia: David Groves] [10. Rhino and elephant conservation in Zimbabwe: Ian Mackey]