There’s nothing like surrounding yourself in nature to soothe your soul – and visiting a jungle is the ultimate eco-experience. Rainforests are the oldest living ecosystems on the planet, and home to more than half of the world’s plant and animal species.
When you begin traveling again, why not discover one of these top five jungle experiences? There’s something for everyone, from day trippers to the most adventurous travelers.
Editor’s note: Save these ideas for when it’s safe to travel again, and always follow all COVID-19 restrictions, rules, and safety regulations both at your destination and upon returning home.
Riviera Maya, Quintana Roo, Mexico
Why: Highly organized activities and numerous eco-adventure parks
Difficulty rating: Easy
If you love the idea of jungle but prefer organized activities and luxury accommodation, then the Riviera Maya is a great place to start. The region’s beachfront hotels are located right on the doorstep of the 135,136 square mile Maya Forest, which stretches across the Yucatán Peninsula, Guatemala and Belize.
As the largest forest in Mexico and second largest tropical rainforest in Latin America after the Amazon, this lush paradise is bursting with wildlife including parrots, butterflies, coatis, spider monkeys, and even jaguars. It’s also home to medicinal plants like Jamaica Cherry and Trumpet Trees as well as ancient Maya ruins, sacred cenotes and trees such as ceiba and copal trees.
You can roll out of bed at a plush hotel such as the Hotel Xcaret Mexico, open the curtains and see miles of tree canopies stretching away into the distance. Then head out for the day on a slick, well-organized jungle excursion. They typically involve things like zip-lining, a short rappel into a cenote, riding a buggy, and visiting Maya ruins. If you’re nervous about heading into the wild, there are also several eco-activity parks in the rainforest including Xel-Ha and Xplor, which provide a highly supervised environment in which to enjoy the jungle.
You can book tours either through your hotel, or online, or if you’re close to one of the towns such as Playa del Carmen or Tulum, you can book it in person from a kiosk or tour operator. Options include tours on foot, by Four Wheel Drive, or by ATV.
Laguna Bávaro Wildlife Refuge, Punta Cana, Dominican Republic
Why: Very easily accessible
Difficulty Rating: Extremely easy
This is another super accessible foray into a jungle, and if it whets your appetite to see more, then the Dominican Republic has 29 national parks across land and sea to explore. Laguna Bávaro Wildlife Refuge is perfect for hiking and kayaking. It’s close to the airport as well as a couple of affordable luxury hotels offering wildlife tours, such as the new family-friendly Radisson Blu Punta Cana (which even has an accessible room for families with special needs, condo amenities, and a pet-friendly room).
The Laguna de Bávaro is a protected lagoon spanning 1.15 square miles. Known for its biodiversity and tranquil scenery, it is home to 223 native and endemic Caribbean plants including four types of mangroves, as well as five types of amphibians, 11 types of reptiles, and various species of freshwater fish. Start with a hike through the jungle then hop in a kayak to view it from a different angle. Keep your eyes peeled for the critically endangered Ridgway’s Hawk (locally known as guaraguaito), the snowy egret, gray kingbird, spotted back weaver, and more.
Your concierge can also organize ziplining, cave exploration, or horseback/buggy rides at nearby Bavaro Adventure Park, or help you arrange more adventures further into the rainforest.
Cape Tribulation, Queensland, Australia
Why: World’s oldest rainforest, crocodiles
Difficulty rating: Easy-moderate
If you like your jungle tours with teeth, this one’s for you. Australia is famous for its crocodiles, and the Australian saltwater crocodile is the largest and most fearsome of this species. The very biggest Australian crocs grow up to 20ft long.
But let’s start with the jungle and why it’s so special. Cape Tribulation is an undeveloped headland and ecotourism hotspot in the Daintree National Park. The Daintree is the world’s oldest rainforest, thought to be 180 million years old. As such, it’s one of the most biodiverse rainforests in the world and home to a large percentage of Australia’s animal population. This includes 65% of the continent’s butterflies and bats and 12,000 species of insects.
The ancient forest’s apex predators are a huge attraction, and there are around 70 saltwater crocs in the Daintree River. Boat tours take you to the forest’s mangroves and inlets, while the guide regales you with facts and hair-raising anecdotes about these giants – usually with plenty of sly Australian humor for good measure. They’ll also point out wildlife like kingfishers and white-lipped tree frogs.
Gunung Palung National Park, West Kalimantan, Borneo
Difficulty rating: Best for seasoned travelers
From the toothiest jungle to the hairiest jungle – Borneo is one of only two places in the world where you can see orangutans in the wild (the other is Sumatra). But it’s important to do your research on legitimate eco-tours that don’t cause harm to this critically endangered species. There are only around 104,700 orangutans left in the wild in Borneo compared to an estimated 230,00 a century ago. Threats include deforestation, hunting, and the pet trade.
You can book a once-in-a-lifetime orangutan-spotting excursion on either the Malaysian or Indonesian side of Borneo. Gunung Palung National Park in West Kalimantan (Indonesian Borneo) is one of the most important orangutan habitats. It’s home to around two thousand orangutans and is less visited by tourists than some of the other parks on the island. This particular site doesn’t have a lot of tourism infrastructure either, so the money you spend goes right into the pockets of the villagers who guide you (there are no proper pathways and the accommodation is traditional wooden buildings on stilts).
Flooded forests, crystal-clear streams, mountains shrouded in clouds, trailing lianas, enormous tangled tree roots – this is the kind of jungle you dream of when you’re a kid. And nothing beats the thrill of catching sight for the first time of trees swaying as orangutans stretch out their long arms to swing from branch to branch.
If Gunung Palung is too remote for you, try Bako National Park in Malaysian Borneo, which is an easy day trip from Kuching.
Taman Negara, Malaysia
Why: Rainforest canopy walks, dugout canoe tours
Difficulty rating: Moderate
The rainforest here is thought to be more than 130 million years old – so, not quite as old as the Daintree, but still certainly pretty ancient! This 1,677 square mile preserve is home to 150 species of mammals including tigers, water buffaloes, and macaques as well as the famous rafflesia plant, which produces the single largest flower on earth. Although you’re very unlikely to spot a tiger here, Taman Negara draws in visitors for its incredible rainforest canopy walks and guided river trips in traditional wooden dugout canoes.
Forget ziplining, at Taman Negara you cruise at your own pace directly over the treetops on the world’s longest canopy walkway. This 500 meter walkway was originally created for researchers and is poised 100ft off the ground, offering incredible perspectives of the jungle and mountains. A series of suspensions are linked via the mightiest of trees. Don’t expect rope bridges – you’ll be walking along narrow planks, but safety nets surround everything and the platforms provide respite between the ten different sections. Even so, it’s an experience that will get your heart racing.
After all that excitement, you’ll probably be grateful to be back at ground-level. Hop in a dug-out canoe for a three-hour wildlife tour on the river, from the floating village. Your guide will explain how they make the canoes and utilize the locals plants and flowers, as well as point out birds and animals along the way.
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