Giant tortoises, seaweed-grazing iguanas, seals, Darwin's finches and boobies are among the endemic species that make the Galapagos a genuinely unique wildlife experience. Though facing threats from non-indigenous species and tourism, the islands are among the most protected in the world, and visiting on a small boat is less damaging than staying in a hotel. With the bicentenary of Darwin's birth in February, what better time to marvel at the menagerie?
Befriend a crocodile, Burkina Faso
In Burkina Faso, far from being terrifying man-eaters, crocodiles are considered sacred animals for their perceived ability to bring fortune and prosperity to villages and people. In the town of Sabou, the crocodiles are so tame that locals swim with them, feed them live chickens, and even sit on them. Visitors on Explore's Tribal Lands of Burkina Faso trip spend time in Sabou watching - if not swimming with - the sacred crocs.
Dinner with vultures, Spain
Seeing hundreds of wild griffin vultures queuing up for their lunch is an unforgettable experience. A local naturalist in Aragon has been feeding endangered vultures for 19 years. They now come in their hundreds, flying in every day from the bowl-shaped valley around the village of Fuentespalda, waiting for the elderly man to arrive and spread food across the field. Visitors watch from a hide.
Fruit bat safari, Zambia
Every year at the end of October, thousands of straw-coloured fruit bats congregate in the trees of the Mushitu swamp forest in Kasanka national park. The bats come to feed for six weeks, gorging on seasonal fruit, and by mid November there are millions. To see the bats disperse at dusk against the setting sun is one of Africa's most incredible sights. There is also the possibility of sighting the extremely rare sitatunga, a swamp-dwelling antelope.
Snorkel with jellyfish, Palau
Golden jellyfish are a remarkable breed. Free of the stings that cause problems for swimmers, they make a daily 1km migration towards the sun in the morning and back west in the afternoon. They are found in Palau, 800km east of the Philippines, with 13m in Ongeim'l Tketau - Jellyfish Lake. As part of this trip you'll snorkel surrounded by millions of pulsating golden globes - like swimming in jellyfish soup.
Swim with polar bears, Canada
There are plenty of trips that involve watching polar bears, but few that offer the chance to see these clumsily beautiful animals underwater. The Polar Bear Habitat, in the remote town of Cochran in northern Ontario, is home to bears rescued from unhealthy environments. Visitors can swim in the same pools as the bears, separated only by a thick glass barrier (very necessary - polar bears are the only predators who view humans as prey).
Seek the snow leopard, India
The snow leopard is the holy grail of wildlife sightings: rare, beautiful and highly elusive. The Snow Leopard Conservancy India Trust works with Peregrine Adventures, and travellers can get involved with its conservation work, staying in Leh in Ladakh. The itinerary is planned each day depending on local information about the leopards, and involves mountain trekking and staying in villagers' homes.
Devils and wombats, Tasmania
A carrion scavenger that resembles a muscly dog, and emits a rank odour with ear-splitting shrieks when it's stressed may not be a cute and cuddly addition to your spotter jotter, but the Tasmanian devil is an intriguing beast. Spy them, along with wombats, possums, wallabies and roos on this trek to Launceston, Mt William national park, Ansons Bay and Fingal Valley.
Dice with dragons, Indonesia
The komodo dragon - the world's largest lizard has been on the earth since prehistoric times, and there are only a few volcanic islands in the Indonesian archipelago that support its natural habitat. A five-day cruise around Moyo island gives the chance to see these extraordinary creatures up close, with on-shore excursions and diving on the reef, teeming with fish.