7 iconic wildlife species you can see on an expedition cruise

Travel Advice

An expedition cruise can transport you to the heart of some of the world's most unique and vibrant ecosystems, bringing you face to face with an array of astonishing wildlife.

Travelling far from the beaten track, you'll feel like you've just walked into a David Attenborough documentary as you explore ashore and on the water accompanied by expert naturalist guides. From iridescent tropical birds to ancient reptiles, from giant sea creatures to endangered primates, here are just a few of the iconic species you can see on an expedition cruise…

1. Polar bears in the Arctic

The polar bear is the Arctic's most emblematic species, a majestic and powerful creature that also symbolises the fragility of the ecosystem it inhabits. The best place to see polar bears in the wild is the Svalbard archipelago, an icy land far to the north of mainland Norway. On an expedition cruise you'll have the chance to see these awesome animals in their natural habitat, with zodiacs getting you up close without intruding on the bears' territory.

Read more: Exploring the Arctic on Silver Explorer

Lindblad Expeditions - Polar bear in the Arctic

2. Marine iguanas in the Galapagos

Marine iguanas are the world's only seafaring lizards, descended from a distant, land-based ancestor which somehow washed up on the shores of the Galapagos. These weird and wonderful creatures display a number of remarkable adaptations, such as a shortened snout that allows them to scrape algae off the rocks more efficiently. You'll see marine iguanas all over the Galapagos, most notably on the black and barren island of Fernandina, where they congregate in large groups.

Read more: Following in Darwin's footsteps

Marine iguanas, Galapagos

3. Emperor penguins in Antarctica

We've never met anyone who doesn't love penguins, and Antarctica is the number one destination for watching these endearingly odd birds waddle along the ice. The emperor penguin is the largest of all the penguin species, but they're also difficult to find as they live at more southerly latitudes than their smaller cousins. Look out for the rare itineraries that visit the remote Ross Ice Shelf and the emperor penguin colony off Snow Hill Island.

Read more: A penguin spotter's guide to Antarctica

Quark Expeditions - Emperor penguins

4. Giant tortoises in the Seychelles

Most people associate giant tortoises with the Galapagos Islands, but in fact the world's largest population of these prehistoric-looking creatures can be found on the Aldabra Atoll in the idyllic Indian Ocean. This rarely visited corner of the Seychelles is home to over 150,000 giant tortoises, along with sea turtles, coconut crabs and red-footed boobies, and the scattered coral islands are perfectly suited to exploration by small expedition ship.

Read more: The sparkling Seychelles

Giant tortoise on Aldabra, Seychelles

5. Orangutans in Borneo

Hidden amongst the jungles of Borneo lives one of our closest relatives, the orangutan, a word meaning 'man of the forest' in the Malay and Indonesian languages. These gentle and bewitchingly human-like creatures are increasingly threatened by deforestation and habitat loss, which makes protected reserves such as Tanjung Puting National Park so vital for their survival. A select number of expedition cruises visit Tanjung Puting's famous Camp Leakey, allowing you to witness their important conservation work up close.

Read more: The orangutans of Borneo

Orangutans in Borneo

6. Blue whales in the Sea of Cortez

There's more to Mexico than dreamy beaches and Mayan ruins, with one of the world's richest marine ecosystems situated just off the Baja California peninsula. The surprisingly little-known Sea of Cortez was once described by Jacques Cousteau as the 'World's Aquarium', and is home to wildlife including sea lions, turtles, whale sharks and the magnificent blue whale, the largest animal on earth. An expedition cruise allows you to kayak, snorkel and explore by zodiac amongst this incredible underwater managery.

Read more: Whale watching in the Sea of Cortez

Lindblad Expeditions - Gray whale in the Sea of Cortez, Mexico

7. Scarlet macaws in the Amazon

The brilliant plumage of a macaw is one of the most startling sights in the Amazon, though you'll likely hear these noisy birds before you see them. Macaws are the largest species of parrot, and they usually mate for life, so you'll often see them flying through the forest canopy in pairs. The most spectacular species has to be the scarlet macaw, with its rainbow of red, yellow and blue feathers, and you may also spot blue-and-yellow macaws and green-winged macaws as you travel through the jungle on an Amazon river expedition cruise.

Read more: How to choose an Amazon river cruise

Scarlet macaws in the Amazon

There are many more amazing species you can see on an expedition cruise, from lemurs in Madagascar to Steller's sea eagles in the Russian Far East. For help and advice on planning your perfect wildlife-themed escape, why not give us a call on 020 7399 7630 and speak to one of our expedition cruise experts.

Meet the author

Tom is a Communications Manager at the Galapagos Conservation Trust and former Marketing Manager at Mundy Adventures

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