Nature is truly remarkable. But sometimes seeing it on the screen isn’t enough. If you want to get up close and personal with some of the most exotic animals on the planet, look no further. From local zoos to far-flung reserves, these places are perfect for planning your next vacation — especially if you’re looking for an unforgettable experience for your kids. Not only do these experiences make for incredible memories, they’ll help bring everyone closer to nature. You’ll leave with a newfound appreciation for this fragile, wonderful world that we all share (and some amazing pictures to show family and friends).

San Diego Zoo – California

One of the most beautiful and popular zoos in the world, the San Diego Zoo is a feast for the eyes — and full of fun and exciting activities for every animal lover in your life. With more than 3,700 animals to visit, this must-visit southern California destination promises to have something for everyone. Best of all, there are a host of different experiences that let you get close to the animals. You can learn about nature and cuddle up to some remarkable creatures.

Wellington Zoo – New Zealand

More of a reserve than a traditional zoo, the Wellington Zoo is the oldest zoo in New Zealand and one of the largest on Earth. It’s devoted to protecting endangered species and educating people by connecting them with animals. Visitors can get a firsthand view of animals that could soon disappear from the planet, as well as learn about the hope for a sustainable future. It’s an intense and unforgettable experience that also manages to be a ton of fun.

Basel Zoo – Switzerland

It’s one of the most visited attractions in all of Switzerland, and with good reason. The Basel Zoo has some of the most beautiful and exotic animals on the planet. You can stroll through the gorgeous zoo any time of year, as heated exhibits keep the animals nice and cozy during the colder months. If you’re particularly partial to a certain species, sign up for one of the amazing tours — you’ll learn things you never imagined about your favorite animals.

Loro Parque – Spain

This zoo in the Canary Islands is consistently voted as one of the best zoos in the world — and after a visit, you’ll see why. Simply enormous in size, this sprawling zoo offers immersive interactive tours that are hard to beat. Doubling as a preserve for rare and endangered species, Loro Parque promises an experience that simply can’t be matched. The “behind the scenes” tour offers a peek at what it takes to maintain a major zoo, with plenty of fun and informative facts about all sorts of creatures.

Kīlauea Point – Hawaii

This refuge on the northwest coast of Kauai is simply one of the most beautiful places on Earth. It’s also home to a staggering amount of wildlife that you won’t be able to see anywhere else. Set against the backdrop of breathtaking peaks, visitors can watch dolphins play in their natural habitat, or wild birds soar through the sky. If you plan your visit from January through March, you can get a front-row view to the migration of the humpback whales — a truly awe-inspiring experience.

Toronto Zoo – Canada

If you’re looking to see pandas, snow leopards, and about 460 other species, there’s simply no place better than the Toronto Zoo. Besides being the largest zoo in all of Canada, it’s also one of the most popular. People come from across the globe to marvel at these rare and wondrous creatures and learn tons of fun facts about conservation activities. You can spend literally days poring over the in-depth exhibits, and see some of the rarest and most beautiful animals on Earth.

Bronx Zoo – New York

It may be a bustling hive of human activity, but New York City is also home to a whole host of exotic wild animals. With one of the most diverse assortments of animals around, the Bronx Zoo is tons of fun for the whole family. Feeding time is particularly fun and lets everyone enjoy an unrivaled view of some of the most popular animals at the zoo. The penguins are particularly beloved, famous for clowning around and showing off for their adoring audience. For those craving a more hands-on experience there are an assortment of fun activities that allow you to interact with some truly incredible creatures.

Chester Zoo – England

The Chester Zoo in London promises a singular animal experience, and it more than delivers. With thousands of species to choose from, there’s something for every animal lover at this sprawling locale. Make sure to bring your walking shoes for this trip — it’s got over 125 acres of habitat to explore. And for the little ones, there are seemingly endless activities sure to get kids pumped about the natural world.

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