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South Africa trip cancelled? These nature-filled destinations are worthy alternatives

Pantanal wetlands, Brazil
Pantanal wetlands, Brazil   -   Copyright  Canva
By Nichola Daunton

The ‘Omicron’ COVID-19 variant recently discovered in South Africa has once again put the world on high alert.

The heavily mutated strain is being closely monitored by scientists around the world. The UK has responded by putting South Africa back on their red list and a growing list of European countries have banned flights to and from the region.

While South African borders currently remain open, it’s looking likely that many holidays will be cancelled.

So if you were planning a trip to South Africa in the coming months and still want to see animals, nature or unique ecosystems, where can you go instead?

We’ve rounded up some of the best and most sustainable wildlife holidays we could find so you can still immerse yourself in nature.

Wildlife holidays in Europe

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A European bison in the snowCanva

Track winter bison in the Tarcu Mountains, Romania

If you don’t mind the cold, then tracking bison in the Tarcu Mountains offers a wild experience like no other. In small groups led by expert guides, you’ll seek out these hairy creatures, learning to identify their signs and tracks.

The European bison - otherwise known as the Wisent - disappeared from Romania 200 years ago but was reintroduced to Tarcu in 2014. Just three years later, there were already 30 bison living in the mountainous region.

The European bison - otherwise known as the Wisent - disappeared from Romania 200 years ago but was reintroduced to Tarcu in 2014.

All tracking experiences end at a local guest house with a warming meal by the roaring fire. By going on a bison trek you’ll also be helping to establish a nature-based economy in the area. This eco-tourism has already led to the refurbishment of the Armenis visitors centre where people can be educated on the importance of ensuring bison survive in the mountain region.

You can find out more about this adventure at the European Safari Company.

Help Rewild the Apennines

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Marsican brown bear.Canva

If you want to make a positive impact on European biodiversity, consider a trip to Italy’s Central Apennines with Exodus Travels. Running 1,200km down the centre of Italy, the Apennine Mountains are undergoing a process of rewilding to protect their precious animals and ecosystems.

This includes the introduction of ‘Bear Smart Communities’, brought in to reduce bear damage in human inhabited areas and improve local acceptance of the Marsican brown bear.

The rugged mountains are also home to wolves, golden eagles and deer. During a six day tour, your expert guide will help you track wildlife, teaching you how humans and animals are learning to coexist in this unique habitat. And of course, this being Italy, there will be plenty of delicious food and wine too.

To make your holiday even more eco-friendly, Exodus Travels can also help you make your way there by train. Tours are currently scheduled for July and September 2022.

Marine Conservation in Portugal

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Two divers by a reefCanva

If you love diving, then this Portuguese conservation holiday with Responsible Travel could be for you. You’ll work with local experts to help restore and protect valuable marine ecosystems along the country’s Atlantic coast.

This six day trip will see you identify fish and seaweed varieties while removing any rubbish you find while diving.

This six day trip will see you identify fish and seaweed varieties while removing any rubbish you find while diving. If you’re an experienced diver, you’ll also get the chance to see extraordinary networks of underwater caves and local shipwrecks too.

The trip isn’t just for experienced divers though. If you’ve never done it before, you can sign up at the local dive school and get your Open Water Dive Certificate before exploring Portugal’s diverse marine world.

The trip involves a stay at a sustainable hostel in Lisbon and all meals are included too.

Wildlife holidays in the UK

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A nightingale sings in a treeCanva

Knepp Wildland, West Sussex

Knepp in West Sussex is a conservationist's dream. This roughly 1400 hectare estate was once intensively farmed, but is now being rewilded using a combination of grazing animals and the restoration of natural water courses.

As a result, rare species including nightingales, peregrine falcons and turtle doves are now living on the land.

You can stay on the estate from Easter until November, and there are a range of options available, including shepherd’s huts, bell tents and treehouses.

Wildlife safaris are also an option, with butterfly, bat and owl tours depending on the time of year you visit.

Sheepdrove Organic Farm, West Berkshire

Sheepdrove is an 809 hectare organic farm in West Berkshire, made up of wildflower meadows, ancient woodlands and fields of heritage grains. Set up by the founders of the publishing house Dorling Kindersley, the estate hosts weddings and events alongside a range of holiday lets too.

These include an off-grid boathouse and Woodend, a charming barn conversion, perfect for groups. Both buildings are carbon neutral as they’re heated by air source heat pumps and the farm generates its own energy via two wind turbines and solar panels.

And if you like it so much you want to stay permanently one day, there’s a natural burial wood too.

Rewilding Coombeshead, Devon

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A beaver in the UKCanva

Not far from Dartmoor National Park, Rewilding Coombeshead is 60 hectares of former farming land that is now being returned to nature. The area is also being used to breed wildcats and white storks, with the aim of reintroducing them to the local landscape. The last recorded pair of white storks in the UK was found in Edinburgh in 1416.

The last recorded pair of white storks in the UK was found in Edinburgh in 1416.

Visitors can stay in a shepherd’s hut or set up camp in one of the meadows on the edge of the rewilding area - giving you plenty of opportunities to view nature in action. Animals to spot include water buffalo, wild pigs and Exmoor ponies.

The campsite is open from May to October and visitors can also go on a guided tour, watch beavers or chat to ecologists about the project.

Rewilding in South America

Help to rewild Brazil

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Cerrado savanna, BrazilCanva

If you’re planning to visit South America in 2022, then you can help to leave its ecosystems better than you found them by taking part in a local rewilding project.

Niarra Travel offers conservation trips across the globe, and their two-week trip to Brazil will give you the chance to help restore three diverse habitats.

These include the Pantanal wetlands, where you’ll be able to see giant anteaters and capybaras. All while helping the Caiman Ecological Refuge to rewild the area.

You’ll also stay in the Cerrado savanna and help local experts to track maned wolves and discover brightly-coloured macaws, in this delicate and endangered environment.