The Wildlife Lover’s Guide to India – Where to See What & When

Laura Pattara

One of the world’s megadiverse nations and a wildlife paradise with few rivals – there’s always more to India than meets the eyes.

Those who have yet to travel to India may not consider the country a wildlife safari haven yet those who have been know that, when it comes to Asia, India’s an unbeatable destination to see some of the planet’s most unique creatures roaming wild and free. India is a land of exceptional wilderness home to an abundance of national parks and wildlife sanctuaries.

Just over 500 in fact.

Tiger, India. Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Out of 36 prime biodiverse hotspot regions on our planet, India is home to four and, combined, make this one of the world’s most rewarding destinations for wildlife lovers.

Not convinced yet?

Oh…you will be.

Elephants, Kerala, India. Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Tigers – India’s Most Impressive Wildlife Success Story

Whilst India is home to an exhaustive list of extraordinary wildlife, it’s the majestic tiger that tends to capture most people’s imagination. This is the animal every wildlife lover wants to see here. Tigers roam wild in several Asian countries but India is the undisputed king of tiger sightings and that’s due to a government initiative, started in 1972, which aimed to protect their habitat and encourage their proliferation. The efforts have paid off handsomely. Nowadays, India is home to more than 2200 tigers (the highest concentration in the world) and to the only reserve where numbers of the elegant cat are on the rise. Given the fact that the country boasts two-thirds of the entire earth’s population of tigers, it reasons that here is where your highest chances of a sighting lie. Whilst no tour operator could ever guarantee a sighting, choosing the right national park, at the right time of year, your chances of spotting a tiger in India are impressively high.

Rhinoceros, India. Photo Credit: Shutterstock

What other wildlife can you see in India?

Seeing a tiger in the wild in one of India’s fantastic national parks is probably thrilling enough of its own accord yet the country offers a plethora of amazing species which makes for rewarding wildlife safaris. From leopards to sloth bears (not a lazy bear but a bear with long claws that resemble those of a sloth), wild boars, sambar deer, Himalayan Tahrs, black panthers, striped hyenas, Asiatic lions, three distinct species of leopards, rhinoceros and, of course, elephants among a wealth of other stunning wildlife, India is an astonishing, surprising and magnificent destination if seeing animals in the wild is just your thing.

And don’t even get us started on birds!

Green Parrot, India. Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Best time for wildlife safaris in India

Almost all the national parks and reserves in India (except for Sunberdan and a few others which stay open all year long) are only open between mid to late October and end of June (closing for Monsoon season) give or take a few weeks at either end depending on the state. The ubiquitous question is always “when is the best time to see tigers in India?” and that would be specifically the months of March, April and May. At this time, India is going through its dry season so river levels recede and water holes dry up. This means the big striped cats need to roam widely and come out of hiding to find fresh drinking water, greatly enhancing your chances of seeing them.

Having said this, March to May is also a very hot period to visit India and, at times, you’ll need to deal with temps in the high-30s. Do what the cats do and plan your safari for early morning, in the cooler hours of the day, when both you – and the tigers – are most active.

Which national parks and sanctuaries in India are best to visit to see the highest concentration of wildlife?

As can be expected, every national park, reserve and sanctuary in India is renowned for offering excellent sightings of particular species of wildlife, although some are revered for being prime all-rounders. All the parks in India are stunning in their own right although some, like Tadoba and Satpura, are particularly magnificent given their distinct landscape. The wonderful thing about the sheer number of parks and reserves in India is that no matter where you choose to travel, be it for cultural or historic sightseeing, you’ll no-doubt be nearby one of the best parks for wildlife safaris. Combining all the nearby highlights makes for exceptional and comprehensive travel experiences.

These are the top 10 national parks in India you should set your sights on:

1. Ranthambore National Park, Rajasthan – Inarguably the most popular park for tiger sightings, Ranthambore is home to several of India’s iconic animals, roaming an area of over 1300 square kilometres. Set ion the eastern half of Rajasthan, Ranthambore is traversed by two impressive rivers: Banas and Chambal.

Tiger Family, India. Photo Credit: Shutterstock

2. Jim Corbett National Park, Uttarakhand – The country’s very first Tiger Protection reserve, Corbett is also its very first National Park. Although tiger numbers are high here, Corbett also seems to hide them better than Ranthambore, although the concentration and variety of other wildlife make this an excellent choice nonetheless. Set on the foothills of the Himalayas in Northern India, Corbett is drop-dead-gorgeous to boot.

Elephant Heard, India. Photo Credit: Shutterstock

3. Bandhavgarh National Park, Madhya Pradesh – Another fabulous all-rounder, Bandhavgarh is a hive of wildlife activity which is ironic considering this park was once the prime hunting ground for royals. If one could ever ‘guarantee’ a tiger sighting in one of India’s best national parks, this would surely be the place to do it.

Bandhavgarh, India. Photo Credit: Shutterstock

4. Kanha National Park, Madhya Pradesh – Between the Bengal tigers and the elephants, black panthers, black panthers, bears and a wealth of birdlife, Kanha is a wildlife lover’s smorgasbord. This I the park that inspired the Jungle Book so if you have childhood memories of literary exotic creatures, come experience the real thing. Birds of prey soar above the high plateaus whilst jackals and tigers roam below, gathering around the many watering holes.

Big Elephant, India. Photo Credit: Shutterstock

5. Kaziranga National Park, Assam – Home to more One-Horned Indian rhinos than any other reserve, Kaziranga is your best for sighting this incredible and endangered creature. The highest concentration of Indian rhinos lives in a park that ‘merely’ covers 430 square kilometres, In wildlife park terms, that’s a jackpot. This UNESCO-listed treasure is in a remote location in Assam, which has helped it remain unspoiled.

Rhino, India. Photo Credit: Shutterstock

6. Sunderban National Park, West Bengal – Ever seen a stunning photo of a Bengal tiger swimming in mangroves? The pic was probably taken at Sunderban, part of the world’s largest river delta and one formed by the mighty Ganges and Brahmaputra rivers. This is the country’s largest tiger reserve deserves all the accolades it gets, including the title of prime UNESCO treasure. There’s a very good reason the tiger species is named after this province, so head here for amazing glimpses of swimming cats.

Tigers Playing in The Water, India. Photo Credit: Shutterstock

7. Gir Forest National Park, Gujarat – Gir boasts an astonishing array of wildlife, including over 30 distinct species of mammals, more than 20 reptiles and over 300 species of birds. The single biggest reason to come here, however? The majestic Asiatic Lion. Gir is home to about 300 leopards and 400 lions so your chances of seeing cats are rather epic.

Asiatic Lion, India. Photo Credit: Shutterstock

8. Pench National Park, Madhya Pradesh – When the BBC chose Pench as the setting for its Tiger – Spy in the Jungle documentary, it cemented its spot as one of India’s most rewarding wildlife safari destinations. The variety of landscapes means Pench is home to a striking array of different wildlife species. Including the distinctive leopard.

Leopard, India. Photo Credit: Shutterstock

9. Satpura National Park, Madhya Pradesh – What sets this particular park apart is the fact that its landscape is dramatic and breath-taking, further adding to its allure. Also home to a comprehensive array of animals including various big cats and mammals of all sizes, like the endangered Indian bison, Satpura impresses in both form and content.

Indian Bison, India. Photo Credit: Shutterstock

10. Tadoba National Park, Maharashtra – Tadoba is home to the most resplendent lake you ever did see, framed by luscious forests and verdant hills. Among all this natural beauty there are lions, cats, hyenas and so, so much more.

Herd of Deer, India. Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Our list is by no means complete and – it should be noted – not in any order except, perhaps, tourist popularity, which doesn’t mean much when you consider some parks are simply easier to access than others. But there are SO many more! Visit mountainous Hemis National Park if you’re travelling to Ladakh, for example, and you can have an unrivalled chance to spot elusive snow leopards and golden eagles or head to Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary in Kerala to enjoy a boat ride and a chance to see tigers, swimming elephants and hundreds of exotic tropical birds.

The wildlife safari options in India are simply magnificent no matter where you go, so give us a call here at Get About Asia and we’ll help you plan a stunning itinerary that’ll combine several national parks in close proximity, maximising your wildlife safari adventures whilst minimizing your travel time.

Here are some itinerary inspirations to get your imagination soaring:

Classic Wildlife of India – This unforgettable two-week adventure starts in Mumbai and ends in Delhi, guiding you through four of the top 10 national parks (Pench, Khana, Bandhavgarh and Ranthambore), visiting the Taj Mahal, both Mumbai and Delhi of course, as well as the Agra Fort. A wildlife-intense itinerary that’s ideal for animal lovers who also want to add a few other highlights along the way.

If you’re after a more balanced itinerary that combines a little more culture and history along with wildlife, then you may be inspired by our 12-day Golden Triangle & Wildlife itinerary, which combines visits to Delhi, Agra, the Taj Mahal, the beautiful Pink City of Jaipur as well as days spent spotting wildlife in Ranthambore and a glorious stay at Jawai Leopard Camp in the only luxury accommodation option of this outstanding untamed, unfenced and pristine wilderness area of Rajasthan.

For river cruising aficionados, The Brahmaputra 8-day cruise is a superb choice, offering river meanderings along this magnificent river as well as jeep safari in search of rhinos, leopards, tigers and elephants. A stunning option which combines land-based and river wildlife safaris whilst offering plenty of cultural experiences with enigmatic remote tribes to boot.

All our Get About Asia Tours can be customised to suit your specific needs and wishes, most especially in such a vast and varied country like India. For more wildlife-watching options and help in creating a bespoke itinerary for your next – or first – journey to India, contact us, right here.


Author: Laura Pattara

“After spending years taking short vacations in Asia, Laura finally managed her dream, travelling extensively through Central Asia, China and Southeast Asia on a 3-year-long overlanding adventure that she describes as “SIMPLY EPIC”. Following in the footsteps of ancient traders, Laura meandered along the famed Silk Road through the Stans, delighted her tastebuds for 8000km across China (no mean feat) visited an insane number of temples in Southeast Asia, all the while snorkelling, diving and beach-bumming along the way. Tickled pink by history and culture, Laura loves off-the-beaten-path destinations in Asia and anything that isn’t gift-wrapped for tourists”

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