Best Animal Beaches
Does your bucket list include swimming with pigs? Crossing paths with a lazy sloth? Lazing on the sand with a group of rabbits?
Then there’s a beach destination waiting for you.
At these 15 beaches around the world, animal-lovers can combine sun and sand with remarkable wildlife viewing. Many of the animals are accustomed to humans and very friendly.
Just be sure to interact with the wildlife respectfully and carefully — and of course, don’t forget your camera. These cuties are very photogenic.
Pig Beach, Bahamas
On an uninhabited island in the Exumas archipelago, pigs roam free on white sandy beaches and frolic in turquoise waters.
Rumors abound as to how the pigs first came to be on the island — some say they were brought by pirates or sailors, while others claim they were left stranded after a shipwreck. Regardless of their history, the pigs have called Big Major Cay home for many years, and keep multiplying in their private island paradise. And although they were more than likely actually introduced to the island as a potential food source back in the day, their popularity with tourists has kept them off plates.
It’s bizarre enough to spot pigs sunning themselves on the beach, but even more strange to watch them jump in the water at the first sight of boats. But swim they do, right up to tourists and locals, looking for food.
While swimming with our porcine pals is the draw for so many visitors to the Bahamas, the boat ride to and from Pig Beach is absolutely stunning and worthy of an Instagram square too.
Monkey Beach, Phi Phi Islands, Thailand
Nestled into limestone cliffs, Monkey Beach is so-named for the simian residents who run amok on its soft white sand.
Hoards of tourists descend on this beach via organized boat tours, but a better way to arrive is by kayak, taking in the awe-inspiring scenery as you row ashore. Just be sure to pull your kayak completely onto the sand and remove all your belongings, because the monkeys here will rifle through anything and everything. Young monkeys are especially curious (and cute).
One warning though: While many visitors will get up close and personal with the monkeys for a photo op, it’s best to keep your distance, as they have been known to bite.
Assateague Island, Maryland and Virginia, United States
The beaches of Maryland and Virginia may not be the first to come to mind when you think of exotic vacation spots, but the chance to see wild horses brings thousands of visitors to the 37 miles of beach on Assateague Island every year. This barrier island off the coast of Delmarva is home to Assateague State Park on the Maryland side, and Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge on the Virginia side.
According to local folklore, the feral horses came to the island after a shipwreck off the coast of Virginia, but it’s more likely that the first equine settlers were brought to the island in the 17th century by owners who were trying to avoid livestock taxation. These days, the two herds of wild horses are kept behind their respective state lines, and can be seen wandering the beaches and grazing on grass in the sand dunes.
Flamingo Beach, Aruba
Aruba is known for its spectacular beaches, but there is one in particular that attracts animal lovers: Flamingo Beach. As the name suggests, the picture-perfect beach is home to a group of exotic flamingos. Accessed only by water taxi, the island is owned by Renaissance Aruba Resort & Casino and accessible mostly to hotel guests. But a limited number of day passes are available for purchase as well.
As flamingos wade in the Caribbean Sea, visitors relax in hammocks and sip cocktails in private huts along the beach. The island may be a man-made tropical paradise, but natural beauty and wildlife abounds. When you’re done admiring the pink birds, be sure to visit nearby Iguana Beach. Although iguanas are spotted all over Aruba, this beach is dedicated to the friendly reptiles, and it’s not uncommon to look down to see an iguana stretched out next to your lounge chair.
On a small island in the Seto Inland Sea off the coast of Hiroshima, thousands of feral rabbits outnumber residents on Okunoshima, fittingly nicknamed Usagi Jima, or Rabbit Island.
How the rabbits came to be on the island is a mystery. The island was once a top-secret test site for chemical warfare, and rabbits were sadly used in testing. Rumor has it that some of the surviving rabbits were released after World War II. Another theory suggests a group of students released pets into the wild on a school field trip in the 1970s.
Over the years, the rabbits have multiplied, and because of viral social media posts about “bunny stampedes,” the number of visitors to the island has skyrocketed.
Just a short walk from the only hotel on the island, tourists will find sandy beaches filled with fluffy rabbits. Arm yourself with rabbit food from the mainland, and you’ll be the most popular person on the beach.
Boulders Beach, South Africa
People flock to Boulders Beach, near Simon’s Town in South Africa, not only to see African penguins in their natural habitat, but to actually swim with them.
Located on the False Bay coast, this rock-fringed beach is home to the largest penguin colony in South Africa, with a couple thousand penguins waddling around. The public beach is set between large boulders that provide shelter from the wind and waves, creating a slightly warmer temperature for swimming. If you still can’t brave the water, don’t worry — you’ll see plenty of penguins on shore, too. The mischievous birds have even been known to steal visitors’ beach towel spots when they’re not looking.
For an even better view of the penguins, head to nearby Foxy Beach, where you can get a much closer look at the main colony from well-constructed boardwalks around the dunes.
The best time to see penguins is during the summer, but they’re on the beach year-round. An especially interesting time to visit is January, when the young penguins are moulting.
Lucky Bay, Australia
Located in Western Australia’s Cape Le Grand National Park, Lucky Bay is the ideal spot for beachcombers, snorkelers, surfers, swimmers and sunbathers…as long as you don’t mind sharing the beach with local kangaroos.
When the kangaroos aren’t sunning themselves on the sand, they’re often found taking respite under the benches, or even under visitors’ beach umbrellas. They’re used to people, and generally quite friendly.
Because of Lucky Bay’s pristine beaches and idyllic views, it’s consistently rated as one of the best beaches in Australia. The glistening aquamarine water and beautiful, white sand attract visitors from around the world, and the flora and fauna of the coastline are breathtaking.
But who we are kidding? This beach is all about the kangaroos.
Seal Bay, Australia
If you didn’t get your fill of kangaroos on the mainland, consider hopping on a ferry to Kangaroo Island, where the beaches are teeming with even more wildlife than the name suggests. Because of its isolation, the island is an animal sanctuary, where kangaroos, wallabies, wombats, koalas, seals and sea lions roam freely.
One of the largest sea lion colonies resides on Seal Bay, on the island’s southern coast. Walking on the beach can only be done as part of a guided tour, but it’s well worth it to get this close to Australian sea lions and their curious pups in their natural habitat.
Seal Bay isn’t a place to lay out and sunbathe, but it’s an absolute must for visitors hoping to get a close-up look at these endangered animals.
Akumal Bay, Mexico
Not too far from popular tourist towns such as Cancun and Tulum, there’s a secluded beach and protected shallow bay with the perfect conditions for snorkeling. In addition to spotting gorgeous tropical fish, visitors can swim alongside green sea turtles, loggerhead turtles and hawksbill turtles in the majestic blue-green water of Akumal Bay.
Recent wildlife regulations have tightened tourism in the area, putting in place rules around how many people can enter the area, and restricting snorkeling during certain time periods. Visitors are encouraged to take part in organized tour groups to get up close and personal with the turtles. The idea is to make the experience more enjoyable by reducing the number of tourists, and animal lovers can rest assured that these fascinating creatures will be protected for many years to come.
Akumal in Mayan means “place of the turtle,” and the bay hopes to remain that way for a long, long time.
Gardner Bay, Galapagos Islands
On Española Island, part of the Galapagos Islands, the soft white sandy beach of Bahia Gardner welcomes visitors and locals who want to enjoy the abundant wildlife on and off land. It’s not unusual to sunbathe next to a sea lion or paddle out to sea alongside a turtle. The shallows allow for amazing snorkeling, with schools of dazzling tropical fish and interesting coral. There is a rock formation not far away called Turtle Rock, where adventurous swimmers can snorkel around in deeper water in the hopes of spotting manta rays and white-tipped reef sharks.
Back on the beach, the famous Española mockingbirds flit around, and lava lizards run across the sand; both species are unique to this island. Gardner Bay, mostly unspoiled by tourism, is a blissful retreat for travelers, and a haven for wildlife lovers.
Playa Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica
Though it’s one of the smallest parks in Costa Rica, Manuel Antonio National Park is home to 109 species of mammals and 184 species of birds. This makes the park, and its fantastic white beaches, an animal lover’s paradise.
To access the beach, visitors must first walk through the national park, comprised of thick, lush forests filled with creatures from squirrel monkeys to sloths to raccoons. Where you lay your towel on the sand is only a few feet away from the park, so its animals — most notably the monkeys — often make their way to the beach as well.
The warm Pacific water is a welcome surprise, and snorkeling at Playa Manuel Antonio feels like swimming in a giant aquarium, thanks to the colorful marine life. But don’t forget about your belongings back on land — monkeys and raccoons have been known to pickpocket.
Bahía Inútil, Chile
Tierra del Fuego, at the bottom of Chile and Argentina, may be well-known for its penguin colonies, but Bahía Inútil is arguably the more intriguing option for penguin enthusiasts. Bahía Inútil, on the Chilean side of the island, translates to Useless Bay, but it is anything but to the King Penguins who surprised locals by settling there in 2010.
Travelers can leave their bathing suits and flip-flops at home for this beach experience. Not only is the climate too cold for typical beachy activities, but the shoreline is now a protected space for the penguin colony. Visitors can instead observe the penguins on grass or down on the rocky beach, where the birds loll around and wade into the freezing water.
Cumberland Island, Georgia, United States
Undeveloped beaches and surrounding sand dunes are a major draw at this barrier island off the coast of Georgia. Visitors come ashore in hopes of spotting any of the wild animals that reside on this 16-mile-long island — horses, hogs, armadillos and loggerhead sea turtles, to name a few.
Cumberland Island dates back to the 16th century, when it was settled by Spanish missionaries, and in the last 100 years it’s been home to some of America’s wealthiest families, including the Carnegies. In the 1970s, Cumberland Island was declared a national seashore, and much of the island is now protected wilderness, open to visitors from all over the world.
The island is a welcome escape from the hustle and bustle of life on the mainland, with quiet, primitive beaches that are wide, flat and perfect for meandering. Wild horses are often spotted in the sand dunes, and depending on the time of year, visitors may see the famous loggerhead turtles make their way up the beach to nest.
Rialto Beach, Washington, United States
The Olympic Peninsula in Washington state is home to a wide range of wildlife because of its diverse ecosystems — temperate rain forest, snow-capped mountains and rugged coastline. Throughout the peninsula, visitors may see signs of bears, elk, coyote and even cougars; from the beaches dotted along the coast, eagle-eyed travelers can spot seals, otters, dolphins and whales.
An easy, two-mile stroll along Rialto Beach — one of the most scenic spots on the Olympic Coast — takes you to Hole-in-the-Wall, a rock arch with spectacular tide pools accessible only at low tide. Keep your eyes peeled for bald eagles up above and whales in the distance as you wander the beach. The magnificent surf and seastacks make for wonderful scenery year round, and watching the sun set over the Pacific Ocean is not to be missed.
Hanauma Bay, Oahu
One of the most popular destinations on Oahu, just 10 miles from Waikiki, is Hanauma Bay, a stunning beach tucked into a former volcanic crater. In the late ‘60s, it was designated a protected marine life conservation area, and over the years, it has only become more popular with tourists.
While there are many places to snorkel on Oahu, Hanauma remains at the top of bucket lists. Arrive early, as soon as the park opens, to grab a spot on the beach and watch the sunrise before donning snorkel gear.
In the crystal-clear water, you’ll find more than 400 species of fish and if you’re lucky, you’ll swim with green sea turtles known as Honu. You may even spot a whale in the distance.
Before leaving, be sure to stop at the famous photo spot at the top of the walkway to take in the panoramic view of the bay.