There are many incentives that drive us to travel. No matter what draws us to new destinations — culture, food, architecture, nature, adventure, relaxation, self-discovery, the list goes on — we are sure to get something profound out of each experience. But the travel moments that I am most grateful for, that I believe are the most special and rewarding, are those involving the incredible animals with whom we share our planet.

My passion for wildlife has taken me around the globe, from trekking with gorillas in Uganda, to scouting out orangutans in Borneo, to snorkeling alongside whale sharks in Mexico. My experiences in wildlife travel have even inspired me to build a business around hosting epic adventures ranging from safaris in South Africa to my recent cruise around the Galapagos Islands.

Africa forever has my heart, but this trip to Galapagos has incited a new level of intrigue and respect for wildlife within me. How could it not? Galapagos is known for its incredible biodiversity and unique endemic species that not only served as inspiration for Darwin’s Theory of Evolution, but makes visiting here a wildlife experience that is simply unmatched by any other destination in the world.

Photo by Gerry van der Walt of Wild Eye with Shumbalala Game Lodge

In Galapagos, the animals coexist harmoniously with humans, with sea lions and marine iguanas lounging on the sidewalks as common as street lights back home. The lack of natural predators has allowed these creatures to remain relaxed and unphased, creating a peaceful ecosystem unlike any other. My time here has got me thinking about why wildlife encounters are such a special part of traveling and why they leave such a deep impact.

When done properly and in the wild, the magic of wildlife encounters comes from the fact that nothing is guaranteed. The experience is largely unpredictable, left at the hands of fate and the mood of the animals that day. No sighting or behavior is guaranteed, and that means that when something truly magical does happen, it is extra special, because the animal allowed it to be so. We are in the home territory of these magnificent creatures and it is a privilege to be in their presence.

Wildlife can sense our energy and they return it to us with the nature of our encounters. I’ve felt this when I experienced a mighty one-eyed male lion pass by me while sitting in a vehicle on safari with Wild Eye and Shumbalala Game Lodge. I could feel the lion’s single eye sizing me up, and there was no way any bone in my body was moving as I met his chilling stare with a look of respect and awe. He was such a powerful animal that could destroy me in a second, but he was acknowledging my presence and accepting me as part of the landscape. I let out the deepest exhale of my life as he moved on, shaken but forever touched by that moment.

Photo by Gerry van der Walt of Wild Eye with Shumbalala Game Lodge

Here in Galapagos, wildlife is abundant — at any given point along the coastlines, a scan of your peripherals is basically guaranteed to bring some sighting of a pelican, finch, crab, iguana, or sea lion. They are captivating and entertaining and make for fantastic photo opportunities, but my most magical moment of Galapagos came from a completely unexpected wildlife experience. I was on a cruise with Enchanted Expeditions, coming back to the boat for lunch, when our captain was excitedly yelling at our group to grab our snorkel gear — dolphins were near!

Any dolphin experience I’ve had previously was extremely fleeting, even on designated dolphin watching tours. The thing that made this experience so special was that it was completely unexpected, and it lasted longer than I’d ever dreamed of. We jumped into the water and snorkeled amongst the pod of bottlenose dolphins for up to 45 minutes, as they surrounded us, riding the bow of our dinghy, swerving playfully towards us in the blue, making their beautiful singalong sounds under the water.

These experiences are complete gifts, and these moments stay with you forever. There’s something about a wild animal allowing you into their vicinity, acknowledging your presence but almost accepting you as one of their own, as they intend you no harm but simply go about their lives, allowing you to witness. It’s an absolutely beautiful thing, and this is why it’s so important to approach wildlife tourism in the right way.

These animals will only reward us as long as we treat them with care, respect, and gratitude. It’s critical to enter any wildlife encounter with a positive and appreciative mindset, creating the best atmosphere for the animals to feel comfortable, safe, and natural. We must do our research to choose sustainable organizations and practices that are giving back to the environment and community in which they operate, putting the lives of the animals first. While embarking on any tour or experience, we must obey our guide and the restrictions, remembering that we are visitors — arguably, intruders — in a wild environment and must do our part to keep it exactly as nature intended.

The Law of Attraction — being that positive thoughts bring positive results — is real, and nowhere is this more evident than when experiencing wildlife. Approach with positive energy and pure intentions, and you will almost certainly be rewarded to the fullest.