Animal tourism is… dicey, to say the least. While getting out in nature and appreciating wild animals in their natural habitat is all well and good, other practices like elephant rides, tiger encounters, and even zoos have come under fire in recent years, causing many to shun the practice of using animals as a tourist attraction. Just last week, Trip Advisor announced it would no longer sell tickets to attractions that breed animals in captivity, affecting places that offer dolphin riding and even SeaWorld. Which makes it an interesting time for Airbnb to come out and announce they are launching Animal Experiences.
Thankfully, ethics are at the forefront of the new offering, which encourages people to spend time with animals in a sustainable, cruelty-free way. All of the experiences were reviewed by the World Animal Protection organization, and either actively help or do not disrupt the animals in any way. The majority of the interactive experiences are with domesticated animals, like dogs or horses, and the more exotic wildlife involves appreciating them from afar. To celebrate the opening, Airbnb will have eight lucky guests attend an underwater KISS concert for sharks, who apparently love rock music. You can enter to win it here, but if you can’t snag a ticket, here are 13 other animal experiences on Airbnb worth checking out.
1. Paddleboard with a Corgi
Ft. Lauderdale, Florida
The opulent mansions and over-the-top yachts of Ft. Lauderdale’s canals are some of the city’s best sites. And they’re best viewed not from a motorized tour boat but from a tranquil stand-up paddleboard helmed by Mr. Beaches, an adorable Welsh Corgi. Lacking arms or the ability to speak, Mr. Beaches will delegate tour-guiding duty to Natasha Baker, who’ll take you through the waterways and keep on the lookout for manatees and dolphins, which sometimes swim through.
2. Help abandoned dogs in Chernobyl
As television shows tend to do, Chernobyl has turned this onetime nuclear wasteland into a bona fide tourist destination. And though there’s been some controversy about this sort of disaster tourism, one way to see the site and contribute in a positive way is spending the day with Dogs of Chernobyl. This organization helps the descendants of the dogs who were left in the 30-mile Exclusion Zone after the disaster, giving them food and shelter in the tough Ukrainian winters. After assisting the dogs, you’ll then tour Pripyat, a city of 40,000 that was left completely empty after the meltdown in 1986.
3. Kayak with penguins
Cape Town, South Africa
The famous African Penguins at Boulder Beach can sometimes turn into the sort of over-touristed attraction that makes you say, “Gosh, this looked so much nicer on Instagram.” Avoid the crowded boardwalk and see the penguins from the water, paddling by in a sea kayak instead. Your guides Terry and Jon are “qualified Marine Conservationists” who’ll teach you all about the penguins before heading to Windmill Beach for some sun time. Then it’s off to Ark rock to observe fur seals frolicking in the water before heading back and learning a lesson about sharks. Hopefully not first hand.
4. Learn beekeeping from urban beekeepers
We all know the importance of bees in our ecosystem and the massive threat they’re currently facing, correct? Well, so do these Hamilton beekeepers, who’ve cultivated a rooftop hive to help keep pollination healthy in Ontario. Luc will give you a tour of his hive (which also happens to have sweeping views of the city) and explain how bees work together, as well as delve deep into their importance for human existence. At the end, you’ll leave with a jar of fresh honey, and yes, you will get protective clothing.
5. Practice downward dog with kittens
Goat yoga sounds like a novel idea until your realize it involves spending an hour listening to and smelling goats. You know what’s, like, 10 million times cuter? Kitten yoga. Yep, that’s right, after a brief 20-minute intro you’ll head into a full-on yoga class with Jessica and Wendy, who lead you through an hour of poses while the kittens roam free. After, you can grab yourself a tea, coffee, or new feline friend, as the Best Friends Animal Society will be on hand to help you with adoptions.
6. Picnic with a pig
Initially, a pig might not seem like the ideal picnic mate, given their reputation for, ya know, being pigs. But you have not met Pickles, an adorable farm rescue who lives with Dill the Dog, animal rescuer Maddie, and some rescued chickens. Sounds a little like the first page of a children’s book, but it is in fact reality, one you’ll experience both at Maddie’s rescue home near Oakland and in a nearby dog park. At the park, you’ll watch pickles play gleefully with local dogs while you enjoy a gourmet picnic. And ultimately learn how smart and friendly pigs truly are.
7. Chill out with alpacas
No need to travel all the way to Peru for some winter fun with alpacas! Joseph will take you on a tour of his farm near Denver, where you’ll meet Picasso, Lawrence, Alan, Red Rocks, Gus, and Woody, and have ample time to pet, play, and take pictures with all of them. The farm also has a herd of goats, who you’ll get to play with, as well as several scenic walking trails perfect for enjoying the snow-capped winter scenery.
8. Cuddle with cows
Big Island of Hawaii, Hawaii
Most people don’t associate cows with Hawaii, but on the most naturally diverse island in America you’ll find the Krishna Cow Sanctuary, where James will teach you about cows and how they are beneficial for the environment. After grooming, feeding, and milking the cows, you’ll get a chance to try cow cuddling therapy, where as the name might imply you nuzzle up to a cow and let its soothing breath relax you. Perhaps not the way you’d imagined de-stressing on your Hawaiian vacation, but a truly unique experience nonetheless.
9. Discover Arctic foxes
Though it won’t be an easy day, necessarily, you will enjoy a full day hiking about 10 miles through the Arctic wilderness with Stephanie and Randolphe. The nine-hour trip splits guests into two groups — observers and photographers — with the former looking out for the majestic Arctic foxes and the latter hiding so they can take the perfect shot. During the excursion, you may also have the opportunity to see other Arctic wildlife like seals, eagles, whales, and Gyrfalcons.
10. Have tea with naughty sheep
Loch Lamond, UK
On its surface, “stroking naughty sheep” sounds like a movie buried deep on the internet you probably don’t want to watch. But this activity is far more wholesome, where you’ll relax for high tea on an English farm, enjoying fine cakes while sheep hover around like dogs waiting for you to drop your dinner. The “naughty” part comes when the sheep try and eat your tea snacks right off the table. You’re welcome to tell them no, since at the end of the experience you walk them back to their barn, feed them tea, and pet them goodbye. After, take the hour-long optional walk through thick forest and on to a pub.
11. Save gibbons as a jungle research assistant
Gibbons, the fluffy little primates nearly hunted to extinction 40 years ago, have made a mildly impressive comeback in the jungles of Thailand. You’ll spend the day with the Wild Animal Rescue Foundation of Thailand helping gibbons recover further, making a special nutritional supplement wrap in a banana leaf, and sending it to them via long-distance tube. After feeding time, you’ll become a full-fledged research assistant, helping your host as he tracks gibbons through the jungle, telling stories along the way. In addition to seeing gibbons, you also may encounter flying lemurs, Oriental pied hornbills, and golden orb-weaver spiders.
12. Rehabilitate some Spanish donkeys
A far cry from carrying Sancho Panza across the Spanish countryside, these rescue mules spend their days enjoying the sunshine in El Refugio del Burrito near Sevilla. For half a day, you’ll visit with them, beginning with a traditional Andalusian breakfast of coffee and mollete, then join the staff for morning feeding. Later, you’ll participate in what’s described as a “positive training session to rehab scared or traumatized donkeys,” which we assume means lots of petting and love.
13. Go on a wild parrot safari… in Brooklyn
Brooklyn, New York
Did you know there are actual wild parrots that live in New York City? Not that it should really surprise anyone, but a flock of wild monk parakeets — also known as Quaker parrots — calls Brooklyn home, and guide Stephen Carl takes you to their nest, telling the story of how they ended up here (not surprisingly, that origin may involve organized crime). The hour-long tour takes you to the nest then further out into Brooklyn if the nest is empty. If nothing else, this might be one of the most cost-effective ways to spend a morning in New York City.