Guests can scuba dive in the 6.3-million-gallon Ocean Voyager exhibit at Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta, Georgia. Photo by @soapartist
6 Animal Encounters for a Walk on the Wild Side
Swim with whale sharks, help protect sea turtles and get up close to more amazing wildlife across the state.
An incredible variety of animals make their homes in the lush forests of North Georgia, the coastal salt marshes, the sandy soils of South Georgia and everywhere in between, and visitors can get up close to them safely at several places around the state. From diving with whale sharks to chasing butterflies, here are six places where you can interact with animals and learn more about the state's and the planet's amazing creatures.
Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta
At the largest aquarium in the Western Hemisphere, Georgia Aquarium, don a wetsuit for up-close encounters with whale sharks, manta rays, and thousands of other sea creatures as you snorkel or scuba dive in the 6.3-million-gallon Ocean Voyager exhibit. For low-key fun, get chummy and snap a selfie with a sea lion. Or opt for the ultimate heart-pounding experience: cage-dive with sharks in the aquarium’s newest attraction, a million-gallon tank filled with some of the ocean's top predators.
Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge in Folkston
Explore the still, black waters of the Okefenokee Swamp on 120 miles of canoe trails through the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge as you navigate around cypress trees draped with Spanish moss and glide past alligators, wading birds, and waterfowl. Both day and overnight paddling trips are offered. Visitors opting for the latter can look forward to the ultimate camping adventure: sleeping on an open-air platform just inches above the alligator-filled waters of the nation's largest freshwater swamp.
Center for Wildlife Education and The Lamar Q Ball, Jr. Raptor Center in Statesboro
Native species that soar, slither, and crawl are surprisingly accessible at this southeast Georgia education center. Birds of prey — owls, hawks, and falcons — thrill audiences with their aerial demonstrations as they dive and soar between perches installed around the amphitheater. For a hands-on experience, take in the reptile show for the chance to interact with a range of scaly residents, from American alligators to gopher tortoises.
Georgia Sea Turtle Center on Jekyll Island
Ride along with the night patrol, which monitors egg-laying sea turtles, nests, and emerging hatchlings along the island's beaches with the Georgia Sea Turtle Center. You'll also learn about turtle biology, threats to their survival, and ways you can help. In addition to the opportunity to be a citizen scientist, visitors can go on behind-the-scenes tours of the center and come face-to-face with injured turtles undergoing treatment in the working rehabilitation hospital.
Cecil B. Day Butterfly Center in Pine Mountain
One of the largest butterfly conservatories in the country, this crystalline glass enclosure at Callaway Resort & Gardens holds more than 2,000 "flying flowers." At least 50 species greet visitors with splashes of rainbow color and land on heads, shoulders, and outstretched hands. The center also offers in-depth classes on butterfly life and gardening tips to help you attract them to your yard.
Iron P Homestead Zoo
Located on a 45-acre plot in Hogansville, Iron P Homestead Zoo is the perfect spot to get acquainted with all types of exotic animals. With the help of hands-on animal encounters, you’ll make friends with capybaras, sloths, foxes and more. If you want to meet the most adorable pint-sized creatures, sign up for The Nursery Experience, where you can help feed the zoo’s newest members. For all the future zookeepers, the Behind-the-Scenes Encounter teaches about conservation efforts to protect these magnificent animals.