With as few as 3900 tigers left in the wild, the thrill of spotting one of these rare and elusive predators in their natural habitat is simply unmatched. It’s also a much more sustainable alternative to visiting a captive tiger attraction, many of which have come under fire for animal mistreatment.

The modern world hasn’t been kind to tigers. Three of the nine tiger subspecies became extinct within the last century, and the remaining six are endangered, some critically, with ongoing threats to survival ranging from habitat loss to illegal poaching. But there is some good news, with wild Bengal and Siberian tiger numbers both increasing in recent years, and continually improving tourism infrastructure in key tiger habitats offering visitors a good shot at spotting one with minimal impact on the animals. 

To mark International Tiger Day (July 29), here's a guide to the places where you might be lucky enough to see tigers in the wild.

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A tiger family at Ranthambore National Park
A tiger family at Ranthambore National Park © Archna Singh / Shutterstock

Ranthambore National Park, India

At nearly 330,000 acres, Ranthambore National Park is one of the largest national parks in Northern India. The park, which is said to be home to 81 Bengal tigers as of 2021, is known as one of the famous hunting grounds of Maharajas of Jaipur, intertwining a sense of culture and history with its diverse ecosystem. There are a number of ancient temples, mosques and even a 10th-century fort scattered throughout the park — a worthwhile point of interest in itself.

  • How safaris work: Most safaris in the park utilize either a six-person Jeep or 20-seat Canter. While it is recommended tours are booked 90 days in advance, last-minute bookings are sometimes available. These three-hour tours are available between October 1 and June 30.
  • What else is there to see: In addition to the ancient ruins and tigers, it’s not uncommon to see leopards, sloth bears, jackals, crocodiles, Indian foxes, hedgehogs and even hyenas.
  • When to go: February and March tend to have the nicest weather, but the warm days of April and May coax tigers to popular watering holes, offering the best chances of spotting one.
  • Make it happen: Ranthambore’s diverse wildlife, historical and cultural destinations and picturesque landscape makes it one of the best photography destinations in the world. Natural Habitat Adventures offers an 11-day photo tour that, in addition to a five-day safari, includes a sunrise and sunset photo session at Taj Mahal, a balloon ride over Jaipur and a half-day tour of Delhi. For those who don’t want to book an entire package itinerary, the park offers morning and evening tours daily.

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A not-so-rare tiger spotting on safari through Jim Corbett National Park
A not-so-rare tiger spotting on a safari through Jim Corbett National Park © Anuradha Marwah / Shutterstock

Jim Corbett National Park, India

Originally established in 1936 as Hailey National Park before being renamed after hunter and naturalist Jim Corbett, Jim Corbett National Park was the first national park in India. As of 2020, 231 tigers call the park’s sal forests, marshes and grasslands home — up from 137 just 14 years prior. The park is one of the few tiger reserves in the country that allows overnight stays within the park, increasing your opportunities for spotting one of these elusive creatures. 

  • How safaris work: The National Park offers Jeep and Canter Safaris in five different zones which are intended to spread safari vehicles evenly throughout the park. Tours are managed by India’s forest department, and it’s left up to the guides to determine which zone the safari will take place in (all zones report a similar amount of tiger sightings). Tours are offered daily in the mornings and evenings.
  • What else is there to see: While in the park, keep your eyes open for Indian elephants (especially during the summer), mongoose, leopards, sloth, bear and deer. Spend the night at the Dhikala Forest Lodge, which is one of the only opportunities you’ll have to stay at a national park in India.
  • When to go: Visit between April and June for the best chance of spotting a tiger. While the summer months can get extremely hot, this is when tigers are most likely to leave the cover of the brush to cool off and get a drink in an open watering hole, providing visitors with an opportunity to spot one.
  • Make it happen: In addition to the daily safaris offered by the park, there are a number of local tour companies that offer multi-day tour packages. Nature Safari India, for instance, offers a 10-day tour consisting of five days in the park where visitors will have the chance to view the unique and diverse wildlife, visit the trails and settlements at the park and learn about the naturalist, Jim Corbett. 

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Royal Manas National Park, Bhutan

Located in the eastern Himalayas, Royal Manas National Park is Bhutan’s first and oldest. Unesco recognizes the park as a Natural World Heritage site due to the diverse and endangered flora and fauna that can be found in the park, including rhinos, elephants, water buffalo and of course, the Royal Bengal Tiger. The park, which consists largely of mountainous, forested terrain, is home to the highest tiger density in the world with a total population that has more than doubled what it was in 2008. Royal Manas is surrounded by other wildlife sanctuaries and parks, like Manas Tiger Reserve, Phipsoo Wildlife Sanctuary, Khaling Wildlife Sanctuary and Thrumshingla National Park, forming a large tract of land for tigers to roam safely.

  • How safaris work: While safaris are few and far between and tiger sightings are less common than in some Indian destinations, Royal Manas National Park is still worth visiting. A number of tour itineraries that focus on nature, culture and wildlife are listed on their tourism website, offered by various operators. For an actual safari, consider heading just south to Manas National Park in India.
  • What else is there to see: This biodiverse park is home to some of the rarest animals in the world, including clouded leopards, pygmy hogs, water buffalo, one-horned rhinoceros, elephants and the golden langur, which is seldom found elsewhere in the world.
  • When to go: While the best weather at Royal Manas is experienced between November and February, the summer months are when the likelihood of a tiger spotting increases. Keep in mind that monsoon season — during which nearby Manas National Park in India is closed — is from May through September, so if that’s when you decide to visit, bring your rain gear.
  • Make it happen: Many tours focus on a range of activities and experiences throughout Bhutan, with Royal Manas National Park only a piece of the puzzle. On Yatara Adventure’s 21-day Royal Manas Eastern Tour, for example, guests will visit monasteries, go on hikes, wander small, remote Himalayan villages, admire the snow-capped peaks of the Himalayas and tour the park.

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Chitwan National Park, Nepal

Chitwan National Park, which is located near the Nepalese-Indian border, is a recognized World Heritage Site known for its protection of the one-horned rhinoceros, royal Bengal tiger and gharial crocodile, which inhabit the grasslands and subtropical forests along with over 50 other mammal species. As of the last census, which was conducted in 2018, there were 93 tigers in Chitwan, although an effort to increase the tiger population in Nepal is ongoing. While tiger sightings are rare, the park’s thriving population of one-horned rhinos is another reason to make the trip.

  • How safaris work: Safaris in Chitwan National Park are largely offered through private tour companies as part of a travel package. In addition to safaris conducted through the use of all-wheel-drive vehicles, some tour operators offer walking and even elephant-back safaris.
  • What else is there to see: In addition to tigers, One-horned rhinos are a major draw of tourists to the park. As of 2015, 605 of Nepal’s 645 rhinos were found in Chitwan National Park. The park is also home to elephants, antelope, pangolin, leopards and striped hyenas, to name a few.
  • When to go: The region has the best weather from October through March, but the chances of spotting a tiger or rhino increase during April and May. Temperatures can sometimes hit triple digits in the spring, so make sure to bring plenty of water and dress accordingly.
  • Make it happen: And Beyond offers a six-day itinerary that starts in Kathmandu. The tour includes a sightseeing flight above Everest, a full-day tour of the Capital, a walking tour in the park and elephant-back and 4x4 safaris. Chitwan Jungle Safari also has a variety of itineraries, including a shorter 2-day tour that includes an elephant safari.

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Tadoba National Park, India
A tigress swims through a watering hole in Tadoba National Park, India © Philip Lee Harvey / Lonely Planet

Tadoba National Park, India

Located in the state of Maharashtra in central India, Tadoba National Park is a lesser-traveled destination despite being home to at least 80 tigers — not to mention the additional 200 in the region surrounding it. Also known as the Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve, the park’s name is derived from the God of Taru, praised by local Indigenous groups of the region. Tadoba’s dry tropical ecosystem is said to harbor the country’s fastest-growing tiger population, making it a great destination for trying to spot the elusive creature.

  • How safaris work: There are three different zones in the park that allow Jeep safaris during the winter and summer months. Visitors can also book a Canter safari upon arrival at the Mohurli gate on a per-seat basis, making it the perfect option for those on a budget. Timing varies depending on the exact date you plan on visiting, but they typically take place in the mornings and evenings from October 1 through February 29 and March 1 through June 30.
  • What else is there to see: Even if you don’t see a tiger in Tadoba, the park is also home to a myriad of other rare and spectacular species, like cheetah, leopard, sloth bears, crocodiles and Indian python.
  • When to go: Like other destinations throughout the country, the best time to spot tigers doesn’t coincide with the most pleasant weather — the incoming heat of March brings the tigers out into the open, where visitors have the best chances of catching a glimpse. Consider visiting between March and May for increased odds, but be prepared for the heat.
  • Make it happen: Tour operator Responsible Travel, which prides itself on supporting sustainable travel for both the environment and local communities, offers an eight-day itinerary that begins in Delhi. The trip focuses solely on Tadoba National Park, so your chances of seeing a tiger are greater than on tours that spend only a day or two in the park. Tour My India also offers a seven-day package that incorporates Nagzira and Pench National Parks into the itinerary.

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Tourists in a 4WD watching a Bengal tiger approach them. The tiger is seen from the rear. Best places to spot tigers in the wild
A Bengal tiger on the prowl in India © James Warwick / Getty Images

Madhya Pradesh, India

Home to 70 percent of the world’s wild tigers, India offers the world’s best tiger-spotting opportunities. Of its 50 tiger reserves, Madhya Pradesh – known as India’s ‘Tiger State’ – is home to some of the country’s most accessible and best-managed reserves including Kanha, which is widely thought to be the setting of Rudyard Kipling’s classic The Jungle Book. Ranthambhore National Park in Rajasthan and Corbett Tiger Reserve in Uttarakhand also offer particularly good chances of sightings.

  • How safaris work: With the exception of Satpura in Madhya Pradesh, which is the only reserve offering walking safaris, safaris are conducted in Maruti Suzuki Gypsies which can be booked for morning, afternoon and sometimes night drives with a local guide. Aim for at least four drives for the best chance of spotting a tiger.
  • What else is there to see: Other wildlife you’re most likely to spot include deer – particularly sambar, spotted and swamp deer – raptors (owls and eagles), gaur, langurs, macaques and if you’re lucky, maybe even a sloth bear or a jungle cat.
  • When to go: Most tiger reserves close during the July–September monsoon season. While tigers can be spotted year-round, the hot, pre-monsoon months of April and May tend to offer the best sightings (typically at waterholes).
  • Make it happen: The remoteness of reserves makes organized tours an attractive option. Visit Forsyth Lodge in Satpura, which works with the local community to provide transfers to Bhopal’s airport, a four-hour drive away.

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A Bengal tiger in a river in Bardia National Park
Nepal's tiger numbers are on the up – and Bardia is one of the best places to see one © Utopia_88 / Getty Images

Bardia National Park, Nepal

Thanks to concerted conservation efforts during the last decade, Nepal’s Bengal tiger numbers have almost doubled during that time frame, with more than 235 individuals roaming across five national parks. Chitwan might be the best known, but in the nation’s remote northwest, Bardia National Park is considered the best place to spot one of the 80-odd tigers that call it home.

  • How safaris work: All Bardia safari lodges offer walking and 4WD safaris. While you can cover more ground in a half-day driving safari, full-day walking safaris lend to more intimate wildlife viewings. With guides carrying only a bamboo pole for protection (tiger attacks are rare, but not unheard of) it’s a bigger thrill, too.
  • What else is there to see: Look out for Bardia’s 30-odd greater one-horned rhino, as well as otter, crocodiles, wild elephants, five species of deer and more. At the very least you’ll meet Vikram the rhino, a victim of human-wildlife conflict living out his days in an enclosure near the park entrance.
  • When to go: Bardia is open year-round, but as with India, it’s generally easiest to spot tigers in the hot season when tigers (and rhinos) can often be seen cooling off in the Girwa River.
  • Make it happen: Of the several dozen safari lodges in or near the village of Thakurdwara, near the park entrance, Bardia Ecolodge is a standout for its superb meals and fantastic local guide. For more comfort, consider the luxurious Karnali Lodge run by responsible tourism pioneer TigerTops. All good lodges can arrange transport from the local bus stop, or from Nepalganj, the closest airport.

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A tiger lowering its head to the water
A Bengal tiger drinks from a waterhole at Sundarban National Park © Roop_Dey / Shutterstock

The Sundarbans, Bangladesh

Straddling India and Bangladesh, the Sundarbans is the world’s largest mangrove forest. Thought to be home to more than 110 Bengal tigers, the misty maze of tidal waterways and small islands is best visited from the Bangladeshi side, which offers deeper access, maximizing your chances of spotting a tiger. Sightings, however, are rare.

  • How safaris work: Safaris consist of a multi-day boat tour from the southwestern city of Khulna, or nearby. You'll eat and sleep onboard your main tour boat, but during the day you’ll break into smaller groups and track tigers, either on foot (accompanied by armed forest guards) or on smaller boats (along narrower river channels).
  • What else is there to see: The Sundarbans is home to a wealth of wildlife – you can expect to spot saltwater crocodiles, wild boar, langurs and many of the region’s 260 bird species.
  • When to go: The cooler season from October to March – when you may spot tigers sunning themselves on river banks – is the most comfortable time to visit, but you’re more likely to see them in the water during the hotter months of April and May.
  • Make it happen: UK-based Responsible Travel offers an eight-day tiger safari in the Sundarbans with a zoologist guide. Reputable Khulna-based operators include Bengal Tours and Guide Tours, both of which offer three-day tours.

Rivers, tigers and tea: experience the best of Bangladesh

Sarah Reid traveled to India with the Adventure Travel Trade Association, and to Nepal with support from Encounters Travel. Lonely Planet contributors do not accept freebies in return for positive coverage.

This article was first published July 2019 and updated July 2022

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