What are the best places in the world to see snakes?

Narcisse snakes / Photo courtesy of Steve McCullough, stevemccullough.ca

How far would you drive or fly out of your way to see a bunch of snakes? In a roundup of the best travel possibilities for 2013, Lonely Planet editors picked the best 10 spots to see snakes around the world.
The Narcisse snake dens of Manitoba is their top pick. You may have seen this amazing spectacle on nature programs: in May tens of thousands of red-sided garter snakes wake from hibernation, slither out of dens and mate in a writhing ball. This a destination snake spot, definitely not something you’ll pass on a roadtrip since it’s a couple hours north of Winnepeg.  But after the trek, it’s kind of tame. You can see these tiny snakes, often kept as pets, from the safety and convenience of a viewing platform.
Most of the other spots on Lonely Planet’s list are far more exotic cultural experiences, like a Hindu festival with cobras in India (though NPR says snake charmers are considered cruel and are fading fast from the scene), a temple for snakes in Benin, west Africa, and a snake pagoda in Myanmar.  A few are snake spots in name only, like the serpent mounds in Ohio, a mythical snake in Australia (but inexplicably, the list lacks Loch Ness, home to the planet’s favorite crpytozoological serpent).

While the list makes a fun read and may inspire some dreamy vacations, it could do with a few more natural locations, like the one they include in the Panatal, Brazil or Isla Pájaros in Costa Rica’s Palo Verde National Park, which has the largest concentration of boa constrictors.

To find spectacular snakes in the wilds of the U.S., head to Everglades National Park, which is the epicenter of the explosion of abandoned pythons not lucky enough to make it into one of the sanctuaries. They have so many, the state of Florida started a hunting season. If you go during a cold snap, you might find them stunned and sleepy.

2 dudes holding  a huge dead snake

Many of the big hot, dry parks out west have rattlesnakes, if that’s what you’re into. Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah notes that you may see them on  ”Under-the-Rim Trail, Riggs Springs Loop, and the Fairyland Loop.”

For the United States, I would add a few good options for families and thrill seekers:

Snake Sanctuaries take in nonreleasable wildlife and forsaken pets, are a way to see snakes more intimately than a zoo and with less guilt about their captivity. Just as there are places that take in the wolves, big cats and monkeys some idiot thought would make an attention-getting pet, sanctuaries have sprung up to take in the unfortunate snakes that you might have once seen on some attention-seeker’s shoulders. Midgard Serpents Reptile Rescue & Sanctuary in North Carolina, the Colorado Reptile Humane Society, Forgotten Friend Reptile Sanctuary,  Indiana Turtle Care, Inc., or VA Reptile Rescue. 

Lonely Planet wisely left out a couple of the most cruel and unseemly snake events, like the 3,000 year old Italian Cocullo Snake Festival, for which local non-poisonous snakes are rounded up and de-fanged and all of those Texas rattlesnake round-ups, which go down pretty much as you’d think.

But there are a few peculiarities of American culture that could have made the snake list. If you’re going to cultural attractions in India, you might be interested in a popular U.S. tourist destination that features snakes: South of the Border, the cheesy, ever-expanding roadside stop along Route 95. Better known for giant animal  statues, the place also has a real reptile house with an African black mamba.

And while you’re down south, maybe check out some Pentecostal snake-handling pastors. Now, I have no idea which is the most exciting or easiest to access as an outsider, but I’d love for Lonely Planet to find out by visiting La Follette, TN, or  Greenville, NC. If you’re going to see an incomprehensible religious spectacle that uses snakes as props, wouldn’t one in the U.S. be even scarier than those in India?

Lonely Planet mentions that this is the Chinese Year of the Snake, so I’d like more details about snake-themed festivities in Beijing for the New Year in February. But this is an excellent primer on where to see snakes.

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