Top 10 Places to See Bats Around the World

Whether you think these creatures are cool or creepy, these are the top places to view them in real life.
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Bracken Cave, Texas

The world’s largest bat colony resides in Texas Hill Country, just outside of San Antonio. The cave is closed to the public since Bat Conservation International (BCI) owns the land, but the group does hold member events to witness the hours-long night flight, when bats emerge around dusk to insect hunt. (BCI does hold two public nights a year, but like member events, they book up fast.) Member nights are held from May through October.

Bracken Cave, Texas

The longer summer days also mean that the mother bats emerge much earlier than sunset, so there’s more time to watch the nightly spectacle. It costs $30 to become a member, and member nights are offered during the viewing season. Members are allowed one visit a year and can bring up to three guests. BCI also offers special events such as overnight camping, which allows you to witness up to 15 million bats returning home at dawn.

Congress Avenue Bridge, Texas

If Bracken Cave boasts the largest bat colony in the world, Congress Avenue Bridge lays claim to the world’s largest urban bat colony. About 1.5 million (mostly female) Mexican free-tailed bats live in the bridge’s crevices in downtown Austin. They set up shop under the bridge after it was redesigned in 1980, and are also protected by BCI. Similarly to the Bracken bats, they migrate from Central Mexico in March or April and stay through the fall.

Congress Avenue Bridge, Texas

You can watch the nightly spiral from the bridge itself, but crowds and traffic can make it less than ideal. Another option is the designated bat viewing area at the Statesman Bat Observation Center just across from the bridge. Capital Cruisesand Lone Star Riverboat Cruises offer bat-watching tours during the season, while the more adventurous can kayak with companies such as Live Love Paddle. However, you don’t even have to venture outside if you’re staying at the Four Seasons Hotel Austin or The Radisson Hotel & Suites Austin Downtown in order to watch the bat spiral.

Carlsbad Caverns, New Mexico

This UNESCO World Heritage Site and National Park is perhaps best known for its namesake show cave, but it’s also home to about one million Brazilian free-tailed bats (also known as Mexican free-tailed bats). The bats hang out in the caves from about April through October, with August and September considered prime bat exodus time.

Carlsbad Caverns, New Mexico

To protect the colony, there are no cave tours to their roost, but the park does hold a free nightly program from Memorial Day to October to watch the outflight. The evening begins with an informative talk by a park ranger in an outdoor amphitheater beforehand. If you’d rather go it alone, arrive in the pre-dawn hours between 4:00 and 6:00 a.m. when the bats return. Since bats are extremely sensitive to light and noise, no electronic devices, including cell phones and cameras, are allowed.

Yolo Causeway, California

California’s largest colony of Mexican free-tailed bats summers under the Yolo Causeway, which connects West Sacramento with Davis. You can witness the nightly bat emergence by simply driving the causeway, but a safer, and more guaranteed way, is by taking a tour. The Yolo Basin Foundation runs popular (often sold-out) tours from June through September. The tours start with a 45-minute presentation, and then drive to a private location in the Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area to watch about 250,000 bats fly out at dusk for their insect dinner. The Yolo Basin Foundation also holds special events during the season, such as Bats and Brews and a Bat House Building Workshop.

Gunung Mulu National Park, Borneo

The World Heritage Area of Mulu is home to the Deer and Lang Caves and their manifold bats. About twelve types of bats live in Deer Cave, and the wrinkled-lipped free-tailed bat colony numbers around three million alone. The park leads daily three-hour tours to both caves; Deer Cave (pictured) is the larger of the two, but Lang Cave’s smaller size makes it more conducive to spotting bats as they prepare for a night of hunting insects. The tours are timed to conclude with the outflight, which usually occurs between 5:30 and 6:30 p.m. The tour costs MYR 30, or about $7, but there’s no obligation to take the tour to watch the evening bat ritual; you just have to pay the park’s entry fee of MYR 30, or about $7, to enjoy the bat show.

Kasanka National Park, Zambia

Kasanka National Park might be one of Zambia’s smaller national parks, but it’s on the map for one big reason: Every October about 10 million straw-colored fruit bats arrive from the Congo, making it the world’s largest migration of mammals. They take up residence in what’s been dubbed the Bat Forest, and take off at dusk to feast on newly ripened fruit such as mango. Among the best ways to observe them is to climb one of the viewing platforms situated throughout the forest; BBC and Fibwe are among the most popular. The basic yet comfortable Wasa Lodge is the park’s closest option to the Bat Forest, but Kasanka’s other campsites and lodges also provide game drives to the watch the nightly hunt. The fruit bats only stick around through December, so plan accordingly.

Spandau Citadel, Germany

This Berlin citadel was built in the 1500s as a fortress. It’s undergone many transformations since then, from a military base to a prison to a trade school; it's currently a popular cultural center. The one thing that’s remained the same is the bat colony that’s lived here since its inception, and about 10,000 bats hibernate at Spandau every winter. Bat viewing is off limits during this time, but the citadel also houses a separate educational bat cellar, which includes a protected population of about 200 tropical fruit-eating bats. Viewing hours are from noon to 5 p.m. year round, sans flashlight.

Monfort Bat Sanctuary, Philippines

Unfortunately, hunters have invaded most of Samal Island’s 70 bat caves, making Monfort Bat Sanctuary the only protected cave on the island. In 2010 the Guinness Book of World Records recognized it as home to the world's largest colony of Geoffrey’s Rousette fruit bats, with more than two million at last count.

Monfort Bat Sanctuary, Philippines

Day tours of the bats’ quarters are conducted seven days a week, and can be done without disturbing them since part of the caves are exposed, like a hole, allowing you to peer in from a safe distance. Tours visit five caves, including one that’s considered a maternity ward and nursery, and another one for seniors and pups learning how to fly. Bat Emergence Night (BEN) tours are offered on Friday and Saturday at dusk, and are included as part of the PHP 100 ($2) admission fee. Fruit bats don’t hibernate, so you can enjoy the 3.5-hour bat show year-round.

Naracoorte Caves National Park, Australia

Naracoorte Caves is not just the only World Heritage Site in South Australia; it's also home to the critically endangered Southern bent-wing bats. In fact, it’s one of only two known breeding spots for this species, with about 40,000 bats. The caves are a protected breeding site, and a research center tracks their lifespan and survival rates, as the species has drastically declined since the ‘60s. Visitors can see the bats year-round, first on an infrared camera at the Bat Observation Centre and then in real life on a guided tour of Blanche Cave.

Naracoorte Caves National Park, Australia

The bats hibernate in winter, but summer brings the wondrous bat exodus, when they spiral out of the cave at sunset in search of insects. Extreme morning people can also watch the colony return at dawn. The hour-long tour costs AUD $25 or $19.

Khao Luk Chang Bat Cave, Thailand

Khao Luk Chang Bat Cave is just outside of Khao Yai National Park, the country’s first national park and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The park doesn’t offer tours, and you can’t enter the cave, but you can watch, by park estimates, as many as three million wrinkle-lipped bats swarming out of the cave at dusk. The hours-long bat tornado is a wonder to behold as the colony embarks on an insect-eating frenzy.

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