17 of the World’s Most Extraordinary National Parks

May 25, 2016 by

Asia, Australia & the Pacific, Europe, Middle East & Africa, North America, Places to Go, South & Central America, Travel Advice & Inspiration

Canada's Pacific Rim National Park is one of the world's most extraordinary national parks.

Canada’s Pacific Rim National Park is one of the world’s most extraordinary national parks.

Yellowstone was the world’s first national park. As the US National Park Service turns 100 years old this year, people from around the country (and globe) are flocking to these iconic reserves. US National Parks now number more than 400 and welcomed more than 305 million visitors in 2015.

The idea of creating protected wilderness areas was a popular one; more than 100 countries around the world have followed suit, with more than 1200 national parks worldwide. While you can always visit some of the newest national parks here in the United States, you might want to consider checking out some of the amazing national parks outside our borders.

North America

Palenque National Park, Mexico

Palenque National Park

Palenque National Park

Considered Mexico’s most famous cultural preserve, Palenque National Park protects one of the country’s most important archaeological sites, an elegant ancient city-state of the Maya Empire’s classic period. The ruins are situated high above the surrounding tropical forest, where wildlife like spider monkeys, toucans and parrots can be spotted. While much of the structure is still waiting to be unearthed, journey to the central observatory (a destination in itself) for spectacular sunrise and sunset views.

Pacific Rim National Park, Canada

Located on the southwest coast of Vancouver Island, this three-part park is perfect for all sorts of adventuring. With its 10-mile Long Beach, Broken Group Islands (you take a ferry to get there) and native culture, this is one of the most popular parks in Canada.

Corcovado National Park, Costa Rica

One of the world’s most biologically diverse areas, Corcovado is home to hundreds of species of rare insects, mammals and birds. Hiking and trekking are the primary forms of exploration for enjoying tropical beaches and old-growth forests.

South America

Tayrona National Park, Colombia

Tayrona National Park

Tayrona National Park

Perhaps one of the most visited locations in Colombia, Tayrona is a haven for backpackers and those seeking a bit of tropical beauty. Access the far reaches of the park by foot or donkey; you’ll be rewarded with white-sand beaches, plenty of hiking trails and trees between which you can string your hammock.

Parque Nacional Los Glacieres, Argentina

Arrive in El Calafate and you’ll immediately be asked, “are you here to see El Perito Moreno”? It’s a good question — and one to which you should answer “yes.” One of the few glaciers still growing, Perito Moreno stretches 120 square miles and towers over a blue lagoon in Parque Nacional Los Glacieres. The massive shears are what draw people, but the sheer majesty is what keeps them there for hours.

Pantanal Matogrossense National Park, Brazil

The Amazon may get all of the press, but the Pantanal is one of the most immense, pristine and biologically rich environments on the planet. Extending through parts of Brazil, Bolivia and Paraguay, it’s often referred to as the world’s largest freshwater wetland system, home to more than 250 species of fish and almost 100 species of mammals — it’s also the best place to spot a jaguar.

Asia

Hakone National Park, Japan

Hakone National Park

Hakone National Park

Accessible from Tokyo, Hakone National Park is the perfect escape from the city. Experience the relaxation of a natural hot springs bath or, on clear days, enjoy spectacular views of Mount Fuji.

Khao Yai National Park, Thailand

One of the largest monsoon rainforests remaining in Asia, Khao Yai is a nature-lover’s paradise. The national park is home to monkeys, elephants, tigers, sun bears, leopards and large pythons, so guests can spend their time searching for elusive wildlife while enjoying the hiking and biking trails winding around the park’s many waterfalls.

Cat Ba National Park, Vietnam

Sign up for a tour on a traditional junk boat and enjoy a cruise along dramatic limestone karst islands, including Cat Ba National Park. Home to a wide variety of flora unique to Vietnam, as well as a healthy population of wildlife, Cat Ba is also a climber’s paradise, worthy of exploration by hands, feet and rope.

Africa

Etosha National Park, Namibia

Etosha National Park

Etosha National Park

Etosha National Park, hailed as Namibia’s top game park and one of the best national parks in Africa, allows visitors to spot wildlife from far-off distances due to the open and arid landscapes. Etosha is home to some rare and unusual wild animals, as well as the Big Five of Africa. Common wildlife sightings include rhinos, giraffes, elephants, lions, antelopes and even cheetahs and leopards.

Nairobi National Park, Kenya

Venture 15 to 20 minutes from the center of Nairobi, the largest city in East Africa, and you can take photos of giraffes juxtaposed with skyscrapers. Nairobi National Park is home to world’s densest population of black rhinos, but you can also spot zebras, giraffes, hippos, leopards and lions. It’s the true definition of “urban jungle.”

Toubkal National Park, Morocco

For those who want to get beyond the local markets, journey to Toubkal National Park, located in the Atlas Mountains. Nearly all of North Africa’s highest peaks are within the boundaries of the park, making for some very happy climbers. Hikers can explore snow-capped mountains and visit local Berber villages along the way.

Europe

Triglav National Park, Slovenia

Triglav National Park

Triglav National Park

Located just outside of Bled, Slovenia’s only national park seems plucked from a fairy tale. With the picturesque Lake Bohinj ripe for exploration by canoe or kayak, plenty of hiking trails and quaint wooden houses lining the lake, it’s a glorious respite from the popular destination of Bled.

Sarek National Park, Sweden

If you’re looking for a place to escape from crowds and eschew the trappings of civilization, head to Sarek. With 772 square miles (2,000 square kilometers) to explore, this pristine expanse is riddled with glaciers and threaded with whitewater rapids. Six of Sweden’s highest summits (say that six times fast) are also in the park, perfect for trekkers and peak baggers.

Timanfaya National Park, Spain

On the island of Lanzarote, part of the Canary Islands, you’ll find Timanfaya National Park, which looks as if it could have been pulled from Mars and deposited on the island. This area, which was formed when more than 100 volcanoes rose up and devastated the island, remains a hot spot — the temperatures just a few feet below the soil still reach 752 degrees Fahrenheit and higher. Come for the otherworldly landscapes; stay for the opportunity to eat Canarian food prepared by geothermal heat.

Australia

Freycinet National Park, Tasmania

Freycinet National Park

Freycinet National Park

One of the most beautiful areas on this swoon-worthy island, Freycinet is home to Wineglass Bay, Honeymoon Bay and Coles Bay, which are all worth exploring. With well-marked trails and plenty to see, it’s easy to lose days in this stunning setting.

Jervis Bay National Park, New South Wales

Humpback whales, dolphins and southern right whales can be seen along the coastline during migration season, which is reason enough to visit Jervis Bay National Park, located just a few hours from Sydney. Add in the white-sand stretches of Hyams Beach and you’ve found a slice a paradise.

Of course, these are just a few of the spectacular national parks scattered across the world. There are hundreds more to explore — just pick your continent.

Katie Coakley

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