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National Parks are the centerpieces of the protection of our beautiful planet and all the fantastic nature, wildlife and historical and cultural places contained within those protected areas. The first national parks were created in the United States during the 19th century, when the awareness of the need for protection, also to future generation, became more and more important. People needed places to recreate other than in the rapidly growing cities and other industrial and artificial environments. Nowadays, there are thousands of national parks in almost every nation in the world. Some are not much bigger than a football field, while others are immense and take a lifetime to explore.
Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is the prime spot in Uganda to go on a trekking trip to see the Mountain Gorillas and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The park is located in the south-western corner of the country and, apart from gorillas, offers a wide range of monkey, birds, butterflies and other wildlife to view up close. A gorilla permit is expensive though, around US$500 and as this is the most favorite spot in Africa to go on a trekking, the permits sell out quickly, especially by tour groups who buy them well in advance. As an independent traveller, you might be more lucky in Rwanda to get a permit within several days.
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The Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park is located in the arid north-west of South Africa and the south-west of Botswana. It is comprising two adjoining national parks, namely the Kalahari Gemsbok National Park in South Africa and Gemsbok National Park in Botswana. The park is located in the southern reaches of the Kalahari desert and red sand dunes with some sparse bush and small trees is the main vegetation here.
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Kruger National Park is the largest of all of South Africa's game parks with around 19,000 square kilometres to explore. The park is located in the north-east of the country, at the borders with Mozambique and Zimbabwe, in the provinces of Mpumalanga (southern section) and Limpopo (northern section).
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Lake Malawi in Malawi is one of the largest lakes in Africa and is even in the top 10 of the world. It is also known as Lake Nyasa and is the southernmost lake of the Great African Rift Valley. It is one of the best places in the world apart from the open sea/oceans to snorkel and dive. The lake is teeming with tropical fish and there are several towns along the lake's coastline that are great to stay with lots of hostels and nightlife. The southern portion is called Lake Malawi National Park and is one the UNESCO World Heritage list. Many travellers will stay at least for days, if not weeks on end. Although part of the lake is located in [Mozambique]] as well, most travellers will visit the lake in Malawi, with better infrastructure and accommodation.
Ranomafana National Park (or Parc National de Ranomafana) in Madagascar is the home of the rare golden bamboo lemur, though many other lemur, bird, and chameleon species can be found in its rainforest.
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Tanzania's oldest and most popular national park, and adjoining Masai Mara National Reserve in Kenya, Serengeti National Park is famed for its annual wildebeest migration, when some six million hooves pound the open plains, as more than 200,000 zebra and 300,000 Thomson's gazelle join the wildebeest’s trek for fresh grazing. Yet even when the migration is quiet, the Serengeti offers arguably the most scintillating game-viewing in Africa: great herds of buffalo, smaller groups of elephant and giraffe, and thousands upon thousands of eland, topi, kongoni, impala and Grant’s gazelle.
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Simien Mountains National Park is a spectacular mountain range in the north of Ethiopia, including one of the highest peaks in Africa, Ras Dashan. The park is also home to some rare animals like the Gelada baboon, the Simien fox and the Walia ibex, a goat found nowhere else in the world, and the Ethiopian wolf. It was one of the first UNESCO World Heritage sites in 1978, but unfortunately has been placed on the UNESCO World Heritage danger list in 1996, mainly because population of some species was declining rapidly.
Table Mountain National Park is located in and near Cape Town, South Africa and was established in 1998, for the purpose of protecting the natural environment of the Table Mountain Chain, and in particular the rare fynbos vegetation.
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The South Luangwa National Park is 9,050 square kilometres big and is located in the east of Zambia, towards the border with Malawi and is one of the finest parks in Africa with high densities regarding animals, especially around the central river. The park is one of the pioneers regarding walking safaris and nothing beats standing eye to eye with an elephants or lion, of course at a safe distance. There are around 60 different species of mammal, and over 400 species of birds, making it one of the most diversified parks in Africa as well. Access to the park is limited during the rainy season from the end of November until April, sometimes even impossible. Mfuwe is the gateway to the park and flights to and from Lusaka are possible on almost every day and buses from Lusaka take at least around 16 hours and you will need to change buses as well.
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Bandhavgarh National Park is number one when it comes down to spotting tigers in the world! It is located in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh. Although it's just over 400 square kilometres big, it boasts the highest tiger density in the world, with an estimated 55 Bengal tigers in the park, of which an estimated 22 tigers are located in the core area of the park. The core area forms one of the 4 areas in which the park is divided and is easily the most popular area for visitors. Apart from tigers, there are also quite a few leopards, but these are less common sights as they tend to move around at night, while tigers also move around during the early cool mornings or late during the afternoon. Other species to see are hundreds of spotted deer (chital) and sambar, the largest antelope species in India. Barking deer, wild boar and numerous species of birds (of prey) are other animals commonly seen.
Bandhavgarh National Park is great to combine with Kanha National Park, a bigger park further south.
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Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park is located in the Chubu region on Honshu, Japan. The major landmark in the park is of course Mount Fuji. It consists of Mount Fuji, Fuji Five Lakes, Hakone, the Izu Peninsula, and the Izu Islands which are located several hundreds of kilometres from Mount Fuji and was added the last in 1950. Over 200,000 people climb the mountain yearly and most of them climb in the 1 July - 27 August season when huts and most other facilities in and around the mountain and nearby villages are open. It also is surrounded by five lakes, among which are Lake Kawaguchi, Lake Yamanaka and Lake Motosu. From these lakes and Lake Ashi (which is a little further away) people who do not want to climb the mountain can have excellent views of the mountain when the weather is clear. In winter, the summit is covered in snow.
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Gunung Mulu National Park is located in the north of Sarawak, Malaysian Borneo. It is also the largest park in Malaysia and there are three mountains in the park, namely Gunung Mulu, Gunung Api and Gunung Benarat. Gunung Mulu boasts the highest peak at 2,376 metres while Gunung Api and Gunung Benarat stand at 1,750 metres and 1,585 metres respectively. There are at least four caves open to tourists in the national park: Deer Cave, Clearwater cave, Lang's Cave and Wind Cave. It is a must for the adventurous to try out these caves, though there are wooden walkways throughout them. Tourists can view spectacular stalactites and stalagmites on tours of the caves. This park is also blessed with a rich bio-diversity of plants and animals. Enjoy nature on this piece of beautiful land and admire some of God's creative work on earth. Tourists can view 8 types of forests, 75 species of mammals, 262 species of birds and an estimated 3,500 species of plants. So for nature lovers, Gunung Mulu National Park offers some tremendous enjoyment.
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Kaziranga National Park lies partly in Golaghat district and partly in Nagaon district of Assam. It is one of the oldest parks of India, covering an area of 430 square kilometres along the Brahmaputra river on the north and Karbi Anglong hills on the south. Due to its unique natural environment Kaziranga National Park was declared as a national park in 1974 and subsequently it was declared as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1985.
The most famed animal of this park is the One horned Rhinoceros and this park is supposed to host almost two-thirds of this endangered species. The park is also home to a large number of tigers, elephants, wild buffaloes, bears and numerous species of birds. The landscape of Kaziranga consists of sheer forests, tall elephant grass, marshes and large water pools.
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Khao Sok National Park is a 739 square kilometre big park in the south of Thailand, located in the Surat Thani Province. It contains one of the largest and oldest rainforests in Thailand and its dense jungle is great for hiking. The park is one of the best in the country for viewing a wide variety of flora and fauna, including the Rafflesia, monkeys, birds and even larger animals such as wild board and deer. Although it used to be home to tigers as well, it is questioned whether or not they still roam the area.
The Komodo National Park is a stunning place covering and area of 1,817 km² of which 603 km² of it is land. Originally founded in 1980 to protect the largest lizard in the world, the Komodo Dragon, this park has been expanded its mission to protect all the different species in the park and sea life around it.
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The Royal Chitwan National Park in Nepal was established in 1973 and contains 932 square kilometres with a diversity of ecosystems-including the Churia hills, Ox-bow lakes, and the flood plains of the Rapti, Reu and Narayani Rivers.
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One of the most popular places to visit in the Malaysian state of Pahang is Taman Negara, situated at Jerantut.
Taman Negara (literally National Park) spans across three states in an area of 434,350 hectares of pristine tropical rain forest estimated 130 million years old, this "unnamed" national park was previously known as King George V National Park.
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The Darien Gap in Panama is one big undeveloped area forming a natural bridge between Central and South America and is notorious for drug traffic as well. Still, the Darien National Park contains an extremely rich biodiversity with varieties of habitats, like beaches, rocky coasts, mangroves, swamps, and lowland and upland tropical forests containing remarkable wildlife.
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The Manuel Antonio National Park is located in the south of Costa Rica near the city of Quepos and is one of the most visited areas in the country. The park has a beautiful setting with lots of wildlife, including sloth, several species of monkeys, iguanas, numerous birds including the toucan, bats, spiders and snakes. Activities include guided walks, wildlife watching and relaxing and one of many beaches inside or just outside the park.
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The Tortuguero National Park is what most visitors brings all the way up to the town of Tortuguero along the Caribbean coast and the main activity probably is seeing turtles laying their eggs on the beaches. Most of these tours last for several hours and leave when it's dark. It is not always season though and your best bet will be visiting during April to May for leatherback turtles and July to October for green turtles. Canoe tours, wildlife watching and jungle trips are other options with one of the many tour operators in this fantastic area.
The Bialowieza National Park contains the Bialowieza Forest and is an ancient woodland straddling the border between the Belarus and Poland. They both have their own national parks, which are home to the last surviving European Bisons. The forest is located 70 kilometres north of Brest (Belarus) and 62 kilometres south-east of Białystok (Poland). It is one of the last and largest remaining parts of the immense primeval forest which once spread across the European Plain. It's a natural UNESCO World Heritage Site.
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Durmitor National Park in Montenegro is on the UNESCO World Heritage List and is a fantastic national park formed by glaciers. It is traversed by rivers and underground streams and next to the Tara river canyon, which has the deepest gorges in Europe, there are dense pine forests and crystal clear lakes which together are the habitat of a wide range of endemic flora. Naturally, the area is great for hiking and is just a short trip from the capital or the coastal areas.
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The Plitvice Lakes National Park is placed on the UNESCO World Heritage List. The waters flowing over the limestone and chalk have created natural dams which over the last thousands of year, as UNESCO puts it. These natural dams again have created a series of beautiful lakes, caves and waterfalls and this geological proces continues today. The forests in the park are home to bears, wolves and many rare bird species and there are great walking trails as well as relaxing at the lakes and falls. Fore more information, have a look at the official Plitvice Lakes National Park website.
The best known of Wales' national parks, Snowdonia contains the country's highest mountain Yr Wyddffa - better known as Snowdon - which is accessible by the Snowdon Mountain Railway for those not wishing to walk up to the 3,560 foot summit.
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Because of its cultural and natural importance it is on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Since 930 it has been of importance to almost all historical events in Iceland and also its geological history is a major draw for most visitors. Fault lines are easily visible in this interesting and beautiful national park.
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Göreme National Park is composed of caves that have 12 churches, a dining room and a kitchen. It is a religious site used by Roman Christians in order to hide themselves. In fact some say that the word Goreme derived from Turkish word gorme which means "don't see". It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
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Arches National Park: the name says it all. This national park, located in south-eastern Utah boasts the highest density of rock arches anywhere on this planet: over 2,500 in an area of just about 116 square miles. While some of them might be just a few feet, others like the Landscape Arch stretches over 300 feet (almost 100 metres). Combined with magnificent rock-desert landscape and snow capped peaks (at least in winter) in the background, it doesn't come as a surprise that this is one of the most favorite parks in the south-west of the USA and also a favorite place for movie makers! Although there probably will be arches forever, arches do come and go under the constant process of erosion - the influence of water and wind, freezing temperatures at night and hot days.
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Bryce Canyon National Park is one of the natural highlights of any visit to the south-west of the USA. Located in the south-west of Utah, this park attracts many visitors inspired by the natural beauty of its famous hoodoos, spires created out of the bigger rocks they once were. The park is open all year round, with most of the crowds visiting during the warmer summer months from May to September. For a more tranquil visit, come in winter, when the 'hoodoos' are sometimes covered with a thin layer of snow. The Rim Road Scenic Drive is 18 miles long with many turnouts and beautiful views. Most of them are on the east side of the road. The Bryce Amphitheater stretches from Bryce Point to Sunrise Point where hoodoos form a great landscape. Sunset and Inspiration point are other highlights. There are dozens of hikes to get closer to the hoodoos, down from the main road. The easiest one is the 0.5 to 5.5-mile-long Rim Trail. Others include the 1-mile Bristlecone Loop, Mossy Cave Trail, Navajo Loop Trail, Queen's Garden Trail, Fairyland Trail and Peekaboo Trail. Backcountry hikes include the 23-mile Under-the-Rim Trail, which can be broken into several day hikes.
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Carlsbad Caverns National Park is located in the Guadalupe Mountains, roughly a 300 miles (almost 500 kilometres) drive from Albuquerque, New Mexico. The Caverns date back 200 millions years and the limestone rocks that holds Carlsbad Cavern are full of ocean fossil plants and animals from a time before the dinosaurs, when the south-eastern corner of New Mexico was a coastline similar to the Florida Keys. One of Carlsbad Caverns main attraction is the “Big Room” where visitors can go down 900 feet (over 250 metres) in an elevator into the cave's main area and witness the wonderful rock formations. The Carlsbad Caverns are a must-see attraction that gets busy all-year around. Visitors are able to take a self-guided tour or a guided tour and tours can often be set up through hotels in the area and cities nearby. The Caverns are a UNESCO World Heritage site.
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Perhaps one of the better known attractions in Montana, Glacier National Park, together with Waterton Lakes National Park (across the border in Canada) is a World Heritage Sight in north-western Montana. Glacier National Park is a nature lover's paradise, and apart from a handful of lodges and private inns, you won't find any towns, hotel chains or shops and stores. While the visitor centers can get crowded at times, there are over a million acres of wilderness (not including Waterton Lakes, adjacent to Glacier on the Canadian side) to get lost in (but please don't get lost).
The Grand Canyon is one of the most popular tourist sights in the world with over 5 million visitors a year. The Colorado River and its tributaries created the Grand Canyon by moving through the sandy soil of the desert. Most of the Grand Canyon is located within the Grand Canyon National Park within Arizona, although parts of the canyon are in Utah and in several Indian Reservations.
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Located deep in the southern Californian desert is Joshua Tree National Park. Designated as a National Park in 1994 this area is one of the best preserved desert areas in the country. The park covers two different deserts that have their own ecosystem that are determined by different elevations. The area below 3,000 feet (900 metres), is in the Colorado Desert and the plant life is creosote bush, ocotillo and cholla cactus. The Little San Bernardino Mountains cut through the southern park of the park.
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The Northeast Greenland National Park is by far the largest national park in the world. It covers 972,000 square kilometres and covers about 45% (!) of Greenland, itself the largest island in the world (not counting Australia). The park is bigger than 163 countries are and stretches further north than any other park. It stretches over 1,400 kilometres from north to south, ranging from the permanently inhabited towns of Thule in the north of Greenland to the Scoresby Sound in the east of Greenland. The latter can be reached by direct summer flights from Reykjavik, while the first has to be reached by plane from other east coast settlements. The park was established in 1974 and expanded to its current size in 1988. There is no permanent habitation but a few dozen researchers and their dogs usually inhabit some military and weather stations. Although estimates range widely, there are about 5,000 to 15,000 musk oxen, approximately 40% of the world population of musk ox. Many polar bears and walruses can be found here as well, mainly along the coastal areas. Other mammals include arctic fox, stoat, collared lemming and arctic hare. Other marine mammals include ringed seal, bearded seal, harp seal and hooded seal as well as narwhal and Beluga whale. Species of birds breeding in the park include the great northern diver, barnacle goose, pink-footed goose, common eider, king eider, gyrfalcon, snowy owl, sanderling, ptarmigan and raven.
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Yellowstone National Park is one of the most famous natural parks in the world. With over 2 million visitors each year and covering more then 8,983 square kilometres (3,468 square miles) this wilderness area is amazing. The park is mainly in the state of Wyoming (96%), although parts cross into Montana (3%) and Idaho (1%). The park has a diversity of land formations such as lakes, canyons, mountains and rivers. There are also countless animal and plant species within the park including several endangered species like grizzlies, wolves and bison. Other animals include black bears, elk, beavers, squirrels and numerous species of birds and birds of prey.
What draws most people to the park is more then its stunning beauty and animals. The park is the center of amazing geothermal activity. Over half the world's geothermal features are located within Yellowstone and are still fueled by massive volcanic powers. Some of these geysers, or small volcanoes, have become very popular. If looking for an intense back country experience or just driving the parks roads in a RV there is something for any group of travelers in Yellowstone National Park.
A visit to the park can easily be combined with the adjacent Grand Teton National Park.
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Yosemite National Park is a massive national park, with 95% designated as a wilderness area, covering over 761,266 acres in several counties in east central California. Over 3.5 million people visit this park every year to see its stunning beauty. Its main attractions are its amazing granite cliffs, waterfalls, pristine streams, Giant Sequoia groves and stunning biological diversity. Resting across the Sierra Nevada Mountains the elevation ranges from 600 to 4,000 metres (2,000 feet to 13,114 feet), which covers 5 distinct major vegetation zones. If looking for the drive by experience, car camping fun or the intense back country hiking and rock climbing Yosemite National Park has something for any outdoorsy junkie. Remember to watch out for black bears. The park consists of 5 areas: the Yosemite Valley, Glacier Point Road/Area, Tioga Road and Tuolumne Meadows, Wawona and Hetch Hetchy (the least visited).
Abel Tasman National Park is one of the highlights of a visit to New Zealand's South Island. It is located in the Tasman Region, north-west of Nelson. There are great (multiple) day hikes along the beaches, coastline, through forests with huge ferns and the views are awesome.
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Fiordland National Park is New Zealand's largest national park, taking up 12,500 km² in the south-west corner of South Island. It forms a large part of Te Wahipounamu, a UNESCO World Heritage site inscribed for its rich natural environment. There are 14 fiords in the national park, but only two are commonly visited by tourists: Milford Sound and Doubtful Sound. Of these, only Milford Sound is easily accessible - though "easily" here still entails a two and a half hour drive from the nearest town, Te Anau.
Kakadu National Park is a vast park the size of Israel in the Northern Territory, Australia, east of Darwin. A UNESCO World Heritage site, Kakadu National Park supports a huge variety of flora and fauna, many species of which are rare or endemic. Historically, Kakadu National Park was the home of Aboriginal people, and much of the current NP is Aboriginal land. The area is also rich in Aboriginal rock art, with over 5,000 sites found.
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Home to the highest mountain on New Zealand's North Island, the 9,000 feet volcano Mt Ruapehu, Tongariro National Park is one of the highlights of any visit to New Zealand.
Centered on the highest village in the country, Whakapapa, the region is a paradise to lovers of the outdoors all year round. Tongariro is the name of one of the 3 massive volcanoes the dominate the area, the others being Ruapehu and Ngauruhoe which made an appearance in "The Lord of the Rings" as Mt Doom. I can assure you that the region is far pleasanter than Mordor though!
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Canaima National Park is located in the south-east of Venezuela and is one the UNESCO World Heritage list. It covers a vast table mountain landscape, with some parts covered in thick rainforest. It is also of interest for geologists and those keen on visiting on of the most Famous Waterfalls, the Angel Falls. La Gran Sabana is also part of this park.
Manú National Park is a very large park and is located in the south of Peru, north of the city of Cusco. The park ranges in elevation from 150 to 4,200 metres above sea-level, meaning high biological diversity in this area and is therefore on the UNESCO World Heritage list.
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Over 850 species of birds call this park home and species like the giant otter and the giant armadillo also live in this great park. Even jaguars are often sighted in the park. The park is most easily reached by a 45-minute flight from Cusco.
Torres del Paine National Park is named after the 2,000-metre tall granite pillars that dominate the landscape of the park. In addition to the towers, visitors can see glaciers, lakes, waterfalls and wildlife. There are also a number of multi-day hikes that visitors can undertake, but also shorter walks of an hour or several hours are possible.
You can also visit parts by bike or even car, but you won't get into the real wilderness that way.
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