Posted October 18, 2013 by SmarterTravel.com
National parks are kind of an American thing. After all, we established the first one (Yellowstone) in 1872. But it didn't take long for the idea to catch on overseas, and these days the international community can give even our most impressive parks a run for their money. If you love exotic wildlife, ancient ruins, and otherworldly scenery, you might want to add these 10 foreign national parks to your bucket list.
Fiordland National Park, New Zealand
Where else can you enjoy mountains, lakes, fjords, and rainforests in one park? Fiordland National Park, located on New Zealand's South Island, encompasses a massive almost 3 million acres (roughly 4,687 square miles) formed by glacial flows. The most famous of the park's 14 fjords is Milford Sound, which visitors can explore from all angles: Take a helicopter ride above it, cruise on the water, or go below (without getting wet) at the Milford Discovery Center's underwater viewing chamber, which offers 360-degree views of the ecosystem and rare black coral some 30 feet underwater.
Tikal National Park, Guatemala
You'll feel like you've traveled back in time at Guatemala's Tikal National Park, where ruins of an ancient Maya city-state (which housed approximately 100,000 people from the 6th century BCE to the 10th century CE) lie deep in the heart of the jungle. Remains of more than 3,000 separate buildings (including temples, palaces, and tombs) are preserved here. The massive archaeological site feels even more otherworldly as it is surrounded by 54,610 acres (roughly 85 square miles) of rainforest, now inhabited by a wide variety of wild animals such as monkeys, jaguars, snakes, sloths, and armadillos.
Kruger National Park, South Africa
Wildlife watchers, this is the park for you. Kruger National Park's almost 4.9 million acres (roughly 7,722 square miles) are home to an incredible variety of species: 49 fish, 34 amphibians, 114 reptiles, 507 birds, and 147 mammals—and of course that includes the "Big Five" of African game (elephants, lions, rhinos, leopards, and buffalo). There are numerous ways to traverse the park, from the wilderness walking trails (where you'll be accompanied by armed guards) to traditional safaris and 4WD trails.
Galapagos National Park, Ecuador
An astonishing 97 percent of the land area of the Galapagos Islands is part of this national park (the other 3 percent is the inhabited islands, on which tourists can find overnight accommodations, if they don't choose to do a cruise). To visit the park, you'll need to pay a $100 entry fee, and you'll have to be part of a tour that is accompanied by a Galapagos National Park certified guide—there's no doing this park solo. You'll be rewarded with one-of-a-kind wildlife spotting, including the giant tortoise, Galapagos Penguin, marine iguana, and blue-footed booby.
Kluane National Park and Reserve, Canada
Kluane National Park and Reserve is home to Canada's highest mountain (Mt. Logan), more than 100 species of birds (including golden and bald eagles), glaciers, and grizzly bears. Visit in the summer when this park, located in the southwestern corner of the Yukon, experiences up to 19 hours of continuous sunlight per day! Although more than 80 percent of the park's landscape is comprised of mountains and glaciers (more than 4,000 of them), the park still has plenty of greenery—there are meadows and forests that house wide ranges of wildlife, from mountain goats to Dall sheep.
Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park, Japan
This national park consists of four different regions: The Mt. Fuji area (home to the highest mountain in Japan, fields formed by lava flows, and five volcanic lakes), the Hakone area (famous for its hot springs and botanical garden), the Izu Peninsula area (featuring the Mt. Amagi volcanic mountain range and Atagawa Tropical and Alligator Garden, which houses 29 reptile species), and the Izu Islands (a group of islands formed by submarine volcanoes).
Torres del Paine National Park, Chile
Chile's Torres del Paine National Park is one of the world's most visually arresting places. Its glaciers, lakes, green forests, and rivers are framed by mountains and towered over by the Torres del Paine (granite pillars that rise more than 9,000 feet above the Patagonian steppe). Amid the beautiful scenery, you'll find more than 100 species of exotic birds (including parakeets and flamingos), guanacos (similar to llamas), pumas, and the endangered Chilean huemul (a species of deer).
Canaima National Park, Venezuela
The star attraction of Canaima National Park is Angel Falls, the world's highest waterfall, which drops for more than half a mile before hitting the rapids. The park itself is roughly the size of Belgium (12,000 square miles) and about 65 percent of its terrain is tepuis—plateaus of rock that create the amazing cliffs and mountains that make this park so picturesque. This national park is actually inhabited—it's home to the indigenous Pemon Indians.
Serengeti National Park, Tanzania
If you want to experience some of Africa's best wildlife viewing, Serengeti National Park is the place to do it. Every year, more than a million wildebeest, 200,000 zebras, and 300,000 Thomson's gazelles make their annual migrations from the northern hills to the southern plains, making for some amazing safari photo ops. Even if you come when the migration is not happening, you'll still likely see the Big Five, plus cheetahs, Nile crocodiles, monkeys, giraffes, and much more.
Swiss National Park, Switzerland
Switzerland's only national park is one of Europe's best-protected natural environments—hunting, mowing, off-trail hiking, and tree cutting are all forbidden within the park's more than 42,000 acres. (You can't even bring your dog.) The park's landscape is classic Switzerland, with Alpine forests and meadows, The Sound of Music-esque scenery (including edelweiss flowers), and mountain lakes.
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