Japan

10 Best National Parks Around the World

Posted October 18, 2013 by SmarterTravel.com

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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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This article was originally published by SmarterTravel under the title 10 Best National Parks Around the World.

Follow Caroline Morse on Google+ or email her at at editor@smartertravel.com.

 

Find Inner Peace in Kyoto Without Worrying About the Cost

Posted August 4, 2010 by Kate Hamman

Kyoto Kyoto combines Old World traditions with modern-day conveniences, making it an ideal place to immerse yourself in both sides of Japanese culture. Take a stroll along the famous Philosopher's Path exploding with cherry blossoms in the spring, brew your own green tea, and relax in a traditional Japanese-style inn. Plus, you don't have to spend a fortune to experience true Zen.

Play
Tetsugaku-no-michi Street (Philosopher's Path): Follow in the footsteps of many famous philosophers, including the well-known Nishida Kitaro, who have come here to contemplate the meaning of life. The path runs alongside a canal between the Ginkaku-ji Temple and the Nyakuoji Bridge, and passes two lesser-known temples. Each spring, Mother Nature covers the walkway with canopies of white cherry blossoms, making it quite the sight to behold. It's free to wander and be one with your thoughts.

Shop
Ippodo Tea Company: With nearly three centuries of expertise in blending and selling high-grade Japanese green teas, Ippodo is the place to go for a lesson in tea-ology. Choose from 40 different types of green tea in the Kaboku tearoom and a salesclerk will show you how to steep it properly. You can also buy loose-leaf teas to take home with you. Teas start around 400 yen (about $4.63 US; check XE.com for current exchange rates).

Stay
Yachiyo Ryokan: The Yachiyo Ryokan may be more expensive than other area hotels, but experiencing the tradition and tranquility of Japanese culture is priceless. Once you arrive, you can put on the yukata (kimono-style robe) in your room, and then wander the lush gardens and enjoy the views of the Higashiyama mountains. Guestrooms in the Honkan building are designed to replicate tea ceremony rooms, with lanterns as the only source of light. You can also find more modern accommodations in the newer Shinkan building.

To search for flights and compare prices to Osaka, which is home to Kyoto’s closest international airport, please use our price-comparison tool.

(Photo: Kyoto Convention Bureau/Japan National Tourist Organization)


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