South America

10 Best National Parks Around the World

Posted October 18, 2013 by SmarterTravel.com

580x382_COVER_Africa_Serengeti-National-Park_Zebras-at-Sunset

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.

 

Be Thrifty and Adventurous in Paraty, Brazil

Posted September 15, 2010 by Kate Hamman

Paraty With 65 islands and endless beaches, Paraty provides countless affordable activities for the adventure-minded or the vacation-oriented. Pay a visit to this architecturally impressive town and then play in the sand and sea. At night, dine on traditional Brazilian dishes with a twist, before returning to your own slice of the tropics at your hotel.

Play
Paraty Tours: If Paraty is an outdoor enthusiast's playground, then Paraty Tours is the swing set and jungle gym. This adventure outfitter can equip you with all the necessary tools and a guide, whether you want to sail, raft, bike, or ride. One of the more popular tours is the schooner excursion, during which you'll stop for 40-minute intervals at different locations and are encouraged to dive or snorkel. The company also offers more mild outings, including a tour of the city.

Eat
Restaurante Banana da Terra: Starting as a family restaurant, Banana da Terra takes its inspiration from several different tribes and cultures to create something of its very own. Since the restaurant uses local produce, fish from Paraty Bay, and fruits from its own backyard, you're almost guaranteed a fresh meal every time. Keep in mind that the portions are large enough to share, and one entree may be enough for two people.

Stay
Pousada Guarana: With colorful gardens encompassing the Pousada Guarana, you'll feel like you're staying in a lush tropical hideaway. The inn brings natural and artistic elements to its interior, with exposed eucalyptus wood beams and stained glass windows. During the day, you can relax by the outdoor swimming pool or borrow one of the inn's bikes and explore the area.

To search for flights and compare prices to Rio de Janeiro, which is home to Monterey’s closest airport, please use our price-comparison tool.

(Photo: iStockPhoto.com/Jose Carlos Pires Pereira)

Traditions Live on in Santiago, Chile

Posted May 28, 2009 by Kate Hamman

Chile-Santiago-PatioBellavista-DEF Though Santiago may look like and feel like a big city, it doesn't mean that everything about it is big city. Head inside its neighborhoods to discover a simpler world where craftsmanship and heritage are celebrated with traditional arts, ethnic cooking, and regional wines.

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Patio Bellavista(in Spanish only): If you want to get a true feel for the city, be sure to stop by Patio Bellavista, Santiago's new gastronomic and cultural center. This neighborhood square is a gathering place where you can listen to live music, snack on ethnic food, and shop for authentic hand-made items such as lapis lazuli jewelry. The patio is also a safe haven for night owls, who can continue to revel at the restaurants and bars well past midnight. It doesn't cost a thing to enter and hang out, though how much you spend will depend on what you eat, drink, or buy.

Shop
Pueblito Los Dominicos: Declared a national monument, this artisan craft market attracts visitors from all over the world. The first workshop started in a stable and has multiplied and spread to form a thriving community of more than 150 shops. Here, visitors can roam in and out of the traditional-styled dwellings while interacting directly with the artisans who create Chilean furniture, textiles, jewelry, and carvings right before your eyes. It's free to enter, but only you can decide how much to spend on souvenirs.

Drink
Concha Y Toro(in Spanish only): Though Concha y Toro winery is located about an hour outside of Santiago, you can still sample its wines without venturing too far. The producer's wine-tasting center right in town introduces visitors to Chile's wine culture through gastronomy and wine courses. All wines are available for purchase, though you're likely to find its labels at home since Concha y Toro is the number one Chilean wine imported to the U.S.

To search for flights and compare prices to Santiago, please use our price-comparison tool.

(Photo: Patio Bellavista)

Be Thrifty and Adventurous in Paraty, Brazil

Posted April 24, 2009 by Kate Hamman

Brazil-Paraty-Sailing-DEF With 65 islands and endless beaches, Paraty provides countless affordable activities for the adventure-minded or the vacation-oriented. Pay a visit to this architecturally impressive town and then play in the sand and sea. At night, dine on traditional Brazilian dishes with a twist, before returning to your own slice of the tropics at your hotel.

Play
Paraty Tours: If Paraty is an outdoor enthusiast's playground, then Paraty Tours is the swing set and jungle gym. This adventure outfitter can equip you with all the necessary tools and a guide, whether you want to sail, raft, bike, or ride. One of the more popular tours is the five-hour schooner excursion, during which you'll stop for 40-minute intervals at different locations and are encouraged to dive or snorkel. The company also offers more mild outings, including a tour of the city.

Eat
Restaurante Banana da Terra: Starting as a family restaurant, Banana da Terra takes its inspiration from several different tribes and cultures to create something of its very own. Since the restaurant uses local produce, fish from Paraty Bay, and fruits from its own backyard, you're almost guaranteed a fresh meal every time. Keep in mind that the portions are large enough to share, and one entree may be enough for two people.

Stay
Pousada Guarana: With colorful gardens encompassing the Pousada Guarana, you'll feel like you're staying in a lush tropical hideaway. The inn brings natural and artistic elements to its interior, with exposed eucalyptus wood beams and stained glass windows. During the day, you can relax by the outdoor swimming pool or borrow one of the inn's bikes and explore the area. The hotel doesn't allow children under the age of 12.

To search for flights and compare prices to Rio de Janeiro, which is home to Monterey’s closest airport, please use our price-comparison tool.

(Photo: iStockPhoto.com/Jose Carlos Pires Pereira)

Live (But Don't Starve) Like an Artist in Buenos Aires

Posted March 12, 2009 by Kate Hamman

Argentina-BuenosAires-60276 In Buenos Aires, Latin American heritage blends seamlessly with European sensibilities exhibited in its cobblestone streets, worldly cafes, and grand avenues. It's no wonder so many artists flock here to paint this subtle blending of cultures. Examine local artwork in a museum, or delve into deep philosophical conversations at a cafe. And then live like an artist in your very own—and affordable—apartment.

Play
Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires (Malba): Stop by the Malba, where you'll encounter more than 270 pieces of Argentinian and Latin American artwork from the 20th century through the present. During your visit, you can take part in many of the different educational programs available for adults and children, such as the Encounters for Debate activity that brings curators, artists, and the public together.

Eat
Dada: Named after the early 20th century art movement, this cafe embraces the same rebellious philosophy, with an energetic spirit that encourages conversation and gatherings. Open until 4:00 a.m., you can chat the night away to the sounds of bossa nova. The menu may be a bit heavy on the meat dishes, but the Lomo Dada (sirloin medallion served on top of potato au gratin and covered in a Dijon sauce) keeps people coming back for more.

Stay
Art Suites: Just a few minutes from the financial district, you'll find a sleek and simple place to live like a local. The Art Suites serve as a home away from home by providing all the necessary amenities you might need in your own apartment, including a refrigerator, microwave, cook-top, cutlery, and cookware. This makes it simple to save extra cash by cooking some of your own meals. You'll also enjoy the extra space of a living room and a balcony. Rooms start at $120 per night, and include continental breakfast.

To search for flights and compare prices to Buenos Aires, please use our price-comparison tool.

(Photo: Sexto Sol)

Discover the Charitable Side of Cusco, Peru

Posted March 5, 2009 by Kate Hamman

Peru-Cusco-Peruviandolls-DEF Cusco may be the jumping off point for visits to the Inca Trail and Machu Picchu, but this lively city provides plenty of things to do to keep you entertained while you wait. Among the wide range of cultural activities, museums, and history, you'll find a slew of deals in low-cost souvenirs, a charitable hotel, and gourmet eats.

Shop
Centro Artesanal Cusco: For the ultimate deals in the city, pay a visit to the largest indoor market in Cusco, the Centro Artesanal Cusco. Here you will find hundreds of vendors selling a cornucopia of Peruvian goods and homemade crafts, arts, and textiles. If you're looking for anything made with alpaca wool, this is the place to find it. Many of these same items are available all over the city, but at heftier prices. Wear comfortable shoes for walking, as the market covers a large area and is about 15 minutes from Plaza de Armas.

Eat
Inka Grill: Though it is located on the touristy Plaza de Armas, the Inka Grill is a must-stop for its range of traditional dishes. The two-story Peruvian restaurant attracts visitors and locals alike with selections such as alpaca tenderloin, cuy (guinea pig), and cocoa-leaf crème brûlée. For the less adventurous, the Inka also serves a range of pizzas and pastas.

Stay
Niños Hotels: It's rare to stay someplace that lets you give back to the community, but at Niños Hotel, all profits from your stay go to help neglected Peruvian children receive food, clothes, and proper medical attention. Centrally located, this super-budget two-star hotel makes for an ideal home while in the city. And the comfortable accommodations make it all the more attractive. Rooms start at $36 for a double with a shared bathroom.

To search for flights and compare prices to Cusco’s nearest major airport, please use our price-comparison tool.

(Photo: Dan Brandenburg, iStockphoto)

The World's Top 10 Vertigo-Inducing Attractions

Posted April 3, 2008 by Zak Patten

If you're a traveler like me, your typical vacation will include a trip up to a scenic lookout where you're likely to have the best view of the place you're visiting. And if you're a big wuss like me, as soon as you get to the most scenic vantage point, your knees will start wobbling and you'll grip the handrail with vise-like intensity/strength, thinking, "I could've gotten this view from a postcard in the lobby!" For those of you who like the idea (if not necessarily the reality) of a great view, I've put together the following list of 10 attractions, each of which is extremely nosebleed-friendly.

10. The CN Tower

The CN Tower is 553 meters tall, which is a Canadian way of saying 1,815 feet off the ground. Technically, it's the "tallest free-standing structure on land," but that just means it's not a place where people live or work. Which is just fine by me, because I have absolutely no interest in living or working anyplace higher than my third-floor bedroom or fourth-floor office. The CN Tower was completed in 1973 and is used primarily for TV and radio broadcasts, as well as tourism. Fans of 1940s music will be dismayed to learn that there is no AM antenna on the Tower.

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Overcompensate much?

9. The Jungfraujoch Railway Station

What do you get when you cross the Swiss Alps with Europe's love of passenger trains? The Jungfraujoch railway station, which is 11,333 feet above sea level. Okay, that's not much of a joke, but the Swiss aren't known for their sense of humor (kidding!). So once you've made this hair-raising train trip to the top of the world, what can you do besides gorging on Swiss chocolate and fondue? How about checking out an Ice Palace or a ski and snowboard park that's only open in the summer?

Vertigojungfraujochwebshopped_2
om nom nom

8. Mt. Kilimanjaro

For number eight, let's take this a notch higher. It's true that Mt. Kilimanjaro makes the Alps look puny. But with a summit of 19,340 feet, Africa's tallest peak is actually accessible enough for real people to climb, sans oxygen tanks. Of course that's not to say it's an easy task, especially if you're the type who favors the escalator to the stairs.

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Floor 5895: Neon hiking gear and ridiculous hats

7. London Eye

Coming back a little closer to earth, the London Eye is essentially a big ol' Ferris wheel. If that doesn't wow you, consider that the 443-foot-tall ride was the tallest of its kind when it opened in 2000. If you want to make your visit more upscale, you can purchase a glass of Champagne for an additional £30. I think I'll pass on the pricey drink. I'll be happy just to hold down my lunch while in one of the pods.

Vertigolondoneyewebkittie
OH NOES!

6. Singapore Flyer

With about 100 more vertical feet than the London Eye, The Singapore Flyer took the role of world's highest Ferris wheel when it opened this month. One of the coolest things about the Flyer is its taxi-driver promotion, which currently awards all cabbies a free ride. I guess the idea is they'll be so taken with their trip that they won't be able to stop talking up the attraction to their customers. I'm assuming they're not trying to recruit the drivers to be "pod pilots." Just one warning to those who do take the Flyer: Don't write your name in your cabin. They're not big fans of graffiti in Singapore.

Singaporenightshopped4
Never Forget: Michael P. Fay

5. The Top of the Rock

The Empire State Building is great, but it's soooo 20th century. For the latest in Big Apple views, you gotta hit the Top of the Rock. The "Rock" in question is Rockefeller Center, and while its 850-foot-high observation deck doesn't reach the Empire State Building's height, , this deck affords a much better view of the ESB than you'll get when you're standing on the building itself. Oh, and our sister site TripAdvisor's users rank the Top of the Rock number one of 1,296 New York City attractions. 'Nuff said.

Vertigotopoftherockweb
Hey, is that Tina Fey? Let's not forget her either.

4. La Paz

Just about any spot in La Paz, Bolivia, the world's highest capital city, can make the most grounded person feel as if his head is in the clouds. At 11,942 feet in elevation, La Paz is an attraction in itself. If you go, make sure you're prepared for the altitude. You can take a medicine such as Diamox, or just chew some coca leaves like the locals. La Paz's Museum of the Coca Plant is the place to learn more about the coca leaf and all its interesting uses.

Cocacat
im in ur bolivia sniffin ur cokez

3. The Edge

It might be in Melbourne, Australia, but there is nothing "Down Under" about The Edge, a glass cube that juts out of the Eureka Tower, which at 975 feet is the world's tallest residential building. The worst … er, best part of it all is that The Edge doesn't just sit there like all the other observation decks. No, you get in and it physically moves outward until you're hanging out with nothing between you and a long fall but some chintzy glass panel. 

Vertigoskydecktheedgeweb_2shopped
Hello, Hello. I'm at a place called Vertigo.

2. Taipei 101

The Taipei 101 is currently the world's tallest building at a height of 1,670 feet, though the Burj Dubai is set to overtake that record when it officially opens. At that height, I'm really not interested in which one is taller, but rather how the hell I can get down safely. What I think is coolest about the 101 is not just its height, but how big it is relative to the buildings around it. It's as if former NBA big man Manute Bol decided to show up and play pickup hoops with you and your friends. Basically, the Taipei 101 doesn't care about its neighboring skyscrapers—it's going to dunk on their asses.

Vertigotaipei101webshopped
Manute enlarged to show texture.

1. Insanity, the Ride

Which brings us to number one. Yes, Insanity, the Ride, at Las Vegas' Stratosphere, is not only the most vertigo-inducing attraction in the world, it's probably the most wetting-your-pants/barfing-your-guts-out one as well. The casino-hotel stands 1,149 feet above The Strip, which is what you'll be gaping down at as you are spun at three-Gs by a "massive mechanical arm" extended 64 feet out from the building. I can barely even look at the picture below without feeling queasy.

Manutebucket
Serving suggestion, some assembly required, ManuteBucketTM not included.

Bones Brought in Baggage from Brazil

Posted March 13, 2008 by Zak Patten

Skeletonweb I once saw a man boarding my plane with a full rack of antlers protruding from his backpack. Apparently the TSA doesn’t have any prohibitions against packing animal bones, no matter how sharp they are. I wonder if those security screeners would have even noticed the skeleton a 62-year-old woman recently flew with from Brazil to Italy?

As you might have figured, the woman was stopped by airport security (in Germany) and interrogated. It turned out she was fulfilling her brother’s dying wish from 11 years ago to be buried in Italy. The traveler (the live one) was actually able to provide documents allowing her to legally fly with her unusual luggage item. The authorities then allowed her to continue on her way.

Which got me to thinking, just what kind of bag do you pack a dead body in? I think first of all, you probably want to use a sealed, heavy-duty plastic liner inside the bag, just so you don’t lose any of the bones among your socks and underwear. Imagine putting on your skivvies one morning only to find someone’s metacarpal where it didn’t belong. And you wouldn’t want to trust airline baggage handlers to safely transport the remains of your loved one, so putting the cadaver in a carry-on is a must. It’s not like we’re talking about a full-on corpse, which would clearly require at least a second checked bag (and another 25 bucks on some airlines). No, I’d say your best bet is to get a good solid roll-aboard with a few sweaters thrown in around the deceased to avoid breakage.


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