Whether it is for the protection of forests, national treasures or wildlife, national parks around the world are as varied as the countries they belong to. From ancient civilizations to geological wonderlands, we visit some of the lesser-known parks around the world.
Vatnajokull National Park
Vatnajokull National Park is Europe’s largest National Park which allows visitors to experience the vigorous interactions of volcanoes and glaciers. The gigantic park consists of highlands, canyons, waterfalls and crater lakes, and is also home to Europe’s largest glacier, Vatnajokull (at 8,100sq.km.), Iceland’s highest mountain, Hvannadalshnukur and Europe’s most powerful waterfall Dettifoss. With its extensive system of hiking trails and campsites, it can be explored on foot, although the highland area is best navigated via 4WD.
MAIN ATTRACTION: Glaciers, volcanoes
BEST TIME TO VISIT: June to August
Eisriesenwelt National Park
Located in Werfen within the Tennengebirga Mountains near Saizburg, Elsriesenwelt is a natural limestone ice cave that stretches to over 42kms, making it the largest ice cave in the world. Created by the Salzach River, the cave’s temperatures and cold wind that freezes the river keeps the ice present throughout the year. The ice stalagmites and stalactites reach 20m in some places, combined with waterfalls, pools and underground rivers that you can visit on a 75-minute hiking tour (winter clothing is necessary).
MAIN ATTRACTION: Cavern, ice formations
BEST TIME TO VISIT: May to October
Ruaha National Park
Tanzania’s largest National Park, Ruaha National Park is renowned for being a wildlife paradise. The park is also famous for a spectacular bird watching experience, with more than 436 species of birds living, including the endemic Ashy starling and the Yellow collared Lovebird. A huge population of elephants, number estimated to about 10,000, are present in the safari.
MAIN ATTRACTION: Birding, wildlife
BEST TIME TO VISIT: June to October
Ujung Kulon National Park
Indonesia’s first National Park, the Ujung Kulon National Park was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1992 for containing the largest remaining lowland rainforests in Java. Located at the volcanic island group of Krakatoa, the park is an island of coral reefs, mangrove forest and lowland rainforest. The critically endangered Javan rhinoceros, with a population of as few as 10 or less left can be found only in Ujung Kulon National Park after the poachers killing the remaining ones in Cat Tien National Park of Vietnam.
Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado
Created by former U.S President Theodore Roosevelt to “preserve the works of man” the Mesa Verde National Park is America’s largest archaeological preserve. The park brings the visitors to the lives of the ancestral pueblo people who had the place as their home for over 700 years, from A.D. 600 to 1300. To this date, the park preserves about 5,000 famous archaeological sites and hundreds of cliff dwellings including the world-famous Balcony House, Cliff Palace, Longhouse and Spruce Tree House.
Kakadu National Park
Internationally recognised for its rich wildlife nature, Kakadu Park is Australia’s largest National Park. About one-third of Australia’s bird species and one-quarter of the country’s freshwater fish species are currently living in Kakadu. There is an astonishing array of mammals, reptiles, birds, amphibians, insects as well as 1700 different plant species in the park. Moreover, species that are near extinction such as the giant skink, the long-tailed rock monster and the Amham rock rat can also be found. The Kakadu National Park was listed in the UNESCO World Heritage in 1981.
MAIN ATTRACTION: Australian wildlife
BEST TIME TO VISIT: May to September
Ganaima National Park
Home to Angel Falls (the world’s tallest), Canaima is a UNESCO site that comprises over 100 mysterious tepuis (tabletop mountains) like Auyan and Roraima that are so isolated that they feature their own ecosystems complete with plants and animals (ie. Monkeys, poison-arrow frogs) not found anywhere else in the world. The park is also home to indigenous Pemon Indians. Trekking is the best way to explore the park; you can tackle Auyan and Roraima, where the tough scramble up is rewarded by a surreal landscape dotted with insect-eating plants and panoramic views.
MAIN ATTRACTION: Flora, fauna, geology
BEST TIME TO VISIT: September to May