From New Zealand to Africa, Australia to China, nearly a hundred countries around the globe have national parks that preserve some of the world’s most stunning ecosystems. Make sure to leave room on your bucket list for these can’t‑miss gems.
Canaima National Park, Venezuela
If you don’t recognize the park by name, perhaps you’ll recognize it by its most iconic feature—Angel Falls, the highest waterfall in the world, cascading uninterrupted for a majestic 2,648 feet. The second-largest park in the country, Canaima’s amazingly diverse landscape is marked by dense jungle and towering tepui, mountainous sandstone formations that cover nearly two-thirds of the park, but visitors can also expect to find lagoons, pink sand beaches, rivers, and creeks that form the watershed of the Caroní River. The land here is flush with wildlife, from Jaguar and giant otters to foxes and howler monkeys, and can be a birdwatcher’s paradise in the migratory seasons.
Valley of Flowers National Park, India
High in the Himalayas of the Uttaranchal, 3,600 meters above sea level and surrounded by socked-in peaks lies a wonderful, secret garden: The Valley of Flowers. Orchids, poppies, primulas, marigold, daisies, and nearly five hundred other varieties of flowering plants create a rich tapestry of hue and texture against alpine and sub-alpine forests of birch and rhododendron. In his description of the valley, botanist Frank Smythe called it “a valley of peace and perfect beauty where the human spirit may find repose.” Look upon its meadows all bedecked in their riotously colorful splendor, wound through with glacial streams and experience that repose of spirit for yourself.
Mljet National Park, Croatia
Lore and legend shroud the Croatian island of Mljet. The western half of the island is given over to the national park, where thick, lush forests surround a pair of sparkling inland saltwater lakes connected to the Adriatic Sea through a narrow inlet. Both lakes feature walking and cycling paths, perfect for those Mediterranean mornings, and a small island in Veliko Jezero (Large Lake) called St. Mary’s Island boasts a modest Benedictine monastery, a relic of the twelfth century that now houses a small café for visitors who’ve come over by boat or kayak.
Guilin and Lijiang River National Park, China
With its broad, flat water that perfectly mirrors the conical karst mountains rising ethereally from the mist all around it, the Li River is home to some of the world’s most scenic riverscapes. Covering some fifty miles of river between Guilin and Yangshuo, the national park is home to famous destinations including the Reed Flute Cave, a marvel of stalactites, pillars, and other rock formations, and Elephant Trunk Hill, a local landmark that resembles an elephant drinking from the river. It’s said that “Guilin’s scenery is best among all under heaven. However, Yangshuo’s scenery is the best in Guilin,” so you know you’re getting the best of all worlds in this park.
Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, Australia
One of the seven wonders of the natural world, the Great Barrier Reef of Australia offers an abundance of diverse marine life: thousands of fishes, mangroves, sea snakes, sharks, corals, starfish, urchins, turtles, sea and shorebirds, seagrasses, mollusks, and mammals including whales, dolphins, and dugongs make their homes amongst the world’s largest coral reef ecosystem. While the reef is obviously a haven for snorkeling and scuba diving, visitors can also opt for sailboats to enjoy a slightly drier experience.
Torres del Paine National Park, Chile
The dramatic ridgeline of the Paine Massif with its jagged granite peaks like teeth thrust up from the Patagonian steppes. The Southern Patagonian Ice Field, a hoary relic of the last great ice age, the birthplace of great ultramarine glaciers including the Dickson, the Grey, and the Tyndall. The Valley of Silence. Lakes so vivid they seem unreal. Names and places that’ll sear themselves into your memory, these 400,000 acres of otherworldly heaven in Chilean Patagonia are listed by National Geographic as the fifth most beautiful place in the world for very good reason.