To understand Mother Nature in all her splendour, a visit to one of the world’s great national parks is worthwhile – whether it be encountering near-extinct species deep in the Latin American jungle, or seeing islands that have shaped our theories of evolution
Kruger National Park, South Africa
The Kruger National Park is one of the oldest and most famous game reserves in Africa and the range of spectacular wildlife calling the lowveld of the Kruger home is staggering. Many visitors enthusiastically tick off the ‘big five’ – lion, elephant, buffalo, leopard and rhinoceros – in their natural environments, but the real treat here is the sheer diversity in the park, with the chance to see the behaviour of packs of wild dog, cheetah or cackling hyena quickly becoming just as fascinating. With a range of wonderful accommodation options available too – everything from a basic bush campsite to five-star luxury lodges – it’s one of the world’s unforgettable, once-in-a-lifetime safari destination.
In a word: Spectacular
The cloud forests of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta national park, Colombia
The mists that hang over the cloud forests of this mountainous Colombian national park lend Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta a mysterious, untouched air. So it’s perhaps no surprise that it was recently named as the world’s most irreplaceable nature reserve, with the most endangered mammals, birds and amphibians anywhere on Earth. They include the harlequin frog and the Santa Marta parakeet, and it’s also the place to see condor and jaguar. But perhaps a more familiar sight are the descendants of the ancient, indigenous Tayrona civilisation, who also still call Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta home.
In a word: Untouched
Galapagos Islands World Heritage Site, Ecuador
Of all the reserves promising incredible journeys of discovery of the Earth’s spectacular species, the Galapagos Islands are the most famous. This stunning volcanic archipelago in the Pacific Ocean off Ecuador is a haven for a staggering number of endemic species, which Darwin studied while forming his theory of evolution, including the flightless cormorant and the marine iguana. You can even stay in an eco-lodge on the crater of an extinct volcano. In a word: Magical
Western Ghats, India
A 1600km mountain chain running parallel to the western coast of India, the Western Ghats, known as “the Scotland of India”, are renowned as being one of the greatest biodiversity hotspots on Earth, their evergreen rainforests, rivers and grasslands both quiet and incredibly wild. Indeed, there’s so much to see here, including, famously, tigers and Asian elephants, that an incredible 39 sites along the mountain range, including national parks, wildlife sanctuaries and forest reserves, boast World Heritage status. Scientists believe that with so much that is unique to Western Ghats, it’s likely there are plenty of new species just waiting to be discovered within this remarkable area of India.
In a word: Diverse
Palawan Game Refuge and Bird Sanctuary, Philippines
Palawan is a group of quite beautiful Filipino islands, boasting mountain ranges carpeted with vast virgin forests. And it’s within these forests that fascinating species exist, such as peacock-pheasants, bearded pig, 200 kinds of birds and more than 600 species of butterfly. On the islands are a number of reserves: Ursula Island, a tourist destination in the south with an impressive amount of endangered birdlife from all over Palawan, Calauit Island (created by President Marcos), combining endemic animals of Palawan with African species, and Rasa Island Wildlife Sanctuary, world famous for the critically endangered Philippine cockatoo.
In a word: Fascinating
Wet tropics of Queensland, Australia
Stretching 450km along the northeast coast of Australia, this chain of tropical rainforests, mangroves and, offshore, coral reefs, is teeming with life, from marsupials to singing birds. But it’s the flowering plant life forming the environment for the likes of the musky rat-kangaroo, bats and possums that is rightly considered to be responsible for some of the most important ecosystems in the world. There are hundreds of managed walks through the forests, beaches and mangroves, which give close access to 16 of the world’s 28 lineages of primitive flowering plants, and within those families there are more than 50 species unique to Queensland. An astonishing place.
In a word: Colourful
Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve, UAE
The first national park in the UAE, the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve, which covers 250 square kilometres, might only be an hour’s drive from the bright lights of the city, but these expanses of atmospheric shifting dunes, full of desert life, feel like a world away. The best place to see the Arabian oryx, the striking antelope that was effectively extinct before the park was established in 2003, it’s also home to wildcat, hedgehog, fox, Arabian mountain gazelle and sand gazelle, all of which can be encountered on camel and horseback. The Al Maha Desert Resort & Spa is also the ideal place to get a feel for the unique beauty of this harshly beautiful landscape.
In a word: Atmospheric