The World's Top Ten National Parks

Machu Picchu Historic Sanctuary. Rick Smith photo.

Machu Picchu Historic Sanctuary. One of the world's top ten national parks? Photo by Rick Smith.

Most Traveler readers know that Yellowstone National Park is considered to be the world’s first national park. Some, though, might not know that more than 130 nations have established parks or protected areas within their boundaries.

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature counts more than 100,000 such areas around the world. Some of these areas are inscribed in the United Nation’s list of World Heritage or Biosphere Reserve sites.

Since it is unlikely than anyone will ever visit all 100,000, we want to invite all Traveler readers to help us pick the best national parks or other protected areas outside the United States. I am going to start the process by letting you know what five of mine are. For each of your areas, please submit a brief description of the resources of the area and the circumstances of your visit. We are going to let this run for a little while to see if we can’t figure out what the best 10 or 15 are from your point of view. The one rule is that you have to have visited the area.

Fiordland National Park, New Zealand

I was blown away by this park. We took a boat trip on Milford Sound. The waterfalls, the glaciers, and the fiords were spectacular. Although we only visited the sound, there are 14 fiords that define the shoreline of this World Heritage Site. I visited Fiordland following the 4th World Congress of the International Ranger Federation, held in Wilsons Promontory National Park in Victoria, Australia. It was interesting to be in a park where elk are considered an exotic species and need to be eliminated. This is one gift to New Zealand from President Theodore Roosevelt that didn’t turn out so well as there are no natural predators in New Zealand to control the elk population.

Kruger National Park, South Africa

This is perhaps the most impressive wildlife viewing area in the world. Millions of acres of habitat and little development give visitors an opportunity to see many large African mammals and magnificent birds. It is one of the few places where wildlife is in charge – they wander free and the visitors are controlled. I stayed here for a week during the 3rd World Congress of the International Ranger Federation. I found it a bit unsettling to be locked inside a compound at night, but as one of my South African ranger colleagues pointed out, “There are lots of things out there that want to eat you.”

Tikal National Park, Guatemala

This World Heritage Site contains the spectacular ruins of a Maya settlement from around 250 – 900 AD. The towering ruins of temples, one 70 meters tall, rising from the jungle that surrounds them, are mute testimony to the architectural genius of the Maya. As many as 90,000 people lived in Tikal at its zenith, but strife with neighboring towns and environmental stress caused its abandonment beginning in the 10th century. Of course, the Maya never left; they are there today, and it’s a thrill to visit it with a Maya guide. During a family trip to Belize and Guatemala, our guide was one of the rangers on the staff at Tikal. The park was holding a training session for some of its rangers and the superintendent asked me to stop by to say a few words to the class. I talked a little bit about how important it was for them to know that they were a part of an international family of rangers dedicated to protecting and preserving the world’s natural and cultural patrimony. They seemed to get it.

Kaieteur National Park, Guyana

I had the great good fortune to prepare a World Heritage nomination for this spectacular area several years ago. I understand its nomination is on hold due to internal political problems. At the time of the nomination, it was Guyana’s only national park. The center piece of the park is a magnificent waterfall that drops 226 meters, five times the height of Niagara. The surrounding rain forest was largely pristine and contained the normal biodiversity of this ecosystem. I saw my only cock-of-the-rock there, a brightly colored bird that hangs out in tropical forests. I did most of my research in Georgetown, the capital of the country, a city that sits below sea level protected by dikes. The original Dutch settlers knew how to build dikes.

Machu Picchu Historic Sanctuary, Peru

I have visited Machu Picchu three times, the first time in 1969 when I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Paraguay and the last in 2008 when I visited the site with my wife. I was impressed with how much better control there is of visitation now than when I first visited. Only a certain number of people are allowed at any one time on the Inca Trail and there is a daily limit on the number of visitors allowed to climb Huayna Picchu, the peak that dominates the site. I also thought that the interpretation offered by the guides had improved considerably. They are all licensed by the government. Our guide slipped easily between Spanish and English and seemed to know Quechua also. The story of Machu Picchu is fascinating and he told it well.

OK, there are five of my favorites. Can you help us fill in five more blanks? If you have a great photo, send it along via email to and we'll see about posting it.

Comments

Rick -

Thanks for a great article - and some tempting suggestions for travel! I'll look forward to seeing other suggestions you receive.

My international park experience is rather limited, but here's one that might interest some readers.

The current political situation may make this park a bit less attractive to tourists these days, but Nairobi National Park in Kenya has a lot to offer for those who would like to see some classic African wildlife without spending a king's ransom on a major expedition into the bush.

This isn't a "wilderness park." Located on the outskirts of the capital city of Nairobi, this was the first national park established in Kenya. The location makes the park easy to visit, but proximity to the city may be a negative for some visitors. You can see the skyscrapers of Nairobi from parts of the park, and during my single visit to the area, I found it a bit surreal to be sitting in a vehicle watching a black rhino or a lion while a British Air jet passed overhead.

This is a small park - only about 28,000 acres, but wildlife migrate in and out of the area via the unfenced southern boundary. The park has a nice variety of wildlife, including black rhino, lion, cheetah, leopard, zebra, buffalo, giraffe and gazelle. We saw all of those and more in a single day. Over 400 species of birds have been recorded in the park, but that includes seasonal migrants. The annual wildebeest and zebra migration in July and August is an attraction for some visitors. One drawback - no elephants in this park.

The park is touted as a success story for protection of Kenya's rhino population, and is providing animals for reintroduction into other areas. The Kenya Wildlife Service website claims this is "one the few parks where a visitor can be certain of seeing a black rhino in its natural habitat."

An interesting sidelight on the topic of poaching and law enforcement in parks: During my visit I talked with one of their rangers, who was on duty at the park's single, short nature trail. (This is lion country – long hikes are not encouraged :-) He was dressed in combat camos, and in addition to his sidearm had an AR-16 slung over his shoulder.

I asked him about the poaching issue, and after finding out I was a ranger in the U.S., he warmed up a bit in his conversation. He commented that poaching used to be a problem, but they had largely solved it. How? This is my paraphrase after over a decade, but the jist of it was: "The park is closed at night, so after dark if we hear anybody out there in the bush, we just shoot. In the morning we go see if we hit anything." (Maybe my leg was being pulled a bit, but he seemed pretty serious – and from the reports of success with the black rhino, whatever they're doing seems to be working. I guess it pays to observe closing hours here!)

Some may regard this park as a Safari for Dummies (or city-slickers), but I found it to be a memorable wildlife viewing opportunity.

I haven't traveled outside North American extensively, but I have traveled extensively within North America. I think Gros Morne National Park in Newfoundland is extraordinary for both "visual" delight and also topography. It's been called the Galapogos (hey, that's also a National Park, right?) of Geology.

Within the U.S., Yellowstone has it all. Sometimes the best known are the best!

Mark--

You are right. Galapagos is a national park. Here's what I wrote about it for this contest:

GALAPAGOS NATIONAL PARK, Ecuador

I visited the Galapagos as an invited speaker at a Latin American protected area conference held on Santa Cruz Island. What a break! I think this is one of the areas that really lives up to the brag of being one of the world’s treasures. It is, of course, not without its problems, especially with shark fishermen and an expanding human population on Santa Cruz that threatens the island’s environment. It doesn’t help that Santa Cruz is also the headquarters site of the park and the home of the Charles Darwin Research Center. During a break in the conference, the superintendent of the park, Miguel Cifuentes, asked me if I wanted to go diving. I eagerly replied that I did. When we got to the dive site, however, I looked over the side of the boat and saw maybe 50 or 60 hammerhead sharks circling in the water. That didn’t seem to bother Miguel, but it ended my diving adventure for the day.

Can you tell us a little more about Gros Morne NP? I have never heard of it before and I am curious why it is called the Galapagos of Geology. Do you have a photo you can send Kurt?

Rick Smith

Good afternoon--

We have received only two additional nominations for the best international parks. Come on, NPT readers, we know you are world adventurers and have visited many parks or other protected areas outside the US. We really would like to pick your brains on the best ones out there. Give us your suggestions.

Rick Smith

Surely a representative of the magnificent Canadian Parks should be nominated. Kluane and the Rocky Mountain group are outstanding. Our northern neigbors do an especially good job at interpretation and visitor
contact.

Tahoma--Thanks for the recommendation. I have driven through the park on the way to Alaska one time. It is magnificent but I did not have time to explore the interior of the park.

Here is what the Parks Canada website says about Kluane:

"A gem in the family of Parks Canada's national treasures, Kluane National Park and Reserve of Canada covers an area of 21,980 square kilometres. It is a land of precipitous, high mountains, immense icefields and lush valleys that yield a diverse array of plant and wildlife species and provides for a host of outdoor activities. Kluane National Park and Reserve is also home to Mount Logan (5959 m/19,545 ft), Canada's highest peak.

As part of a larger system of national parks and historic sites found throughout Canada, Kluane National Park and Reserve protects and presents a nationally significant example of Canada's North Coast Mountains natural region and the associated regional cultural heritage. Fostering public understanding, appreciation and enjoyment of Kluane National Park and Reserve while ensuring ecological and commemorative integrity for present and future generations is Parks Canada's goal."

If I am not mistaken, Kluane is inscribed in the list of World Heritage Sites with Wrangells St. Elias National Park and Preserve, and Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve on the US side. Together they must represent the largest World Heritage Site in the world.

I have been fortunate to spend quality time in Wrangells and Glacier Bay. Both parks contain stunning landscapes, significant wildlife, and a diversity of cultural resources. They are neat places.

Rick Smith

Galapagos, Great Barrier Reef, Etosha, Okavango and for North America outside of the United States Jasper and maybe Banff. Those are some of the international parks you can expect in a list like this.

Let's propose a few less spectacular, but none the less important parks:

The Wadden Sea (organized in three national parks in Germany and one in the Netherlands): this coastal area is the most important filter for the North Sea and even parts of the Atlantic ocean. Its function is comparable with the mangrove forests on tropical shores.

Or the Nationalpark Kalkalpen in Upper Austria. It contains the largest roadless forest in Central Europe in a landscape of midsize mountains (up to 1700 m / 5000 ft) with steep valleys - one of which is called the "Große Schlucht" ("Grand Canyon"). The area is full of history as well, in the park are former mines, saw mills and other remnants of the early industrialization. The park is easily the most spectacular hiking area in Central Europe.

In France one could mention the Cevennes - Parc National des Cévennes -, a small but lovely mountain range in the backcountry of the Mediterranean coast. Excellent for hiking, particularly the trail along the river Gard. And again with great history: The famous "Pont du Gard", a 2000 year old, three story, Roman aqueduct, spans the river just some 15 miles outside of the national park.

MRC--

Good suggestions. I have not traveled much in Europe so I am not a good source for information on these parks. Have you visited all of them? Can you send Kurt a photo of your favorite so that we could see what you are talking about? I assume that these parks follow the European model of little public ownership of the land within the borders but cooperative conservation between landowners and the local/state/federal government. And I have been told that many European parks contain cultural resources of extreme importance.

Your mention of the Wadden Sea brings another issue to mind: in many countries, national parks or other protected areas are established specifically for the environmental services they provide and not because they contain the most spectacular landscapes, the tallest trees, the highest waterfalls, or the deepest canyons. They preserve watersheds or coastal mangroves and the like.

Thanks, MRC, for your comments.

Rick Smith

Rick,

Yes, I've visited all three parks I mentioned above. But of course not as long as I would wish, particularly for the Cevennes, where I only got a glimpse, passing through.

As far as I know, the Wadden Sea National Parks have almost no dry land, so there is little private property inside the actual parks. The coast line is of course heavily used by tourism for much longer than the existence of the parks. The beaches are public, owned by the municipalities.

You can find a huge selection of images of the Wadden Sea under free licenses at http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Wadden_Sea (plus the subdirectories).

Regarding the Nationalpark Kalkalpen, the actual mountains are publicly owned, by the federal government of Austria. In the valleys I expect some private land and some owned by the state of Upper Austria and the municipalities. Maybe even some by the Catholic Church, as they own huge tracts of arable land in the general region.

Images:
http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Image:Hintergebirge_01.jpg
http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Datei:Sengsengebirge.jpg
http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Datei:Hintergebirge_03.jpg (the last one shows their "Grand Canyon")

And I have no idea about land ownership in the Cevennes. That park is the largest of those three, with several villages inside of the park. These and the land around is private. Some part of the National Park is a former military training range, that one probably is owned by the République française.

Images: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:C%C3%A9vennes

That's a great shot of the backpacker in the WAdden Sea photos. He looks very European.

Rick Smith

I have one more international park that is among my favorites.

IGUAZU N. P., Argentina

This World Heritage site protects one of the most spectacular natural landscapes in Argentina and Brazil, Iguazu Falls and the surrounding subtropical forest. The falls are 70 meters high, but even more impressive is their width: the river at the falls is 1500 meters wide. The short boat ride and walk along the catwalks to the most striking of the hundreds of falls, Garganta del Diablo, the Devil’s Throat, is a thrilling experience. The roar itself is an unforgettable experience. I visited this park when I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Paraguay. I saw it from the Argentine side, which at that time, was the less-developed side. I have not been back since that time so I am not sure what the situation is now. I do remember, however, that the Argentine rangers were very helpful and informative.

Rick Smith

I have to second Iquazu, it's just a stunning place on both sides of the border (http://tinyurl.com/bnx5xd)

I would also say Los Glaciares National Park in Argentina. Really far south in Patagonia, you can see the huge pieces of ice falling off the Perito Moreno glacier, which is one of the few glaciers left in the world that is not receding. The backdrop of the Andes makes the enormous "river of ice" even more impressive. It's completely mind blowing. (http://tinyurl.com/dnhqne).

Am dying to see these others. Want to go to Machu Picchu next year and the others are on the list!

Ashley--

I hope to visit Los Glaciares sometime in the future. While you were there, did you meet a ranger who speaks good English by the name of Alejandro Caparros? Alex is a good friend. He was a volunteer ranger at Carlsbad Caverns when I was the superintendent there. He led most of our guided tours for Spanish-speaking groups that would come up from Mexico. He also broke a couplle of female seasonal rangers' hearts.

The glacier you mention is named after one of the earliest conservationists in Argtentina, Francisco Moreno. If I am not mistaken, his gift to the Argentine people in terms of land is now included in Nahuel Huapi National Park. Moreno donated the land to the Argentine people in 1903; the park was established in, I believe, 1934, making it Argentina's oldest national park.

Rick Smith

Have any of NPT's readers visited parks in Central America? Asia? The South Pacific? I have a couple favorites in Honduras--Copan, in Mexico--Montes Azules, El Triunfo and the Biosphere Reserve Mariposa Monarca, the end of one of the most incredible migrations in all of nature. The Monarch butterflies fly from their summer habitat in North America and end up in one small area in the state of Michoacan in Mexico. I had the good fortune to be in that reserve on the day the butterflies ended their 3-5,000 migration. When I looked to the sky, it looked as if it were snowing orange snowdrops. As they landed, the turned the pine trees absolutely orange. There were millions and millions of them arriving at approximately the same time and to the same place. It was absolutely the most stunning wildlife display that I ever seen in my life..

Costa Rica is justifiably proud of its many parks and protected areas. I have always liked Braulio Carrillo and Volcan Arenal. El Imposible NP in El Salvador, so named because it once was very difficult to get to, is another great area. So many places, so little time.

Rick Smith

opps--I meant 3-5,000 MILE migration. Sorry to have omitted the "mile".

Rick

Rick Smith

Hi Rick,

I didn't! But that would have been pretty serendipitous. If you do get a chance to check out Glaciares you should definitely take advantage. It is unbelievable. And if you can, take a quick flight down to Ushuaia and check out Parque Nacional Tierra del Fuego, too. Ruggedly beautiful.

As for Asia, I'm heading to Gunung Leuser NP on Sumatra in Indonesia in May to do some trekking and see the orangutans, but can't report on any others on that side of the world!

--Ashley

I definitely have to second the nominations Macchu Picchu, Gros Morne National Park, and Iguazu Falls National Park. Gros Morne has spectacular fjords, and is also one of the only places on Earth where rocks from the Earth's mantle are exposed at the surface. Even if you don't appreciate the geological significance, those rocks give certain sections of the Park an eerie moonscape feel (and quite different from the various lava beds like Craters of the Moon in the US), which stand in stark contrast to the emerald green hills lining some of the fjords. Meanwhile Iguazu is perhaps the most spectacular waterfalls in the world - massive in scope, with tremendous volumes of water, and surrounded by lush rainforest. Its preserved by National Parks on both the Argentinean and Brazilian sides.

Some other nominees:
-3 Tanzanian Sites: Hard to chose among Kilimanjaro National Park with its spectacular mountain, Ngorongoro Conservation Area - set in a perfect crater and boasting perhaps the largest permanent concentration of "safari animals in Africa, and Serengeti National Park - whose annual wildebeest and zebra migrations are surely one of the Wonders of the World
- Roman Forum: Not technically a National Park, although it would surely be a National Park in the United States, the Roman Forum and adjacent Colloseum and Arch of Constantine is of the most-famous and most-amazing archeological and historical sites in the world
- Pyramids and Sphinx: Again, not technically a "National Park" but surely merits inclusion on any such list.
- Sagarmatha National Park in Nepal - "The crown of the world" includes Mt. Everest

Funnily enough i wrote about my ten favourites, out of the ones I've visitedm just recently: http://itinerantlondoner.wordpress.com/2009/02/09/top-10-national-parks/

Would have to agree that Tikal should be in there, in fact I think it should definitely be a contender for number one.

Geoff--

The Coalition of National Park Service Retirees just published its list of its members' top 10 parks. Maybe you have seen it in one of the many stories that have run about the list in newspapers across the states. Here is the Coalition's press release announcing the list.

10 FAVORITE FOREIGN NATIONAL PARKS HIGHLIGHTED BY U.S. NATIONAL PARK SERVICE RETIREE
The Parks That NPS Employees Visit When They Travel Abroad; Trekking from Aboriginal New Zealand to the Biblical Deserts of Saudi Arabia to the Great Hungarian Plains.

TUCSON, AZ. – February 11, 2008 – Every wonder where people who work in national parks go when they take a vacation? Today, the 690-member Coalition of National Park Service Retirees (CNPSR) released a list of 10 of the best foreign national parks, spanning the globe from Australia, Africa, South America, Europe, the Middle East and Asia.

The list of personal favorites of NPS retirees is in the same of vein as the “Beyond Yellowstone: 7 Winter Travel Favorites” (http://www.npsretirees.org/pressroom/2006/winter-travel-recommendations-beyond-yellowstone), which was released by the Coalition in October 2006.

CNPSR member, Don Goldman, former park planner in the old Southwest Region of the National Park Service,, said: “Several years ago, in anticipation of family winter vacation time, the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees rounded up its members’ recollections of the most memorable U.S. national park areas they had worked in or visited. When the nominations came in, the selection process was like picking from among the loveliest flowers in the field. As we had to acknowledge, it was a highly subjective selection process. But our intention was to encourage Americans to visit their national parks, not just our 10, but whichever ones they could get to. This year, the Coalition’s 700 members have suggestions for your vacation trips abroad. We who have spent our lives working in and with national parks not only visit our own, but make an effort to see other countries’ national parks, too.”

CNPSR member, Rick Smith, former Superintendent of Carlsbad Caverns said, “Most Americans know that Yellowstone was our first national park, but it was also the world’s first national park. The idea of a national park was new with Yellowstone, but it was soon adopted by many countries, one of the best ideas our country gave the world. Just as we did, those countries have expanded the original concept to a great variety of parks and reserves. Today, marvelous parks are to be found all over the world.”

Coalition members usually can’t stay away from such places on foreign vacations. Rick Smith explained: “We plan many of our overseas trips around the national parks or protected areas we can visit in other countries.” Some NPS retirees even had the opportunity, when on temporary training or work assignments with foreign countries or as Peace Corps Volunteers, to work in and contribute to those countries’ national parks.

The following 10 foreign national parks are among the outstanding places CNPSR members recommended. Where it was necessary to break ties, the park chosen in the end was included to provide for maximum geographic diversity:

1. TONGARIRO N. P., New Zealand. This is one of the North Island’s three World Heritage Sites. It features volcanic peaks (one of which is active) and is still home to many Maoris, who donated the park to New Zealand in 1887, when it became the world’s fourth national park. The Maoris are very outgoing in displaying their culture to visitors.

2. KAKADU N. P., Northern Territory, Australia. This World Heritage Site is jointly managed by the Aborigines and the Australian government. It has magnificent vistas, great waterfalls, stunning displays of Aboriginal rock art, and is habitat to an awesome predator, the estuarine (saltwater) crocodile.

3. SNOWDONIA N. P., Wales, Great Britain. Snowdonia is a lovely mountain park, with Mount Snowdon, which is comprised of slate, rising to 3560 feet. While this park is not geologically or scenically spectacular compared to many mountain parks, it is spectacular in its own right, due in part to its peaceful nature.

4. KRUGER N. P., South Africa. This is perhaps the most impressive wildlife viewing area in the world. Millions of acres of habitat and little development give visitors an opportunity to see many large African mammals and magnificent birds. It is one of the few places where wildlife is in charge – they wander free and the visitors are controlled.

5. TIKAL N. P., Guatemala. This World Heritage Site contains the spectacular ruins of a Maya settlement from around 250–900 AD. The towering ruins of temples, one 70 meters tall, rising from the jungle that surrounds them, are mute testimony to the architectural genius of the Maya. As many as 90,000 people lived in Tikal at its zenith, but strife with neighboring towns and environmental stress caused its abandonment beginning in the 10th century. Of course, the Maya never left; they are there today, and a thrill of a visit is to see it with a Maya guide.

6. IGUAZU N. P., Argentina. This park protects one of the most spectacular natural landscapes in Argentina and Brazil, Iguazu Falls and the surrounding subtropical forest. The falls are 70 meters high, but even more impressive is their width: the river at the falls is 1500 meters wide. A thrilling experience is the short boat ride and walk along the catwalks to the most striking of the hundreds of falls, Garganta del Diablo, the Devil’s Throat. The roar itself is an unforgettable experience.

7. SAGARMANTHA N. P., Nepal. The park includes Mount Everest, among other prominent mountains. It has distinctive wildlife and small picturesque Sherpa villages with their gumpas (monasteries).

8. MADAIN SALEY NATIONAL HISTORIC PARK, Saudi Arabia. This region, the Biblical Midian, is mostly undulating desert, interspersed with huge rocky outcrops and lush oases. Here, between 500 B.C. and 100 A.D., the Nabatean people created 125 monumental cut-rock tombs and facades, edifices up to 130 feet tall, that are standing today in a remarkable state of preservation.

9. PLITVICE LAKES N.P., Croatia. Plitvice Lakes National Park is located in inland Croatia, about halfway between Zagreb and Split. In moderately mountainous terrain, the park features water – small lakes and streams and beautiful waterfalls everywhere. Because of the geology of the area, travertine is evident in most of the water features, giving them distinctive blue-green colors and exceptionally clear water. There are a number of excellent short and moderate hiking trails with quiet, non-polluting electric ferries connecting some of the trails by way of the lakes. Because of the vegetation, fall “color season” is especially spectacular.

10. HORTOBAGY N.P., Hungary. This park is located on the “puszta,” or great Hungarian plains. It was the country’s first national park. It also is a biosphere reserve and a World Heritage Site. The plains and wetlands reflect two millennia of human occupation and have supported agrarian life for centuries. It has several endangered bird species and is a refuge for the Przewalski horse and migratory waterfowl. Culturally, it preserves and interprets traditional Hungarian folkways, such as the nomadic herding culture of the puszta.

ABOUT CNPSR

The nearly 700 members of the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees are all former employees of the National Park Service with a combined 20,500 years of stewardship of America’ most precious natural and cultural resources. In their personal lives, CNPSR members reflect the broad spectrum of political affiliations. CNPSR members now strive to apply their credibility and integrity as they speak out for national park solutions that uphold law and apply sound science. The Coalition counts among its members: former national park directors and deputy directors, regional directors, superintendents, rangers and other career professionals who devoted an average of nearly 30 years each to protecting and interpreting America’s national parks on behalf of the public. For more information, visit the CNPSR Web site at http://www.npsretirees.org.

Rick Smith

Well, the CNPSR.List is a bad joke. They are obviously not at all familiar with the variety of parks that exist, because no one who has seen at least eleven parks in the world would ever think of naming Snowdonia among his or her Top 10.

Hortobagy actually is a nice choice, but it would be useful to mention "Neusiedler See und Seewinkel Nationalpark" as well, because Hortobagy and Neusiedler See are cross border, sister parks in Hungary and Austria who share the history of land use and the natural features. The region is not complete without the soda lakes on the Austrian side of the border, so one should not praise Hortobagy without Neusiedler See.

Plitvice, well: The karst formations with the lakes are spectacular, but that's it about the park. It is small, crowded and flora and fauna are not well protected, they are in better shape outside of the park. In the US it would be at most a National Monument.

I thought some of you would be interested in the following statistics from the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). It is amazing how many protected areas there are in the world. Unfortunately, some are not very well protected pr managed. And, as the report notes, and as Gary Davis argued a few weeks ago on NPT, we have a lot of work to do with marine protected areas.

Worldwide Coverage of Protected Areas
According to IUCN/WCPA data, as of 2007, there were 106,000 protected areas covering some 18
million km2, or about 11.63% of the Earth‘s surface (need to add source – and update with latest numbers before publication). While estimates of marine areas under protection are complicated because country reports may contain some land area, best estimates as of 2007 were that there were 4,435 marine protected areas covering 2.35 million km2, or only about .65% of the ocean surface. Particularly alarming from those figures was the fact that critical marine ecosystems were severely under-represented.

Overall, however, significant progress has been made in growth of protected areas over the past
decade. IUCN records show that in 1962 there were 9214 sites covering 2.4 million km2. By 1992 these
figures had grown to 48,388 protected areas covering 12.3 million km2. As of 2003, the UN List of
Protected Areas (the most recent issue at this writing) contained 102,102 protected areas covering more
than 18.8 million km2, or about 12.65% of the Earth‘s land surface (UN List, 2003, p. 21), notably
slightly more than the 2007 in terms of surface coverage but less in terms of numbers. As these data
show, growth between 1992 and 2003 was significant, with a doubling by number and surface area. As
noted above, 2007 shows further growth in numbers.

However, not all protected areas were being effectively managed and even though more areas are
being protected, the proportion of species threatened with extinction continued to increase. As concluded by the 2007 Millennium Development Goals Report, ―Despite increased efforts to conserve the land and seas, biodiversity continues to decline…. ―Unprecedented efforts will be required to conserve habitats and to manage ecosystems and species in a sustainable way if the rate of species loss is to be significantly
reduced by 2010.

Rick Smith

Great list Rick! I would also have to agree with Galapagos that someone mentioned above in Ecquador and also add Cocos in Costa Rica (famous for its hammerhead sharks) and Waterton National Park and Banff National Park, both located in Alberta Canada. Waterton for its stunning red rock, and wildlife and wildflower diversity and Banff for its stunning peaks. There's so many choices, it's hard to narrow it down to 10!

I haven't been to North America yet (neither South America) but I stayed for few months in South-East Asia. I have to say that this region is truly incredible !

I spent some time in 3 national parks: Bako national park and Mount Kinabalu national park (this one listed as world heritage site) on Malaysia Borneo and Bromo national park on the island of Java – Indonesia.

- Bako national park is small (only 27 square km) but representative of many Borneo’s ecosystems: from the lush rainforest to the mangrove forest, the sandy beaches, the grassland vegetation...That makes the park special for plants and wildlife biodiversity. There you can see easily the threatened proboscis monkey (with its huge nose), macaques, snakes...

- Mount Kinabalu national park is named after the highest peak of Borneo. The peak reaches 4 094 m above sea level. The summit was long time ago covered by glaciers. Now it is just a huge rock with no vegetation. Nevertheless, the park protects a dense and rainy forest where flora and fauna are extremely diverse. If you are lucky you might see the Raflesia, the world’s biggest flower.

- Bromo national park is situated on east java. The park is a mix of volcanoes and rainforest. I woke up at 3am and walked for 2 hours in the dark to climb up the view point. Up there, the sunrise over the caldera and its volcanoes is absolutely stunning. This is definitely the most impressive memory I have. The caldera is called the sea of sand and this so desolate land looks like moonscape. There is also the Mount Semeru, an active volcano which erupts every 20 minutes! A park that must be visited.

Can I introduce you to another great national park for your list?

Kafue National Park is the 2nd largest national park in Africa, the 5th largest in the world and is Zambia's oldest and biggest.

It is home to one of the most important ecosystems in Africa, with a high species diversity, including: endangered wild dogs, the country’s main cheetah residents, wild herds of elephant, the most diverse antelope population in the world and many rare and endangered bird and vegetation species.

With few roads - not one made of tarmac - few visitors, vast open spaces and an abundance of wildlife, it truly deserves its local nickname - Zambian's Hidden Gem. It is a true wilderness experience for visitors!

Blue River Nature Park is located on the main island of New Caledonia. This French archipelago lies in the South Pacific, 1,500 kilometres away from Sydney. With a length of 450 kilometres, “Grande Terre” (mainland) is surrounds by the world’s largest lagoon and the stunning barrier reef, the second-largest coral reef after the Great Barrier Reef of Australia. This lagoon has been recently listed as World Heritage Site by UNESCO.

The “Blue River Nature Park” is situated in the Far South. In this region, the soil is red due to its richness of iron, nickel, manganese... The “maquis minier” (shrubland) and the rainforest of the park are home to the rich and unique wildlife of New Caledonia (75% of which is endemic).

Some species are truly incredible : the Amborella, the most primordial of all living flowering plants ; the giant kauri ; the Kagu, a flightless bird, the only surviving representative of an entire major group of animals ; the world's largest gecko, the world’s largest pigeon... Blue River Nature Park is the best place to discover the treasures of New Caledonia. This park is enchanting. 80 million years of evolution concentrated in an unspoilt forest !

A must-see destination for nature lovers!

And Pumalin Park in Chile? agred, it's more or less a private park, but big (2.500 sqkm) and pristine.
doesn't it deserve to be in the top 10 , and if not, why ?

Second here for Fiordland NP in NZ. Just blows everything else I have ever seen out of the water (except maybe innner hebrides of Scotland which comes a close second). As for the Wapiti (Elk) they priovide excellent hunting tropheys! Go there .......now.

Dinder National Park,
park, eastern Sudan. The park lies in the clayish flood plain of the
Nahr (river) ad-Dindar and Nahr ar-Rahad, at an elevation of 2,300 to
2,600 ft (700 to 800 m). Established in 1935, it covers an area of 2,750
sq mi (7,123 sq km). The park is highly diverse in terms of fauna and flora. For more information see the following link:
http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/163807/Dinder-National-Park

Hello,, I think you guys have been close by but still missing Torres del Paine NP in the Chilean Patagonia , the Juan Fernandes archipielago (where Robinson Cruseo story was originated)which holds the second most important place in endemic species in the world after Hawai, and so Chiloe NP which preserves plenty of red wood trees dating form 2000 years or more along with native people on the pacific coast, Charles Darwing was enchanted with them centuries ago. Greetings from Chile!

Is that you, Alejandro?

Rick

someone mention Plitvice as park who would be quite un-noticed in USA. .... its beautiful national park in Croatia, with amazingly beautiful water, very clean and see-throw, nice mountains, beautiful vegetation and stunning waterfalls.

don't be ignorant, check it on google and see if its not worth of visiting.

I'm amazed one of either two parks from Chile are not included on this list.
Torres del Paine is unquestionably one of the finest gems in South America and the world. This single park includes Gray Glacier, la Valle Frances (an incredible mountain valley), los Cuernos del Paine, two incredible granite horns that jut into the sky and the famous Torres del Paine, three hidden granite spires. This park is the national pride of Chile and a true candidate for "end of the world" national park status.
Also, Reserva Nacional Los Flamencos (Flamino national reserve) in the Atacama desert. This place includes the otherwordly Valle de la Luna and Valle de la Muerte, places where rain hasn't been recorded in three hundred years. There are also salt flats and lakes famous for massive population of Flamingos. The tatio geyser field is one of the largest in the world. Finally, this park is one of the most stunning places worldwide for dark sky astronomers. Chileans called "una ventana al cielo" since the skies are so clear.

I agree that Torres del Paine NP is one of the most stunning NPs on earth. I would also like to highly recommend a couple of exquisite wilderness areas in New South Wales, Australia: The Blue Mountains NP (just outside Sydney) is a vast area of pure wilderness and is often said to be like the Grand Canyon with trees. The Blue Mountains NP has huge tracks of rugged and pristine wilderness, gorgeous areas of rain forest and canyons. It is ideal for hiking but because areas of this NP are so remote, hikers are advised not to go alone; The Royal NP (south of Sydney) is the second oldest NP in the world (next to Yellowstone NP in the USA) and is a 16,000 ha area of rugged bushland complete with beautiful pristine beaches, peaceful isolated river systems and hiking tracks; Barrington Tops NP is a World Heritage Listed area of extreme, unique beauty with huge tracks of virgin rainforest. There are no roads within the Barrington Tops NP and access can only be made on foot to protect its wild beauty. It is one of the few places in Australia where the incredible rarely sighted platypus can still be seen in its native habitat. Australia has over 600 national parks; each with its own unique and isolated beauty which includes of course two of the world's most amazing world heritage listed national parks, The Great Barrier Reef (Queensland) and Kimberley NP (in the remote NW regions of Western Australia).