Today marks the day I leave Tanzania to begin a three-week tour of Kenya, Uganda, and Rwanda. Over the course of the next twenty-four days, I’ll be visiting some of the best national parks in these three East Africa nations, taking site tours of hotels, and learning more about the cultures and histories of these fascinating countries.
It seemed fitting that in a month where I’ll be experiencing so many national parks that this month’s Traveler’s Tell All topic be the simple question of:
What is your favourite national park?
Over the next few pages, you’ll find bloggers from all over the world sharing their favourite national parks and sell you on why you should visit them.
The park that stands out in my mind as my favorite in the entire world would have to be the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania. The name Serengeti in Swahili means endless plains, once you visit you will know why. Further than your eyes can see, tall grasses sway in the wind. Sprinkled about the grass are massive smooth boulders that break up the landscape. If you look close enough you might just see something more to those rocks.
It has always been a dream of mine to live between the mountain trails and the sea. After returning to my country of birth and settling in Cape Town, I find myself comfortably and conveniently positioned between the slopes of Table Mountain and the beaches of the Atlantic ocean. This dream is real. An avid trail runner, hiker, photographer, and nature lover, I am now living within a ten minute walk from a trailhead leading me into Table Mountain National Park and onto a mountain with immense diversity, endless trails, and far reaching views.
I’ve had the pleasure of visiting some absolutely beautiful national parks in my life, but I also have the luxury of having let other talented writers describe some of them (Yosemite and Serengeti were two of my front-runners). This leaves me free to describe a park most people have never heard of: Jiuzhaigou National Park in Sichuan, China.
It’s a bitch to get to by bus, with a winding, foul-smelling 8-10 hour drive from Chengdu to the quaint little village that clusters around the park’s entrance. During the trip I remember wondering if it would be worth it, but my first breath of that untainted mountain air and my first view of those towering stone cliffs convinced me.
Jiuzhaigou is a park of impossible colours – of fiery orange foliage on autumn trees, brilliantly blue pools, and impossibly verdant greens. On the misty May morning of my visit, there was virtually nobody in the park, so it was a taste of serenity I hadn’t had in months of calling China home.
From Five Flower Lake to the stunning Pearl Shoal Falls, it’s a park full of beautiful landmarks and peaceful moments. I’d love to go back.
We visited the Khustain Nuru National Park as part of a tour in central Mongolia during our Trans Siberian adventure in July 2015.
The Khustain Nuru National Park is home to the world’s last species of wild horse – the Takhi (which means spirit in Mongolian). These beautiful horses have quite an interesting history.
They are are unique because they have heavy limbs and strong necks. Their uniqueness caused a wave of interest from European horse traders in the 1880s who rushed in to collect them and bring them back to Europe. The numbers of takhi horses in the wild dwindled and by the 1960s, they became extinct, with only a handful remaining in European zoos.
The Khustain National Park became a joint initiative with the Mongolian, German and Dutch governments to reintroduce the takhi back into the wild.
There are now over 2,000 takhi in the wild and we were fortunate enough to see them in their natural habitat at the Khustain Nuru National Park.
Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park in central Vietnam is one of the most impressive places I have ever visited because of its unique beauty and historical significance. The National Park is not just a gorgeous, green mountainous landscape but it is also home to the largest cave in the world, Hang Son Doong. However, Hang Son Doong is not the only cave within Phong Nha-Ke Bang. Since the 1990s, over 170 caves have been discovered.
During a tour of the park, you will learn about the discovery and formation of the caves and about the unique history of this area of Vietnam. Since it is located in the narrowest part of Vietnam, the United States heavily bombed the area during the Vietnam War in order to destroy the Ho Chi Minh Trail and Highway 20, which were the Vietnamese transportation lines that connected the north and south parts of the country.
The landscape and the history of Phong Nha is a favorite part of the experience. However, easily my favorite part of the tour was exploring Hang Toi, or the “Dark Cave.” With only a headlight to guide the way, visitors swim through a lake, wade through chest deep mud and duck through narrow passageways as they cave through Vietnam’s history.
Once we arrived at the furthest point of the tour, we turned off our headlights and sat in complete blackness for one minute. The sensation of total darkness and the quiet of the cave make you fell incredibly small. You are aware of your surroundings as you try to remember which way is up and which direction the entrance is. Listen to the water droplets and whatever wildlife is lurking in the cave! It’s a truly once in a lifetime experience to be part of amazing landscapes within rich Vietnamese history.
Taroko National Park belongs to most stunning places in Taiwan. With area of 92 000 hectares, it features countless trails, waterfalls, and cliffs. There is impressive 19 kilometers long canyon cutting through the park featuring skyscraping marble walls that were created over 250 million years.
Very interesting is also the relief of the park: the landscape rises from cliffs touching the sea level to some of the tallest peaks in Taiwan at over 3400 meters. During one day in this park, you can get amazed by subtropical forest or also reach some of the peaks. The narrow road through the park in the highest one in Taiwan.
The best way to enjoy the lake is to walk along the paved lakefront trail and through the town of Lake Bled. It’s a relatively flat and easy walk unless you want to explore the large castle on of the smaller hills with spectacular views of the lake and countryside. You can check out more photos and narrative about the visit to Lake Bled in my post on the subject.
Editor’s Note: One of my first pen-pals was from Slovenia, and she instilled in me a deep fascination with the place. Now that I work for a company whose owner is from Slovenia, I might finally get to see it!
The Royal National Park is situated in the southern outskirts of Sydney and takes up over 15,000 hectares of land. The park was established in 1879 making it the world’s second oldest National Park after Yellowstone in the US. What I love about the park is it’s diverse habitats. As you explore you’ll find rainforest, heath, woodlands and estuarine systems along with some of Australia’s most iconic wildlife. There are plenty of things to do in the park including walking the 26km coastal track for spectacular views; Garie, Wattamolla and Bundeena beaches which I think are some of Australia’s most beautiful; shorter walks through the park to see waterfalls and Aboriginal carvings; hire a boat or have a picnic at Audley; and camping out under the stars surrounded by nothing but nature.
Editor’s Note: I had a wonderful day kayaking in the Royal National Park back in 2010. My recollection is a little fuzzy due to having only had an hour’s sleep after watching Australia’s World Cup game against Ghana at the FIFA Live Site, but I do recall spending one blissful hour dozing on an island we’d kayaked to for a picnic lunch. Bliss.