Where to find spectacular national parks bursting with wildlife
Whether big game watching, understanding ecology systems or simply appreciating the excitement of being in jungle terrain, national parks are a big draw for many visitors. Here are some countries where nature is definitely on the agenda.
A spectacular country that offers a wide range of protected reserves, South Africa is probably most famous for Kruger National Park, which is one of the largest in Africa. Encompassing an area of more than 7,500 square miles and measuring 220 miles from north to south and 40 miles across, it has been designated an international man and biosphere reserve by UNESCO. With so much space to roam free, Kruger has lions, rhinoceros, elephants, zebras, birds, distinctive flora and much more. Facilities include camps, private lodges and wilderness trails. For the elephant lover, Addo Elephant National Park was established in 1931 and is one hour by car from Port Elizabeth. Having expanded to protect a wide range of plants and animals, it is also home to more than 500 large pachyderms that wander about largely unafraid of visitors driving through. Options at Addo include visitors viewing wildlife from their own car, going on game drives, birding, hiking, picnics, and staying overnight in the park's accommodation. Table Mountain National Park is vast and beautiful, with the magnificent Table Mountain at its centre and extending to a beach with an endangered colony of African penguins. This is a park for appreciating stunning views, massive biodiversity and ascending the summit of an iconic mountain. Visitors can also stay overnight in the park's tented camps.
As the setting for stories such as The Jungle Book, the subcontinent is well known for its tangled forests that are home to tigers and elephants. A vast country, India offers more than 100 national parks that in total cover more than one per cent of the area of the country. In 1970 the nation had only five parks; however, a wildlife protection act came into force in 1972 to protect the nation's wide range of habitats and species living in them. There are more parks in India than most people could visit in one trip, but highlights include Sundarbans National Park in West Bengal near Kolkata, which is home to many tigers and is a UNESCO world heritage site. In south India, near Mysore, the Nagarhole National Park is home to leopards and elephants and is part of Project Tiger, a conservation project that was launched by the Indian government in 1973 with the aim of protecting tigers and the ecosystems that support them. Another popular choice is Ranthambore National Park in the colourful state of Rajasthan, which offers tigers, leopards and a 10th century fort.
This tropical south-east Asian country is not just about beaches and shopping; in addition, it has some of the best bird watching in Asia. There are 127 national parks in Thailand and 22 of these are marine parks, where 10 per cent of the world's aquatic species can be found. Khao Yai is the most popular park in Thailand, being easily accessible from Bangkok. In 2005 it was listed as a world heritage site. Visitors can drive through the park looking for elephants, or go hiking and quickly learn to respect the jungle. Khao Sok National Park is relatively close to the tourist destinations of Phuket, Koh Samui and Krabi and is the most popular park in the southern part of the country. Kaeng Krachan is the country's largest national park, and considered one of the best for diverse habitats and bird watching.