If I were to ask: what are the best national parks in the world, what would you say? Many might recite popular parks like Yosemite National Park or Serengeti National Park, but what about places off the beaten track like Conguillio National Park in Chile or Freycinet National Park in Tasmania?
Our planet is home to incredible landscapes, across 193 countries and seven continents, and it would be an impossible task to visit all 4,000+ national parks located in these lands. So, to help you on your travels, we have put together a list of the 14 best national parks that you should visit.
Best National Parks in the World
1. Chapada dos Veadeiros National Park (Brazil)
Not many destinations can compare with the natural beauty found in Chapada dos Veadeiros National Park (Brazil). Over 500,000 acres of land make up the park – with endless hiking trails, waterfalls and unique natural formations to discover. We recommend staying for at least five days.
Highlights include Santa Barbara Waterfall, Almecegas Waterfall, Mirante da Janela, Vale da Lua and the Garden of Maitreya. Not only is the nature epic but the park has this mystical feel about it – some folks say there are massive crystal deposits underground which are radiating this energy.
2. Bwindi Impenetrable National Park (Uganda)
Coming in at number two on our list of the best national parks in the world is Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, located in Uganda. There are two main reasons why this park ranks so highly: the first is the chance to go mountain gorilla trekking and the second is the spectacular rainforest.
There are only a couple of places in Africa where you can see mountain gorillas and Bwindi is one of them. By booking a gorilla trekking expedition in Bwindi, you will be able to hike through the rainforest with its spellbinding greenery and stay with the gorillas for up to 60 minutes.
3. Canaima National Park (Venezuela)
There are so many reasons why you should visit the UNESCO-listed Canaima National Park in Venezuela, with Angel Falls only being the beginning. In addition to having the highest waterfall on planet earth, Canaima also boasts a series of smaller falls which are just as impressive.
Waterfalls are a main feature of the park and tepuis (table mountains) are the other. 65% of the park is covered in tepui. This presents visitors with some awesome hiking opportunities. If you have trepidation about visiting Venezuela, you can always book with a guide like Osprey Expeditions.
4. Lencois Maranhenses National Park (Brazil)
Exploring the sand dunes and lagoons of Lencois Maranhenses is an otherworldly experience that should be on every traveler’s bucket list. The rain forms the freshwater lagoons every year following the rainy season. From May to September, the park is at its most accessible and beautiful.
There are many lagoons which you can discover on the ground but the best viewpoint is from the sky. Booking a light aircraft flight over Lencois Maranhenses will give you the opportunity to witness a sea of lagoons that stretch out as far as the eye can see. It’s simply out of this world!
5. Calanques National Park (France)
Calanques National Park (Parc national des Calanques) is a rocky stretch of coastline that spans for 20 km between Marseille and Cassis, with 26 different calanques to visit. The park is characterized by rugged cliff faces, remote little creeks, pebbly beaches and shimmering azure waters.
The main activities here are hiking and swimming. The most popular day hike on offer is the Calanques de Cassis Trail. It can take anywhere from a full morning or afternoon, to an entire day depending on how many swims you have. Port Pin is a lovely beach for a dip at the end of the trail.
6. Conguillio National Park (Chile)
La Araucania is a region of central Chile that is starting to make waves on the tourist trail after years of being underappreciated. The premier destination of this region is Conguillio National Park with its imposing Llaima Volcano, lakes and lagoons, and beautiful araucaria trees.
All sorts of adventures can be had at Conguillio including hiking, biking, horseback riding, kayaking and photography tours. Wild animals abound in the area as well – so wildlife enthusiasts will be able to try and spot cougars, condors, eagles and a few other magnificent bird species.
7. Guadalupe Mountains National Park (Texas)
The first American location to make our list of the best national parks in the world is Guadalupe Mountains National Park. Why has this place out ranked other parks like Yellowstone and Grand Canyon? Well, it’s simple – the Guadalupe Mountains are incredible and hardly anyone heads out here.
You won’t be competing for space like at other parks in the USA which suffer from over-tourism. And the number of unique activities at Guadalupe is astounding. Marvel at the triangular shadow from the top of Guadalupe Peak or go stargazing to see the clearest Milky Way in Texas.
8. Freycinet National Park (Tasmania)
Australia is an enormous country with hundreds of parks to be found in its states and territories. Tasmania, located 240 km from the mainland, has 19 of these parks and none is more breathtaking than Freycinet National Park. The highlight of Freycinet is without doubt Wineglass Bay.
Wineglass is a curved white-sand beach surrounded by green hills. Visitors to the park can hit up the trails around Wineglass Bay which offer unique perspectives of the beach. Once you have ticked that off your list, there is plenty more to see like rocky coves and surfing hotspots.
9. Goreme National Park (Turkey)
Goreme National Park and the rock sites of Cappadocia together create a UNESCO site. This landscape is famous around the globe for its fairy chimneys (or hoodoos) which have become a hit with tourists over the years – especially hot air balloon rides with views of the rocky terrain below.
Travelers can go hiking, horseback riding or join an ATV tour to discover this rugged environment – or they can learn about its history by venturing into cave dwellings and underground towns. Beyond that, Goreme is just a cool town to hang out in with its cave hotels, rug shops and fresh tea.
10. Timanfaya National Park (Lanzarote)
If you are planning a trip to the Canary Islands make sure you visit Lanzarote – a geographically stunning island. Timanfaya National Park on said island is composed entirely of volcanic terrain after several eruptions occurred between 1720 and 1736, and in the year 1824 as well.
The result of these eruptions produced an extreme terrain where no vegetation grows. The variety of color and texture within the park is enough to make photographers overwhelmed with joy. You can even spot the silhouettes of ancient volcanoes that are still just visible with the naked eye.
11. Tikal National Park (Guatemala)
Visiting Tikal in the Peten department of Guatemala gives you a glimpse into what life was like back in the Mayan times. The temples of Tikal are all nestled in a large forested area which spans for millions of hectares. Some of the world’s best preserved Mayan architecture can be found here.
One unique experience that we recommend for Tikal is participating in a Mayan ritual ceremony. A shaman leads a fire ceremony with spirits entering our world. Guests make their offerings to the fire and request good fortune from the gods. Several tour companies offer this as an activity.
12. Chitwan National Park (Nepal)
Chitwan was the first national park to be recognized by Nepal back in 1973 and today it’s one of the best places to spot wildlife in Asia. Situated at the foot of the Himalayas, this Nepalese park has some of the rarest animals on earth such as the Bengal Tiger and the single-horned Asiatic rhinoceros.
Not only is the wildlife great but the lowlands, rivers and lush nature found within the park is just as amazing. Local officials in Nepal have developed world-leading conservation efforts in Chitwan and you can learn all about how endangered species are making a comeback on your visit.
13. Iguazu National Park (Argentina)
Forget about Angel Falls or Victoria Falls when it comes to the most beautiful waterfalls in the world. There is only one place that can claim that title and it’s Iguazu Falls (Argentina). The series of cascading waterfalls at Iguazu will make you smile for the entire visit, it’s mesmerizing.
You might need two full day trips into the national park because one visit probably won’t be enough. From La Garganta del Diablo, to the Gran Aventura boat ride, to the adventures of Fly Park Iguazu, to the Reserva Selva Iryapu – there are so many awesome things to see and do in Iguazu.
14. Vatnajokull National Park (Iceland)
Vatnajokull is the second largest national park in Europe, taking up a whopping 14% of Iceland’s entire landmass. Due to its size, there is no shortage of incredible sights to see within the park’s borders. Vatnajokull Glacier is the centerpiece of the park with its endlessly voluminous ice caps.
Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon is another highlight of Vatnajokull National Park. Head to the Insta-famous Diamond Beach if you want to see broken chunks of glacier wash up on shore from the outlet of Breidamerkurjokull. It’s quite a unique sight and photographers will have fun taking pictures.