National parks may have originated as an American institution — but today, with more than 1,800 established parks worldwide, the idea is hardly limited to the 50 states. And as this list proves, a national park does not have to be well-known to take your breath away.
Torres Del Paine National Park, Chile
Located in the Patagonian region of southern Chile, Torres Del Plaine is one of the country’s most popular hiking spots. The majestic Cordillera del Plaine mountains serve as the park’s centerpiece, surrounded on all sides by subpolar forests teeming with exotic botany and wildlife.
Bako National Park, Malaysia
Located on the island of Borneo’s northwestern tip, Bako N.P. is one of the oldest national parks in Malaysia. Visitors can lounge on tranquil beaches or trek through dense jungle foliage. Lonely Planet has also called Bako “the best place in Sarawak to see the rare proboscis monkey,” an endangered species that is endemic to the island.
Rondane National Park, Norway
In 1962, Rondane N.P. became Norway’s first established park. The centerpiece, Rondevatnet Lake (pictured above), is surrounded by 10 different peaks that each stand more than 6,500 feet high. The park also offers prime viewing of wild reindeer that have inhabited the area since the Ice Age.
Isalo National Park, Madagascar
This landlocked park in southern Madagascar is home to more than 300 species of birds, reptiles, mammals and creepy crawlers. The topography is also diverse; visitors will encounter grassy plains, vast canyons and (pictured below) striking rock formations.
Altai Tavan Bogd National Park, Mongolia
Located in Western Mongolia near the Chinese and Russian borders, this sprawling park is more than 500 square miles larger than Yellowstone. Thankfully, Altai Tavan Bogd N.P. is far more secluded, though visitors may catch glimpses of ibex, Algari sheep and other four-legged denizens during their stay.
Plitvice Lakes National Park, Croatia
Founded in 1949, Plitvice Lakes N.P. is the oldest established park in southeastern Europe. The lakes — 16 in all — are famous for their brilliant colors, which range from emerald green to charcoal gray (depending on the time of year). The park also contains important thoroughfare that connects inlanders to the Adriatic Sea.
Manuel Antonio National Park, Costa Rica
Located within Costa Rica’s Central Pacific Conservation Area, this small park is home to roughly 300 species of mammals and birds. Visitors can enjoy a myriad of outdoor activities, such as Scuba, sea kayaking, hiking and mountain biking.
Hingol National Park, Pakistan
This vast park — Pakistan’s largest — is situated among the high cliffs of the Hungol Valley. From arid semi-deserts to lush subtropical forests, Hingol N.P. offers something for every type of adventurer.
Namib-Naukluft National Park, Namibia
The Namib desert is the world’s oldest — and today, the picturesque dunes and sprawling sand pans are considered Namibia’s top tourist attraction. Despite the arid climate, this park is home to a variety of creatures, including hyenas, jackals and snakes.
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By Brad Nehring