By Jocelyn Brown
Ever wondered what makes a national park? There are actually three major criteria that the place must meet to be called a “national park”. First, it needs to have a natural, cultural, or recreational value that is unique. Second, that resource must be threatened and no other agency is able to protect it other than a national park agency.
Last, it must lend itself to protection meaning that the land can feasibly be protected. However, technicalities aside, there are so many more amazing reasons that national parks really are unique. From landscape to culture, history and recreational activities in the area, an article that does justice to all the world’s 7000 national parks would be more like a book! With so many to choose from, here is a focus on spectacular national parks from three continents which are rich in cultural and natural heritage for the history buff or nature lover in you! They will have you searching for your passport in no time!
Jostedalsbreen National Park, Norway
Explore some frosty splendour at this unpronounceable national park which boasts the largest glacier on the European mainland. It is also home to the world’s two longest fjords which can be found on either side of it. Swallowing up 1,310 square kilometres of land, this is calling all those who have a yearning for great chunks of ice. With hikes where you can inhale spectacular Nordic vistas and learn about the kinship that existed at around 1750. The glacier has been called a “natural laboratory” and reveals climate change data every year. Unfortunately, due to its receding from the heating global climate, it is getting smaller. The good news is that it is revealing ruins of farms and paths and “highways” that crossed the glacier nearly 300 years and more ago. If you want to come to grips with the nitty-gritty of European rural life in a completely natural setting, you don’t get a better chance than here. Soak up the history and the beauty and join 300 000 visitors a year to see what the fuss is about.
Ras Mohammed National Park, Egypt
There are about 100,000 reasons to visit Africa’s national parks, and normally the Serengeti comes to mind. Rarely thought of as a place of great natural beauty, Egypt’s Ras Mohammed National Park will quickly have you tweeting away about Egypt’s natural wonders. With so many attractions in Egypt, from the Pyramids of Giza to Luxor, and its rich Roman and Arabic history, you may think you don’t have time for a national park. However, if you are interested in an area where the beauty is unrivalled and are looking for one of the most famous diving spots in the world, head to Ras Mohammed. Located at the southernmost tip of the Sinai Desert, with the Red Sea on the other side you can soak up spectacular underwater sites, see the most unusual fish and invertebrates, coo at the coral wonder, and even swim with dolphins.
An ancient Bedouin trading post, the Ras Mohammed National Park now boasts luxury accommodation and revealing desert tours where you can find out all the secrets of this ancient land. A trip up Mount Sinai is possible too, so if you are a water baby with an interest in one of the richest cultural heritage countries in the world, pack your bag and remember the factor 50 sunscreen!
Rapa Nui National Park, Chile
At this point you may be thinking “where?”. Although geographically, this is Chile, it’s actually better known as Easter Island and a dream trip for any traveller. Unmistakably Polynesian in heritage, the Easter Island heads, or moai, are world famous. Known as one of the most remote places on earth, this national park is on the bucket list of every adventurer. It has a rich and tumultuous history that most don’t know about. Moreover, it has wonderful beaches, that tropical blue water and palm trees to spend your time relaxing under. So hire a bicycle and cycle around the mainland to observe these wonders as there are many of the moai, then take a tropical beach vacation. Intrigued? Well, it can be a daunting task getting to Easter Island so plan ahead and look at flying via Colombia to save a bit of money.
From Europe to Africa, and the tropics of South America, there are truly wonderful national parks that most people don’t know exist, or think of going to. Give Yellowstone a miss just this once and maybe pack some long trousers to ride camels in the desert, or a swimsuit to dive with dolphins? Whichever unique vista you visit, you will be glad you did.