Best National Parks in Latin America

mejores parques suramerica

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Chile National Parks

Torres del Paine National Park

patagonia howlanders

Located in the Southern part of Chile, the Torres del Paine National Park is one of the most beautiful National Parks in the world, and of course of Patagonia. Becoming a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve in 1978, it is sought by people looking for total immersive treks in nature. It is known for its three eponymous granite mountains which gave its name to the park dominating the landscape.

Countless lakes fill the 180 000 hectares park without forgetting the majestic glaciers and icebergs. Amazing lookouts can be found everywhere and hearing rivers flow through forests and steppes is a wondrous experience. Being far from civilization, a diverse fauna inhabits the park.

A good way to admire the scenery is by taking either the W Trek or the O Circuit. The former has a W shape which gave its name to the trail and runs through three valleys while the latter surrounds the mountain while still including the former and thus takes longer. Two great lakes, the Grey Lake and the Pehoé Lake can be seen while doing the trails.

The Grey Lake is covered by ice sediments and icebergs and is declared an International Biosphere Reserve. It has deep grey waters with a depth of 500 meters. You can also do kayak and canoe for a better view of the Grey Glacier which flows into the lake.

As for the Pehoé Lake, it is surrounded by endemic vegetation and if lucky you can observe some of the wildlife. It has crystal-clear waters which can reflect the mountains beside it. Another activity which can be done is sport fishing. Finally, the Cueva del Milodón National Monument is a set of three giant caves that can be visited. It is of great paleontological interest.

How to get to Torres del Paine National Park

There are numerous ways to get to the Torres del Paine National Park. The easiest way is to take the plane to Santiago and then another one to Puntas Arenas for around three and a half hours. Lastly buses go straight to the park.

When to go to Torres del Paine National Park

The most favoured moments to visit the park are usually during the summer, late fall or early spring when the temperature is the warmest and days are the longest. Winter has a colder temperature although is greatly less windy while having usually clearer skies.

Rapa Nui National Park

human figures rock

Rapa Nui is the Polynesian name for Easter Island which is known for its mo’ai, monolithic human figures carved by the island natives between 1250 CE and 1500 CE. Most of them are still at the main quarry on the Rano Raraku volcano although some of them were moved to ceremonial platforms called ahu all around the island; we can find over 1000 of them.

From the quarry, you can enjoy a panoramic view of the Ahu Tongariki, the largest ceremonial center of the island with at least 15 standing moais. The island always had an air of mystery surrounding it. Being a tiny island in one of the most isolated, while still being inhabited, place on the entire planet, in the middle of the southern part of the Pacific Ocean, it is a one-of a-kind destination.

It is situated at more than 3600 km from Chile’s coasts. Its isolation contributed a lot to keep its authenticity. It is a perfect mix of culture and natural adventure. Although it was declared a national park in 1935, it wasn’t until the 1980s a management plan was implemented.

The World Monument fund started their work in 1968 while UNESCO later recognized it as a World Heritage Site in 1995. Zoning was done with an intangible zone, a primitive zone, an extensive use zone, a service and CONAF zone as well as a special use zone.

Good ways to sightsee are by horseback riding or bicycle although you can still walk. Going from exploring caverns to diving in the ocean to discover its fauna and flora passing by surfing on the waves, numerous activities can be done.

Anakena is the only beach officially opened for swimming; it has warm calm turquoise waters with white coral sand and palm trees. Another site of interest is Orongo which is a ceremonial village with 53 flat stones houses.

It is on the cliffs of the Rano Kau volcano crater which gives it a good view of the surrounding scenery. It is the largest volcanic crater of the island, its eruption two and a half million years ago contributed to giving life to the island. With a diameter of over a kilometer, it holds a beautiful freshwater lagoon. It is filled with lush vegetation and a micro fauna while facing small totora islands.

How to get to Rapa Nui National Park

The only way to get to Easter Island is by plane from Santiago’s airport. Only LATAM airlines fly there and it’s only once per day. The flight duration is of 6 hours.

When to go to Rapa Nui National Park

The best time to visit Easter Island is from April to June or October to December. The climate is temperate and prices more affordable. The island has a warm tropical climate all year round with a cooling ocean breeze. January to March is peak season so more tourists and more expensive while February is when there’s the Tapati Rapa Nui festival which also attracts crowds. July and August are a bit cooler.

Peru National Parks

Manu National Park

peru longest river

Considered as one of the largest parks in South America, the Manu National Park is also one of the areas with the biggest biodiversity in the world. Located in the Southwestern part of Peru, it was created in 1973, became a World Biosphere Reserve in 1977 and then a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987. It covers an area of a little bit more than 1.7 million hectares.

The park protects several ecological zones ranging from 300 meters to 4000 meters in altitude. It houses a plant diversity ranging from 2000 to 5000 while also being home to well over 1000 vertebrate species. It is the only park in Latin America to cover the full range of environments going from low tropical jungle to high cold grasslands.

The park is divided in different zones which have their own clearance based on who can enter them. The largest by far is the Restricted Zone which consists mostly of undisturbed forests and is dedicated exclusively to conservation with controlled access for researchers and indigenous subsistence resource.

There is a Special Use Zone, two distinct Recreational Zones, a Cultural Zone and a Recuperation Zone. Finally the smallest zone is a Service Zone. Some indigenous tribes can still be found; they are the only permanent inhabitants. Some of them are sedentary and have contact with the modern world while others are still semi-nomadic who voluntarily isolated themselves or had a first contact.

The park has two famous lakes where you can observe the local animals and birds. A good way to visit is by navigating through the lakes, rivers and swamps. Trekking and hiking is usually enjoyed by visitors to explore.

How to get to Manu National Park

The easiest way to reach the park is to fly to Cusco and then fly to Boca Manu which is a 40 minutes journey. After arrival, you’ll have to take a boat which can take between 1 and 5 hours depending on your lodging.

When to go to Manu National Park

Two seasons can be found in the rainforest, there are the dry season which runs from May to November and the wet season spanning until December to April. Both of them have their own advantage. During the dry season, trails are slightly easier to walk onto with a firmer ground.

Temperature is also higher although this can become unbearable. Being a rainforest, there are still some precipitations. Boat rides tend to take significantly more time due to a lower water level.

As for the wet season, with more water and thus less land, animals are more concentrated. It is easier to see reptiles and amphibians while bird activity may be higher during cloudy times. On the downside, there are a lot more mosquitos.

Bolivia National Parks

Madidi National Park

national Park bolivia

The Madidi National Park was established in 1995 and is located in the Northwestern part of Bolivia. With an area of 19 000 km2; it is one of the largest protected areas of Bolivia. The park is considered as one of the most biodiverse in the world with more than 140 000 species.

Also located there are 46 indigenous communities coming from six different tribes. It is a good place for people wanting to observe the local wildlife and flora. Walking along the numerous trails is a good way to explore and do some birdwatching.

Some of the saltlicks are usually great to see animals since they go there for mineral salt to oppose the poisonous plants they eat. Another way to observe the wildlife is by canoeing or boating. Piranha fishing is also a popular activity.

How to get to Madidi National Park

The easiest way to get to the park is by taking a plane form La Paz to Rurrenabaque which takes around 40 minutes. Tours are then organized from there.

When to go to Madidi National Park

Due to the diverse topography, weather depends on which region one want to visit. Madidi is subject to two distinct seasons, the rainy season which stems from November to March and the dry season which runs from April to October.

The best time to visit is during the dry season, because with less water, wildlife is attracted to the river and thus more likely to be spotted by visitors to the park. Mosquitos are less of a problem during this time as well. However, it should be noted that Madidi is in a tropical rainforest, so precipitation can be expected even during the “dry” season.”

Ecuador National Parks

Galapagos National Park

galápagos ecuador

The Galapagos National Park was created in 1959 and was the first national park in Ecuador although a superintendent and rangers were only assigned in 1971. It was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1978. It was however added to the World Heritage Sites in Danger list in 2007.

It is located in the Eastern Central part of the Pacific Ocean at a little bit less than 1400 km from the coast of Ecuador. It covers an area of close to 8000 km2 which is 97% of the Galapagos Islands. It is considered as one of the most unique, scientifically important and biologically outstanding areas on Earth.

It is known for the being the place where Charles Darwin made his research on evolution when he was there.

The islets have been divided into three different zones which are the absolute Protection Zone, the Ecosystem Conservation and Restoration Zone as well as the Impact Reduction Zone.

The Islands are home to more than hundreds of endemic species. Hiking can be done to explore the different islands as well as diving and snorkelling. On top of swimming, other water activities include fishing, surfing and kayaking. You can see local wildlife all around the islands.

How to get to Galapagos National Park

The fastest way to get to the islands is to take a flight for either Quito or Guayaquil and then take another flight for Baltra or San Cristobal Island.

When to go to Galapagos National Park

The peak season is from mid-June to early September and mid-December to mid-January. The park limits the number of visitors so it will never fell too crowded. From December to May, the temperature of both the water and the air is warmer. It is also rainy season with lots of short drizzles.

Sea turtles also nest during these months. From February to April, the sea is calmer and wildflowers burst into bloom. From June to November, due to a change in the currents, the air and water gets cooler.

The water is rich in nutrients and thus attracts countless birds and fishes. It rarely rains during this period despite the increased cloud cover. Wind also becomes stronger which leads to a rougher sea.

Cotopaxi National Park

cotopaxi ecuador

The Cotopaxi National Park is a free national park only an hour to an hour and a half south by car from Quito the capital of Ecuador. It is famous for its active volcano which gave its name to the park. With a height of close to 5900 meters, it is the second highest mountain in the country as well as the third highest active volcano in the world.

Being so close to the Equator line, it is one of the places closest to outer space. Since it is located in a pretty flat area, it can be seen from far away as well as numerous different angles. Two smaller volcanos are located beside it.

The park spans 34 000 hectares and is home to a diverse fauna. Numerous activities can be done like biking, horseback riding and trekking although the most famous one is without doubt climbing the volcano.

A certified guide would be needed for the climb from the base to the summit due to safety reasons. Numerous animals can be seen and if you are a birdwatcher, the Laguna Limpiopungo is a seasonal lake with a nice view of the volcano and is home to numerous species.

How to get to Cotopaxi National Park

The best way to get to the national park is by landing in Quito and either join an organised tour or rent a car.

When to go to Cotopaxi National Park

The best time to visit the park is around mid-July to early October which is the dry and windy season since it’s when you have the best luck to see the mountain. Weather still changes a lot so waterproof clothes should still be brought. From sunrise to midday is the best period to go since it’s usually cloudier in the afternoon

El Cajas National Park

ecuador landscapes

The El Cajas National Park is located in the Southern part of Ecuador. The park lies at an altitude going from 2800 to over 4000 meters with an area of 29 000 hectares. It is known for its numerous lakes, precisely there are 768 which give it the highest concentration of lakes in the world.

It is recognized as a Wetland of International Importance. This great amount of water provides the park with an important fauna. It was declared an official recreation site in 1977 and an official National Park in 1996. The park is a great day trip for trekking and hiking. Popular activities outside of hiking are rock climbing, bird watching and fishing.

How to get to Parque Nacional de El Cajas

The best way to reach the park is by taking the plane to Quito and then from Quito to Cuenca. There you’ll be able to rent a car, take the bus or join an organised group for the park.

When to go to Parque Nacional de El Cajas

Like everywhere else in the highlands, the weather can be unpredictable. Between June and September is usually the period with the best weather.

Yasuni National Park

atardecer yasuni

Located in the Northwest part of Ecuador, Yasuni National Park is known by many as the most diverse places in the world. The close to 10 000 km2 park was created in 1979 and was designated a World Biosphere Reserve in 1989 by the UNESCO.

It is home to two tribes who stay isolated from the world. Only a small percentage of the park was studied since it contains millions of species of mammals, birds, insects, plants and trees. The park contains three macro-level ecosystems the “Terra Firme” or lands too high to flood, the Várzea forest (seasonal floodplains) and “Igapo,” wetlands which are at least partially flooded most of the time.

It is a prime location for people wanting to immerse themselves in nature and observe the vast flora and fauna. People can canoe and hike all the while doing bird observation.

How to get to Yasuni National Park

The easiest way is to take a plane to Quito and then from there take another one for Coca. There you’ll have to switch to a boat.

When to go to Yasuni National Park

Seasons in the rainforest are usually divided in the dry season and the wet season. The wetter months in the region are between December and June. The wetter months attract monkeys and birds to feed on abundant food.

The dry season is when trails are a bit less muddy and the smaller bodies of water concentrate the wildlife. However, the drier months are when the dolphins and other aquatic life tend to move into the main Amazon River and away from the smaller affluent.

National Parks in Colombia

Parque Nacional Natural Corales del Rosario y San Bernardo

best beaches colombia

Located in the North of Colombia on the Caribbean coast and founded in 1977, the Rosario and San Bernardo Corals National Natural Park is the country’s only underwater park and covers an area of 1200 km2. It is 45 km away from the bay of Cartagena.

It was created to protect the marine ecosystem including coral reefs living on depth ranging from 0 to 30 meters. Tourists usually visit to see the coral reefs in the crystal-clear water as well as the marine fauna and flora.

Another thing they can also enjoy is the beaches. It is one of the three national parks in the Colombian Caribbean with coral reefs on its territories. It also contains the most diverse, extensive and developed coral reef in the entire continental Colombian Caribbean coastline which are in turn housing a wide variety of organisms.

The protected area includes 4 islands which are designated untouchable zones. The Rosario Islands are a small archipelago of 28 islands while the San Bernardo Archipelago is composed of 10 coastal islands. Activities which can be done are hiking, diving, kayaking, snorkelling, etc. The islands are also popular for bird watching or just observing the fauna and flora.

How to get to Parque Nacional Natural Corales del Rosario y San Bernardo

The Rosario and San Bernardo Islands are located 1 and 2 hours away by boat from Cartagena which can be reached by plane.

When to go to Parque Nacional Natural Corales del Rosario y San Bernardo

The best time to visit the islands is from June to August which is just after the high season while still being in the dry season. Weather can however change really fast.

Tayrona National Park

tayrona Colombia howlanders

The Tayrona National Park is a popular destination for nature lovers who enjoy hiking and/or going to the beach. It is located in the North of Colombia next to the Caribbean Sea. It was established in 1964 and turned into a national park in 1969; it gets its name from the Tairona indigenous still living in the area who considers the place as sacred.

There are numerous unspoiled beaches accessible by walk in the 150 km2 park although some of them are not swimmable. It also has 30 km2 of marine reserve. It is home to a diverse fauna and flora. Hiking can also be done to get a better view between the beaches or to discover some ruins.

A popular hike is the one towards the lost city, an archaeological site of an ancient city which has believably been founded in 800CE before even the Machu Picchu. Horses can be rent to move faster. Due to how rough the sea is, snorkelling and diving aren’t the most popular although can still be done in certain areas.

How to get to Tayrona National Park

The easiest way to get to the main entrance of the park is by bus from Santa Marta which is an hour south.

When to go to tayrona National Park

December and January are the two most popular months for locals since it’s their holidays. From June to August is usually a less popular period although the weather is still at its best.

Argentina National Parks

Tierra del Fuego National Park

Encompassing an area of 63 000 hectares, the park, created in 1960, is Argentina’s southernmost national park and shares a border with Chile. Only a small part of the park is however accessible to visitors.

It is often seen as mysterious and ancient land as it is located at one of southernmost point in the world excluding Antarctica; it actually contains the most southerly railway in the world as well as being the end of the Pan American Highway.

Ushuaia, a small town next to the park is also the southernmost town in the world and is often referred to the End of The World. The name Tierra del Fuego literally means “Land of Fire” and was coined by the explorer Fernando de Magallanes due to all the fires he saw from his boat when he arrived which were actually ignited by the indigenous tribes.

The park has stunning landscapes going from glaciers to mountains, with lakes, rivers, plains and forests. It is also home to numerous animals and is popular for birdwatching. It is a great place for people looking to hike in nature with stunning views. Numerous activities can be done like camping, fishing, canoeing, etc. It is the only national park in the country with a marine coast.

How to get to Tierra del Fuego National Park

Daily three hours and half flights connect Buenos Aires and Ushuaia, the closest town to the park. From there, you can hire a car, take a taxi or take one of the shuttles to reach the park.

When to go to Tierra del Fuego National Park

The best period to visit the park is during the Southern Hemisphere’s summer which is from October to April, although it is even better between December and February. The weather is warmer and daylight lasts longer. Being quite south it is however quite cool and could still rain and even snow

Los Glaciares National Park

glaciers chile

Glaciers are an impressive creation of nature; some of them are not only colossal, reaching hundreds of kilometers in length and width as well as being hundreds of meters deep but also extremely old, aging in thousands or even tens of thousands of years.

The Los Glaciares National Park was created in 1937; the landscape has been modelled by the countless glaciations which happened over time. There are actually 356 glaciers with 47 large ones. The park is located in the Southern part of Argentina next to the border with Chile.

The UNESCO World Heritage Site, added in 1981, has a total surface area of 600 000 hectares with half being glaciers. Glaciers are normally located high in altitude but the ones in the park are actually a lot lower starting at 1500 meter instead of 2500 meter. It not only includes a national park but also a national reserve, which is divided in 3 zones, seeing how it represents a humongous freshwater reservoir.

Many glaciers are fed by the South Patagonian Ice Field which is the most extensive South American relict of the glaciological process of the Quaternary Period which ranged from 2.58 million years ago to 0.012 million years ago. It is also the largest continental ice extension after Antarctica.

The park not only has glaciers but also mountains, steppes and forests. It is one of the only places where you can see glaciers flow down. It has a great integrity due to how remote it is as well as the harsh conditions.

The park is great for people who want to hike, trek or even ice climb. One of the most famous and accessible glacier is the Perito Moreno which can be ice hiked. It is one of the only advancing glaciers in the world.

Good ways to see the glaciers is either by walk on the numerous walkways or by boat which brings you closer to the glaciers. An impressive thing to observe is when parts of the glaciers fall into the lakes. There are two huge lakes with a blue milky color due to being fed by glacial meltwater. The smaller of the two is Lago Viedma while the largest is Lago Argentino which is also the largest in the country.

Trekking is also popular in the park with Mount Fitz Roy being the tallest of 10 granite strung peaks along the border between Argentina and Chile. The mountains are famous for their jagged peaks. Some more adventurous people can hike the ice cap which is the highest in the world outside the Himalayas. Fishing with a permit and camping can also be done in the park.

How to get to Los Glaciares National Park 

The easiest way to get to the park is by flying to Buenos Aires and then take another flight there for El Calafate which lasts for 3h with 3 daily flights per day. Once in El Calafate, you can take a taxi.

When to go to Los Glaciares National Park

The best time to visit is from the end of spring to the start of autumn which in the Southern Hemisphere corresponds to November through April.

Iguazu National Park

iguazu Brazil

The Iguazu National Park is located in Argentina on the border with Brazil just beside Paraguay. It is mostly known for its falls which have the same name and which constitutes the longest series of falls in the world, 275 to be precise. At their highest they reach 80m and they have a diameter of 2700 meters.

On top of the falls, there is also a system of cascades and rapids. The park has a protected area of over 67 000 hectares and was created in 1934 to protect one the greatest natural wonders of Argentina.

The Iguazu National Reserve was defined in 1970 and constitutes the park’s western part. In 1984, the park, as well as its Brazilian counterpart which is called Iguaçu National Park, was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The falls come from the Iguazu River which means in Guraní language “big water” which follows the border between Brazil and Argentina before falling in the Paraná River in Paraguay.

That point is also known as Triple Frontier since it is where the three countries’ borders meet with three cities facing each other’s. The waterfall’s cliffs were formed 120 million years ago by lava. The falls have lengthy walkways allowing visitors to have numerous viewpoints.

The surrounding subtropical rainforest is home to over 2000 species of vascular plants as well as typical wildlife of the region. This is the result of the large sprays coming from the falls which create a humid micro-climate which favours lush and dense vegetation. The river also attracts different animals.

The park constitutes an important remnant of the Atlantic Forest which is one of the most threatened global conservation priorities. Rafting and boat rides are fun ways to explore and observe the falls. Another way to observe them is by helicopter. Outside of the falls, you can also bike, hike and paddle around. A couple of animal and bird sanctuaries let visitors observe some of the local wildlife.

How to get to Iguazu National Park

The fastest way to reach the falls is by flying to Buenos Aires and then to Cataratas del Iguazú. There are around 6 to 8 flights a day. From there numerous buses can take you to the falls.

When to go to Iguazu National Park 

The best time to visit the falls would be during mid-season, from July to October and from February to April when the weather is still nice while still not being too crowded.

Brazil national Parks

Chapada Diamantina National Park

Brazil landscapes

Chapada Diamantina National Park, translated as the Diamond highlands, is located in the Northeastern part of Brazil and is a perfect place for trekking and hiking to enjoy dazzling sceneries. People can also bike, canoe, horse ride and do some off-road.

It became famous in the 19th century due to its diamond exploration which gave it its name and lasted until 1985 when the national park was formed. It is home to the largest number of caves and waterfalls in all over Brazil. Numerous visitors go there for some of the caves that have still crystal-clear blue water which can be swam or even dove while others can be visited by walk.

The park has a wide array of topology ranging from valleys to isolated peaks as well as open plains and canyons due to its huge size of 152 000 hectares. It is one of the country’s largest park as well as being home to an impressive variety of ecosystems, wildlife and flora.

The landscape is the result of the erosion process the area suffered in the Precambrian period which is the earliest part of Earth’s history. This period spans from the formation of Earth about 4.6 billion years ago to the beginning of the Cambrian period 541 million years ago.

On top of the natural sceneries, it is also a haven for cultural exchange between locals and tourists with the legacy left by the mining period.

How to get to Chapada Diamantina National Park

The fastest way to reach the park is by taking a plane to Salvador, the capital of  Bahia state. There are two flights per day on Tuesday and Thursday going to Lençóis. Salvador can be reached by plane from São Paulo. From Lençóis, you can rent a car or join tours for the different destinations in the park.

When to go to Chapada Diamantina National Park

The best period to visit the park is from March to Octobre when it’s the dry season. The downside is that the waterfalls may appear less impressive with a lower water flow. The rainy season however isn’t that wet while the dry season also has rainfalls. June and July are the coolest months.

Venezuela National Parks

Canaima National Park

lanscapes Venezuela

The Canaima National Park is located in the Southeastern part of Venezuela near the border with Brazil and Guyana. The park spreads over 3 million hectares with 65% covered by tepui or table mountain formations.

The tepuis represent unique biogeological entities and thus of great interests. It is filled with rainforests and savannas. It was first stablished as a national park in 1962 and later recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994.

The region is interesting because it shares many similarities with Africa which is a remnant from the time when both were part of the same continent. The sandstones found in the cliffs and tepui are really similar to the one found in Western Sahara.

The rocks originate from 1500 to 2000 million years ago which makes them one of the oldest geological formations in the world. There are a diverse number of animals, plants and flowers that are endemic from the region. The park is a great place for people looking to trek and hike.

The Canaima Lagoon is a great place to relax, observe waterfalls, canoe and swim. The park is known for having the highest free fall waterfall in the world, the Angel Falls which have a height of almost 1000 meters. A great way to enjoy the falls is by helicopter. Visiting an indigenous village is another interesting activity to do to learn more about their culture.

How to get to Canaima National Parks

There are flights from Caracas to Canaima with stops in either Ciudad Bolivar or Puerto Ordaz. From Canaima you can walk or take a boat.

When to go to Canaima National Parks

The best period is in October and November which is after the rainy season but still with a high water level which makes water commute easy.

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