Nepal is a very geographically and geologically diverse country, from the hot, steamy plains bordering India to the mid-hills area to the high, snow-capped Himalaya. With stunning landscapes, rare and beautiful wildlife and lots of native flora, Nepal’s national parks and wildlife reserves are worth visiting. Here’s a guide to the best, from places where you can go on safaris, to excellent trekking destinations.
ANNAPURNA CONSERVATION AREA
The Annapurna Conservation Area is the largest protected area in Nepal and encompasses parts of the Manang, Mustang, Kaski, Myagdi and Lamjung districts. It’s a wild area of mountains, forests, hills and rivers that are very popular for trekking. As well as the famous Annapurna Circuit that begins a short drive from Pokhara and ends in Lower Mustang, there are numerous shorter treks to enjoy in the area.
CHITWAN NATIONAL PARK
The Chitwan National Park is Nepal’s most popular jungle national park, as it is easily accessible from both Kathmandu and Pokhara. Here is where you can see all manner of bird life, gharial crocodiles, deer and elephants, but the main attraction is the one-horned rhinoceros, of which there are over 600. Chitwan has run a very successful rhino breeding and conservation program and now, visitors are almost guaranteed to spot at least one when on Jeep, bullock cart or foot safari. Both luxury resorts and more modest homestays (as well as everything in between) are available to stay in near the park.
BARDIA NATIONAL PARK
The Bardia National Park (also spelled Bardiya) is less frequently visited than Chitwan, as it is located in the more remote far-western Nepal. But, it gives visitors an idea of what Chitwan would have once been like, before its heightened popularity. This means fewer tourists, quieter lodges and very little getting in between you and the Royal Bengal Tiger. Yes, this is the best place in Nepal to visit for a glimpse of the elusive big cat and while sightings are certainly not guaranteed, your chances are good. To reach Bardia, fly first from Kathmandu or Pokhara to Bharatpur, then transfer to your accommodation outside the park. There are also buses from other Nepali cities if you’re fond of self-punishment. If looking for greater adventures, combine a visit to Bardia with a Karnali River rafting/kayaking trip, as these end near the national park.
SHEY PHOKSUNDO NATIONAL PARK
The Shey Phoksundo National Park is located in the far western districts of Dolpo and Mugu and many of the more popular off-the-beaten-path treks of this region pass through it. The gorgeous aquamarine Phoksundo Lake is the main attraction. Much of the park lies in the rain-shadow of the Himalayas, a dry and barren area on the edge of the Tibetan Plateau that has stunning mountain sceneries that markedly contrasts with that of the green lush areas elsewhere in Nepal.
MAKALU BARUN NATIONAL PARK
The Makalu Barun National Park is an eastern extension of the Sagarmatha National Park, where Mount Everest is located. It is also connected to the Qomolangma National Nature Preserve in Tibet. It’s the only protected area in the world that has an elevation gain of 8,000 metres within it. Mount Makalu, which sits within the park, is the fifth highest peak in the world, at 8,463 metres. The Arun River runs through it and there’s an extraordinarily diverse variety of flora and fauna in the tropical jungle, forested hill and snowy mountain landscapes.