Top Ten South American National Parks

Top Ten South American National Parks

  1. The Atlantic Forest, (Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay)

           The Atlantic Forest is a region of tropical and subtropical moist forest, tropical dry forest, tropical savanna, semi deciduous forest and mangrove forests which extends along the Atlantic coast of Brazil from Rio Grande do Norte state in the north to Rio Grande do Sul state in the south, and inland as far as Paraguay and the Misiones Province of Argentina. The Atlantic Forest is characterized by a high species diversity and endemism. It was the first environment that the Portuguese conquerors encountered over 500 years ago when it was thought to have an area of 1 to 1.5 million square km and stretching an unknown distance inland. Currently, the Atlantic Forest spans over 4000 square km along the coast of Brazil and in a small part of Paraguay and Argentina. The Atlantic Forest region includes forests of several variations: Restinga is a forest type that grows on stabilized coastal dunes. Restinga Forests are generally closed canopy short forests with tree density. Open Restinga is an open, savanna-like formation with scattered clumps of small trees and shrubs and an extensive layer of herbs, grasses, andsedges. Tropical moist forests are forests that receive more than 2,000 mm of rain a year. This includes Lowland Tropical Moist Forests, Submontane Tropical Moist Forest, and Montane Tropical Moist Forest. Tabuleiro forests are found over very moist clay soils and Tabuleiro Savannas occur over faster-draining sand soils. These are humid areas that rely on water vapor from the ocean. Further inland are the Atlantic dry or seasonal forests, which form a transition between the arid Caatinga to the northeast and the Cerradosza savannas to the east. These forests are lower in stature; more open, with high abundance of deciduous trees and lower diversity when compared to tropical moist forests. These forests have between 700-1,600 mm of precipitation annually with a distinct dry season. This includes Deciduous and Semideciduous Seasonal Forest each with their own lowland and montane regions. Montane moist forests are higher altitude wet forests across mountains and plateaus of southern Brazil. Shrubby montane savannas occur at the highest elevations, also called Campo rupestre. The Atlantic Forest is unusual in that it extends as a true tropical rainforest to latitudes as high as 24°S. This is because the trade winds produce precipitation throughout the southern winter. In fact, the northern Zona da Mata of northeastern Brazil receives much more rainfall between May and August than during the southern summer. The Atlantic Forest is now designated a World Biosphere Reserve, which contains a large number of highly endangered species. The enormous biodiversity of the Atlantic Forest results in part from the wide range of latitude it covers, its variations in altitude, its diverse climatic regimes as well as the geological and climatic history of the whole region. The Atlantic Forest is isolated from is neighboring large South American forests: The Amazon Region and the Andean Forest. The open vegetation of the Caatinga and the Cerado separate it from the Amazon, and the dry vegetation of the central depressions of the Chaco separate it from the Andean Forest. This isolation has resulted in an evolution of numerous endemic species, such as lion tamarins, woolly spider monkey, and marmosets. During glacial periods in the Pleistocene, the Atlantic Forest is known to have shrunk to extremely small fragmented refugias in highly sheltered gullies, being separated by areas of dry forest or semi-deserts known as caatingas. Some maps even suggest the forest actually survived in moist pockets well away from the coastline, where its endemic rainforest species mixed with much cooler-climate species. Unlike refugia for equatorial rainforests, the refuges for the Atlantic Forest have never been the product of detailed identification.
    Links: Top Ten Brazilian Attractions, Top Ten Argentinian Attractions, Top Ten Paraguayan Attractions, Top Ten Forests,,
  2. Galápagos Islands National Park, Ecuador

    The Galapagos Islands are an archipelago of volcanic islands distributed around the equator in the Pacific Ocean, 972 km (525 mi) west of continental Ecuador. The Galapagos Islands and its surrounding waters form an Ecuadorian province, a national park, and a biological marine reserve. The islands are geologically young and famed for their vast number of endemic species, which were studied by Charles Darwin during the voyage of the Beagle. His observations and collections contributed to the inception of Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection. The first crude navigation chart of the islands was done by the buccaneer Ambrose Cowley in 1684. He named the individual islands after some of his fellow pirates or after the English noblemen who helped the privateer’s cause. More recently, the Ecuadorian government gave most of the islands Spanish names. While the Spanish names are official, many users (especially ecological researchers) continue to use the older English names, particularly as those were the names used when Charles Darwin visited.
    Links: Top Ten Ecuadoran Attractions, Islands,,
  3. Iguaçu National Park, Brazil

    Iguaçu National Park is a national park in Paraná State, Brazil. The park comprises 185,262.5 hectares and a length of about 420 km, 300 km of which are natural borders by bodies of water and the Brazilian and Argentinean sides together comprise around 225,000 hectares. The Iguaçú National Park owes its name to the fact it includes an important area of the Iguaçú river, approximately 50 km of the length of the river and the world famous Iguaçú Falls. It is the most important park of the Prata Basin and, since it is a haven to a significant genetic asset of animal and vegetal species, it was the first park in Brazil to receive a Management Plan. The Iguaçú National Park is spectacular as well as pioneering. The first proposal for a Brazilian national park aimed at providing a pristine environment to “future generations,” just as “it had been created by God” and endowed with “all possible preservation, from the beautiful to the sublime, from the picturesque to the awesome” and “an unmatched flora” located in the “magnificent Iguaçú waterfalls.” These were the words used by Andre Rebouças, an engineer, in his book “Provinces of Paraná, Railways to Mato Grosso and Bolivia,” which started up the campaign aimed at preserving the Iguaçú Falls way back in 1876, when Yellowstone, the first national park on the planet, was four years old. In Brazil the Park has boundaries with the following municipalities: Foz do Iguaçu, Medianeira, Matelândia, Céu Azul, São Miguel do Iguaçu, Santa Terezinha de Itaipu, Santa Tereza do Oeste, Capitão Leônidas Marque, Capanema and Serranópolis. As foreseen by Rebouças, the park’s basic goal is the preservation of the highly relevant ecologically and scenic natural ecosystems, thus enabling scientific research and the development of environmental education and interpretation activities, recreation in natural surroundings and the ecological tourism. The Park is located in the westernmost region of the state of Paraná, in the Iguaçú river basin, 17 km from downtown Foz do Iguaçú. It borders Argentina, where the Iguazu National Park, which was implemented in 1934, is located. The border between the two countries and their national parks is made by the Iguaçú river, whose source is near the Serra (mountain range) do Mar near Curitiba and runs for 18 km throughout the state of Paraná. The river estuary is located 18 km downriver from the Falls, where it flows into the Paraná river. This meeting of rivers forms the triple Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay border. The area of the park open for visitation and where the concession areas of Cataratas do Iguaçú S/A are located, accounts for approximately 0.3% of the total area of the park. The most spectacular sightseeing of the park is the Iguaçú Falls, which form a 2,700 m wide semicircle, while the waterfalls filled visitors with awe as they watch the water foam that plunges down from a height of 72 m. The number of waterfalls ranges from 150 and 300 depending on the Iguaçú river flow. Besides the exuberant waterfalls, there are other attractions such as rich fauna, the Poço Preto (the Black Well), the Macuco Waterfall, the Visitors Center, the Santos Dumont Statue, a homage paid by VASP (an airline company) to the “Father of Aviation,” who lent all his prestige and efforts in turning the falls area into a National Park.
    Links: Top Ten Brazilian Attractions, Top Ten WaterfallsTop 100 BirdsTop Ten Spiders, Top Ten ButterfliesTop Ten Transparent Animals,,
  4. Canaima National Park, Venezuela

           Canaima National Park is a 30,000 km² park in south-eastern Venezuela that borders Brazil and Guyana. It is located in Bolívar State, and roughly occupies the same area as the Gran Sabana region. The park was established on June 12, 1962. It is the 2nd largest park in the country, after Parima-Tapirapecó, and 6th biggest national park in the world, equal, in size to both Belgium and Maryland. About 65% of the park is occupied by plateaus of rock called tepuis. These constitute a unique biological environment, also of a great geological interest. Its sheer cliffs and waterfalls (including the Angel Falls, which is the highest waterfall in the world, to 1,002 m) are spectacular landscapes. The most famous tepuis in the park are Mount Roraima, the tallest and easiest to climb, and Auyantepui, from which fall the Angel Falls. The tepuis are sandstone and date back to a time when South America and Africa were part of a super-continent. The park is home to indigenous Pemon Indians, part of the Carib linguistic group. The Pemon have an intimate relationship with the Tepuis, and believe they are the home of the ‘Mawari’ spirits. The park is relatively remote, with only a few roads connecting towns. Most transport within the park is done by light plane from the airstrips built by various Capuchin missions, or by foot and canoe. Pemons have developed some basic and luxurious camps, which are mainly visited by tourists from across the world. In 1994 the Canaima National Park was named a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, as a natural reserve that has abrupt relief special and unique around the world, the tepuis, which are a kind of plateau of millions of years old, with vertical walls and almost flat tops.
    Links: Top Ten Venezuelan Attractions, Top Ten Waterfalls,,
  5. Los Roques Archipelago, Venezuela

           The Los Roques islands are a federal dependency of Venezuela, consisting of about 350 islands, cays or islets. The archipelago is located 80 miles (128 km) directly north of the port of La Guaira, and is a 40-minute flight, has a total area of 40.61 square km. Being almost an untouched coral reef, it attracts many “high-end” visitors, especially from Europe, some of which come in their own yachts and anchor in the inner, protected shallow waters. However, development and tourism are controlled. Because of the wide variety of seabirds and rich aquatic life, the Venezuelan government declared Los Roques a National Park in 1972.
    Links: Top Ten Venezuelan Attractions, Top Ten Reefs,,
  6. Noel Kempff Mercado National Park, Bolivia

           Noel Kempff Mercado National Park is a national park in northeast Santa Cruz Department, Province of José Miguel de Velasco, Bolivia, on the border with Brazil.
    Links: Top Ten Bolivian Attractions,,
  7. Sangay National Park, Ecuador

           Sangay National Park is a national park located in the Morona Santiago, Chimborazo and Tungurahua provinces of Ecuador. The park contains two active volcanoes (Tungurahua and Sangay) and ecosystems ranging from tropical rainforests to glaciers. The National Park is an important refuge for rare species of the Andes, like mountain tapirs and spectacled bears. Typical species of the alpine and subalpine areas are mountain tapirs, pumas and Andean foxes. In the forests below live spectacled bears, giant otters, jaguars, ozelots, margays, Brazilian tapirs, white-tailed deer, little red brocket deer and Northern Pudus. About 300-400 bird species also inhabit the Park
    Links: Top Ten Ecuadoran Attractions, Top 100 Flowers, Top Ten Big Cats, Top 100 Birds,,
  8. Manu National Park, Peru

           Manú National Park is a biosphere reserve located in Madre de Dios and Paucartambo, Cusco. The park is fairly inaccessible by road and is largest National Park in Peru, covering an area of 15,328 km². The Biosphere Reserve includes an additional 2,570 km², and a further 914 km² are included in a “Cultural Zone,” bringing the total area up to 18,811 km². The park protects several ecological zones ranging from as low as 150 m above sea level in parts of the Southwest Amazon moist forests to Peruvian Yungas at middle elevations to Central Andean wet puna at altitudes of 4,200 m. Because of this topographical range, it has one of highest levels of biodiversity of any park in the world. Overall, more than 15,000 species of plants are found in Manú, and up to 250 varieties of trees have been found in a single hectare. The reserve is a destination for birdwatchers from all over the world, as it is home to over 1,000 species of birds, more than the number of bird species found in the US and Canada combined. It is also acclaimed as having one of the highest abundances of land vertebrates ever found in Latin American tropical forests.
    Links: Top Ten Peruvian Attractions, Top 100 Birds,,
  9. Central Suriname Nature Reserve, Suriname

           The Central Suriname Nature Reserve was created in 1998 by Conservation International and the government of Suriname to protect the areas pristine tropical rainforest ecosystem, which contains 16,000 square kilometers (6,178 sq mi) of both mountain and lowland primary tropical forest including sections of the Guyana Highlands. Some of the most outstanding features in Central Suriname Nature Reserve are several granite domes, uplifted monoliths of granite rising high above the surrounding rainforest. Barren surface of dark-colored granite is exposed to impact of Sun thus creating unique xerophytic biotope which includes endemic plant species. The best known granite dome is the 245 m high Voltzberg.
    Links: Top Ten Suriname Attractions,
  10. Rio Abiseo National Park, Peru

           The Rio Abiseo National Park is located in the San Martín department of Peru. The park is home to a large number of species of flora and fauna, as well as the location of over 30 pre-Columbian archaeological sites. Since 1986, the park has not been open to tourism due to the fragile nature of both the natural and archaeological environment.
    Links: Top Ten Peruvian Attractions, Top Ten Frogs/Toads,, 
  11. Tayrona National Natural Park, Colombia

           The Tayrona National Natural Park is a protected area in the Colombian northern Caribbean region and within the jurisdiction of the Department of Magdalena and some 34 km from the city of Santa Marta. The park presents a biodiversity endemic to the area of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountain range presenting a variety of climates (mountain climate) and geography that ranges from arid sea level to 900 meters above sea level. The park covers some 30 square km of maritime area in the Caribbean Sea and some 150 km² of land. It was the second most visited national park in Colombia in 2009, with 211.833 visitors. The most visited park was the Rosario and San Bernardo Corals National Natural Park.
    Links: Top Ten Colombian Attractions,,
  12. Los Katíos National Park, Colombia

           Los Katíos National Park is a national park located in northwest Colombia which covers 278 square miles (around 720 km², or 72,000 hectares). It is a part of the Darién Gap, shared by Panama and Colombia and is contiguous to Darién National Park in Panama. The Pan-American Highway when completed as proposed will pass near or through Los Katíos National Park. The park was declared a World Heritage Site in 1994 due to the extraordinary diversity of plant and animal species represented. The park contains over 25% of the bird species reported for Colombia in an area less than 1% of the total Colombian territory.
    Links: Top Ten Colombian Attractions,, 
  13. Los Glaciares, Argentina

           Parque Nacional Los Glaciares is a national park in the Santa Cruz Province, in Argentine Patagonia. It comprises an area of 4459 km². The national park, created in 1937, is the 2nd largest in Argentina. Its name refers to the giant ice cap in the Andes range that feeds 47 large glaciers, of which only 13 flow towards the Atlantic Ocean. The ice cap is the largest outside of Antarctica and Greenland. In other parts of the world, glaciers start at a height of at least 2,500 meters above mean sea level, but due to the size of the ice cap, these glaciers begin at only 1,500 m, sliding down to 200 m, eroding the surface of the mountains that support them.
    Links: Top Ten Argentinian Attractions,,
  14. Huascaran National Park, Peru

           Huascarán National Park is a national park in the Cordillera Blanca, a range of the Andes, in Ancash of central Peru. The highest mountain in Peru is located in the park (also named Huascarán, reaching 6,768 meters high). This park is the habitat of the Puya raimondi, the Cougar, the Jaguar, the Llama, the Guanaco, the Marsh Deer, the Peruvian Tapir, the Peruvian Piedtail, a hummingbird species, and many kinds of ducks including the Southern Pochard.
    Links: Top Ten Peruvian Attractions,,
  15. Ischigualasto and Talampaya Natural Parks, Argentina

           Ischigualasto is a geological formation and a natural park associated with it in the province of San Juan, north-western Argentina, near the border with Chile. The Ischigualasto Provincial Park is located in the north-east of the province and its northern border is the Talampaya National Park, in La Rioja, both of which belong to the same geological formation. Talampaya National Park is a national park located in the east/centre of La Rioja Province, Argentina. The park covers an area of 2,150 square km (830 sq mi). Its purpose is to protect important archaeological and palaeontological sites found in the area. It has landscapes of great beauty, with flora and fauna typical of the mountain biome. The park is in a basin between the Cerro Los Colorados to the west and the Sierra de Sañagasta to the east. The landscape is the result of erosion by water and wind in a desert climate, with large ranges in temperature, high heat by day and low temperature at night, with torrential rain in summer and strong wind in spring. The park includes: The dry bed of the Talampaya River, where dinosaurs lived millions of years ago, numerous fossils have been found here; The Talampaya gorge and its rock formations with walls up to 143 meters (469 ft) high; The remains of indigenous peoples’ settlements, such as the petroglyphs of the Puerta del Cañón; A botanical garden of the local flora at the narrow point of the canyon; Regional fauna, including guanacos, hares, maras, foxes and condors.
    Links: Top Ten Argentinian Attractions,,
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