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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The Dhorpatan Hunting Reserve is the only reserve of its kind in Nepal. Despite its name, travellers who would rather look at the animal and bird life than hunt it can also find plenty of interest here. The rare and difficult-to-spot snow leopard can be found here, as can musk deer, blue sheep, red pandas, numerous types of pheasant and other birds. Dhorpatan is located to the west of the Dhaulagiri Range of the Himalaya. It’s uniformly high-altitude, ranging from around 2,800 metres to 5,500 metres.
The Sagarmatha National Park is where Mount Everest is located. Sagarmatha is the Nepali name for Everest (although the local Sherpa name is Chomolangma). But, the mother of all mountains is not the only attraction of this national park by a long way. Others include fascinating Sherpa culture in towns like Namche Bazaar and at remote monasteries; rare wildlife such as the danphe (the national bird of Nepal); the ever-popular Everest Base Camp trek and other lesser-visit alternatives; and several other very high peaks above 6,000 metres like Lhotse, Cho Oyu, Thamserku, Nuptse, Amadablam and Pumori.
The Langtang National Park is located north-east of Kathmandu and it is a great place for trekking and enjoying the mountains and nature. It was one of the worst-affected regions during the 2015 earthquakes in Nepal, but infrastructure is being repaired and travellers are returning. Attractions include views of the Langtang Range, as well as mountains just over the border in Tibet, blooming rhododendron forests in the spring, Tamang culture and the high-altitude Gosainkunda Lake, which is a pilgrimage site.
This national park is located in western Nepal. Its main attraction is the beautiful Rara Lake, a high-altitude lake at 2,990 metres and the largest lake in Nepal. It’s surrounded by beautiful mountains and is a great place to go trekking, although the west of the country, in general, doesn’t get very many visitors due to accessibility.
This wildlife reserve in south-eastern Nepal is located in the floodplain of the Sapta Koshi River. It is rich in bird life; the 485 species found here live in and around the mud flats, reed beds and freshwater marshes. The Koshi Tappu Wildlife Reserve is very close to the border with India, so it has a North Indian-type climate – that is, very hot for much of the year!