Thursday, 9 December 2010

The World's Most Pristine Forests

Santa Elena and Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserves, Costa Rica


After scientist George Powell’s initial purchase of 810 acres in 1972, this protected area now covers almost 30,000 acres. Here, it’s cloud mist, rather than rain, that creates the moist climate. You’ll find more than 30 varieties of hummingbird, as well as the exotically named (and outrageously plumed) resplendent quetzal. How to Go: Stay at Arenal Observatory Lodge, a Smithsonian research station with commanding views of the Arenal Volcano, as a part of tour outfitter Country Walkers’ eight-day sojourn.

Central Amazon, Brazil and Peru

Central Amazon, Brazil and Peru

At the heart of the vast Amazon basin is a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve that’s considered to contain the greatest diversity of animals on earth; one in 10 known species on earth live here. This ecological Eden, covering 1.7 billion acres, is home to 30-foot-long green anacondas, freshwater dolphins, and catfish that live on land and breathe air. How to Go: Head deep into the Pacaya Samiria Reserve on a five-day Travcoa custom itinerary, part of it spent aboard the m/v Aqua, the first true luxury ship to cruise the northern Amazon. Activities include seeking out giant river otters and fishing for piranha.

Ulu Segama-Malua Reserve, Malaysia


They’re home to 3,000 orangutans, but the pristine forests of Ulu Segama-Malua are under intense pressure. Ironically, much of the land is being cleared to farm palm oil, a key ingredient in biofuel. How to Go: Visitors can explore this challenging region on an Abercrombie & Kent custom itinerary; don’t miss a suggested side trip into Sepilok Forest Reserve to see the feeding of orphaned orangutans at the Orangutan Rehabilitation Center.

Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, California

Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, California

The rugged canyons and peaks of Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, centered around the Sierra Nevada of eastern California, harbor a vast array of ecosystems. Mount Whitney’s 14,491-foot peak is the highest in the lower 48. The namesake giant trees are the star attractions, but the cave system is equally important: the park contains half of all the significant caves in California. How to Go: Make arrangements at Wuksachi Lodge or John Muir Lodge and if you’re brave, take a six-hour wild cave tour, where budding guest spelunkers learn cave-crawling etiquette in total darkness.

Primorsky Kray, Russia

Primorsky Kray, Russia

These cool-climate boreal forests, stretching from Finland in the west to the maritime province of Primorsky Kray (bordering the Japan Sea) in the east, hold the title as the largest ecosystem on earth. The bucolic Primorsky Kray is the most intact region accessible to tourists; more than 80 percent of the forest remains. How to Go: Local outfit Mirabel Tours conducts adventure and birding trips to see the lily-strewn lakes of Khankaisky State Nature Reserve and the mink population of the Far Eastern Marine Reserve, an archipelago that has the honor of being Russia’s only marine reserve.

Daintree National Park, Australia

Daintree National Park, Australia

At 160 million years old, this UNESCO World Heritage–listed spot in Oz’s far northeast region is one of the oldest undisturbed forest ecosystems on earth. It’s also a birder’s paradise—more than 430 avian species live in the forest, including 13 found nowhere else on Earth. And it’s home to the weird and wonderful peppermint stick insect: colored like candy, the creature creates a peppermint aroma to ward off predators. The Maardja Boardwalk (an easy stroll even for a lethargic walker) displays the transition from freshwater rainforest to saltwater mangroves. How to Go: Asia Transpacific guests stay at Daintree Eco Lodge, a luxury treehouse set high in the canopy.

Denali National Park and Beyond, Alaska and Canada


The northern boreal forests occupy great swaths of land from Alaska’s dramatic Denali National Park all the way to the Wood Buffalo National Park in Alberta, Canada (at 17,000 square miles, it’s the largest national park in the country). How to Go: Country Walkers’ six-day trek aims to give visitors an experience from every angle: from the ground (hiking), from the air, and from a train. Bed down at North Face Lodge with spectacular views of six major peaks of the Alaska Range.

Upper Paraná Atlantic Forest, Argentina, Paraguay, and Brazil

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The Upper Paraná originally measured 182,000 square miles, but with only 7.4 percent of pristine area remaining, it’s now one of the most endangered rainforests on earth. More than 90 percent of amphibians and 50 percent of plants found there are unique to the area, and according to the World Wildlife Fund, it’s an outstanding ecoregion that represents a complete range of the planet’s freshwater and saltwater habitats. But it’s also home to more than 25 million people, making it one of the most accessible—and threatened—intact forests. How to Go: An overland adventure from Buenos Aires to Rio de Janeiro with Intrepid Travel takes in marvels like Iguazu Falls and the Pantanal wetlands.

Kayan Mentarang National Park, Indonesia

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Kayan Mentarang, on the verdant island of Borneo, is one of the last remaining homes to the rhinoceros hornbill and strange primates like proboscis and leaf monkeys. The big draws for tourists (and poachers) are the adorably petite Sumatran rhino and the Borneo pygmy elephant. How to Go: Asia Transpacific suggests a six-day itinerary beginning at the village of Long Layu. Local Dayak tribes still live in communal dwellings and guests do, too, as there is no accommodation in the park.

Clayoquot Sound, Canada


Coastal temperate rainforest is one of the rarest varieties of forest (covering less that 0.2 percent of the earth’s land area) but is found in abundance in the UNESCO Biosphere Reserve of Clayoquot Sound in British Columbia, managed by the First Nations people. A moderate climate and high rainfall (up to 29.5 feet in record years) encourage trees to grow to heights of more than 400 feet. How to Go: Open from mid-May until the end of September, Clayoquot Wilderness Resort is a super-luxurious tented base camp for adventure-lovers who like horseback riding, kayaking, rock climbing, and surfing, with only the occasional grizzly for company.


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