India is a land filled with natural wonders. Its national parks, wildlife sanctuaries and biosphere reserves have a wealth of biodiversity and many rare species of animals make their homes there. Famously, the endangered Bengal tiger is protected in many of India’s national parks and tiger reserves.
Visitors can experience the majesty of India’s forests, mountains and coasts and see its unique wildlife by visiting one of these protected areas.
Read on for our expert travel recommendations and the best places to spot the flora and fauna of India.
What Is the Difference Between a Wildlife Sanctuary and a National Park?
India has many regions where the local ecosystem is protected: national parks, wildlife sanctuaries, and biosphere reserves. All 3 aim to protect wildlife and offer visitors the chance to see rare animals.
Wildlife sanctuaries are established to protect particular species of animals, whereas national parks preserve the landscape and any historically or culturally significant monuments in addition to protecting the flora and fauna.
National parks are given a greater degree of protection, with human activity greatly restricted. Only certain areas can be visited and only activities permitted by the Chief Wildlife Warden of the state are allowed in the park. In wildlife sanctuaries, on the other hand, some human activity may be permitted, such as livestock grazing.
Biosphere reserves are larger areas, which may include one or more national park and/or wildlife sanctuary. These also protect human communities and their ways of life.
India’s Best National Parks and Wildlife Sanctuaries
There are over 100 national parks in India and over 500 wildlife sanctuaries, each with its own unique scenery and ecosystem. These include 50 tiger reserves managed by Project Tiger – a government-run conservation programme. Some of the most well-known and important are as follows.
Jim Corbett National Park
Jim Corbett National Park is the oldest national park in India. It is found in the foothills of the Himalayas in the northern state of Uttarakhand, around 5 hours’ drive from Delhi.
It was the first park under the Project Tiger initiative and is known for its tiger conservation efforts.
Herds of Indian elephants arrive at the park during the summer, while the following species make up the park’s other inhabitants:
It is named for the British naturalist, hunter and author Jim Corbett, who was a key figure in establishing the park as a protected area.
Jim Corbett National Park is the only Indian national park where tourists can stay the night in the jungle, thanks to its forest lodges.
Sariska National Park
Sariska National Park (also known as Sariska Tiger Reserve) is found in the Alwar district of the state of Rajasthan in northern India. It is around 4 hours’ drive from Delhi and 2 hours’ drive from Jaipur.
Part of Project Tiger since 1978, Sariska was upgraded to a national park in 1990. In addition to tigers, it is home to many animals, including the following species:
- Indian leopard
- Four-horned antelope
- Nilgai – a large, bull-like antelope.
Visitors to the park can also see the ruins of the medieval temples of Garh-Rajor, the hilltop Kankwari Fort, and Sariska Palace, formerly a royal hunting lodge belonging to the Maharaja.
Tourists can also go on camel safaris to explore the sand dunes of the Thar Desert.
Gir National Park
Gir National Park and Wildlife Sanctuary is located near Talala Gir in the state of Gujarat in western India. The closest major international airport is Mumbai, which has connecting flights to the closer airport at Diu. The park is around 2 hours’ drive from here.
Gir is significant in that it is the only place in the world where Asiatic lions are found. Smaller than their African cousins, these lions are endangered, with only a few hundred left in the wild, all of whom live in the dry scrub land and forests of Gir.
Tourists can take jeep safaris into the park to see the lions and other animals. Gir National Park is home to:
- Asiatic lions
- Mugger crocodiles
- Honey badgers
- Various kinds of deer and antelope
- Over 300 species of birds
The best time to visit Gir is between December and March, as April and May can be incredibly hot and the park is closed between June and October.
Kutch Desert Wildlife Sanctuary
Kutch Desert is the biggest wildlife sanctuary in India. It is found on the edge of the State of Gujarat in West India, with the international border with Pakistan forming the northern limits of the sanctuary. The nearest airports are in Bhuj and Ahmedabad.
Kutch Desert Wildlife Sanctuary is in an area called the Great Rann of Kutch. For much of the year, it is composed of saline desert, but during the summer monsoon, the mudflats fill with water, transforming them into wetlands.
A number of rare animal species can be found in the sanctuary, including:
- Greater and lesser flamingos
- Indian wild ass
- Chinkara (a species of gazelle)
An area of mudflats known as “Flamingo City” is renowned as a breeding ground for the pink birds, with millions flocking there every year.
Dandeli Wildlife Sanctuary
Situated in the south of India, Dandeli Wildlife Sanctuary forms part of the Kali Tiger Reserve along with the nearby Anshi National Park. Part of the sanctuary is also an elephant reserve.
Aside from tigers and elephants, the dense trees and bamboo of Dandeli are home to a plethora of animals, particularly birds.
Over 200 species have been recorded in the sanctuary, including:
- Great hornbill
- Indian sloth bear
- Mugger crocodile
- Leopard – Dandeli Wildlife Sanctuary is notable for its frequent sightings of black panthers.
The closest airport to Dandeli is Hubli Airport, which can be reached via domestic flights from Mumbai. You can also get to Hubli by rail from Delhi and Mumbai. The park is just over 2 hours’ drive from Hubli.
Chinnar Wildlife Sanctuary
From grasslands to forests to thorny scrub, Chinnar Wildlife Sanctuary boasts a varied landscape across its 90 km².
This protected region is found in Kerala State in South India and is under the jurisdiction of Eravikulam National Park, with which it shares a border. Chinnar is connected by road to the major towns and cities of Kerala, with Coimbatore Airport and Kochi Airport being the closest links by air.
Chinnar wildlife sanctuary has 963 species of flowering plant, 156 documented species of butterfly, and hundreds of other animal species. It also has a rehabilitation centre for the Indian star tortoise.
Places to see include:
- Thoovanam Waterfalls
- Chinnar and Pamber rivers
- Chinnar Watchtower
Kaziranga National Park
The famous Kaziranga National Park is a World Heritage Site. Located in the north-east of India, it contains 2/3 of the world’s population of great one-horned rhinoceroses (also known as Indian rhinoceroses).
In addition, it has one of the highest population densities of tigers in the world, as well as:
- Water buffalo
- Asian elephants
Hiking is prohibited in Kaziranga National Park.
Pench National Park
Pench National Park is an award-winning park located in the heart of India. Pench was a wildlife sanctuary from 1965 until 1975, when it was declared a national park; in 1992 it was also designated as a tiger reserve.
The area that is now Pench National Park is thought to have been the inspiration for Rudyard Kipling’s classic “The Jungle Book”. Wildlife native to the park include:
- Indian wolf
Tourists can find Pench in the central Indian State of Madhya Pradesh, in the southern Satpura Hills. The nearest airport is in Nagpur, while the closest city is Seoni.
The park can be explored by jeep safari.
Pench is closed to the public during July, August and September.
Manas National Park
Manas National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage site and biosphere reserve. It is set in the Himalayan foothills in the north-east of India, bordering Bhutan. The nearest airport is Lokpriya Gopinath Bordoloi International Airport in Guwahati.
Manas is well-known among nature enthusiasts for its relatively large population of wild water buffalo. It is both a tiger and elephant reserve and has a number of other rare or endangered species, such as:
- The pygmy hog
- Assam roofed turtle
- Golden langur
- Hispid hare
Bandipur National Park
The Bandipur National Park in Karnataka (South India) once belonged to the Maharaja of the Kingdom of Mysore, as his private hunting ground. Today, it is one of the leading tiger reserves under Project Tiger with all its wildlife protected.
Bandipur forms part of the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve, which is the largest habitat of wild elephants in southern Asia. It is known for its many species of butterfly. It is also home to:
- Sloth bears
- Indian rock pythons
- Mugger crocodiles
Mahatma Gandhi Marine National Park
Mahatma Gandhi Marine National Park is found far from mainland India in the Andaman Islands. The point of entry to the park is a small fishing village called Wandoor, which can be reached by bus or by driving from Port Blair.
The park was established in 1983 to protect marine life in the area, such as corals. Sea turtles are known to nest in great numbers on the islands.
Visitors can enjoy pristine beaches and explore the 17 islands that make up the park by boat. Popular tourist activities include:
- Scuba diving
- Tours by glass-bottom boat
- Ecotourism (on some of the islands)
Recommendations When Visiting India’s National Parks and Wildlife Sanctuaries
Keep the following advice in mind when planning a trip to visit India’s parks and sanctuaries:
- Many national parks and wildlife sanctuaries offer safari tours with a guide to take visitors deeper into the park. These may be in a jeep, on elephant-back or on foot
- Check the best time to visit India before booking a trip there, as the weather can be extreme and varies across the different regions.
- If you plan to drive to a national park or sanctuary, you will find our Guide to Driving in India particularly useful
- If you would rather get around by train, keep our Guide to Traveling Around India by Train at hand
- If you are visiting the country with your kids, make sure to check out our advice on traveling to India with children
- Keep plenty of water at hand to stay hydrated
- Use proper sunscreen and mosquito repellant if you are staying outdoors for extended periods of time
- Remember to speak with your healthcare practitioner about the vaccines you may need before traveling to India
Now that you know where to go to explore the natural beauty and see the unique wildlife this wonderful country has to offer, make sure you meet the necessary travel requirements to visit India.
Depending on your nationality, you may be eligible to apply for an Indian eVisa online, which would save you hours of waiting in line at the border upon your arrival.