Chitwan means 'heart of the jungle' and it's an apt name indeed. Covering nearly 1,000 square kilometres of lush, steamy jungle and languid waterways, Nepal's flagship national park is home to over 50 species of mammal and a host of other rare creatures. The stars of the show are the endangered one-horned rhino, sloth bear, a variety of deer, wild oxen, crocodile and over 500 species of bird. Lurking deep in the jungle are Bengal tigers and leopards too, but you'd be exceptionally lucky to see them.
Obviously there's a lot more, this is just to get you started...
Chitwan was granted National Park status in 1973, and it's a real conservation success story. One-horned rhinos were on the verge of extinction, with some counts putting their number at less than 100, but these days there are over 600. A number have even been relocated to other National Parks in an attempt to reintroduce them there. You can explore the National Park's dense jungle and lush river network on foot, by canoe or by jeep. Dawn and dusk safaris are the order of the day, when the jungle comes alive with the calls of roosting birdlife, chirping insects and wildlife foraging for food.
Falling asleep with just a layer of canvas between you and the wilderness is a thrilling way to experience Chitwan National Park, and at the phenomenal Tiger Tops you can do just that. Located just on the outskirts of the park, this sustainable and memorable accommodation option is the only place we head for in Chitwan. Stay either in the lodge itself, in a cosy yet simple room, or opt for a safari tent and get the full wild experience. Interact with and watch a herd of rescued elephants go about their day, washing in the river and wandering through the jungle, with the mahoots and naturalists on hand to teach you more about these extraordinary animals.
Exploring the river systems of the Sauraha area in a traditional dugout canoe will give you the best chance of seeing crocodiles in the wild. Sit back and keep your eyes peeled as you leisurely float along the smooth waterways. In winter, crocs can often be seen sunning themselves on the mudflats and shoreline of the river. It’s worth mentioning that these canoe trips are quite popular so expect to be sharing the experience with other keen canoeists! For closer croc spotting, visit the park’s Crocodile Breeding Centre, where endangered gharial and marsh mugger crocodiles are bred and then released into the wild.
Taking an alternative approach to a classic Nepal combination, this journey contrasts the heady and hectic streets of Kathmandu with the open savannah of Chitwan National Park. Slow down to search for tigers and rhinos amid the wilderness, before strapping up your boots for a light trek between two atmospheric lodges in the Himalayan foothills around Pokhara.