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It’s scientifically proven: spending time in a forest is good for your health. Research shows that the fresh air produced from trees can boost the immune system, improve heart health, increase focus, and even speed up healing — which is why the practice of “forest bathing” has gained popularity in recent years. That effect can be even more dramatic when surrounded by old growth, the type of forests that have the longest and deepest history on the planet. The next time you want to surround yourself with the goodness of trees, try visiting one of the seven oldest forests in the world.
Kakamega Forest, Kenya
Kenya’s only lowland rainforest, the 15,000-year-old Kakamega Forest, covers approximately 77 square miles near Lake Victoria in the western part of the country. It’s difficult to get there and the bush is incredibly thick, which allows for the preservation of the hundreds of flora and fauna species found in the forest. There are more than 300 types of trees, 400 butterfly species, 27 types of snakes, and hundreds more monkeys, birds, and other animals. If you’ve ever wanted to see a giant forest hedgehog, this is the place. While Kakamega once covered nearly all of central Africa, it is now the only natural rainforest left in Kenya, and because the forest is self-sustaining, it’s an extremely fragile environment.
Réunion National Park
Since 2010, Réunion National Park has been listed on the UNESCO World Heritage List thanks to its landscape and biodiversity. The park covers 42% of Réunion Island (an overseas territory of France) and has cloud forests and subtropical rainforests dating back about 3 million years. The volcanic mountains of the park create three natural amphitheaters surrounded by peaks that last erupted around 16,000 years ago. Réunion National Park’s forests are teeming with endemic endangered species, including the Reunion cuckooshrike, the Barau’s petrel, the salamis augustina butterfly, and the Reunion Island day gecko.
Caspian Hyrcanian Mixed Forests, Azerbaijan and Iran
The Caspian Hyrcanian Mixed Forests ecoregion is a blend of lowland and montane forests that is approximately 40 million years old. It covers more than 21,000 square miles between the Elburz Mountains and the Caspian Sea in Iran and Azerbaijan. The forest’s humid semi-subtropical climate is unique, allowing for robust plant life and bigger trees than what’s typical around Europe. Some of the tree species are also endemic to the region, like the Caspian locust tree and the Persian silk tree. Native wildlife is abundant, from endangered Persian leopards to wild pigs, salamanders, wolves, bears, and field mice.
Though it's about 55 million years old, the Amazon isn’t the world’s oldest forest — but it is the world’s largest rainforest. It covers more than two million square miles across eight South American countries: Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Guyana, and Suriname. Winding through the forest is the massive Amazon River, stretching 4,101 miles out to the Atlantic Ocean. At least 10% of all the biodiversity in the world is found in the Amazon, including the largest amount of species of freshwater fish anywhere on Earth. More than 30 million people live in the forest, too. The Amazon is often referred to as “the lungs of the planet,” because it’s estimated that it provides about 20% of the oxygen in the world.
Taman Negara, Malaysia
Taman Negara, which translates literally to “national park” in Malay, is an ancient rainforest dating back about 130 million years. It stretches across three states in peninsular Malaysia, covering nearly 1,677 square miles. Malaysia’s highest mountain, Gunung Tahan, is in the northwest part of the rainforest. (Visitors can hike a 32-mile trail to reach it.). The forest is home to a wide array of species, including corpse flowers, butterflies, fungi, and deer. There are also nomadic Indigenous tribes that have never left the forest known as Orang Asli, which translates to “original people.” The Orang Asli move to new land in Taman Negara every three to five years, searching for more fertile ground and allowing their old home to regenerate.
Borneo Lowland Rainforest
At one time, the 130-million-year-old Borneo Lowland Rainforest covered the entire island of Borneo, the third-largest island in the world. Today, only about 50% of the rainforest remains. What’s still there, however, is incredibly diverse. Because the island has been separated from the mainland for thousands of years, the plant and animal life have followed their own evolutionary paths. That means the rainforest is home to many endemic species, such as the Bornean orangutan, pygmy elephant, eight species of hornbill bird, the Sunda clouded leopard, and more than 15,000 plant species. Below the multi-layered canopy, which can reach over 200 feet tall, there are orchids, ferns, and the world’s largest flower, the Rafflesia arnoldii — which also happens to be parasitic.
Daintree Rainforest, Australia
At approximately 180 million years old, the Daintree Rainforest is the world’s oldest forest. It’s also the largest rainforest in Australia, covering 463 square miles on the coast of Queensland, in the northeast corner of the country. Diversity in the Daintree Rainforest isn’t just relegated to the landscape — a mixture of mountains, gorges, and waterfalls — but the flora and fauna are just as varied. Thousands of species live here — 12,000 types of insects; 18% of all the bird species in Australia; one-third of the frog, reptile, and marsupial species; and 65% of the butterfly and bat species. Plus, the rainforest has the highest concentration of rare and endangered plants and animals worldwide. In 1988, the Daintree was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List for its remarkable history and biodiversity.