National Parks and wildlife in Sri Lanka

Go on safari and get up-close to the diverse wildlife in Sri Lanka's national parks including leopards, elephants and sloth bears
Wilpattu National Park is a national park in Sri Lanka
© BT Images
By Time Out editors |
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Sri Lanka is a wild life hotspot with countless national parks and forest reserves. And if you happen to be here in the paradise island, an experience that you cannot miss is a visit to a national park. Safaris can be arranged from any hotel or you can simply hire one of the many safari jeeps to take a wild ride into a park to see, up close the many amazing beasts that roam the island. Yala National Park, well known to have the highest leopard densities in the world is a must in your travel itinerary while the Udawalawa National Park with its magnificent tuskers and elephants in large numbers will keep you on the edge of your seat. 

Bundala National Park
©BT Image
Attractions, Wildlife centres

Spot the bird!

With over 400 species of birds sighted in and around the island, Sri Lanka is recognised as a fantastic destination for bird watching. In addition to native birds, migratory birds arrive in flocks to escape the winters at home and bask in the warmer climate of tropical Sri Lanka. Birding can be enjoyed at national parks, the country’s vast water bodies, scattered forestry throughout the island, rural villages and even within the city itself. You need patience, good eyesight and a well-researched mind to spot an elusive bird roosting between the boughs of a tree. Make sure your camera equipment is ready to snap a photograph. To keep a low profile and watch the birds in their element make sure to wear clothing that blends in with the greenery, and maintain absolute silence. Sri Lanka contains a rich variety of habitats for birds, including wet evergreen forests, sub montane and montane forests, intermediate and dry forests, and scrub lands. As the topography of the island changes, while enjoying the transformation of the landscape, you can discover birds that are unique to a particular area. The following are some of the best avifauna destinations in Sri Lanka for avid birdwatchers and enthusiasts. While you are at it, you are sure to observe other species of animals and plants as well! National Parks and Sanctuaries across the island such as the Kalametiya Sanctuary, Rittigala and Gal Oya National Park or even the water bodies near the city such as Diyawanna Oya are other

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 Kumana National Park
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Attractions, Wildlife centres

Kumana National Park

Once known as Yala East National park, this naturally evergreen area situated in the district of Ampara was made into an independent wild life reserve fourteen years ago after being closed for an extensive period. Since then it has come to be considered one of the most important nesting and breeding grounds in the country with an awe inspiring 255 bird species having either been photographed or recorded there including a variety of rare species like the Black-necked stork and the Eurasian spoonbill. In addition to this Kumana National Park is also home to a large variety animals such as elephants, An elephant family On alert, a herd of deer, leopards, deer and mugger crocodiles. All wildlife at Kumana National Park as well as the extensive flora that grows there are supplied water by the Kumubukkan Oya that borders the western region of the park as well as 200 hectares mangrove swamp called Kumana Villu. The latter provides an excellent feeding and resting habitat to the various water birds that migrate to this place from April to July. The park also holds over 20 lagoons and man made tanks often used by the animals as watering holes. While not as well known as its neighbour Yala National Park, Kumana nevertheless provides its visitors with an authentic wildlife experience devoid of any artificiality. It is also a preferable spot for those who do not want to deal with large crowds. Kumana is the best place to observe animals in their natural habitat.

An important habitat for wildlife
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Things to do

Lunugamvehera National Park

icon-location-pin Hambantota

Lying between the districts of Hambantota and Moneragala, this park which is spread across a whopping 23,498 ha of area includes the Lunugumvehera and Weheregala reservoirs. Boasting a sizeable elephant population, the park connects the Yala and Udawalawe National Parks. Due to this it serves as a resting spot for elephants while they roam through these regions. However, the most commonly spotted animals are deer and wild boar as the elephants are more shy and tends to shun away from humans. However, if luck favours spotting elephants as well as as more elusive predators like leopards is also possible. The park has close to three hundred different types of birds, fishes, mammals and reptiles.

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A wildlife National Park in Tissamaharama
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Travel

Yala National Park

icon-location-pin Tissamaharama

Wild yet powerfully majestic, Yala National Park is leopard country and is believed to have the highest concentration of these apex predators on earth. If the thrill of a safari through the rugged, unmerciful bush sounds elephant enough, then here’s the call of the wild with its truest dose of candour.  Moving on to the other love of the wilderness, the Asian elephant – a presence of sheer valour –amongst species of indigenous and migratory birds, ingeniously solitary reptiles, the crocodiles of course steal the show, and endemic plant life, are only a sneak peek into what’s in store.   Alongside pockets of thick shrub there are expanses of barren terrain, and just beyond beckons the rush of the Indian Ocean. Yala National Park teems with as much fauna as there is flora, set within a land extent of over 370 square miles.  With two separate main entrance gates, Katagamuwa and Palatupana, the Park is easily accessible from 6am to 6pm from the city of Kataragama. The Park is closed from September to mid October every year.

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Udawalawe National Park

icon-location-pin Sooriyawewa

For the love of nature, for the love of those life-sized creatures that roam the scrublands of this considerable expanse of 119 square miles, Udawalawe National Park should not be missed.

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Bundala National Park

icon-location-pin Hambantota

Home to scrub jungle, wetlands, lagoons, salt pans, sand dunes and a long stretch of coast, Bundala National Park’s terrain is blessed with many faces of landscape in unison with unlimited yet protected fauna.  Known for its incredible spectacles of migratory birds, the Park is a great friend to bird enthusiasts from the world over.

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Horton Plains National Park

icon-location-pin Nuwara Eliya

Hiking, trekking, strolling… whichever you prefer, do it here. On this stretch of mountain plains over 2,000ft above sea level, mist shadows parade its panoramic foothills. But you can get to the Horton Plains before the mists.

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Kaudulla National Park

icon-location-pin Polonnaruwa

If bird watching and elephants are on your list of things-to-do, while in Sri Lanka, then Kaudulla National Park is the place to be. Here’s what to expect while on your safari adventure: the Kadulla Reservoir, the main prodigy for wildlife harmony; eagles such as the serpent eagle, grey headed fish eagle; blue tailed bee-eaters, little cormorants, grey herons, painted storks, the Asian open-bill, woolly necked storks… the list may go on for bird enthusiasts.

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Minneriya National Park

icon-location-pin Polonnaruwa

With just over 30 square miles, Minneriya National Park is a thrill-packed alternative to the more vast expanses of other wildlife sanctuaries.  Made of grasslands, thick scrub, and the wildlife that roam their particular territory, the Park is fed by its giant reservoir which is also its life-blood, especially in the dry months of June through September, which are the best times to visit. A diversity of animals roams within the vicinity of the reservoir, as food and water grow scarce elsewhere in the Park.

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