National Parks in Sri Lanka

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National Parks & Wildlife in Sri Lanka

Just 600km from the equator, Sri Lanka is a tropical haven for rare, indigenous as well as endemic fauna and flora. As testified by the list of national parks in Sri Lanka below, the small island has many conservation areas for birds, marine life as well as wildlife sanctuaries.

You can organize many types of tours and safari’s (including boat safari’s to the marine parks) to most of these areas as well as camping in the wild as part of the local eco tourism initiatives. These national parks are teeming with birds and wildlife such as the indigenous leopard, elephant, bear, wild hog and cheeky monkeys. One of the most important messages that we can leave with you is that you keep the parks as untouched as you found them. Your footprint must never show while you track the wild animals that these tropical habitats shelter.

Bundala National Park

Bundala National Park - Although constantly overlooked because of its more famous neighbor the Yala National Park, Bundala National Park is a treasure trove of over 200 birds (mostly migrating from Siberia and India), a small population of around 50 elephants, and lots of snappy crocodiles. The best time to visit this national park is between December and March, but really, there is so much happening here even during off peak season.

Interestingly, between the months of October and January, four species of marine turtle ( green, olive ridley, loggerhead and leatherback) travel to this location to lay their eggs on the coast.
For travelers, remember there is no accommodation available in the park itself, so you will have to stay in Tissamaharama.

Gal Oya National Park

Gal Oya National Park -Considered a major eco tourism venue, Gal Oya National Park’s most popular feature are the boat safaris that take visitors on a tour of the tiny islands that dot the sanctuary. The park is situated in the South East of Sri Lanka and to the West of the town of Ampara. The lush 25,900 hectare park has approximately 32 species of mammals which include the toque macaque, leopards, elephant, wild boar and 3 species of deer. Gal Oya National Park also accommodates jeep safaris – currently it has two jeep tracks that lead to two different camp sites fairly close to the park.

Hikkaduwa National Park

Hikkaduwa National Park - One of two marine national parks in Sri Lanka, the park includes a fringing coral reef with a high level of biodiversity. Glass bottomed boats are available for rental, but we recommend snorkeling as the best way to see the full extent of the gorgeous coral reef. You can rent gear for under Rs.1000 (less than US$10) for the entire day. Check at the National Park Ticket Office for details.

Horton Plains National Park

Horton Plains National Park – ‘Hortain Plains’ as it is commonly known, is situated in the Central Region of Sri Lanka. The plains plateau is at a respectable altitude of 2,100–2,300 metres (6,900–7,500 ft) above sea level. The national park is rich biodiversity and many species of fauna and flora found here are in fact very common to the region while some are only found strictly within the park. The area is very popular with local and international visitors and is a great one-day hike while on the way to Nuwara Eliya which is approx. 32km away. It is also the destination of many who travel to the Ohiya Gap/Dondra Watch on their way to ‘Worlds End’ that lies just 6km away (still within the park).

Worlds End plunges 880m and is the purveyor of breathtaking views. A note to hikers is that you would ideally want to be at Worlds End before noon as later the views can get buried in mist. We would recommend the best time for the hike to Worlds End as between January to March.
Another attraction is the gorgeous Bakers Falls that is on route to the precipice of Worlds End.

Kadulla National Park

Kadulla National Park – This park has successfully created a 6,656 hectare elephant corridor that runs between the Somawathiya Chaitiya National Park and the well known Minneriya National Park. Standing on the border of the ancient Kaudulla Tank, it is 6km off the Habarana–Trincomalee highway and is already a popular safari tour as this is an excellent opportunity of encountering elephants as they make their way to Minneriya. There is also a catamaran that is made available for boat rides on the tank. Towards the month of October there are usually around 250 elephants in the park, including herds of rambunctious juvenile males. The park is also home to fishing cats, leopards, sambar deer and endangered rusty spotted cats. You may also occasionally spot a sloth bear.
We recommend the best time to visit Kadulla National Park is from August to December.

Kumana National Park

Kumana National Park – Kumana National Park is the place for you if you love birdwatching, safari’s, camping and encounters with noisy bird-of-paradise. Interestingly, Kumana was formally known as Yala East National Park, as it is adjacent to the Park but changed its name in 2006. A location that seems to have thrived solely to delight birdwatchers, this is a ‘must see’ for any ornithologist and budding birdwatcher.

Minneriya National Park

Minneriya National Park – Minneriya National Park has proved to be a very popular destination for photographers, pachyderms and birds alike. While the Minneriya Tank is worth a look at since it was built in the 3rd Century AD by King Mahasen, the park mainly draws many interested visitors as it is the feeding grounds for hundreds of elephants during the dry season. These elephants travel towards the tank in Minneriya from as far away as Trincomalee, Polonnaruwa and Matale. Look out for ‘The Gathering’ as it is popularly known during the months of July to October.

Apart from the elephant convention taking place in Minneriya, you can also observe many types of bird, (it is one of 70 IBA’s – Important Bird Areas in Sri Lanka), as well as one of the areas that the Gray Slender Loris is reportedly found. In addion to these, you may also spot the Sri Lankan axis deer and sambar deer as well as the Sri Lankan leopard.

Pigeon Island National Park

Pigeon Island National Park – Pigeon Island derived its name from the flock of rock pigeon that have made themselves at home on the two islands. Consisting of a two islands that are imaginatively named as Small and Large Island, it is one of two marine national parks on the island of Sri Lanka.

If you are a coral enthusiast who wants to snorkel and scuba dive to your heart’s content and just enjoy the natural beauty of a quiet setting, then this is the ideal spot for you. If you find yourself nodding off a little too often, you may want to chase after some excitement in the form of a deep sea dive.

Sinharaja Forest Reserve

Sinharaja Forest Reserve – The words, ‘rainforest, elephants, forest and nature’, pretty much describes this reserve to a tee. Sinharaja is at the heart of the islands wet zone and was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site back in 1989.

Jealously guarded by its excellent park and freelance guides who seem immune to its multitude of leeches, the reserve can only be navigated by foot. All of this is however worth it as you will see a truly impressive array of birds, plants and animals.

Somawathiya National Park

Somawathiya National Park – The Somawathiya National Park is important not only for its flora and fauna, but also for its deep rooted cultural and religious significance. While it is known to be one of four national parks assigned to the Mahaweli River Development Project, there is also a stupa named Somawathiya Chaitya that is said to contain a tooth relic of the Buddha within the park.

Located nearly 266km North East of Colombo, this park is also home to many animals and unusual flora.

Udawalawe National Park

Udawalawe National Park – If you are interested in observing big game, then this is the park for you. The park, centres on the 308.2-sq-km Uda Walawe Reservoir but has none of the lush greenery and foliage rampant in other local reserves and hence makes it an ideal spot to spy on herds of elephant, leopards, wild buffalo and sambar deer. The park entrance is approx 12km from the Ratnapura-Hambantota Road turn off, and you can buy entrance tickets from a little administration building around 2km further down the road. Tehre are many safari jeeps outside the park who will offer you a good deal for upto a group of eight per jeep. The last tour begins at 5pm. A bonus park guide is also included in the cost of admission and they seem to have radar as to where the wildlife are located.

There are lots of crocodile in the park, and also sloth bears, mongoose and jackals. Teaming with 210 species of bird life and around 30 varieties of snake (a herpetalogists heaven), this is one park in Sri Lanka you must not miss.

Wasgamuwa National Park

Wasgamuwa National Park - Wasgamuwa National Park is 225km away from Colombo and is situated in the Matale and Polonnaruwa Districts. It was originally demarcated to be used as a sanctuary for wild animals that were displaced by the Mahaweli Development Project in 1984 and has the distinction of being one of four National Parks in Sri Lanka designated as a nature reserve in the mid 1930’s.

Wasgamuwa is a protected area where large herds of wild elephants can be observed in their natural habitat. seen in large herds. It was also declared an IBA (Important Bird Area)in Sri Lanka. Interestingly, the name “Wasgamuwa” was derived from the words “Walas” (meaning sloth bear) and “Gamuwa” meaning “woods”

Wilpattu National Park

Wilpattu National Park – ‘Wil Pattu’ or “Land of Lakes” is based on the rather unique feature of this park, which is a collection of natural lakes that fill with rainwater. Around 30km West of the Sacred City of Anuradhapura, the land mass ranges from 0 – 150m meters above sea level.

The leopard population in Wilpattu is so far unknown and it is second only to Yala National Park in terms of sightings. The great thing about this park is that it is far less denser in terms of safari’s and visitors so you will be able to have that genuine feeling of being out there among the wildness of nature, without a lot of human-made hullabaloo.

While famous for its birds, flora and fauna, Wilpattu is also a place of historical significance. It is said in the Mahavamsa (or Great Chronical that has information regarding the Kings of Sri Lanka), that in 543 BC Indian Prince Vijaya was fleeing India and landed in a spot he called ‘Tambapanni’- which is present-day Kudrimalai Point (Horse Point). In short, Prince Vijaya then married a local maiden named Kuweni and they were the biological founders of the Sinhala nation.

Yala National Park

Yala National Park – With many camping sites allowed on the buffer of the National Park, this is a must visit location in Sri Lanka. The Park consists of five blocks, two of which are currently opened to the public. Ironically the park was used as a hunting ground in the early years under British rule, but thankfully has now reverted to a 100% protected habitat for the densest population of leopard in the world.

Yala National Park is now home to 44 varieties of mammal and around 215 species of bird ( at last count). There are also large numbers of elephants, sambar, sloth bears, jackals, peacock, crocodiles and spotted deer.

The water levels of the Park sinks rather low during the months between February to July and this is the best time to take a jeep safari (morning or evening) or go luxury camping or rustic camping on allocated areas on the perimeter of the park. The only downside to all of this is that this National Park is madly popular and there may be a bit of a rush when it comes to safari’s and wildlife who seem to strike a pose and stare impudently at you unblinking as you take picture after picture of them.


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