4 wildlife experiences not to be missed
Although small, Sri Lanka boasts a diverse range of flora and fauna. The many national parks and reserves that make up the island differ greatly in terms of size and wildlife. Many of you would have heard of Yala, arguably Sri Lanka’s most well-known national park, but there are many different national parks and protected areas on this island from the ocean right up to the hills of the tea country. This list is not exhaustive. Sri Lanka offers endless opportunities to see wildlife and get close to nature. However, we have picked these five based on accessibility, availability of accommodation nearby, and the diversity of wildlife that can be found there.
Yala National Park
About Yala: One of the biggest, most illustrious, and most frequently visited national park in Sri Lanka, Yala can have a reputation for being too crowded, too touristy and lacking in conservation regulations. However, with the right tour provider, you can avoid the crowds and still get a unique eco-friendly wildlife experience.
Notable inhabitants: leopards, sloth bears, diverse birdlife, sambar deer, mongoose – you name it, Yala has it all.
Where to stay?: Noel Rodrigo’s Leopard Safaris, Kulu Safaris, Ceylon Wild Safaris and Leopard Trails offer superb luxury tented camping options with jeep safaris into the park included. This unique camping experience is hands-down the best way to see Yala. Staying on the border of the park and dining under the stars is an unforgettable experience. It’s great for anyone looking to add a little adventure to their trip.
Pigeon Island National Park
About Pigeon Island: Of Sri Lanka’s two marine national parks, Pigeon Island on the east coast just near Trincomalee is certainly the more preserved of the two owing to years of being off-limits due to the civil war. The island itself is a mere 200m long, but it is fringed with colourful coral reef that acts as home to a wide range of vertebrates and invertebrates. It makes a great site for scuba diving, but snorkeling is also popular here in the shallows.
Notable inhabitants: Black tip reef sharks, octopus, giant moray eels, Olive Ridley turtle, green turtle, clownfish, and a wealth of multicoloured tropical fish.
Where to stay?: It is not possible to stay on the island itself, but there are some good accommodation options on the mainland from where you can catch a boat out to the island. Our personal favourite place to stay in Trinco is Jungle Beach. This stylish retreat offers a unique beach experience that is immersed in nature.
Wilpattu National Park
About Wilpattu: Once off-limits during the civil war, Wilpattu has been beautifully preserved, receives much less tourism than other parks and is actually Sri Lanka’s largest national park. Wilpattu is often compared to Yala given their similar size and diverse range of wildlife. However, Wilpattu is notably much greener than Yala with forests and lakes making up a large part of it.
Notable inhabitants: The many lakes and sand-rimmed water basins attract a wide range of aquatic birds. Wilpattu is also a great place for spotting leopards and sloth bears.
Where to stay?: Similar to Yala, Leopard Safaris, Kulu Safaris and Leopard Trails offer luxury tented camping options with jeep safaris into the park included.
Gal Oya National Park
About Gal Oya: The picturesque Gal Oya nature reserve doesn’t get the recognition it deserves. This beautiful national park is home to a large elephant herd that can often be seen swimming across the reservoir, best viewed by boat safari. In fact, Gal Oya is the only national park on the island where you can view swimming elephants. It’s a breathtaking experience.
Notable inhabitants: Most people come to Gal Oya for the elephants, but there’s much more in the park. Expect a vast array of aquatic birdlife, wild boar, sambar and axis deer, among other things.
Where to stay?: The Gal Oya Lodge is the definition of eco luxury and is THE place to stay when visiting Gal Oya. The lodge overlooks the stunning surroundings of the national park and is the ideal base to enjoy a boat safari, take a walk through the forest with some of Sri Lanka’s indigenous people (the Veddas), or just relax and soak up the tranquil beauty of this part of the island. Get ready to fall in love with this unique property.