12 March 2019
Which is the best national park in Sri Lanka to visit for a wildlife safari?
Recent excitement about travel to Sri Lanka is not at all a surprise. Sri Lanka offers visitors fascinating culture and heritage, as well as beautiful landscapes and a range of wildlife experiences. Expect picturesque landscapes and scenery, accommodation from quaint to ultra-luxurious, history and world heritage locations that make you wonder long after you have returned home how incredible this island is, and of course the food – delicious!
With so much to see and experience in Sri Lanka it’s hard to know where to start when you are planning a holiday in Sri Lanka. Whether you are a wildlife enthusiast and looking for a custom made wildlife tour to Sri Lanka, simply want to visit one of Sri Lanka’s top national parks or add one or two safaris to your Sri Lankan holiday, deciding where to go and what to see can be daunting.
So which is the best national park for you – is it Yala National Park in Sri Lanka, or do you want a more down-to-earth wildlife experience in Sri Lanka?
Our team of experienced Sri Lanka tour planners includes a wildlife expert with years working in the field in Sri Lanka. Here are some of our tips for finding the best safari in Sri Lanka and wildlife experience for your tour in Sri Lanka.
8 important things to considering in selecting a wildlife tour in Sri Lanka based on our first-hand experience.
#1 Decide what you want to see
Sri Lanka may be a small country and a tiny island in the Indian Ocean, but it is not possible to see it all in one go. The traffic and the general terrain can make travelling distances long. For example, 100 km can take 4-5 hours on some of the busy main roads. So, you need to decide what you want to see and be realistic about what you can fit in during the time you have. Here are some of the things you should be asking yourself:
- Are you on the lookout for that elusive leopard in Sri Lanka?
- Or are you keen to get a general glimpse of what Sri Lanka has in its wilderness?
- Are you a bird watcher and you want to explore the wetlands of Sri Lanka?
- Or would you like to include a wildlife experience during a general introduction to Sri Lanka – such as our Classic Sri Lanka suggested itinerary?
#2 Which are the best places to include a wildlife experience or safari in Sri Lankan during a general tour
Many first-time travellers want to incorporate a wildlife activity or two in between other interesting places and general sightseeing in Sri Lanka. Some of the best Sri Lankan wildlife experiences in this case would be:
1. Wilpattu National Park
This is the largest national park in Sri Lanka and the closest to the international airport. You can ease your travel weariness by staying in Colombo or Negombo (a little coastal town at the neck of the airport) when you arrive (most flights from Australia arrive late at night) and travel to Wilpattu National Park the following day. The journey takes roughly 3 hours through a couple of busy towns and silent roads. Quite picturesque!
Wilpattu National Park is the home for Sri Lanka’s Big 3 – the elusive leopard, the very slow sloth bear and the Sri Lankan Elephant. A full day Safari may be a good option for you to witness if not all but least a couple in their natural habitat. Wilpattu is also home to beautiful inland and salt lakes that provide homes to a huge variety of birds.
Wilpattu National Park should be a top pick!
2. Udawalawe National Park
The home of Sri Lankan Elephants and a park that boasts of a huge number of bird species from endemic to migratory. This perhaps is the only park in the world that can guarantee a sighting of an elephant on every safari. It also creates a fabulous platform for migratory birds. Months between November and April are quite spectacular as the park fills up with migratory birds. It is amazing to see blue tail bee-eaters in action; they almost look like detectives in sunshades on sitting on dried up branches.
3. Yala National Park
Sprawled in the southern coast of Sri Lanka lies Yala National Park. If you are trying to go to Yala from the airport, we certainly won’t recommend it – the traffic can make it a 6-to-7 hour tiring journey. So, it’s best you add this on to your tour towards the latter part, may be just before a beach stay.
Yala attracts a big crowd and there is definitely over patronage and over tourism. However, this is probably the best place in the world to see the leopard in its natural habitat. This is because of the high density of leopard population due to almost perfect feeding and breeding grounds. And what more, some of them have turned into quite the performer and less elusive.
Note: make sure you select an accommodation that provides qualified guides and good quality safari jeeps – the roads can get tough and respectful viewing of wildlife should be your No 1 goal.
How can you find the best wildlife experiences and best safari in Sri Lanka? Here are some tips to help you decide which national park to visit during a private tour in Sri Lanka so that you get the most from your holiday
#3 Are you looking for a more private wildlife experience in Sri Lanka?
If the crowds of Yala aren’t for you – and you’d like a more authentic wildlife experience that’s off the main circuit travelled in Sri Lanka here are our top two picks!
- Gal Oya National Park
Surrounded by a huge reservoir Gal Oya National park is a lesser-visited but a must-see place. The speciality of this park is that in addition to the jeep safaris, it’s the only place in Sri Lanka where you can take a boat safari. Seeing elephants swim gently from one rocky island to another is an out of the world experience. What more, you can sit on the banks of the reservoir and treat yourself with a scrumptious picnic and watch the elephants gently feeding in a not so far distance. Best to visit from Sigiriya or Kandy during mid tour. At Gal Oya we love to include a stay at Gal Oya Lodge. Gal Oya and a stay at Gal Oya Lodge features is our upcoming hosted group tour for women travellers – Sri Lankan Discovery. You can see more details about this tour here.
- Kumana National Park
This is one of our favourites. Kumana National Park joins up with Yala National Park on the boundaries, however access is from the eastern coast of Sri Lanka – the nearest town being Arugam Bay. Kumana is the land of the elusive leopard who has no boundaries and your viewing of this beautiful feline is almost always exclusive should you be fortunate enough to spot one. You can see them in the pure joy of privacy as if it’s a special display for you only!
The park is widely famous for bird life due to the unusual wetland and has been home to many migratory birds. A vast array of birds from whistling ducks to spoon bills to Grey Herons to Cormorants beautify the wetland. A rare encounter of the black neck stork makes it even more exciting.
Head east and make a visit to this amazing park. Our suggested itineraries Backroads of Sri Lanka or Active Sri Lanka can be adjusted to include both these wildlife experiences. To get to Sri Lanka’s east coast we can also include a scheduled domestic flight, which can cut long travel times if you want to go directly from Colombo. Ask us about domestic flights within Sri Lanka.
#4 Avoid trying to see and do too much
Something to think about when looking at your itinerary – consider taking breaks in between key wildlife destinations.
The roads can get crowded and you may get caught with unexpected traffic. The humidity and the heat may not help especially when you travel in most parts of the island. So don’t rush, keep plenty of time in between to rest and relax and immersive yourself in the moment without trying to tick off a list. Consider adding a stop or two at small destinations or destination hotels just to take time to rest and enjoy your holiday in Sri Lanka. Don’t just rush between national parks!
#5 Consider how you travel
Are you travelling as a family with young kids, or are you travelling as a couple or as a group of friends? Do you like busy days full of activities with little leisure time, or do you like to have time to relax, explore a place on your own or enjoy your hotel facilities? We know that each traveller is different and we take into account all your needs such as pace of travel, budget, who you are travelling with and what you want to see when we design a custom made itinerary for you. Our suggested itineraries page may give you some ideas on where to start planning your tour in Sri Lanka, or you can contact us today to find about more about getting a unique holiday tailored to your needs.
#6 Your level of endurance
Although safaris are done in jeeps, continuously travelling on non-smooth terrains can make you rather tired. The heat and the humidity add to that, plus the early starts each day for wildlife safaris. So decide in advance how keen you are to see Sri Lanka’s wildlife and how much time you can dedicate to jeep safaris. We would recommend a minimum of two days per location. Plus keep yourself hydrated, use sunscreen and insect repellent.
#7 Make sure you have qualified guides
Qualified naturalists and guides can make the difference to your wildlife experience. Don’t assume that this would be given always. It’s a service you may have to pay for and planning ahead really helps. Our preferred hotels and safari operators provide expert naturalist and guides.
#8 Accommodation matters
Another important aspect to consider is what are the best places to stay to visit Sri Lanka’s national parks and join a wildlife tour, such as a leopard safari in Sri Lanka. You may have many choices in some of the popular parks and few nearby with regard to the less explored parks. However considering what you really want of your stay, for instance sheer indulgence with a luxury stay in the wild or just comfortable accommodation close to the park, are aspects for you to consider.
We hope these tips on getting the most from your holiday in Sri Lanka and choosing the best wildlife experience in Sri Lanka are helpful. To speak to one of our senior Sri Lanka tour planners contact as at firstname.lastname@example.org or call toll free from anywhere in Australia on 1300 449 709.
Our suggested itinerary 17-day wildlife focused tour – Wildlife of Sri Lanka – is a great starting point for inspiration on the best national parks in Sri Lanka to visit. We can also design a custom made itinerary for you to include any of the suggestions in this travel blog, as well some of the other must see places in Sri Lanka.
You may like to read our other Sri Lanka travel blogs:
#Top beaches of Sri Lanka – which is the best beach for your Sri Lankan holiday?
# Top 10 places to visit in Sri Lanka in 2019
# 6 of the best luxury hotels in Sri Lanka to splurge on