Kumana National Park is by far is one of the most beautiful national parks, situated in the eastern coast of Sri Lanka. Its unique mix of vegetation consisting of wetlands and dry forests is the ideal habitat for birds and mammals alike. Less-explored and lesser-visited, this is a park where sightings are private and intimate thus inviting serious wildlife enthusiasts.
Previously known as Yala East National Park, this park occupies 35,660 hectares on the eastern coast of Sri Lanka and remains a less-known and less-visited park. Although renamed, it remains contiguous with Yala National Park. The entrance to this park is on its northern border, accessible only from the east coast. Arugam Bay, a small coastal town known for its surf breaks, is the closest town to the park. This isolation is the main reason it attracts less visitors despite the abundant wildlife with almost always private viewing. Travellers to this park are mostly birders and serious wildlife enthusiasts along with ad-hoc travellers/surfers who stay in Arugam Bay. Such quietness makes this park special with undisturbed wildlife and other places of interest to explore. South of the park is bordered by a small river and on to the east is the Indian ocean. This unique topography of a wetland area surrounded by dry zone thorn forest, with over 20 lagoons and manmade tanks makes Kumana National Park special.
The lagoons inside the park are inundated from time to time with sea water. They are shallow and a great feeding grounds for birds. Birds are not the only feeders. You will often find elephants submerged and feeding on the marshy swamps and the occasional appearances of golden jackals, wild boar and the more elusive fishing cats. The swamps are also the favourite places for mugger crocodiles. This is one of the most important nesting and breeding grounds for birds. Sightings of both endemic and rare birds are common including black-necked stork, lesser adjutant, waterfowl and waders. April to July are popular for birds who migrate to this part of the island. Rare migratory birds such as yellow-footed green pigeon and greater racket-tailed drongo are some of the birds which can be seen. Around 255 birds have so far been recorded in this park. Due to the diversity of this park, it is a great place to spot Sri Lankan leopards. The undisturbed nature of the park means the viewings are longer and private.
In and around Kumana National Park are historically and culturally interesting places to explore. The isolated and beautifully placed Kudumbigala Monastery complex was built in 246 BC and remains the home to a handful of Buddhist monks who meditate. The monastery complex is situated outside the entrance of Kumana National Park and Arugam Bay. Inside Kumana National Park are the remnants of ancient inscriptions. While there are many folk tales around them, it is possible to see them as this area is open for guided walks. A foot pilgrimage (Pada Yatra) takes place annually between May to July when devotees walk from Jaffna to Kataragama (close to Yala National Park) through Kumana National Park. Safaris are conducted mostly in front-open jeeps. The safaris are generally shared and visitor accommodation is inside Kumana National Park.
Morning and afternoon safaris are great for sightings. The park opens at 6.00 a.m. and closes at 6.00 p.m., which means visitors must either leave the park by 6.00 p.m. or return to the accommodation inside the park by this time. Half day safaris take 3-4 hours. However, a full day safari is a good option for birders and photographers to maximise sightings. Time to travel between the parks’ entrance and accommodation outside the park would roughly be a one hour drive. Those who stay inside the park have greater flexibility and options with flexible times for safaris. There is a trekker from the wildlife department who accompanies visitors into the park. It is advisable to obtain the services of a naturalist for more serious wildlife enthusiasts. Options for accommodation are limited in this park, however there are options to stay inside the park or outside the park. A few accommodation options are also available in Arugam Bay which is a one hour drive to the entrance of the park.
Arugam Bay is a small town that has a good reputation for having good surf breaks. During April to November Arugam Bay is busy with backpackers and surfers and the rest of the year is quiet. There is a range of accommodation in Arugam Bay including a couple of properties with barefoot luxury. These accommodations are ideal if you are looking at combining other activities with wildlife viewing for instance, surfing or enjoying a break at the beach. If you are a keen wildlife traveller accommodation, inside Kumana National Park is likely to be more attractive with wilderness at the doorstep. Tented camping options inside the park en suite bathroom facilities with showers, 3-course meals with options to dine in different locations and the service of host/naturalist and safaris.
Kumana National Park has given us many wonderful memories. Amongst them the most cherished one is when we encountered a young beautiful male leopard lying a couple of meters away from the main road just 30 minutes into the safari. We had the most private encounter with the leopard with no other travellers around. He remained relaxed in slumber for nearly 40 minutes with a few heads up from time to time, oblivious to the fact we were watching him and ignoring us completely. Nearly 45 minutes later we decided to head forward wondering what he may be up to only to meet him hours later in the late afternoon in a different place with his enormous catch of a wild boar. While Kumana National park remains isolated, a visit to this park can be included into an itinerary travelling from the east coast or from Ella or Gal Oya. Travel time between these locations is around 3.5-to-4.5 hours.
Here are sample itineraries for wildlife tours of Sri Lanka featuring Kumana National Park. Click below to read more about safaris in Kumana or get in touch to receive a detailed, tailor-made itinerary.
Amazing trip! We absolutely loved it. Sri Lanka is now a country we would definitely like to go back to and explore further.Thank you so much for all the work you did in putting the trip together for us. It was a great mix of places for us to get a good feel of the country. We will be encouraging all our friends to go to Sri Lanka.