Attractions

Ultimate Guide to Sri Lanka National Parks

Minneriya -National-Park-Safari
Written by Town & Tourist

Sri Lanka National Parks are some of the most diverse & magical in the entire world. With a spectrum of terrain, from Mountains, to lush green rice fields and vibrant wilderness.

A plethora of wildlife roams these lands, from elephants to leopards, making Sri Lanka a popular destination for Safari Vacations. 

The Marine life is astonishing also, where you can catch glimpses of gigantic blue whales & dolphins, during a breath taking sunset. 

Wasgabuwa-National-Park-Safari

Sri Lankas National Parks, are the perfect place to make memories at Wasgabuwa-National-Park-Safari. Source: Viator (Best Sri Lanka National Parks, safari in sri lanka guide,)

Sri Lanka, unlike many other natures has preserved it’s gorgeous lands throughout history. Over 2000 years ago the Sri Lankan royals, made it there mission to preserve the lands and in the 3rd century the worlds first reserve was created here.

These days, Sri Lanka is starting to trend but tourism is still not as high as places like india or thailand. Thus, this makes it the perfect time to visit, check out a safari and enjoy all the serene natural beauty  tranquility Sri Lanka has to offer.  

1. Yala National Park

Yala National Park, is located in the south east of Sri Lanka, 6 hours from Coloumbo. It is probably the most well known National park in Sri Lanka. Also known as land of the leopard, the National park has the highest leopard population density in the entire world! The landscape here is diverse with woodland, greenery and freshwater lagoons. 

Safari Sights -Mammals

The park is also abundant with many other large mammals, from sloth bears, to buffalo, wild pigs, large deers (Sambar), Mongooses and even a plethora of Monkey breeds.   Popular monkey breeds here include the Langur Monkey & toque monkey. 

Keep your eyes out for the Native Indian palm civet, which looks like a cross between a wild cat and a small monkey. It can be seen with it’s big eyes scuttling through the jungle canopies above. 

Yala-National-Park-Safari

Yala-National-Park-Hot-Air-Balloon-Safari. Source: Thrillopedia.com (Best Sri Lanka National Parks, safari in sri lanka guide,)

Safari Sights -Bird Watching

Expect to see an array of colorful birds, here with over 220 types in the National park. From marine to migratory.  The Palatupana Salt Pans are also great for bird watching just 10 minutes away. 

Yala National Park Zones:

Yala National park, is split into five zones with 2 open to the public. (Zones 1 & 5). The other zones are for professional research or can be also accessed if your filming a documentary. 

This is a well needed restriction, to make sure the natural habitat for all the creatures stays well preserved and doesn’t get disturbed by too many safari jeeps. 

Where do I have the best chance of seeing wildlife? 

In Zone 1, you have the best chance of seeing wildlife as this part has been open to tourists for the longest period and the animals here are more used to the sounds of vehicles. Zone 5 however, offers less covering foliage and thus wider views of the land, I good place to spot elephants roaming free. 

Best time to visit Yala National Park?

Yala national park can be visited all year around. High season is December to March with less rainfall and more sunshine! 

Yala-National-Park-1

Yala-National-Park-best time to visit. (Best Sri Lanka National Parks, safari in sri lanka guide,)

Do you need to book a tour/guide? 

In short, yes! Although there is no specific regulations regarding needing a guide. It makes sense to have someone knowledgable who knows the area, can keep you safe and guide you on your journey. 

elephant-Yala-National-park

elephant can get curious at Yala National park, best to have a guide! Source: SOLENT (Best Sri Lanka National Parks, safari in sri lanka guide,)

Some people, hire just a driver…but it my experience their english is never the greatest and don’t have the same inside knowledge you get on a tour. 

How long should I stay at Yala National Park?

I recommended staying at least 2 nights to truly experience the National park and give yourself the best chance of seeing more amazing creatures such as the prized leopard.

A highly recommended place to stay is the luxury Glamping resort of Leopard Trails.

Leopard Trails Glamping Yala National Park Sri Lanka

Leopard Trails Glamping Yala National Park Sri Lanka. Source: tlc-srilanka.com (Best Sri Lanka National Parks, safari in sri lanka guide,)

They are all inclusive luxury tents with full king sized beds like you would find in a hotel. In addition, to tasty cuisine, selection of drinks and of course safari tours. For Prices & Availability check out the link: Leopard Trails.

Insider Tip: 

Head to Sri Lanka between June/July for the fruiting of the palm trees, where you have chance to catch glimpses of sloth bears. If fancy trying some surfing head down to nearby Arugam Bay after.

2. Kumana National Park

Kumana National Park in Sri Lanka, adjacent to Yala National Park and dubbed as the “Less Busy Alternative!”. Here you can see an abundance of wildlife, similar to Yala .

KUmana-National-Park-1-Safari

KUmana-National-Park-Safari. Source: kumananationalpark.com/ (Best Sri Lanka National Parks, safari in sri lanka guide,)

When me & my partner went on our Safari through there we saw elephants, wild boars, peacocks, deer and of course monkeys! The large lakes house plenty of crocodiles around and large flocks of migratory birds can be seen. 

3. Bundala National Park

Bundala National Park, is a vital winter ground for Migratory birds from all over the world. The Bundala harbor has 197 species of birds, including pelicans and storks with the highlight being large flocks of greater Flamingo

Marine Wildlife:

The coastal wetlands stretch for 20km, with 5 shallow lagoons. Home to high populations of crocodiles, turtles and even many elephants ,which can be seen at the watering holes!

Plantlife – Nature Lover? 

If your a nature lover your in for a treat with over 400 bio diverse plant species, making for a colorful experience. 

Bundala-National-Park-Flamingo-Wildlife-1

Bundala-National-Park-Flamingo-Wildlife Source: dailynews.ik (Best Sri Lanka National Parks, safari in sri lanka guide,)

Land Wildlife:

On Land, the wild peacocks (Indian Peafowl) are plenty, which can be seen perched in the rosewood trees, in a quirky manner!

31 other species of mammals appear around the park, which include Indian Palm squirrels, civets, wild boars and groups of energetic groups of grey langur Monkeys 

Around 10 elephants roam around the park permanently, with 20 others which visit the area. 

Best time to Visit Bundala National Park

The best time to visit Bundala National Park is between the months of September and March. During this time the migratory birds arrive. 

Insider Tip:

Book a safari or visit during early morning to catch the beauty of the wilderness waking up. 

Bundula National Park

Bundula National Park Source: creativeminds.ik (Best Sri Lanka National Parks, safari in sri lanka guide,)

Bundala vs Yala National Park

At Bundala National park, the variety of wildlife & scenic views is not as great Yala. But it does have less crowds than Yala National Park.

Safari Tours & Accommodation:

There is an entrance fee to the park, but if you go with a tour this is usually included. I would recommended a safari tour as they have all that powerful local knowledge. Some Safari tours offer more rustic & adventurous trips right out to temples ruins while others offer all inclusive packages. (Hotel + Safari Tour). 

Accommodation ranges from Glamping campsites with ensuite hot showers, restrooms and a real luxury camping experience. To hotels from standard to luxury. 

Most lodging will require a 30min car ride to the park, due to the size and protected areas. 

4. Mannar Island

Mannar Island is a like a giant nature reserve, a real interesting place offering a unique experience. The Island is located just of the north west coast of Sri Lanka and can be reached by road or train. 

Popular landmarks on the island include:

Mannar Fort: 

A ruined fort built by Portuguese in 1560. The Dutch took it over in 1658 and then in 1795 the British occupied it. 

Mannar-Island-Marine-National-Park-1

Mannar-Island-Marine-National-Park-1. Source: kitesurfingmannar.com (Best Sri Lanka National Parks, safari in sri lanka guide,)

Baobab Trees

The Baobab trees are acutally native to Africa, but are thought to have been planted here by Arab merchants centuries ago. It is the largest diameter tree breed in Sri Lanka and even alot of asia, with it’s diameter a whopping 20m!

Sometimes referred to as the “Upside down” tree as their branches look like their roots. These trees are over 700 years old! 

Other popular sights on manner island include: Arippu fort, Vankalai Sanctuary, Talaimannar Pier and Mathota temple. 

Baobab-Tree-Manner-Island-Sri-lanka-. Source: Palmtalk.org (Best Sri Lanka National Parks, safari in sri lanka guide,)

Insider Tip: 

Kite Surfing is a popular activity you should try while in Mannar. 

How to get to Mannar Island?

If traveling by plane, you can take a flight to Sigiriya. Or Colombo then a 30 minuted domestic flight. From Sigiriya, you can take a 3 hour taxi which costs around $50. 

If you prefer not to fly, you can take a bus fromColombo Bastian Mawatha Bus Terminal to Vavuniya (7 hours). Then a 1.5 hour taxi. 

Train: 

Train is the most cost effective option and runs from Fort Station Columbo direct to Mannar. The train journey takes around 7 hours. 

5. Wasgamuwa National Park

Wasgamuwa National Park  spans nearly 37,000 hectares from the River Mahaweli Ganga to the east and River Amban Ganga to the west.  The area is popular among hikers with altitudes of 500m at Sudu Kanda hill! 

Wasgabuwa-National-Park-Safari-elephants

Elephant gathering at Wasgabuwa National Park (Best Sri Lanka National Parks, safari in sri lanka guide,)
Source: Elephantwordinternational.org.

The lowlands are very dry and a variety of big game can be found here. Don’t expect to see leopards but families of Elephants are common. The park is around 5 hours from Colombo, close to Nuwara Eliya. 

6. Horton Plains National Park

At the top of Sri Lankas central highlands lies Horton Plains, the highest plateau in Sri Lanka, at 2300 metres high! Surrounded by theatrical cloud forests, rich in bio diverse wildlife and plants. At such altitude temperatures can get chilly, dropping below freezing during the night time. 

Popular Bird species here include the Sri Lankan whistling thrush and bush warbler. The dwarf lizard has evolved to give birth to live young, thus avoiding having to lay eggs in chilly temperatures. 

Horton-Plains-Worlds-Ends-Trail

The Worlds End, is the highlight of the trail at Horton Plains. Panoramic views as standard. (Best Sri Lanka National Parks, safari in sri lanka guide,)

Attraction Highlights: 

Bambarakanda Falls: The tallest waterfall in Sri Lanka, at a height of 263 m! 

  • Hakala Botanical Garden 
  • Seetha Aman temple
  • Bakers Falls – 20m scenic waterfall. 

Insider Tip: 

Head to the “Worlds End” a 880m shear cliff drop off, for sunrise and some breathtaking bird watching. 

7. Knuckles Wilderness

Knuckles wilderness is located centrally in Sri Lanka, close to the 2nd largest city Kandy and the famous temple containing the alleged tooth of the buddha. With tropical cloud forests and lush greenery, this is the perfect place to catch glimpses of some of the most diverse wildlife on the planet.

Knuckles-Mountains-Wilderness-Sri-Lanka

Knuckles-Mountains-Wilderness-Sri-Lanka. Source: twogetlost.com (Best Sri Lanka National Parks, safari in sri lanka guide,)

Examples include: dwarf lizards and leaf nosed lizards. 34% of sri Lanka native tree types & herbs are only found here. Historically, battles were fought here including the epic Ramayana battle. 

8. Udawalawe National Park

Udawalawe National Park, is one of the best places in Sri Lanka to watch asian elephants living naturally & free in the wild. With over 500 in the national park, seeing one is pretty much guaranteed! The park is also great for bird watches where you can catch glimpses of the elusive serpent eagle. 

Udawalawe-National-Park. Source: Shutterstock (Best Sri Lanka National Parks, safari in sri lanka guide,)

9. Sinharaja Forest Reserve

Situated in the wet south-west of the island, this is the country’s premier rainforest. The canopy towers up to 45m in places and more than half of the trees here are found nowhere else in the world.

Sinharaja-Forest-Reserve

Sinharaja-Forest-Reserve. Source: UNESCO World Heritage Centre .  (Best Sri Lanka National Parks, safari in sri lanka guide,)

Mixed-species bird flocks are a key feature of Sinharaja. Around six endemic birds may make up one flock, including species such as red-faced malkoha, green-billed coucal and Sri Lankan blue magpie. Animals present include leopard, purple-faced langur, barkin

10. Lahugala National Park

Just inland from Arugam Bay is Lahugala Kitulana National Park is one of the smallest in Sri Lanka. however, despite it’s size the National Park is a vital habitat for the Sri Lankan elephant and many endemic birds to the region. 

Lahugula Tank is the lush forest, punctuated by rosewoods and satinwood tree. Many aquatic birds, call Lahugala National park there home including the bright white egrets which can be spotted on the elephants back taking a free ride. 
 
During July & August when most of Lahugalas waters dry up, many elephants (up to 150!) can be seen congregating around Lahugala tank to drink from the Beru grasslands. 

11. Madura National Park

Maduru Oya National Park acts as a catchment for the Maduru Oya Reservoir & five others in the area. An indigenous people called the Vedda people live in the forest neighbours with an abundance of unique wildlife and plants found nowhere else in the world! 

Best time to visit Maduru Oya National Park

The best time to visit the park is from March to September. During the dry seasons, it’s common to see the wildlife venturing out to drink from the watering holes. These are prime viewing spots. 

Madura-National-Park-Sri-Lanka

Madura-National-Park-Sri-Lanka. Source: Indonesia-heritage-blogspot (Best Sri Lanka National Parks, safari in sri lanka guide,)

Safari Tours at Maduru Oya National Park

Various Safari tours can be taken around Maduru Oya National Park. On one of these Safaris tours, you will see a variety of wildlife from Elephants to wild buffalo. I noticed alot of Safari tours here don’t include the National park entrance fee, so you will have to cover that. Ask you operator before if it’s included. 

Ancient Ruins inside Maduru Oya National Park

The ancient Ruins in Maduru Oya National Park, are plentiful from temples to buddhist shrines, statues & scripts, they are fascinating to see. A main attraction here is an ancient water gate (Sulice) which is believed to have been built before the 6th Century. 

Popular areas where the ruins reside include: Henanigala, Uluketangoda, Kudawella, and Gurukumbura. 

You can take a taxi or hire a guide to show you the ruins. Some guides even offer fascinating trips to the indigenous vedda people, where you can learn about their culture, up close & personal.  

12. Wilpattu National Park

Which is the Largest National Park in Sri Lanka?

Wilpattu National Park is the largest in Sri Lanka. Located in Sri Lankas lowland north west, a unique highlight here are the “Willus” natural sand rimmed water water bowls which fill with rainwater. 

Wilpatu National Park Sri Lanka-1

Wilpatu National Park Sri Lanka-1. Source: Wilpattu NationalPark.com (Best Sri Lanka National Parks, safari in sri lanka guide,)

After been closed for 15 years, the park finally reopened in 2003. As such some animals are still nervous of vehicles & humans, so may make them harder to spot. Experts say that in time, the park will return to it’s former glory and the leopards & barking deer will gain more confidence. 

Insider Tip:

One of the best places to see the rare sloth bear in Sri Lanka. Also nearby you can check out the 2000 year old bodhi tree, in the ancient city of Anuradhapura.

13. Lungamvehera National Park

Lunugamvehera National Park borders with Yala National park, but offers a more serene setting with no crowds! Here you can spot: spotted deer, water buffaloes, monkeys, eagles and mongooses amongst many others. 

14. Galle Rainforest

Close to the colonial dutch fort/port city of Galle, filled with luxury resorts you will find Galle Rainforest. Which offers a fusion of great beaches & rainforests. The two close rainforest sites are Hiyare & Kottawa which are around a 30 minute drive (20km) from Galle city. 

Kanneliya-Rainforest-galle-sri-lanka-1

Kanneliya-Rainforest-galle-sri-lanka-1. Source:andbeyond.com (Best Sri Lanka National Parks, safari in sri lanka guide,)

If you wish to head further out approximately 1.5hour drive, you can head to Kanneliya the largest area of lowland rainforest in Sri Lanka. This is a great place if you would like a mix between beach, city and rainforest with out having to travel far on your vacation. 

15. Gal Oya National Park 

A little known national park, Gal Oya National Park, serves as a catchment area for the largest reservoir in Sri Lanka! Senanayaka Samudra reservoir, is an amazing site to see.

Gal-Oya-National-Park-1

Gal-Oya-National-Park-1. Source: standard.co.uk (Best Sri Lanka National Parks, safari in sri lanka guide,)

Other popular attractions include the ancient buddhist temple, (Buddhangala Raja) you can also camp near the Ekgaloya tank. Wildlife nearby includes leopards, elephants and exotic birds. The perfect place for exploration without having to explore! 

16. Minneriya National Park

Minneriya National Park, was orginally declared a wildlife sanctuary back in 1938 and you can see why! With seasonal groups of elephants and large flocks of tropical birds.

sigiriya minneriya national park safari elephants

minneriya national park, sigiriya. On safari elephants gather Source:ekhohotels.com (Best Sri Lanka National Parks, safari in sri lanka guide,)

The main elephant gathering occurs between September & October when over 350 elephants flock to the dried out Minneriya lake. The area is around 5 & half hours from Columbo. Close by you can find the ruined monasteries and royal palaces of Polonnaruwa. 

17. Kaudulla National Park

Kaudulla National Park is located in the historic city of Polonnaruwa, around 200km from Colombo. Having only been designated as a national park since 2002 it is a relatively new kid on the scene.

Kaudulla National Park sri lanka

Kaudulla National Park sri lanka. Source: sundayobserver.ik (Best Sri Lanka National Parks, safari in sri lanka guide,)

However, don’t let that fool you, with abundance of elephants, chevrotains, painted stocks and sambar deer it’s the perfect place to catch some instagrammable shots at this evergreen forest. 

18. Pigeon Island National Park – Nilaveli

Pigeon Island National Park is a true paradise, as one of two marine national parks in Sri Lanka, the island gets it name from the rock pigeons which made it their nesting area. However, there is more to this island than just rocks pigeons!

With powdery white sands, and colorful coral reef below its a true floating paradise just 1km off shore. 

Pigeon Island Sri Lanka Scuba Reef

Pigeon Island Sri Lanka Scuba Reef (Best Sri Lanka National Parks, safari in sri lanka guide,)

This island is one of the best places to go diving in Sri Lanka. The shallow reefs also make snorkeling great fun where you can feast your eyes upon a spectrum of hundreds of tropical reef fishes, turtles and even blacktip reef sharks! 

 

19. Whale Watching: Mirissa, Kalpitiya & Trincomalee

Although not a national park, we had to include a section solely about Sri Lankas wondrous dolphin & whale watching opportunities. 

Mirissa – Blue Whales! 

Mirissa is a popular beach tourist destination in the south west of Sri Lanka, made famous by numerous blue whales spotting opportunities, with an 80% encounter rate during some years!

The town has serene beaches, luxury resorts, great food and a vibrant nightlife. Located just 1.5 hours from Colombo, this is a prime vacation destination. 

Coconut-Grove-Mirissa

Coconut Grove Mirissa. Source; bluelankatours.com (Best Sri Lanka National Parks, safari in sri lanka guide,)

 Kalpitiya  – Dolphins

Kalpitiya is prime location for dolphin spotting and massive pods of sperm whales. One of the largest gatherings, viewable by tourists! It’s also a great sport for snorkelling, just 3 hours from Colombo. 

Trincomalle 

Trincomalee is located in the north east, surronded by authentic fishing vllages. With a submarine canyon, many whales can be seen while casually sitting by the pool of your hotel resort. Swami Rock is a popular location for the best blue whale spotting! Located 7 hours from Colombo. 

humpback-whale-Mirissa-Sri Lanka

humpback-whale-Mirissa-Sri Lanka (Best Sri Lanka National Parks, safari in sri lanka guide,)

For the best hotel deals in Mirissa or any other part of Sri Lanka, check out the link to Hotellook which compares all Hotel prices across major platforms like booking, agoda, expedia etc. 

Want help booking a trip to Sri Lanka? 

Reach out to our travel experts, on Mail (at)townandtourist.com with the number of people wishing to travel & preferred dates/destination. One of our Sri Lanka experts will organise & book you a custom vacation package including, hotels/resorts, flights, insurance etc. 

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