Safaris aren’t just for Africa anymore. The wildlife in Sri Lanka is just as varied and plentiful. If you take a safari in Sri Lanka you’ll be able to spot iconic species such as elephants and leopards. But if you keep your eyes open, you can also see jackals, loris, wild buffalo, crocs and spotted deer. And those are just the land animals.
Check out these five parks and reserves and build yourself a top notch wildlife itinerary for Sri Lanka.
Your Sri Lanka Wildlife Itinerary
Kaudulla National Park
Kaudulla and nearby Minneriya National Parks provide a migratory corridor for approximately 10% of Sri Lanka’s elephant population. Kaudulla is sited around a very large lake which also attracts migratory birds, sloths, deer, bear monkeys and small cats. The park is located right in the center of Sri Lanka’s golden triangle, so if you’re seeing the country’s cultural sites anyway, it is easy to add on a game drive.
Pro Tip: you don’t need to visit both Kaudulla and Minneryia because the elephant population moves between the parks. Just ask the safari provider or tour guide which park is best for the time that you are visiting.
Check out these Cultural sites and to round out your itinerary.
(click on the pics below to view a full sized slideshow)
Udawalawe National Park
Udawalawe is located about two hours drive south of the Nuwara Eliya and Ella tea growing areas. The park was established in 1972 and is known for having large herds of elephants. We also spotted a lot of buffalo, jackals and parrots and other native Sri Lankan wildlife. The landscape is grassland rather than forest, making the animals very easy to spot, especially along the reservoir.
You can also visit the Elephant Transit Center which is only fifteen minutes from the park. The Transit Center cares for injured and orphaned elephants. The center provides food and medical care for the animals. Their goal is to prepare the elephants for a re-introduction into the wild.
Pro Tip: Carefully time your visit to the transit center. You’ll want to go during feeding time but the center doesn’t have a website, so ask your hotel to check the times for you or get the contact info from Trip Advisor.
Check out these luxury hotels in Sri Lanka. They are each conveniently located near one of these national parks.
Yala National Park
Yala is the crown jewel of Sri Lanka’s wildlife parks. Yala was born in 1938 during the British Colonial period. It is home to over 44 mammal and 215 bird species but everyone goes for the leopards. It has the largest concentration of them in the country.
But beware, the leopards are nocturnal creatures and aren’t always willing to put on a show for the tourists. We did see a leopard when we were there, but finding it was like playing Where’s Waldo. And once spotted, we had to queue up with other jeeps to get a peek at the animal.
Pro Tip: Try to leave some space in your itinerary for multiple game drives into Yala. That way, if you don’t see a leopard on your first time out, you can try again later. There are plenty of other animals to make your wildlife safari an eye-opener.
Get inspired for your trip with these books set in Sri Lanka
Marissa Whale Watching
Sri Lankan wildlife lives in the sea as well as on land. Their waters boast blue, sperm and fin whales along with Risso’s, common, bottlenose, striped and spinner dolphins. The whales and dolphins migrate seasonally between the eastern and western sides of the island. But if you visit between December and April, you can go out on a whale watch from Marissa. It’s located about 2-1/2 hours west of Yala or an hour south of Galle. Whales make me cry. And if they make you cry as well, you really should make time for them in your Sri Lanka itinerary.
Pro Tip: You can either get onto one of the larger tour boats, such as Whale Watching Marissa or Marriott Cruise, or you can hire out a smaller panga. The larger boats are more stable but more crowded. The smaller boats are more nimble but more puke-inducing. You can check out your options and book your whale watch on Trip Advisor.
For even more pro tips, check out the Sri Lanka travel guide to help you plan your trip.
We hired a private guide/driver for our trip and he was great. If you would like a referral, contact me and I’ll connect you with him.
This wetland reserve is part of the Negombo lagoon. From within the reserve you can spot crocs, macaque monkey, monitor lizards, kingfishers, egrets, herons and ducks. This reserve is an off-the-beaten path wildlife safari in Sri Lanka.
Many people stay in Negombo at the beginning or end of their trip because of the proximity to the airport. But they often don’t venture past the beach. You can avoid the crowds of the more popular national parks and have the lagoon to yourself with a visit to Mutharajawela.
Pro Tip: You can take a tuk tuk to the reserve, but the long haul getting out there is likely to asphyxiate you with gas fumes. So unless you have a rental car, ask your hotel to book the trip for you or do it through Trip Advisor.
These five parks and reserves will give you a Sri Lanka itinerary with the best wildlife that the country has to offer. Enjoy your trip and happy trails.
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