Is riding across the safari and spotting elephants, leopards and eagles in the wild part of your bucket list? What if we say that you don’t need to go all the way to Africa to realise your dreams? Yup, that’s true! Only a three and a half hour flight from Kuala Lumpur, Sri Lanka is perfect for your safari adventures.
Untouched and undisturbed by human activities, Sri Lanka is a country teeming with wildlife. Elephants, leopards, deer, whales and numerous species of birds have made a home in the wild. It’s good to know that there are a number of national parks in Sri Lanka that ensure the flora and fauna here are protected and preserved in their natural environment. Ready for your adventure? Check out our list of the best national parks in Sri Lanka for a harmonious man-in-the-wilderness experience.
Udawalawe National Park
Best for: Wild elephants
If you want to see Asian elephants in the wild, your best bet is the Udawalawe National Park. The extensive stretches of grassland as well as scrub jungle and riverine forest make the sighting of elephants a guarantee. Birdwatchers will also have an amazing time here spotting raptors such as hawk-eagle, serpent eagle and grey-headed fish eagle. With birds circling overhead, gigantic elephants roaming around and majestic mountains framing the landscape, Udawalawe is certainly a beauty to behold.
Recommended hotel: Eagle Safari Family Bungalow Udawalwe
Yala National Park
Best for: Leopards
Located in the south-east of Sri Lanka, Yala is the premier national park of the country and one of the best places to see wild mammals in Asia. If you’re lucky, you’ll get to spot the elusive Sri Lankan leopard. Your chances to see a leopard are higher if you spend some time in the park under the guidance of a reputable park tour operator. The wide variety of ecosystems in the park from sandy beaches to grasslands and monsoon forests promise visitors a variety of wildlife including elephants, sloth bears, buffalos, langur monkeys and Indian palm civets.
Recommended hotel: Mandara Rosen
Best for: Montane birds
With a number of impressive vantage points that offer stunning views of the park, Horton Plains is a great place for trekking and hiking. The famous trek to World’s End offers phenomenal panoramas of the surrounding areas. It’s no wonder that Horton Plains is one of the most popular national parks in Sri Lanka. If you’re hoping to spot any wildlife, you might be disappointed as there is very little wildlife here. However, the park is one of the top spots on the island for spotting montane bird species.
Recommended hotel: Mount Lake Inn
The whale-watching triangle: Mirissa, Kalpitiya and Trincomalee
Best for: Whale-watching
For whale-watching, your best bet is one of these three spots. Mirissa is the spot for blue whales where the encounter rate is over 80% from December to March. Dotted with luxury villas and great food, Mirissa is where you go for the best whale-watching experience.
If you’re in the north-west of Sri Lanka, head over to Kalpitiya, where it’s famous for dolphins and sperm whales. Make sure to bring your swimsuits as the peninsula is close to the Bar Reef Marine Sanctuary which is great for snorkeling.
In the north-east, Trincomalee has a submarine canyon close to the shore where blue whales are sometimes seen from the pool-side of resorts. We recommend heading over to Swami Rock for the best shore-based location for blue-whale-watching.
Recommended hotel: Awon Mirissa
Minneriya and Kaudulla National Park
Best for: Seasonal elephants and large flocks of cormorants.
The Minneriya and Kaudulla National Parks offer the best of both worlds — mammals and birdlife. These two parks are within half an hour’s drive of each other in the North Central Province so make sure to visit both parks when you’re in the area! Plan your visit to Minneriya during September and October, when over 300 elephants come together on the bed of Minneriya Lake, which dries out to create a lush grassland.
Meanwhile, the Kaudulla National Park is popular with birdwatchers who flock to gaze in awe at the multicolored show before their eyes. It’s also home to a number of large mammals and those who are lucky may spot elephants, sloth bears, Sri Lankan leopards, deer, and wild boar roaming around the forests.
Recommended hotel: Gunners Club
Best for: Picnic on the island
For an off-the-beaten-path experience, make a trip to Gal Oya, one of the least exploited national parks in the south of Sri Lanka. One reason that might entice you to visit the park is the man-made rainwater lake called Senanayake Samudraya, where you can take a boat to the centre of the lake. Bring a picnic basket as you can chill and spend time under the sun on the island. If you’re lucky, you might meet the Veda tribe, who are still living and hunting in the area. Some of the animals that call the park home include elephants, buffaloes and leopards.
Recommended hotel: Gal Oya Lodge