Sri Lanka's Unique National Parks for safari
Sri Lanka's unique national parks invite you on thrilling safaris comparable to African adventures. Sri Lanka is renowned for the diversity of wildlife represented by the 'Big Four' (elephants, leopards, sloth bears and blue whales), making it an ideal safari destination. But which national park to choose from the options on offer? In this review, we take a look at the best national parks in Sri Lanka.
Sri Lanka's national parks have an impressive variety of landscapes, from open plains to beautiful lakes, bushland, grasslands and even beaches. Choosing a national park for your safari depends on your preferences: do you crave the elusive leopard or do you prefer to see herds of elephants?
The best time to go on safari in Sri Lanka is during the dry season. The north-east monsoon from October to January and the south-west monsoon from May to July are not the best times, as the heavy rains make it difficult to spot animals.
Yala is Sri Lanka's most famous and popular national park. Its speciality is the high density of leopards (40-50 individuals), which makes Yala one of the best places to encounter these predators.
- Location: on the south-eastern coast of Sri Lanka.
- Season: February to September (dry season). The best time to see leopards is February to March.
*Note: the park is closed in September.
- Animals: Leopards are the most likely to be seen, but there are also 44 species of mammals and 215 species of birds.
Udawalawe is Yala's lesser known neighbour, but no less striking in its natural beauty. Its small size and open vistas make it a great place for animal watching. Elephant watching is particularly good here, as the park is home to around 400-500 individuals, which is an incredibly high density of elephants in such a small area! This place is also renowned for its excellent bird watching opportunities.
- Location: in the interior of the island, west of Yala, around the huge Udawalawe Reservoir.
- Season: February to October (dry season). For migratory bird watching, October to April is the best time to visit. October to January is the best time to observe baby elephants during the rainy season.
- Animals: Best place for elephant and bird watching.
Minnerria is famous for its impressive "elephant aggregation". Between September and October, the lake dries up and elephants gather around it. Seeing hundreds of elephants gathered in one place is one of the most spectacular spectacles. The lake also attracts many birds, making it a great place for birdwatching.
- Location: northern/central part of Sri Lanka. The best time to visit is from Sigiriya.
- Season: July to October (dry season). The best time to see elephants is from September to October.
- Animals: elephants are the most likely to be seen. You may also see two unique species of monkeys - purple-faced langurs and toki macaques.
Although Minnerria is better known, nearby is Kaudulla, also striking for its amazing wildlife. Elephants migrate between these areas, so large herds of elephants can be found here.
- Location: between Dambulla and Trincomalee. A day trip is possible from either location, but Dambulla is closer.
- Season: July to October.
- Animals: predominantly elephants. Peacocks, bears and crocodiles can also be seen.
Wilpattu is a hidden gem among all Sri Lanka's national parks, famous for its sloth bears. It is the first national park in the country, established in 1938 (along with Yala), and the largest national park in Sri Lanka. Despite its small fame, the park is rich in wildlife diversity and ranks second only to Yala in the number of leopard sightings.
- Location: north-west Sri Lanka, near Anuradhapura.
- Season: February to October (dry season) or during the summer months of May to July, when sloth bears are active in the trees in search of fruit.
- Animals: High probability of seeing sloth bears.
Due to its unassuming and quiet nature, Wilpattu is considered the best national park for safaris. This place promises exciting wildlife encounters and high chances of seeing many different species of animals. All this is available at a reasonable price, making Wilpattu an ideal choice for those looking for a true safari experience in Sri Lanka.
Don't forget to prepare for your safari: comfortable clothes, shoes that you don't mind getting dirty, a hat, insect repellent, sunscreen, binoculars and of course a camera with a zoom lens. Starting with these items, your Sri Lanka safari promises to be an unforgettable wildlife adventure.