When you think of the best national parks to visit in Sri Lanka, you would initially think of Yala National Park or Minneriya. In reality, there are many other national parks in Sri Lanka that deserve equal prominence. On the other hand, there maybe a few who may not even have heard of Sri Lanka’s wildlife or consider Sri Lanka to be a destination to see wildlife. In a 2019 article Forbes Magazine named Sri Lanka as the best safari destination outside of Africa, which goes to show the diversity and richness of the wildlife that this tropical island has in store for its travellers.
Let’s begin with the most visited national park, Yala National Park. Located in the south-eastern part of Sri Lanka, It’s the second largest national park in Sri Lanka and is known to have the highest density of leopards per square metre in the world. Excited, yet? Well there’s more than leopards in store for you at Yala, you would also find wild elephants, the super elusive sloth bears, crocodiles, deer and a variety of birdlife. The best period to visit Yala would be during the dry season from February to June. With the water levels being lower, the usually elusive animals can be found coming out to drink water. It is important to note that the park does close for visitors each year from September to around mid-October, so if you’re planning a trip to Yala around this period do check with your travel agent before travelling.
Moving further south of Yala, you will find Bundala National Park. Bundala National Park is the first wetland to be declared a Ramsar site and is famous for its exotic migratory bird species. From rare black-necked storks, greater flamingos, kingfishers, eagles, it’s said to be home to 200 species of birds and a definite must visit for bird enthusiasts. If you are keen on travelling during the months in which migratory birds are known to frequent the park, then the best time to visit Bundala would be from September to March.
Another ornithologist’s paradise is the Kumana National Park, found in the south eastern corner of Sri Lanka and once known as Yala East National Park. The Kumana National Park is said to have 255 species and between April to July it is said to have thousands of birds migrate. The best time to visit the park would be from The 200 hectare alabar pied hornbills, green bee-eaters, blade-headed orioles and painted storks, among thousands of other migratory birds flocking in between April to July.
With over 500 resident elephants, Udawalawe National Park is undoubtedly one of the best places in Sri Lanka to see wild elephants. Located on the boundary of the Sabaragamuwa and Uva Province, Udawalawe is a popular safari destination mainly due to the high probability of seeing Sri Lankan elephants! Often you can see these majestic elephants minutes from entering the park, making the safari well worth it! The best period to visit Udawalawe National Park would be during the dry season from December to March. Other than the notable elephant population you will also find rusty-spotted cat, fishing cat, Sri Lankan axis deer, golden jackel, the elusive leopard and sloth bear!
Minneriya National Park located in the country’s popular cultural triangle is yet another national park noted for its sizeable elephant population. During the dry season from June to September up to 300 elephants gather around the Minneriya water tank, famously known as “The Gathering”. Being close to other cultural attractions like Polonnaruwa, Sigiriya, Anuradhapura and Dambulla, Minneriya is a must-visit if you are ever in the cultural triangle.
Located in close proximity to Minneriya is the Kaudulla National Park. The elephants from Minneriya often migrate to Kaudulla National Park after September in search of more water and food. You will often find the same elephant population moving in between these two parks and if you happen to miss the gathering at Minneriya National Park, just keep in mind that a significant number of these Sri Lankan elephants can be found in Kaudulla between September to December, which is the best time to visit Kaudulla National Park.
If you’ve wondered if there would be a third park where the elephants from Minneriya and Kaudulla migrate to, then you’re right! Hurulu Eco Park found just outside of Habarana has a jungle corridor connecting the park to Minneriya and Kaudulla. As a result you get the elephants migrating between these three national parks looking for food and water throughout the year.
Having mentioned that Yala National Park is the second largest
national park in Sri Lanka, you may be wondering what the
biggest park is. That honour goes to Wilpattu National Park.
Located in the north-western part of Sri Lanka, it’s far less
crowded than its counterpart Yala National Park. Wilpattu National Park is so large that you will hardly find another jeep during your wildlife safari. There are 30 species of mammals in this park including leopards, Sri Lankan elephants, sloth bears, spotted deer, buffalo to name a few. Being larger gives animals more area to hide in, so if you’re planning a wildlife safari to Wilpattu, you may have to spend slightly longer than other national parks to spot these elusive inhabitants. The best times to visit Wilpattu National Park would be between February to October.
What if you could enjoy the beauty of a national park by boat? Imagine a thrilling boat safari to a wildlife national park with an exotic variety of birds and more! Gal Oya National Park is Sri Lanka’s only national park where you can enjoy a wildlife safari from boat as well as by jeep. From leopards, elephants, sloth bear, wild boar and deer, this national park has so much to offer wildlife enthusiasts. The best time to travel to Gal Oya National Park to make the most of your wildlife experience would be between June to December, which is the dry season in the area.
Moving to the central highlands of Sri Lanka, you will find Horton Plains National Park. Known for its richness in biodiversity and its population of Sambar deer, you will also see the beautiful Baker’s Falls and the star attraction of the park, aptly named ‘World’s End. Horton Plains National Park consolidates the three major rivers of Sri Lanka namely the Mahaweli river, Kelani river and the Walawe river. The best time to visit Horton Plains would be the start of the year from January to March. It’s also recommended that you start your journey as early as possible so that you can reach the World’s End before the mist sets in.
These are but a handful of the national parks in Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka has 22 national parks in total scattered across the island making sure that there’s always a national park for a traveller to visit regardless of when they travel and which part of the island they might be.
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