Sri Lanka have more than 50 nature reserves and national parks. They are awarded that status for various reasons including to preserve the water flow and in this article I will mostly focus on National parks that are attractive to tourists. Visiting national parks and watching wild animals are one of the top tourist attraction in Sri Lanka and there is a whole industry built around it. The most famous national park is the Yala national park but most tourists visiting Sri Lanka want to see wild elephant which is not so easily found in Yala.Outside most of these national parks you will find jeeps ready to take on safari rides inside the jungle. If you have few days to spare you can even visit camping sites or bungalows inside the national park and spend a night watching wild animals. Below are few of the famous national parks in Sri Lanka.
- Bundala National Park
- Gal Oya National Park
- Horton Plains National Park
- Kaudulla National Park
- Kumana National Park
- Minneriya National Park
- Udawalawe National Park
- Wasgamuwa National Park
- Wilpattu National Park
- Yala National Park
Yala National Park
Yala is the most famous national park in Sri Lanka and definitely the most visited national park as well which is a bit surprising since its a fair distance away from Colombo. The optimal time for visiting is early in the morning and late in the evening. The park opens at 6AM and if you can get in at that time then you will have the chance to see most animals. Yala is one of the few national parks where you have a good chance of seeing the leopard. The dry season around March and April is the best time to visit because then the animals come out more often.
Bear is considered the hardest animal to see in Yala and you have to extremely lucky to spot a bear. Peacocks, deer , wild boar , crocodiles , buffaloes , fox , monkeys are spotted easily and then there are various birds including Eagle , Pelican etc. If you are looking for an off road adventure then a visit to recently opened Yala sector two might be a good idea. You have to inform in advance and you need to have two off road vehicle to get the permission. If you are especially looking for leopard sighting then Yala is the place to visit but if you are more interested in Elephant watching then you might consider other national parks.
Udawalawe National Park
One of the best national parks to see Elephants and because its surrounded by residential areas the Elephants are used to humans making it a great place to see Elephants very closely. Because of the lack of thick vegetation spotting an elephant is very easy and experienced guides will take you very close to the Elephants. There are few roads surrounding the border of the national park and if you are going in them in the evening you can easily spot elephants that way as well. One drawback is that lack of other wild animals but most tourists come to Sri Lanka to watch elephants so it is a nice place to visit in that regard.
Minneriya National Park
Notorious for Elephant attacks Minneriya national park is a paradise for people who want to see Elephant at there most dangerous. Because of the thick vegetation it is a bit hard to sight the elephants and you need a very experienced guide to take you very close to the Elephants. If you are willing to spend some extra money there are safari drivers who will take you through the remote roads where Elephants are found more easily. More importantly Minneriya is famous for elephant attacks and we got hit by Elephants during one of those visits to the park. Other than the elephants you can easily see deer , wild boar , crocodiles and buffaloes. There are few bungalows adjacent to the national park with tree houses if you want to spend a night and check out the wild life.
Kumana Bird Sanctuary
Being a tropical country Sri Lanka is a popular destination for migrating birds and Kumana national park is is great place to see those birds. If you interested in Bird watching there is no place like Kumana in Sri Lanka to do that. Although there are other popular bird watching locations built around lakes etc they don't have the diversity you will find in Kumana. Bird watchers refer to as "Kumana Bird Paradise" for a reason. Although it is popular as a bird sanctuary you will find other wild life like deer , buffaloes and sometimes elephants as well. One drawback is there are no holiday bungalows inside the park because most of them were destroyed by the LTTE. But there are some camping sites available for the more adventurous.
Sinharaja Forest Reserve
One of the seven world Heritage sites in Sri LankaSinharaja virgin rain forest is renowned for its bio diversity. Although there are some elephants and leopards in the reserve it is very difficult to spot them because of the thick vegetation. However it is frequently visited by nature lover who are interested in seeing reptiles , birds and insects. It is considered an bio diversity hot spot and you can will frequently meet scientists who are there for endless research activities. It is also a popular getaway for people who are interested in trekking and hiking. There are few entrances to the reserve and one of the most popular paths taken by many is a visit to the "Sinhagala" which would take around a day to go and come back. It is advisable to visit it during the dry season because sometimes you could be cutoff from the main routes because of heavy rain.
Wilpaththu National Park
One of the largest national parks in Sri Lanka which was close for visitors for a long time because of the civil war that dragged along for thirty years. With the war finished and peace in the country it has opened up for visitors. Although there are holiday bungalows they are not that well maintained but surly will be restored quickly. Unfortunately it is a bit hard to see wildlife in that park most probably because it was a war zone and most wild animals were wiped out. There are some beautiful views near the beach but other than that it will take some while for wildlife to appear. The wildlife department is working on improving the quality of this park so hopefully it will be restored soon. Its a bit hard to find decent lodging and food nearby so it is advisable you go prepared when your visiting Wilpaththu national park.
Horton Plains National Park
Horton plains is more renowned for the popular tourist destination "World's End" but it is also another national park that is rich in its bio diversity. Because it is located around 2000M above sea level it offers a unique experience to wildlife lovers and for adventure lovers. Although there is a road that leads very close to "World's End" there are popular hiking routes available for the more adventurous. One of the most popular and one which I have traveled as well is the routs starting near "Ohiya" railway station. Most of the journey is through forest and plains and you will encounter streams and small mountain which you will have to find a way through. The path is one of the most beautiful routes you can take to reach World's End. Elk can be spotted easily and there are some beautiful waterfalls with the most renowned being Baker's Falls. If you are looking to spend a night there are few camping sites available in the park. There is constant rain and it gets very cold at night so you should be well prepared if you are thinking of visiting Horton plains.