National Parks In Sri Lanka

Sri Lankan national parks are home to a wide range of animals such as elephant, leopards, sloth bear, jackal, crocodile, deer, wild buffaloe and many other wild animals. These parks are also home to a wide range of avian fauna species, vertebrates and crocodile as well as a wide range of insects. From Yala national park to Udawalawe national park, here is our list of top 6 national parks in Sri Lanka, to have a top-notch Sri Lankan wildlife experience.

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Top 6 national parks in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka wildlife tours have been able to gain some traction over the last few years and most travellers are enthusiastic about exploring the fascinating wildlife of Sri Lanka.

Most travellers now request for wildlife tours along with a beach tour package in Sri Lanka. Some even request for multiday-land tour packages such as Sri Lanka 7 days trip, with important cities in the cultural triangle such as Sigiriya, Dambulla, Polonnaruwa as well as wildlife reserves, tea plantation and beaches.

Most Sri Lanka road trip packages, organized by Seerendipity tours include wildlife reserves, national parks or rain forests. It has become a standard requirement for most travellers to visit a wildlife reserve during the Sri Lanka trip. Seerendipity tours organized tailor-made Sri Lanka trip packages aiming at national parks in various parts of the country.

Sri Lankan national parks are home to a wide range of animals such as elephant, leopards, sloth bear, jackal and crocodile as well as a wide range of avian fauna species. From Yala national park to Udawalawe national park, here is our list of top 6 national parks in Sri Lanka, to have a top-notch Sri Lankan wildlife experience.

Wild elephant in a swamp forest in Yala national park. Yala is the most popular wildlife reserve on the island and included in most Sri Lanka popular trips such as 5 days Sri Lanka tour.

Sri Lanka is a country that based on Buddhist ideology and majority of Sri Lanka believes in Buddhism; Compassion to all living being is the main quality that every Buddhist should develop in the life and most people live on the island are well aware of this principle.

In view of showing the compassion to the animals that he learned from the teaching of Buddha, the world’s first wildlife sanctuary was declared by the first Buddhist King of Sri Lanka, King Devanapmpiyatissa in 3rd century BC. According to the historical notes that no one was allowed to harm the animals within the borders of Anuradhapura during his tenure, the city was spreading over 40 sq km. Modern reserves such as Sigiriya wildlife reserve, Udawattekele sanctuary in Kandy can also trace their beginning back centuries to the days when they were royal reserves.

The sympathy towards the animal that began 3rd century BC is ingrained in the national consciences. Sri Lanka is a developing country and the majority of the people are still has a rural life, even most people in the cities have a conservative pattern of life compared to the European lifestyle.

Despite the demand for more lands for the expansion of cities, villages, infrastructure and industries a huge area of Sri Lanka is still under wildlife reserves, national parks and protected areas, a fact which partly reflects the Buddhist ideology concern for all forms of a living being, and partly due to the demand among the nature lovers (eco-tourism) for more quality wildlife experience.

Despite the small land areas that island has (65610 sq km) more than a dozen or wildlife reserves are well in place as the living habitat for wild animals. The national parks are well-demarcated, fenced off and protected in order to make sure those residents of the parks are safe.  In this article, we discuss the top 6 national parks in Sri Lanka.

  1. Yala national park
  2. Bundala National Park
  3. Udawalawe National Park
  4. Horton Plains National Park
  5. Minneriya National Parks
  6. Kaudualla national park

1. Yala National Park

There are 22 national parks on the island and Yala national of southern Sri Lanka is the most popular among them. Yala National park is the most popular for Sri Lanka safari tours and most wildlife lovers explore this natural jewel expecting to see the leoprds.

Yala National park is coming under Strict Nature Reserves. A strict nature reserve (IUCN category) is one of the two highest categories of protected areas recognized by the World Commission on Protected Areas (WCPA).

The national park covers a vast swathe of dry-zone evergreen and thorn bush forests bordering the Sri Lankan east coast. The National park sits in the God’s own country, where you find one of the most sacred temples on the island, Known as “Kataragama temple”, which is equally important to Buddhist as well as to Hindus.

A substantial part of this magical wildlife reserve is closed to visitors, but the accessible part of the part is more than enough to have a memorable wildlife tour. It is believed that Yala national wildlife tour best wildlife tour that travellers can experience on the island.

The travellers encounter a large array of animals at Yala such as Leopards, bear, elephant, buffalo, crocodile and many other animals. Most importantly Yala is the best national park in the world to spot leopard, Yala plot number one (which is accessible to visitors) has the highest number of leopard compared to any wildlife reserve of its size in the world. Despite the highest number of leopards in a jungle of its size, it might not be that much to spot a leopard.

Leopard is one of the most elusive creatures in the jungle. You will be able to see many wild elephants abut leopards are shy and evade the human encounter. Therefore it is recommended to make a full day safari at Yala national park, which gives you a better chance of encountering leopards than the usual 3 hours jeep safari.

Sri Lanka wildlife tour to Yala

Usually, visiting Yala national park is a 2 days Sri Lanka tour from Colombo. If you combine Yala national park tour with some other attractions in the south such as Mirissa whale watching, Galle fort, Hikkaduwa beach and Kataragama, the tour can be 3 days trip or even 4 days Sri Lanka trip.

  • Highlights-Sinharaja Rainforest, Udawattekele, Galway’s bird sanctuary, Horton plains, White water rafting, Udawalawe national park, Yala national park, waterfalls, Spice garden, tooth relic temple, tea factory and plantation, Bentota beach
  • Duration-5 Days
  • Start/End-Colombo
  • Transport-Private vehicle
  • Accommodation 4-star hotel
  • Meals-Breakfast and Dinner

Special Price US$ 530, save $80, Regular Price US$610

2. Bundala National Park

Bundala National can be best described as an off the beaten track tourist spot in Sri Lanka. Its importance of Bundala park is largely overlooked due to the nearby 2 popular wildlife holiday destinations, Udawalawe park and Yala national park.

Bundala national park is the most reputable wildlife reserve to spot birds on the island and it is included in bird watching tour. Bundala national park is located a little bit south of Yala national park. 

Bundala national park is the last bastion of the bird migration sea route to southern Asia. Therefore, the park is visited by a large number of migrant birds especially from November of March. 

Due to the presence of a large number of wetlands and lagoon in the park, Bundala is best to spot aquatic bird species such as flamingoes and herons. Elephant, buffaloes and crocodiles are the most seen animals in Bundala.  

3. Udawalawe National Park

Udawalawe national park is tucked away about 150 km from the Colombo, in the Sanragamuwa province of Sri Lanka. Udawalawe is the nearest wildlife reserve for tourist in Colombo and beach areas. Therefore, Sri Lanka one day trip to Udawalawe is a popular activity among the travellers, who have beach tours on the west and south coast and Colombo. Udawalawe safari can be easily integrated with the beach tour packages because Udawalawe national park is only a few hours away from the beach.

Take the road that leads to the interior of the country from Bundala national park, it might take around 1 hour to reach the Udawalawe national park. Udawalawe national park nestled in the dry zone plains of the southern foothills of the central mountain range. Udawalawe is one of the best-kept secrets of Sri Lanka, where you encounter wild elephants from the very beginning to the end of your safari.

The elephant is the dominating creature in the park and wild buffaloes, crocodile, jackal, wild boar, monkeys and many avian fauna species also can be seen here. One of the main secrets for the increasing number of the wild elephant is in Udawalawe is the abundance of elephant food.

Most of the park is covered in light, arid scrub and you will encounter the cover as drive deep into the jungle. Unlike many other national parks, where you can spot wild animals either in the evening or morning, at Udawalawe national park you are able to see a large number of wild elephants and other creatures even in the midday. Choose day outing trip or two days tour to Udawalawe national park and encounter a couple of elephant herds.

4. Horton Plains National Park

Horton plains national park, also known as hill country wonderland, nestled among the misty hills in the central mountain range and has a very unique atmosphere that cannot be seen anywhere else on the island. The national park has a huge savannah with mountains and jungle in the backdrop, the savannah is dotted with Sambar deer, here you see many of them at any given time.

Horton plains national park claims for well over 10000 hectares of land in the mountains and harbours a large number of Fauna and Flora, most importantly it is the home for many endangered creatures and Horton plains national park is a super biodiversity hot spot.

The visitors of Horton plains national park can witness some of the endangered animal species such as western-purple-faced langur or bear monkey (which has long bushy fur) and very rare Horton Plains slender Loris, which believed to have become extinct. This nocturnal species was sighted only 4 times from 1937 and 2002 and believed to have been extinct but it was sighted and photographed by a group of biologists in 2010.

Unlike other national parks, where you do the game watching in the afternoon and early morning, you should not hit Horton plains in the evening, because it is hidden in the misty towards the afternoon, you will lose the way as you can’t trace the path. The best time to visit the park is when the sun is shining in its full force. As the sun diminishes its rays the park engulfed with mist and wind creates an unbearable chill, so be prepared to that.

Horton plains is certainly not a destination for a one day trip from Colombo, due to the long journey. However, a visit to Horton plains can be easily combined with the tour to hill country resorts such as Nuwara Eliya and Bandarawela.

The best way of exploring the national park is to have a trek on the 9.5 km circular track; the trekking path goes through the grassland, forests and wetlands allowing you to see many Fauna and flora species as well as a beautiful waterfall. Visiting the world end is a highlight for most visitors of the world end, where the cliffs marking the southern edge of the hill country fall sheer for the best part of a kilometre (0.5 miles) to the plains below.

5 & 6. Minneriya and Kaudulla National Parks

This duo sits in the cultural triangle of Sri Lanka near the historical capital of Sri Lanka known as Polonnaruwa. The national park sits amidst the centuries-old crumbling historical monuments. Minneriya national park safari is most suitable for travellers, who visit historical cities in the cultural triangle of Sri Lanka. Because it is just a matter of a few minutes travels to reach Mineriya from places like Sigiriya rock, the cave temple of Dambulla, ancient monuments of Polonnaruwa.

The abundance of food and availability of plenty of water are the main reasons for its success as a national park. Minneriya and Kaudulla National Parks have a very high density of wild elephants and both national parks are best places for elephant safari.

A large gathering of wild elephants (numbering nearly 200 animals) is a usual sight here; they can be witnessed in the flat grasslands around the lakes. Minneriya and Kaudulla National Parks are connected through a jingle passage (elephant corridor) allowing the animals to migrate from one national park to other seasonally.

The elephant safari can be done throughout the year at both places and you will not miss an opportunity to spot a couple of wild jumbos, but August and September considered being the best time of the year to make safari at Minneriya national park. A large concentration of animals is very common during this time of the year as a large number of animals migrate to Minneriya from surrounding wildlife reserves. So if you like to take the opportunity to encounter the largest meeting of Asian elephants in the world, take a jeep safari organized by Seerendipity tours, which is part of the most cultural triangle tour organized by Seerendipity tours.

Additional wildlife-spotting in Sri Lanka

Apart from the national parks, there are many other protected areas dotted around the country. Near the west coast of Sri Lanka lies one of the most remarkable Sinharaja rain forest, a swathe of the evergreen rain forest with 3 distinctive layers made of trees and plants. Sinharaja rain forest is a UNESCO world heritage site and believed to be one of the oldest patches of forests in the world, originated during Gondwanaland supercontinent (about 550 million years ago).

Sinharaja rain forest is one of the best places for bird watching and home to a large number of endemic and local bird species. Though there is dense foliage in the forest our expert nature guides have a trained eye and enable you to spot them during the trek.

Some other places such as Kalametiya bird sanctuary, in southern Sri Lanka near the Bundala national park are particularly popular for bird watching. Udawattakele sanctuary, as well as Haggala national park, also places to spot birds and they are located in the central mountain range.  

Visiting National Parks of Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka safari tours considered being a bit pricy activity for travellers and it cost average USD 50 per person. The USD 50 is the sum of entrance fees, jeep hire in the park, tracker charges, and all taxes. However, the above-mentioned charge s are not reflecting the taxi hires from your resort to the national park.  

Where do I get a jeep for the safari?

The travellers can find the jeeps near the national parks; the jeeps can also be arranged through travel agents and the hotel. However, it is recommended to arrange a jeep for the safari before arriving the national, as it could be a daunting task to find a jeep for the safari during the peak holiday season from November to April. A jeep cost around USD 40 per safari, which lasts around 3 hours, if you go for a full day safari the coast of the jeep is around USD 80. The seating capacity of the jeep is 6.

What is the best time to visit the national parks?

Depending on the national park it can be very early morning, mid-day or afternoon. In the general start, your jeep safari early morning (05.30 am) or afternoon (02.30 pm) is recommended except Horton plains national park, which has totally different climate conditions. Most animals make a rest in the midday and avoid the heat; therefore the chances are meagre to spot animals, especially the leopard.    

The parks are opening at 05.45 am and open until 05.00 pm, however, according to the rule; all jeeps should vacate the national parks by 06.00 pm.

A set of regulations are in place for visitors of the national parks. The visitors are not allowed to get off their vehicles except the designated places in the park. Maintaining silence is very important during the safari as it panicking the wild animals.   

Are lodging available in national parks of Sri Lanka?

The lodging facility is available in most national parks; however, they are strictly under the management of the park authority. Availability of accommodation in the park is limited as the lodge has only a few numbers of rooms. The booking can be done through the travel agents or by presenting yourself at the wildlife reserve head office in Colombo. However, advance reservation is highly recommended as it can accommodate only a few persons a day. Staying overnight in the park is a costly affair and it cost around USD 100 per person per night.

After reserving a cottage in the park you need to hire a jeep with a driver in order to drive to the lodge from the entrance and to return, you may also use the same jeep for the safari as well.

Bookings can be made through the Department of Wildlife Conservation (811A Jayanthipura Road, Battaramula, tel: +94 (0)11 288 8585).

Wildlife Circuit Bungalows Reservation service

Ready to experience Sri Lanka’s national parks? The local staff of the Seerendipity tours can help you to plan a memorable trip to Sri Lanka. Simply drop us an email with the date of travel, duration of the trip and if there is any particular area you wish to see.  We will make a personalized tour package for you, which you can amend until you get the most suitable Sri Lanka tour itinerary for you. You can also check on our existing tour packages and they also can be reshaped to accommodate your specific needs.