Wildlife holidays Sri Lanka

According to Dr Sumith Pilapitiya, the former Director General of the Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWC), Sri Lanka is the only country in the world, where travellers can witness the world’s largest marine mammal, the blue whale, in the morning, and see the world’s largest terrestrial mammal, the elephant, in the afternoon, and all on the same day.

The perfect wildlife holidays in Sri Lanka

The reputed magazine Forbes proclaimed in February 2023, Sri Lanka was having the Top Wildlife Safaris Outside of Africa for the year 2023.

“The nation has one of the planet’s densest populations of leopards and is arguably the best place to reliably see these magnificent cats, even more so than most of Africa. There are also Asian elephants, peacocks, water buffalo, monkeys, and sloth bears,” it said.

From unique wildlife and tropical beaches to untouched jungles and isolated rural villages with aborigines, few destinations in Asia match Sri Lanka’s natural drama. Wildlife Trip Sri Lanka: includes visiting the Vedda community, exploring tropical rainforests and conquering the highest mountain of Sri Lanka.

6 places to visit on wildlife holidays in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka is home to 2 dozen of Wildlife reserves and national parks, all of which provide the best setting for wildlife holidays. But only a fraction of Sri Lanka’s wildlife reserves are being used for wildlife holidays in Sri Lanka. In this blog post, we discuss 6 that can be used for wildlife holidays in Sri Lanka.

  1. Udawalawe national park
  2. Udawalawe elephant transit camp
  3. Dambana
  4. Hikkaduwa marine sanctuary
  5. Adams peak
  6. Sinharaja rain forest

Udawalawe Wildlife Trip Sri Lanka: best for elephants

Udawalawe national park is a popular trip place in Sri Lanka for 5-day trips as well as many other tour packages. Udawalawe national park is also a one-day trip place for travellers anchored on the east coast of Sri Lanka.

It is feeding time at the Elephant transit camp of Udawalawe, but today baby jumbos seem to be a bit late for their dosage of milk at midday. A few barrels of milk nourished with all the vitamins and minerals are ready for the babies and caretakers await the small ones with big bottles (1 litre), which are connected to specially designed spoons that match the big jaws of the baby elephants. Apart from the milk, there are heaps of coconut fronds in a few places for the grown-up babies to feed on after drinking milk.

‘Here comes Sita’ explained Chamath, who’s been working as a wildlife assistant at the elephant transit camp for 4 years. ‘The babies know when the feeding time is up, they are very intelligent creatures and they know exactly what time they should come to the feeding hut. In a few moments, you will see how busy this place would be, as all the babies gather.’ Said Chamath. As he exactly said, after a few minutes a large number of babies entered the feeding area and it was such a hustle and bustle with every mischievous baby trying to get hold of one of the bottles because only a few elephants are fed at a time. 

Wildlife Trip Sri Lanka: Elephant transit camp

Elephant transit camp is a project, which rehabilitates orphan baby elephants found abandoned in various parts of Sri Lanka. The transit camp also trains the little ones to get familiar with their natural habitat by exposing them to Udawalawe national park. Milk-feeding babies have made a habit of visiting the elephant transit camp every day during feeding time (5 times a day) and the rest of the day they are living in the national park.

So far, the project has been able to rescue many hundred babies and ultimately release them into the jungle. The transit camp sits next to the Udawalawe national park. The museum, which is dedicated to Sri Lanka elephants is also established by the wildlife department and sits near the transit camp to educate the visitor on the service rendered by the elephant transit camp. The visitors are also able to learn about the lifestyle of elephants and many other factors about wild elephants.   

After the feeding small babies are lumbered into the jungle and diminish amidst the thick undergrowth. ‘They will show up again at 5.00 pm until then we prepare their evening dose of milk’, said Chamath. ‘All the babies are very friendly,’ said Chamath as he looked at the elephants that retreat to the jungle.

Of all Sri Lanka’s wild inhabitants, the elephant is the most popular and it is also the most commonly seen creature in the jungle, especially at Udawalawe national park. The elephant has a very wide distribution on the island, which can be seen in the dry zone forests as well as in rainforests. 

The natural habitat of wild creatures in Sri Lanka is under threat due to deforestation in the backdrop of expanding human settlements. Deforestation is accelerated in the recent past as economic activities expanded, which makes wildlife sanctuaries such as Udawalawe national park more important than ever to maintain the ecological balance.

Expanding over a 308.2 km² of pristine forest which has a mix of dry zone and wet zone trees and plants, is the largest wildlife reserve in the Sabaragamuwa province of Sri Lanka. It is home to a permanent population of 500 elephants, there are many rehabilitated orphan babies among them, that roam the jungle and return to the elephant transit camp at feeding times.

 ‘Some animals are very social, very friendly, and stay close to us,’ explains Chamath. ‘But others we may see only very rarely – especially during the dry season when they can’t find food and water within the park. During the dry season, they may break into surrounding villages in search of food and water, and in that kind of situation we have to be in action and chase them back to the jungle”, said Chamath.

Wildlife Trip Sri Lanka: Dambana, best for tribal culture

Daybreak at Dambana the morning’s work has already begun. Men are busily sharpening arrowheads for hunting wild animals, while their wives cook rice and curry for breakfast, while some others get ready for another day’s work in the village rice fields. Outside, dogs stretch in the sunshine and goats sniff around the stilts of the house, while the cock-a-doodle-doos of roosters echo across the farmlands. The smell of spices, wood fires and charcoal hangs in the air. It’s a vision of village life that seems little changed over many hundred years – and that’s just how the inhabitants of Dambana want it.

Nestled along the verdant banks of the Mahaweli River, a five-hour road trip from Colombo on the Kandy-Mahiyangana-Padiyatalawa main road, the village of Dambana belongs to the Vedda community of the island (Sri Lankan aborigines), the last remaining generation of earliest inhabitants of Sri Lanka. Wanniyalaeto is a minority indigenous group, which is the largest of the 4 or so indigenous tribes that make up the population of the Vedda community in Sri Lanka.

The people who belong to the Vedda community are jungle-dwellers, living a subsistence lifestyle in harmony with nature, getting food, medicine and materials in the jungle. Most people are living with minimal facilities and dwelling in mud houses thatched with coconut fronds or hay. However the lifestyle of the modern Vedda community is largely influenced by the developing economy, the young generation is leaving the tribal village and moving to cities in search of a better life and high-paid salaries.

‘In the past, we collected almost everything we needed from the jungle from woods for houses to medicine to food such as honey and meat,’ explains Mudiyanse, a guide from the village, who helps the visitors with village tour in Dambana. The village tour helps the visitors in exploring the culture of the Vedda community. ‘It provided us with medicine, food, water, and building materials, and told us stories that helped us understand our past.

The Vedda community is shrinking day by day and their customs, traditions and language will be diminished in the future as your generation does not care about those things. The young generation leaves the community and forgets their traditional values. The people of the village are still heavily relying on the nearby jungle for food such as honey. Hunting had been one of their main method of food, however, it is largely subdued now due to government regulations preventing the killing of wild animals. Over the last decade, a large number of villages have given up the practice of hunting and adopted the lifestyle of farmers and cultivate rice, vegetables and fruits.

About 50 families are living in the rural village of Dambana at the moment. Each family is living in a private house and they also have a small school for kids and a meeting area. The houses are small and still built from natural materials readily available in the surrounding area such as mud and clay, coconut fronds, and hay.

The villagers of Dambana spend their time as their forefathers would have – hunting, gathering honey from the jungle, tending to the rice fields – although at present they have access to modern amenities such as mobile phones, running water, satellite TV and pipe-born water.

By and large, the people of Dambana are still spared from the hustle and bustle in the cities, the villagers feel a long way from the outside world, especially with the sunset the air fills with the rasp of insects and chatter of birds as well as owl sound, which considered being a bad warning for the modern world, is usual for the dweller of Dambana, however, it does not carry evil effect every day.

‘I spend a lot of time in the city but it’s in the forest where I feel at home,’ says Kavita, as he prepares a Sri Lankan-style spicy meat curry. ‘I feel in touch with my ancestors here. It’s where I’m most alive.’ He kneels and breathes life into the fire, sending spirals of smoke into the air.

Wildlife Trip Sri Lanka to Hikkaduwa marine sanctuary: Best for the underwater world

The Hikkaduwa beach getting ready for vibrant and electrifying night shows as the shadows are falling across the beach as the sun dips towards the horizon, but a few travellers are still splashing around in the shore. ‘This is always the best time of the day,’ he says Dharmasena, who is working in a beach restaurant in Hikkaduwa. ‘We call it the magic time. And on an evening like this, you can see why, eh?’

What is most striking fact about this beach resort is its underwater world filled with corals, exotic fish species, sea turtles and seaweeds. 1-hour glass-bottom boat trip from the coastal city of Hikkaduwa, Hikkaduwa marine sanctuary is one of Sri Lanka’s best-known places to see fascinating marine life. Spreading over little more than 100 hectares of the ocean the park is popular for its glassy waters and rich marine life. At weekends, local travellers pack into glass-bottom boats and float above the shallow sea in search of beautiful marine life.  Some travellers, mostly foreigners skim over the palm-fringed beaches to bask on the manicured beaches or dive amongst their coral reefs and sandbanks.

Hikkaduwa beach is one of the most popular beaches for nightlife on the west coast of Sri Lanka. Hundreds of beach restaurants dotted the shore, with barbecues, bars, international buffets and cafés to cater for a stream of snorkelers and sun-worshippers.

The Marine Sanctuary is well-known for snorkelling and diving, but for the most impressive scenery you need to hit the road from November to April, during this period the water is crystal clear and safe to dive due to the absence of underwater currents. The sea off Hikkaduwa is very calm during this period. Seasonal fish species gather to the coral reefs of Hikkaduwa from November to April and mingle with permeant residents of the coral reef,  such as

The coral reef is mainly consisting of Foliaceous Montipora species, 60 species of corals belonging to 31 genera present here. Encrusting and branching species are also present. There are coral species such as Faviidae and Poritidae in the inshore areas of the reef in massive colonies. Staghornelkhorn, cabbage, brain, table and star corals are all present in the reef. The reef also recorded over 170 species of reef fish belonging to 76 genera.

There is a large concentration of Seagrass and marine algae belonging to genera Halimeda and Caulerpa in the seabed depth ranging from 5–10 m.

This seagrass makes a habitat for dugongs and sea turtles while this seagrass is a favourite food for prawns.

Eight species of ornamental fishes also inhabit the reef, along with vertebrates, and invertebrates including crabs, prawns, shrimps, oysters and seaworms. Porites desilver, which are endemic to Sri Lanka are a coral species that can be spotted in Hikkaduwa. Chlorurus Kaikoura Pomacentrus proteus; are two reef fish species endemic to Sri Lanka. Blacktip reef shark is found along the outer slope of the reef. Three sea turtles: the hawksbill turtle, green turtle, and olive ridley are very common in the waters of Hikkaduwa, and have been categorized as threatened marine creatures in the world.

Wildlife Trip Sri Lanka: Adams peak is best for mountains

The amber-coloured morning sun rose from the horizon as the travellers gathered on top of the mountain to feel the rays of the rising sun. A large number of Buddhists, as well as many tourists, take the adventure of Adam to speak every day. For Buddhists, it is one of the most important pilgrimages to worship the footprint of Buddha. For the tourist, it is a thrilling adventure to enjoy beautiful nature.     

A yellow moon hangs on the horizon like a paper lantern as climbers inch across Adams’s peak granite slopes. Ahead, a line of overhanging bright, white lights paves the way for climbers amidst the thick jungle. ‘Only an hour till dawn,’ says our guide Silva, pointing towards the tip of the mountain, which has a small house and flat surface around it, which is enough for about 100 people to gather.  outcrop just visible against the inky sky. ‘And it looks clear at the top. We have good luck – the mountain spirits must be happy!’

Adams peak sits roughly three hours inland from Colombo on the western slope of Sri Lanka’s central mountain range. The mountains are the 3rd highest mountain in Sri Lanka and loom on the skyline resembling the teeth of a great granite saw, surrounded by tropical forest. Officially Adams peak belongs to the peak wilderness, which is a protected natural habitat with high biodiversity. Adams peak is one of the highest mountains and its isolated position gives it the look of a gigantic volcano.

According to the geologists, the mountain resulted from the movement of tectonic plates many million years ago, which thrust the underlying rock skywards and formed Adams peak and the sprawling summit plateau along with other peaks such as Mt, Pidurutalagala, mount Knuckles.

The first recorded ascent was in the 4th century by a Chinese monk, Fa-Hien, later it was conquered by monks, kings, ministers, travellers and many others. Nowadays it’s considered one of Asia’s most accessible mountains, with about 50,000 Buddhist devotees attempting the climb every year.

The climb is usually split over two days. Day one involves a six-hour climb on steep steps from the foot of the peak to the Buddhist shrine at the top at 2,243m. Along the way, the trail passes through distinct habitats, from steamy rainforests, and perennial waterways, to montane meadows to a rocky plateau. Some sections are steeply stepped; others wind their way through a jumble of rocky slabs and knotted roots.

Beyond Indikatu Pahana is the last episode of the climb, which lasts about 30 minutes, and it is the most difficult part of the climb resulting from the sharp ascend.

While the views from the summit are spectacular, it’s Adam’s peak natural diversity that makes it memorable: pitcher plants and orchids bloom alongside the trail, including many species found nowhere else in Sri Lanka.

Watching the spectacular scenery as the rising sun is the main objective of the pilgrims who climb Adams peak, as ribbons of mist swirl around the mountainside, and Buddhist shine sits on the top of the mountain light up like signal beacons. Six months from November to April is good to conquer the seasonal pilgrimage site, which is also the main tourist season on the island.

Adams peak tour is one of the most popular one-day trips in Sri Lanka Seerendipity tours organizes this one-day tour from Colombo and it can also be booked for every beach resort on the west coast.

Wildlife Trip Sri Lanka: exploring Sinharaja rainforest

‘There is one important thing that we learn from the jungle,’ says nature guide, Sanath, who leads us through the jungle trail edged by ferns and soaring trees and plants. ‘nature never rests, it’s never quiet here.’ Sanath cocks an ear to listen to the cacophony of sounds: bird sounds, humming crickets and creaking sounds as the trees top brushing each other, underpinned by the constant buzz of insects.

A hooting call rings out, descending into a throaty cackle that sounds eerily close to a human laugh. It’s a Sri Lanka grey hornbill (Ocyceros gingalensis), Sanath explains, one of the twenty-five endemic bird species found in Sri Lanka. ‘It is a big bird growing up to about 45 centimetres (18 in) in length’, explains our nature guide.

Nestled on the western province of Sri Lanka, 150 km from Colombo, the Sinharaja rainforest is one of the oldest rainforests in the world, with its roots going back to 180 million years (Gondwana supercontinent era). The vast rainforest has mountain peaks and huge granite rocks within its borders, It is one of the largest remaining tracts of verging forests in the world. There had been many scientific expeditions to the jungle in the past and scientists confirm that Sinharaja has very high biodiversity, therefore it is named a super-biodiversity hotspot.

The researchers were amazed by what they discovered within the 11,187 hectares of the expanse of rainforest. Sinharaja can be presented as a UNESCO world heritage site, man and biosphere reserve or national heritage wilderness, every term emphasizes its natural wealth. 

Sinharaja rainforest is the largest constituent of the green canopy in the wet zone of Sri Lanka amounting to about 43%. Sinharaja forest is a great cradle of biodiversity and is home to some rarest animal species such as slender Lorris. While white monkeys caper through the trees; many rare bird species such as jungle fowl dig the ground in search of worms and rafflesia flowers bloom on the forest floor; perennial waterways cascade through the boulders making a spectacular spray and afterwards flow through the jungle, past aga this and Soraya trees as tall as seven-storey buildings.

Even today, only a fraction of the forest has been explored; remarkably, only about a few dozen people have been into the core of the jungle. Against the backdrop of many forests on the island being subjected to the wrath of humans, Sinharaja has become a potent symbol of the need for Sri Lanka to preserve its natural heritage while there’s time.

‘We must look after this natural wealth,’ Sanath, as he leads the way across a bridge suspended by a shallow stream with crystal clear water. Dappled light rains down and colourful birds flit through the treetops. ‘I don’t know anywhere else quite like this.’

‘Part of the reason for Sinharaja’s survival is its location away from the cities and people living in the bordering villages’, says Sanath, who is also from the bordering village. ‘We get a lot of things from the jungle-like honey, collecting firewood, and building materials sometimes but we are not harming the trees and plants. We are always on alert to avert any illicit logging in the forest ’.

The forest can be explored only via a mid-day hard trekking and there are no camps allowed in the park. Sinharaja’s wildness is exactly what makes it precious; a stay on the rim more than acquaints you with this unique appeal.

‘There’s not much room left for wild places,’ says Sanath, as darkness descends on the jungle and bats flutter home to roost. ‘But once they are gone, we have no way of getting them back. And without them, Sri Lanka will be a much poorer place.’

About The Author