Sri Lanka is a country blessed with a huge diversity of wildlife species, all packed into a relatively small country.
Some of the animals that lure people to Africa, such as elephants and leopards, are found in abundance in Sri Lanka, and it is known as one of the top birding places in the world.
I spent about a month travelling around Sri Lanka, enjoying some fantastic (spicy!) food, visiting impressive temples and hiking through forests, but what attracted me most to this country was its National Parks and wildlife watching opportunities.
Of all of the places I visited, here are the top 5 parks in Sri Lanka for watching wildlife:
5 – Sinharaja Forest Reserve
It’s a rough road to get into parts of the Sinharaja Rainforest Reserve, where birders try to seek out numerous hard to spot and endemic species. The rough terrain and different climate mean there are plenty of streams and lush vegetation here. Reptiles and amphibians, deer and mongoose – a wide variety of animals to be spotted. Turtles, monkeys, and all sorts of night critters and interesting bugs are also found here.
Because of the ample rains and humidity here, many buildings have open beam roofs to allow for ventilation. For me, this meant that a little palm squirrel was running around my room one night, trying to get into all of my bags of wet clothes and camera equipment!
4 – Horton Plains National Park
Out here on the plains, you’ll likely see some different species than in other parks. The biggest attraction is great chances of spotting herds of the large sambar deer. Unlike the other major parks that are for vehicle safaris only, you’re able to walk and hike a great selection of trails here. This is a misty, cloud forest and grasslands climate, with waterfalls and rolling hills making for some great photography and wildlife possibilities. A visit to what is called the “World’s End”, a very wide and impressive canyon, is well worth the trek.
3- Uda Walawe National Park
Created for wildlife after the construction of a nearby reservoir, the highlight here for some day-trip visitors is watching orphaned elephants get fed at the Udawalawe Elephant Transit Home, where you can see baby elephants sucking back gallons of milk. But the park itself provides a much more natural wildlife experience. More than 250 wild elephants are found here, and crocodiles, peacocks, monkeys, lizards, wild boar and various small wild cats call the park home as well. Since many “tourists” only stop for the show that is the elephant orphanage, you’ll be pleasantly surprised about how peaceful your safari experience can be in the park.
2 – Bundala National Park
Expect some animal overload when visiting Bundala, especially if you visit during early morning hours when troops of monkeys are bounding about, elephants are out for a stroll and birds and crocodiles can be found lounging around the lakes and waterways. One of Sri Lanka’s UNESCO Biosphere Reserves, Bundala is regarded as an important birding area with everything from storks to flamingoes stopping in here during migration routes.
Spend enough time here and creatures such as pangolins, porcupines and jackals may be spotted. Elephants, monkeys, water birds, crocodiles, snakes and tortoises and turtles are more common.
1 – Yala National Park
This part of Ruhunu National Park is renowned for it’s wildlife spotting, and it did not disappoint on the numerous safaris I took during morning and evening game viewing drives. A stunning amount of elephants, close encounters with sloth bears (including babies) and leopard spotting were the biggest highlights. But plenty of monkey species, land monitors, peacocks, wild boar and other creatures kept the camera clicking away almost non-stop. A real treasure of a park that packs in enough variety and “big game” wildlife to match the best parks in any other country.
Wild boar, common land monitors, and two cobra spottings were some of the other highlights of my trips into this park, which definitely warrants multiple visits if you have the time. The only downside to Yala, is that its reputation results in a sometimes congested wildlife viewing experience, where a line of Jeeps will all crowd together to give tourists a view of a special animal. It happens all over Africa as well, and is a situation that is hard to avoid.
There are many other great places for wildlife viewing in Sri Lanka, but these were my highlights! If you had a great wildlife encounter at a park in Sri Lanka, let me know…I hope to return one day and visit the country further.