With nearly 30 National Parks located around the tropical island paradise of Sri Lanka, this country has become a veritable haven for wildlife and exploration in Asia. Each park offers a unique opportunity for visitors to experience the flora and fauna of the island in their own authentic way, making no experience similar to another.
Once you’ve figured out whether your goal is to catch a glimpse of some big cats or the majestic elephant (which can be hair-raising at times), or travel the quieter path to follow a bird-watching tour, or perhaps take some personal time as you immerse yourself in Sri Lanka’s lush tropical forests with some luxury glamping or camping, it’s time to get exploring!
Whatever you choose – Sri Lanka has it all; and a true adventure awaits, regardless of what you may pick.
Why choose Sri Lanka for your wildlife tour?
Sri Lanka is widely regarded as one of the best wildlife destinations in the world. For its size, the island is astonishingly diverse, boasting landscapes ranging from mangroves, swamps and rainforest to grassy plains and dry shrubland, all just a few hours apart from one another.
It is also home to many bird species and exotic animals that are considered endangered in many parts of the world, and more popularly offers the Best Big Game Safari outside Africa. Its Big Five are the Elephant, Leopard, Sloth Bear, Blue and Sperm Whale.
Wildlife destinations in Sri Lanka
Yala National Park – is known as one of the best places in the world for seeing and photographing leopards. visit here for a wildlife safari that will blow your mind! Pack a light snack and take a garbage bag so as not to litter, and leave early in the morning for the most fruitful safari you’ll probably ever experience. Famous for its high population of leopards, Yala National Park is situated in the Southeast corner of Sri Lanka and can easily slot into most holidays – we find it often works best towards the end of a trip in combination with a south coast beach stay.
Minneriya National Park (as well as Kudulla National Park) is situated in the Cultural Triangle. Home to the Asian elephant, it’s also a great place to set off on a hot-air ballooning adventure where you get to see nature in all its glory from up top! This national park also received the largest seasonally recurring concentration of wild elephants (approximately 300) that takes place between July to September and is listed by Lonely Planet as among the Top Ten wildlife spectacles in the world.
Bundala National Park is a must-visit for bird watching as it is abundant with a variety of rare and wonderful bird life. Situated in close proximity to Yala and the beaches of the south, Bundala is a fascinating arena of waterways, lagoons, and dunes and plays host to over 1,000 Flamingos.
Kumana National Park is located close to Sri Lanka’s Southeast coast, just 20m south of Arugam Bay. Home to more dense jungles, rocky outcrops, and shyer animals, it can be a bit trickier to spot leopards here, but when you do it is exceptionally rewarding. It is a stunning park that includes impressive temples that also give you a glimpse into old-world Sri Lanka.
Kalmetiya Bird Sanctuary is the perfect destination for bird watching (also located on the south coast) as it is home to over 150 bird species and many water birds. The area is made up of rich wetlands, salty lagoons and mangrove swamps, providing shelter for a vast array of both endemic and migratory bird species.
Wilpattu – the largest national park in Sri Lanka and one of the oldest protected reserves is excellent for leopard spotting during the dry season (January-April).
Udawalawe National Park, teeming with all kinds of wildlife is particularly famous for its herds of Asian elephants and rarely does a visitor leave disappointed.
Gal Oya National Park is another favourite when it comes to seeing elephants. It is also one of the most beautiful parts of Sri Lanka with the park being home to the dense forest with a river meandering its way through the middle and is possibly the only place in Sri Lanka you can do a boat safari.
Wasgamuwa National Park is also very well known for being home to some of the largest elephants you might find in Sri Lanka!
Sinharaja Rainforest – home to many bird species endemic to Sri Lanka, making it a must-visit for bird lovers, it also houses the Sinharaja Bird Wave – the largest, longest studied and the longest viewing of bird waves.
Horton’s Plains National Park – a mountain plateau rich in biodiversity and 21 endemic species. Home to over 750 species of plants and around 150 animals. You can spot different types of ferns, orchids and lichens. The forest is also home to Sambar Deer, Wild Boar, the Purple Faced Langur, Sri Lanka Super fowl, Magpie, Wood Pigeon, Red Slender Loris and many other animals.
Mirissa – it’s the ideal beach destination located on the South Coast of Sri Lanka. If you’re looking to soak up some sun, sand and surf as well as get in a morning of the whale (particularly the blue whale and sperm whale) and dolphin-watching (including spinner dolphins), this is the place to be. It’s also one of the recommended destinations if you’re doing a road trip that covers our best beaches.
Pigeon Island – located in close proximity to Trincomalee, Pigeon Island is the ideal spot to get a bit of snorkelling in, as you witness the vibrant majestic creatures that have made this coastline their home. You won’t be disappointed as you spot turtles, jellyfish, reef sharks and sea creatures of all colours, sizes and textures.
Kalpitiya is among the top ten sites in the world for the Sperm Whale, the biggest toothed whale. Kalpitiya is also a popular tourist destination for surfing and water sports activities.
Kosgoda Turtle Hatchery – get up-close-and-personal with these endangered species. Sri Lanka (and the village of Kosgoda in particular) is a prime turtle nesting site, as all marine turtle species found in Sri Lanka are listed as endangered on the country’s National Red List and are legally protected under the Fauna and Flora Protection Ordinance and the Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Act. Here you can not only view turtles but also be a part of the hatching process and aid in releasing them back into the ocean when the time is right for them to return to their vast home. It’s a beautiful experience to be a part of and we recommend it!
When should I travel for my wildlife adventure in Sri Lanka?
All year round, Sri Lanka is a fantastic destination for wildlife as it has two monsoon seasons, each affecting the East and West sides of the country at varying times of the year, resulting in an expedition of a lifetime regardless of when you choose to travel.
Having said that, the best time to visit the Southern parks is from December to August, as you could get the chance to spot leopards (mating season) and migratory birds escaping the winter. Birdlife is fantastic year-round, but particularly spectacular from November-March when migratory species roost and nest.
The Northern parks are typically best in between May to August and January to April.
Whale watching season is best between December to March, and you’ll find several tours in Mirissa (South Coast).
What type of wildlife can I spot in Sri Lanka?
The wildlife you are privy to when on your wildlife tour is incredible. What you’ll probably most interested in seeing are: Leopards, Other wild cats – the Fishing Cat (Prionailurus viverrinus), the Jungle Cat (Felis chaus), and the Rusty-spotted Cat (Prionailurus rubiginosus), Asian elephants, Crocodiles, Turtles – Sri Lanka has many turtle hatcheries along the South coast), the Grey langur, the golden palm civet, the Sri Lankan Junglefowl (Sri Lanka’s national bird!), Blue whales, a variety of exotic birds (such as the Sri Lank blue magpie, Serendib Scops Owl, Old World Babbler, Sri Lanka grey hornbill, Yellow-eared bulbul, and so much more), as well as Sloth bears, Sambar deer and the intriguing Red slender loris.
Tips for making the most of your Wildlife Experience:
01. Bring Binoculars
02. It can get quite hot as Sri Lanka has a lot of micro-climates, so wear an outfit that is cool, light and can also protect you from the sun’s rays.
03. Pack a zoom lens if you’re looking for an iconic shot!
04. Walking/ trekking shoes are a must as you may have to walk quite a bit to get to the best vantage point
05. Be prepared for really early mornings
06. Don’t be afraid of the crocodiles
07. And yes, elephants can look like large rocks especially from far away!
So what are you waiting for?
From wild elephants to leopards to whales, the wildlife of Sri Lanka awaits as you embark on this week-long (most probably longer as you fall in love with Sri Lanka, its people, its diverse weather and of course its animal inhabitants) adventure around the country.
Round out your itinerary with a handful of cultural experiences, including sampling the local cuisine, taking in a tuk ride, visiting ancient ruins and of course experiencing the nightlife along the South West Coast of Sri Lanka.