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The National Parks of Sri Lanka
The teardrop island is particularly proud of its natural bounty, and rightly so. For thousands of years, vast swathes of land have been protected by Sri Lankan royalty, preserved as sanctuaries for nature to thrive and even today, countless areas of protected land exist on the island. Despite its small size, its diverse landscapes, contrasting seasons, unique climate and incredible biodiversity confirm it as an exceptional place for wildlife enthusiasts to enjoy year-round.
Yala National Park
Nestled in the southeast of Sri Lanka, Yala National Park is the island’s premier national park and prime territory for spotting leopards, sloth bears and elephants. Yala is home to the greatest array of animal and birdlife in the country thanks to its diverse range of habitats. With its freshwater lakes, beaches, rocky outcrops, sweeping plains and dense jungle, Yala is an area of immense biodiversity. Catch a glimpse of a leopard stealthily eyeing its prey, ogle at a crocodile basking in the Sri Lankan sun or marvel as a herd of elephants plod through the undergrowth right in front of your eyes. The dramatic backdrop of the park, its wild landscapes, windswept beaches, crashing waves and endless lagoons, create an otherworldly backdrop for an unforgettable safari. Yala’s coastline is also a nesting ground for sea turtles and attracts a myriad of birdlife confirming it as the poster boy of safari destinations in Sri Lanka.
Minneriya National Park
Only a 10-minute drive from Habarana, in the northern central province of Sri Lanka, Minneriya is a wildlife hot spot. Forming part of the elephant corridor, the main draw of Minneriya is its elephants, most prominent between July and October. Otherwise, it is home to a plethora of wildlife, from rare loris to beady eyed crocodiles and flocks of cormorants. Plonked in the middle of the park is the man-made Minniyera Tank, which draws wildlife from across the park. During the dry season, decreased water supplies attract around 300 Asian elephants who come to drink, bathe and feed at what is coined 'The Gathering'. This is the largest meeting of Asian elephants anywhere in the world and one of the most incredible safari spectacles to see first-hand.
Gal Oya is one of Sri Lanka’s most remote wildernesses. Offering a host of alternative safari experiences, including boat safaris, naturalist treks and cultural excursions, Gal Oya is the perfect place to get off the beaten track in Sri Lanka. One of the highlights of this lesser known park is its rich heritage, and the opportunity to meet the indigenous Vedda tribe, one of the last remaining native peoples of Sri Lanka confirms Gal Oya as a showstopper destination. The park is also home to Sri Lanka’s largest inland body of water, the Senanayake Samadraya Lake, where you can see elephants swimming and cooling off in the beautiful surroundings of the national park.
Wilpattu National Park
Famed for its healthy population of leopard, Wilpattu is one of the best spots to see the elusive big cat in the wild. Claiming an area of land which stretches all the way up to the border of Sri Lanka’s Northern Province, Wilpattu’s vast landscapes are navigable thanks to sixty natural lakes studded across the park, giving the national park a definitive charm and distinctiveness. With 31 species of mammals calling the park home, even the most seasoned safari buff could never get tired of the incredible array of wildlife on offer at Wilpattu. Visit between February and October to spot the rare sloth bear, water buffalo, sambar deer and mongoose.
Uda Walawe National Park
Uda Walawe is one of the best places in the world to spot elephants in the wild. Its wide-open plains, grasslands and bush forest provide the perfect habitat for a large concentration of wildlife. As one of the most understated national parks, it is a hidden gem amongst safari destinations in Sri Lanka. Look skyward to spot soaring raptors, learn about its endemic flora or watch out for a herd of the park’s resident elephants on a safari adventure. Located in the south of Sri Lanka, only a four-hour drive from Colombo, the national park is a true treasure to discover after leaving the country’s tea plantations behind.