Sri Lanka is a treasure trove when it comes to flora and fauna, as it has a number of excellent locations to visit wildlife. There is no shortage of things to do in Sri Lanka for nature lovers. We have highlighted a list below of national parks, ideal to see animals in their natural habitat for the discerning naturalist.
1. Yala National Park
With an area encompassing nearly 1000 square km, Yala is synonymous for wildlife among nature enthusiasts in Sri Lanka. Arguably the premiere national park in the island, Yala is a beautiful area home to leopards, sloth bears, deer, monkeys, buffalo and a diverse range of birds, making it one of the must-see places for nature lovers.
2. Minneriya and Kaudulla National Parks
Both parks are close to large reservoirs in the North Central province. Elephants can be easily seen here during September and October at the Minneriya Lake. Local safaris are available on request while various animals including crocodiles, deer and occasionally sloth bears, leopards and a number of bird species can be spotted as well.
3. Sinharaja Forest Reserve
Sinharaja (Kingdom of the Lion) is the island’s most well-known rainforest. Due to its unique biodiversity it has been declared as a UNESCO World heritage site. With trees found only in this part of the world, many species of bird flock to the area, including the Sri Lankan blue magpie, green billed coucal and red faced malkoha. Langur’s, deer and leopards and a range of butterflies and reptiles can also be found here.
4. Udawalawe National Park
Located 180km from Colombo, the park was created to safeguard the watershed of the vast Udawalawe reservoir. With expansive stretches of grassland and an amazing backdrop of the jungle, it is an excellent place to observe Asian elephants in the wild. Furthermore, bird watchers have sighted the grey-headed fish eagle, hawk eagle and serpent eagle during their visits.
5. Wasgamuwa National Park
Bordering the Mahaweli and Amban rivers, Wasgamuwa is home to many a herd of elephants, although leopards and bears remain elusive. However, reports suggest that plentiful types of birds, butterflies and the endemic purple-faced langur can be observed as well.
6. Wilpattu National Park
Located near Puttalam, this park is best known for its sightings of the sloth bear. The largest park in the island consists of a series of lakes and is home to leopards, deer, elephants, jackals, buffalo, crocodiles and wild boar, as well as a range of impressive bird species.
7. Mirissa, Kalpitiya & Trincomalee
This area is very popular for whale watching in the island. Blue whales can be seen in Mirissa from December to March. Dolphins and sperm whales can be seen in Kalpitiya, which is among the largest gatherings in the world, while Trincomalee plays host to Sperm whales and Blue whales.
8. Gal Oya National Park
Established in 1954 in Ampara, the area is a major eco-tourism site owing to a large variety of flora and fauna including over 30 species of mammals and over 400 birds. Elephants, monkeys, wild boar and water buffalo are easily spotted while sloth bears and leopards are harder to find. The area consists of grasslands, forests and scrubs and is dominated by the Senanayake Samudraya, the largest reservoir in Sri Lanka.
9. Kumana National Park / Yala East National
Sprawling an area of over 35,000 hectares and located in Ampara, this is a well known eco-tourism site, especially among bird watchers for its sightings of over 200 species of birds thanks to its lagoons.
10. Bundala National Park
Located in Hambantota, this vast park consists of nearly 200 species of vibrant bird species, making this one of the most popular destinations for bird watching. Furthermore, sea turtles have been spotted as they come ashore at night to lay eggs.
11. Maduru Oya National Park
With ancient ruins and wildlife all around, the Maduru Oya National Park is a treat for nature lovers. Animals such as buffalo, sloth bears, deer, elephants, leopards, monkeys and the slender loris can be found among ancient shrines and statues in the area.
12. Horton Plains National Park
Since 1988, Horton Plains has emerged as a haven for birdwatchers including the Sri Lankan blue warbler and Whistling thrush. Sri Lankan Sambar deer and famous spot macaques can be found here. The cool weather provides a series of endemic plants to grow and is exclusive to the area. The area may be visited via jeep but its excellent hiking trails allow explorers to travel by foot.