Sri Lanka’s high degree of biodiversity makes it a remarkable destination for lovers of wildlife and the great outdoors. With a total of 13% of the island’s land mass conserved by national parks, reserves, sanctuaries and jungle corridors, few places in Asia offer as much variety.
Of the island’s 14 national parks, Yala, Wilpattu, Minneriya, Horton Plains and Gal Oya stand out as must-visits. The island’s parks as a whole are teeming with 91 mammals (16 endemic) like Asian elephant, leopard, sloth bear, sambar and spotted deer, wild boar, porcupine, civet cat, loris, giant squirrels, and monkeys such as the macaque, purple-faced leaf monkey and grey langur.
FACT: Only five of the 83 snake species found in the island are lethal.
The oceans surrounding the island have a remarkable number of resident blue whales, migratory pods of sperm whales, as well as large pods of spinner dolphins. Birdlife in Sri Lanka that number in the hundreds. Over 233 resident species, (33 endemic) and migratory species of birds stretch the number to an astounding 482. In recent years there has been a surge in the discovery of amphibians, so that by the time you read this, the figure of 106 (90 endemic), will no doubt have risen.
- The Great Elephant Gathering at Minneriya National Park (August/September)
- Sambar Deer at Horton Plains National Park
- Leopards and Sloth bear at Yala and Wilpattu National Parks
- Saltwater and Mugger crocodiles at most National Parks
- Elephants at Gal Oya National Park
- Meeting the monkey population of Polonnaruwa
- Whale and dolphin watching in Mirissa, Kalpitiya or Trincomalee
- Sailing and Snorkeling off the coast of Passikudah
- Nesting Sea Turtles at Tangalle (Sri Lanka sees nesting of 5 of the 7 species of the planet’s turtles)
- Peacocks, hornbills and jungle fowl, the island’s national bird!
What to expect:
A range of options from rough and basic lodges to stylish ‘glamping’ and 5* star luxury hotels can be found at Sri Lanka’s National parks, with some that definitely offer a world class level of service, food and game drives an naturalists. As is often the cas, you pay for what you get in the wildlife sector. It’s advisable to wear light cool clothing in earthy tones and covered shoes while out on safari. Plenty of sunscreen and hydration while on safari is a must. Expect to set out very early during the morning drives, and the terrain is bumpy and dusty on game drives. Starry night skies and plenty of pesky bugs also make part of the deal, but evenings around the camp fire is a real pleasure to savour at the end of each day.