If you’re into the ridiculous adrenaline rush of seeing a leopard stare you down while licking its paws, or a herd of elephants stamping their way forward right in front of you, or watching fiery gorgeous sunsets, your visit to Sri Lanka is incomplete without visiting a few of its National Parks (or one for that matter). You have a choice of 26 national parks, (which is a lot for the tiny, island nation) which makes Sri Lanka one of the most bio-diverse countries in the world.
Although there is a lot to choose from, if you prefer quieter, untouched and unexplored national parks with not many tourists and safari jeeps to scare the animals away, (like the famous Yala National Park) here are our takes on Sri Lanka’s less well known, under rated national parks.
1) Lahugala Kitulana National Park
Best time to visit: July- August
Go for: Elephants and breathtaking landscapes
Situated a little bit inland from the well-known Arugam Bay in the East, this small but beautiful national park comprises of three tanks; Lahugala, Kitulana and Sengamuwa and a magnificent swathe of mixed dry evergreen forest. It is best known for its elephants. Nearly 150 elephants come to drink and feed on the ‘beru’ grass that grows around the tank. The park is also home for endemic toque macaque, fishing cat, wild bear among others. The tank is, also, a good place to spot a wide range of aquatic water birds, such as the pelican, purple heron and the endemic red-faced malkoha. On the edge of the Park, there is an ancient temple; Magul Maha Viharaya built by King Devanamapiyatissa in the 2nd Century BC.
2) Bundala National Park
Flock of Pink Flamingos in Bundala. Photo credits: Sri Lankan Spirit
Best Time to Visit: December- February. Between October and January, marine turtles lay their eggs along the coast.
Go For: Birds. Beautiful, exotic migratory birds. Also, you get the chance to see both a salt water and fresh water crocodile on the safe safari.
Overshowed by the famous Yala National Park, Bundala National Park is an internationally important wintering ground for migratory water birds in Sri Lanka which harbors 197 species of birds- the highlight being the greater flamingo which migrate in large flocks, primarily from the Rann of Kutch in Gujurat, India. It is situated in the Southern coast of Hambantotha, approximately 245 Km from Colombo. Bundala is,also, home to 52 species of butterflies and 32 species of mammals including the common langur, rusty spotted cat and spotted deer.
3) Gal Oya National Park
Best Time to Visit : June to November for elephants, January to March for birds
Go For : The unique elephant watching boat safari
Gal Oya is far. Situated nearly 350 Km from Colombo and a 8 hour car ride it is ignored by most travelers for this reason. However, if you want to avoid parks with horn-blasting safari jeeps, Gal Oya is your best option. You can take a boat out on to the biggest man-made lake in Sri Lanka, Senanayake Samudraya, have a picnic on one of its islands and savour the sound of silence — apart from the birdsong which chirps, cheeps, hollers and coos. You can witness elephants wade, forage, and hang out. It is truly a mesmerizing sight, and definately worth the kilometres spent on the road.
4) Kumana National Park
Best Time to Visit : April to August
Go For : Unique animal and bird life and Historical Temples
The less well known neighbor of The Yala National Park, Kumana National Park (previously, known as ‘Yala East National Park’) is a renowned for its large flock of migratory waterfowl and wading birds, located in Panama, Okanda about 400 kilometers from Colombo. It comprises of more than 20 tanks and lagoons, making it a great place for aquatic birds, with more than 250 species of birds being recorded. The Indian pond Heron, White-breasted water hens and Pintail Snipes (who migrate from Siberia, Russia) can be spotted here. The mammals which the park is home to includes the Golden Jackal, Wild boar and Fishing cat. Apart from extensive bird life, Kumana National Park has a sacred Temple, called the ‘Panama Okanda Devalaya’ which is situated on a rock. This rock, legend states, does not heat up even when the sun is at the brightest and always remains cold.
- Don’t pollute the environment. Don’t leave/throw bottles, papers and plastics in the park premises. The park is someone’s home. Don’t destroy it.
- Entrance fees would differ between locals and foreigners, as well as, type of jeep and purpose of entry.
- As a general rule, dawn is the best time for bird watching and animal tracking. Dusk can also be fine, but the middle of the afternoon is generally way too hot for animals and humans alike to be meandering about.
- Take bottles and bottles of water with you.
- Most importantly, have fun and make memories!