Our Top 4 Sri Lanka Safari Parks
Sri Lanka’s best safaris
So, you’ve explored the Buddhist ruins, palm-fringed beaches and rolling tea plantations of Sri Lanka and now it’s time to see some spectacular wildlife. Despite its compact size, this pear-shaped island has a surprisingly varied climate and diverse topography, from the mountainous interior to the sun-kissed coastlines. The result is a rich variety of flora and fauna, making it one of the top safari destinations in Asia. But with so many national parks and nature reserves packed into one small island, choosing where to go isn’t always easy. To help you make the right decision, here are some of the best of the bunch.
Yala National Park
No list of national parks in Sri Lanka would be complete without mentioning Yala. Lapped by the balmy waters of the Indian Ocean, this vast area of grasslands and forests reigns supreme when it comes to safaris. For many, the highlight of a Yala safari is the chance to see the elusive Sri Lankan leopard. Though they’re not always easy to track down, the sight of these spotted cats roaming around their natural habitat is one of Sri Lanka’s greatest wildlife experiences. If you’re not lucky enough to spot a leopard on your safari, don’t worry - there are plenty of other exotic species to keep an eye out for. Elephants, jackals, sambar, sloth bears and spotted deers live within the park, plus an array of colourful bird life.
Though the wildlife is the main draw, Yala National Park boasts some of the most beautifully unspoilt landscapes in Sri Lanka. Guided nature walks are available around the edges of the park, and there’s also the chance to visit one of the local villages to learn about the ethnic communities and take part in unique cultural experiences, such as curd making.
It’s worth bearing in mind that Yala can become busy at certain times of the year, especially between May and August. If you want to avoid the crowds and enjoy a more authentic wildlife experience, make sure you visit outside of the peak months.
Udawalawe National Park
Though much smaller than Yala (a third of its size, to be exact), Udawalawe National Park is among Sri Lanka’s top safari destinations. What it lacks in size it makes up for in breathtaking wildlife viewing, including its high population of elephants. Sightings of these majestic mammals are almost guaranteed, even if you only go on one safari drive. Another reason to visit Udawalawe is the rare opportunity to watch adorable calves being fed at the Elephant Transit Home, located on the park’s western border. More than 100 injured and orphaned elephants have been successfully released back into the wild after being rehabilitated here, and this is your chance to see the excellent conservation work being done first-hand.
Though the elephants are the star attraction of Udawalawe National Park, you can also expect to see wild cats, axis deer, sambar, mongoose, water buffalo and wild boar. There are lots of reptiles too, including crocodiles, monitors, lizards and numerous species of snakes. If you’re a bird watcher looking to add to your checklist, you’re in luck. Udawalawe is known for its raptors, including hawk eagles, serpent eagles and the grey-headed fish eagle.
Horton Plains National Park
Horton Plains National Park is the place to go for picture-perfect scenery. Perched 2,100 feet above sea level on Sri Lanka’s highest plateau, this protected area is made up of sheer cliff edges, cloud forests, lush grasslands, rocky outcrops and glass-like lakes. The diversity of these landscapes is matched only by the diversity of flora and fauna. Ok, so you might not see big mammals such as elephants, but there are plenty of other beautiful animals to look out for, including rare and endemic species such as toque monkeys, slender loris, the stripe-necked mongoose and the long-tailed giant squirrel. Horton Plains is a paradise for bird-watchers too, with endemic species such as the Sri Lanka whistling thrush and bush warbler calling the park home.
But it’s not just the wildlife that brings visitors to Horton Plains. Nature walks and hiking are extremely popular here thanks to the picturesque valleys and awesome views. Don’t miss the chance to hike to the jaw-dropping escarpment aptly named World’s End. On a cloud-free day, you can see all the way to Sri Lanka’s southern coast - just make sure you get there before 10am to avoid the swirls of mist.
Minneriya National Park
If you’re looking for a break from the ancient ruins and temples of the Cultural Triangle, the lush oasis of Minneriya National Park awaits. The main selling point here is the chance to see the famous Sri Lankan elephant. Together with Kaudulla and Wasgamuwa National Parks, Minneriya is part of the seasonal ‘elephant corridor’, where you can see up to 300 of these gentle giants migrating through the park. Known simply as ‘The Gathering’, this spectacular event is the largest congregation of Asian elephants in the world, taking place from September to October every year. Seeing hundreds of elephants feeding and bathing is one of the world’s greatest wildlife spectacles and an absolute must-see for nature-enthusiasts.
The majority of the wildlife activity centres around Minneriya tank, especially during the dry season when water and food sources become sparse elsewhere. Aquatic birds such as storks and pelicans flock around the shores, while crocodiles eye-up the grazing deer and buffalo nearby. Surrounding the lake is scrub jungle, where you might spot leopards and sloth bears hunting for their next meal, as well as painted-lip lizards, jungle fowl and frogs lurking in the foliage. In other words, the wildlife encounters are endless.
If you’re keen to add some wildlife spotting to your Sri Lanka holiday itinerary, the good news is there are plenty of national parks and safaris to choose from. To find out what animal experiences we offer here at Meraki Travel, head over to our itinerary builder. Whether you want to track elephants, spot leopards, or you’re a keen bird-watcher, you shouldn’t struggle to find something to suit your needs from our Sri Lanka Experience packs.