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Sri Lanka Park Profiles
Best parks to visit on your Sri Lanka Safari
Yala National Park
On the south east coast of the island, Yala West (Ruhuna) is now well recognised as one of the best parks in the world to observe and photograph leopards. It consists of scrub jungle, brackish lagoons and stunning rock monoliths with probably the highest density of leopards anywhere in the world. It is thought that Sri Lankan leopards are a distinct sub-species from their Indian neighbours as well as being the largest leopards in Asia. There is a considerable population of elephants, also spotted deer, sambar, wild boar, wild buffaloes, sloth bear, jackal and mongoose. The bird life is also fantastic and it is amazing how close you can get to them from the relative confines of a jeep, you can see Rosy Starlings, Paradise Flycatchers, Crested Hawk Eagles, Blue-Tailed Bee-Eaters and Common Ioras. Yala in particular can get quite busy at weekends with visitors coming from Colombo (Fri-Sun), so it is worth starting your days early and timing your Sri Lanka safari to avoid any crowds as much as possible.
Uda Walawe National Park
Perhaps the best park in Sri Lanka to photograph larger herds of wild elephants. Located next to a large reservoir, only a short drive from the South Coast. With a mixture of scrubland and teak forest, the lack of forest in some areas is due to extensive slash-and-burn farming that was previously practised in this area. As well as elephant and leopard (rarely seen) Uda Walawe is home to many other animals including sambar, wild buffalo, foxes, water monitor lizards (some up to six feet in length), sloth bears and crocodiles. It is also a great park for birds, in particular raptors such as the Crested Serpent Eagle and the Grey Headed Fishing Eagle as well as Hornbills including the Malabar. Because a lot of tourists do merely include Uda Walawe as a day-trip, it can seem a far more peaceful wilderness location for the true lover of nature who is prepared to be a little more patient – starting early and staying until dusk approaches. A Sri Lanka wildlife tour combining both Uda Walawe and Yala rarely disappoints.
Sinharaja National Park
Just south of the true hill country, a must-see park for all keen birders as well as a great location for general wildlife enthusiasts. It is one of the few parks in Sri Lanka where visitors are permitted to walk in the interior (leach-proof socks recommended!) to view a rich diversity of plant life, birds, butterflies, mammals, reptiles and amphibians. Birds are the highlight in Sinharaja with 22 out of Sri Lanka's 26 endemic birds having been sighted here. Even the less experienced birder would hope to see 10-15 endemics during their Sri Lanka safari. Due to the dense forest animal life is more difficult to spot, although you would have a good chance of seeing Giant Squirrels, Mongoose, Purple-faced langur, Wild Boar and Barking Deer. Rarer species include Rusty-Spotted cats, Fishing Cats, Indian Civet cats and Leopard.
Bundala National Park
En route between Yala and the West coast, the park can be enjoyed even with just a half day visit. It provides a winter home to thousands of greater flamingos as well as over 150 other different bird species - in fact every species of water bird found in the country is said to visit here. There is also a small population of elephants which are fairly easy to spot in the open habitat of lagoons, marshes, shoreline and rocky outcrops. As well as numerous spotted deer and sambar, there are leopards (very hard to see), sloth bear, giant squirrels and civet cats. Marsh and estuarine crocodiles are found in Bundala in addition to several species of turtle, which visit this coast to lay their eggs. This is a must see national parks for birders and those on longer Sri Lanka wildlife tours.
Horton Plains National Park
In the central highlands 'close' to the town of Nuwara Eliya and one of only a few parks where you are able to trek inside. A walking trip to ‘Worlds End’ and Bakers Falls are a must for many visitors, this gentle walk will take you 2-4 hours depending on how interested you are in identifying the large number of birds darting around. The extensive grasslands and montane forest support large herds of sambar which along with the Purple-Faced langurs support a small leopard population, but seeing the cats during a late afternoon drive still requires a huge amount of luck. Endemic birds include the Yellow Eared Bulbul, the Fantailed Warbler, the Ashy Headed Babbler, the Ceylon Hill White Eye and the Ceylon Blue Magpie. It is worth also taking some time to walk amongst the tea plantations close by, and the views on the approach to Horton Plains are stunningly beautiful too. A great addition to any Sri Lanka safari and wildlife tour.
Knuckles Mountain Range
'Nearby' to Kandy, the main peaks of the Knuckles Range, or Dumbara Mountains, are said to resemble a clenched fist and with its own mini-Worlds End and Sphinx rock, hill villages and tea plantations a two day stay in the area is highly recommended, not just for avid trekkers. Beyond the scenic beauty this eco-system has an amazing diversity of plants. trees, birds, lizards, snakes and amphibians, including many rarities and important endemics such as Tennents horned lizard, leaf nosed lizard, four-toe snakeskink, great forest and Kandyan gecko. Of course the birds, montane forests, water falls, wild flowers and butterflies also make it well worth taking a guided walk, and for the more adventurous there are several caves to explore and mountain streams to bathe in.
Wilpattu National Park
The largest and one of the oldest National Parks in Sri Lanka reopened in March 2010. Wilpattu has been attracting increasing interest; however organised wildlife tourism remains limited compared to Yala with only basic government rest house accommodation close by or more comfortable hotels at a greater distance. Fortunately since reopening it is now also possible to use a mobile camp (as elsewhere) close to the park boundary, as a base for safaris. Resident mammals are reportedly becoming more habituated once more to the presence of vehicles; however the scale of the park, with its deep forest, flood plain lakes and salt grass makes clear leopard sightings harder to come by. More than 30 mammal species are listed, including sloth bear, water buffalo, elephant, sambar and spotted deer, the natural lakes attract a good variety of wild fowl and wetland birds, as well as owls, terns, gulls, eagles, kites and buzzards. We would urge visitors to now consider Wilpattu as a great addition to their Sri Lanka safari.
Minneriya/ Kaudulla National Parks
Near Polonnaruwa and the 'cultural triangle', Minneriya National Park is noted for its massed elephant herds and a diversity of bird, reptile and butterfly species, including several endemics. Depending on the timing of your visit, the larger elephant herds might in fact be found in the adjoining Kaudulla National Park or on Forest Department land, the local guides will know which is the best location for you to visit (for elephants) according to seasonal water levels and recent sightings, the peak is between June and September when water courses become dry and the matriarchal herds gather alongside the otherwise solitary males (the ‘gathering’). Both parks list some 24 species of mammals, 25 species of reptiles, 75 species of butterflies, 26 species of fish, 9 species of amphibians, and 160 species of bird.
The whale watching operation here was set up by a team of enterprising young locals with charitable funding following the Tsunami (also available for fishing trips, snorkelling and water sports). Departing from Mirissa Harbour, travelling towards the deeper waters off Dondra Point – this is held to be one of the best locations Worldwide for the chance of seeing Blue Whales and Sperm whales, also smaller whales and 3 dolphin species may be encountered. Nearby Weligama provides a good balance of dive sites within easy reach by boat; a 700m off-shore reef, interesting and large submerged rock formations, and Tangalle offers the chance to visit to the Rekawa Turtle Sanctuary, where all five species of turtle nest under the protection of the Department of Wildlife and Conservation. An exciting combination of Blue Whales and Leopard safaris is now possible when combining Yala and Mirissa on your Sri Lankan safari.
Not just a relaxing beach location to refresh from your flight arrival before starting your visit to Wilpattu or heading in to the cultural triangle. This is still a largely undiscovered gem from most tourists but with Sri Lankas largest reef (3 miles long) accessible by boat – the reef offers numerous tropical fish and coral species, as well as a chance for turtles, manta rays and reef sharks. Kalapitiya is also rich in other marine mammals, which include Spinner, Rissos, Bottlenose and Indo-Pacific Humpback (‘pink’) dolphin, though best-known as a dolphin hotspot, whales can also be encountered (in season) and range from Orcas to Blue, Sperm and Minke. Nearby birding locations include Anavilundawa Bird Sanctuary and Navadankulama Tank; which can easily be adding on to your Sri Lanka wildlife tour.
Kottawa Rainforest/Hiyare Biodiversity Park
Two adjoining parks with plenty in common with Sinharaja. Relatively undiscovered despite being so close to Galle, the opportunity to explore on foot under the rainforest canopy is a treat not just for birders, with an abundance of orchids, birds, reptiles, butterflies and dragonflies, including several endemics such as the Sri Lanka Grey Hornbill, Sri Lanka Spurfowl and Pompadour Green Pigeons. A great addition to your Sri Lankan safari.
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