Is Sri Lanka one of the world’s best wildlife destinations outside Africa? We say Yes! Our tiny island has Elephants, Whales, Leopards, Bear, Birds, Primates and more. Plus, it’s a biodiversity hotspot!And it looks like we have friends globally who agree.
Which Wildlife Parks to visit in Sri Lanka?
Sri Lanka is just over three times the size of Kruger NP! There’s no denying it but with over 20 National Parks, Sri Lanka is top of the pick for wildlife in Asia. And why is this so? With two monsoons, a range of climates, altitudes and biodiversity that is usually not found on small islands, Sri Lanka has the right mix. Here are some picture perfect images from our National Parks to help you decide which Sri Lankan wildlife destination to visit.To pick which National Wildlife Park to visit in Sri Lanka, see Highlights of National Wildlife Parks, Sri Lanka
One of Sri Lanka’s most endearing wildlife sightings is to observe elephants in the wild with their young. Herds of matriarch led majestic elephants can be observed regularly in the following NPs:
- Minneriya and Kaudulla National Parks – The ‘Gathering of wild Elephants in the Minneriya National Park has been billed by the Lonely Planet as the world’s 6th greatest animal spectacle and happens from July to August each year.
- Uda Walawe National Park – Guaranteed sightings of elephants in Asia
- Wasgomuwa National Park – An uncrowded wildlife park with diverse eco systems
- Gal Oya National Park – The only park to offer boat safaris to watch elephants on islands
- Lahugala National Park – Sri Lanka’s smallest wildlife park, lies enroute to the east coast
Things to do nearby:
- Near Minneriya and Kaudulla NPs – Visit Polonnaruwa and Sigiriya.
- Near Uda Walawe NP – Explore Ella or safari in Yala National Park
- Near Wasgomuwa NP – Hike or birdwatching in Knuckles mountains or visit Kandy
- Near Gal Oya NP – Explore the mountainous homelands of Sri Lanka’s indigenous tribes, the Veddahs
- Near Lahugala NP – Surf in Arugam Bay or visit Kumana National Park
Leopards and Sloth Bear
Unlike elsewhere in the world, the Leopard is Sri Lanka’s top predator and roams freely in the wild, making it much easier to spot than even in Africa.
Sri Lanka is one of the best destinations to photograph the Sloth Bear, especially during the fruiting season from June to September.
Which parks to safari in for Leopards and Sloth Bear:
- Wilpattu National Park – Sri Lanka’s largest and most beautiful National Parks and Ayu in the Wild’s top pick for a safari in Sri Lanka
- Yala National Parks – Sri Lanka’s most wildlife rich National Park and the most visited. The scrublands and rocks that reach the coastline are home to over 40+ mammal species, 200+ varieties of beautiful birds, the cheeky Toque Monkeys and Grey Langurs and many amphibians and reptiles
- Kumana National Park – Great base for semi luxury tented camping in the heart of Sri Lanka’s best wildlife secret that straddles the east coastline.
Things to do nearby:
- Near Wilpattu NP – Explore Anuradhapura or visit Kalpitiya seas to spot Dolphins.
- Near Yala NP – Explore Ella, safari in Uda Walawe, Gal Oya or Bundala National Parks
- Near Kumana NP – Surf in Arugam Bay or do a coastal drive to a beach resort in Paasikudah
Yala National Park
Whether you’re an ardent twitcher, a serious ornithologist or an amateur birdwatcher Sri Lanka is one of the world’s best birding hotspots. The island is home to 33 endemic bird species and being the last stop for winter migrants, Sri Lanka stands at over 440+ total bird species. Best birding locations in Sri Lanka include;
- Mannar: Prolific birdlife can be observed on this tiny slip of land with its many lakes and swamps up on the Northern shores of Sri Lanka which is one of the key entry points for winter migrant waterbirds and shorebirds. One of the best spots for Flamingos.
- Sinharaja Rainforest – Sri Lanka’s last remaining virgin rainforest is best known for the mixed species feeding flocks or the Sinharaja Birdwave – one of the worlds longest studied birding spectacles
- Horton Plains National Park – The cloud forests of Horton Plains in the Central Highland mountains of Sri Lanka are a phenomenal birdwatching site.
- Bundala National Park – Just a short drive away from Yala NP, is wonderful especially for migrant shorebirds.
- Along with the above, a serious twitcher should visit the National Parks of Kumana, Yala and Uda Walawe
Things to do nearby:
- Near Mannar – Visit the Adams Bridge Islands, visit the Tantirimale historical site and stay en route to Jaffna
- Near Sinharaja Rainforest – Drive down to the 17th century Galle Dutch Fort, book whale watching on a yacht in Mirissa, enjoy the south coast beaches
- Near Horton Plains NP – Take a scenic train journey to Ella or Kandy, visit ‘little-England’ the hill country of Nuwera Eliya
- Near Bundala NP – Visit Yala NP
Sri Lanka is one of the best primate watching destinations in the world and offers specialized Primate Tours. Five Primates species are found in Sri Lanka – 2 species of Lorises and 3 species of Monkeys; the Purple faced Leaf Monkey and the Toque Macaque which are endemic to Sri Lanka and the Grey Langur.
- Purple faced leaf monkey: Mostly observed in the Sinharaja World Heritage Site, Horton Plains National Park and in home gardens across suburban Colombo. Keep an eye out in Polonnaruwa and Wilpattu NPs too
- Toque Macaque: The Polonnaruwa World Heritage Site is home to the world’s longest behavioural studies of Primates and a trek with the research staff is a must! They can also be observed in the National Parks of Wilpattu, Horton Plains and the Sinharaja Rainforest
- Grey Langur: A healthy population lives among the ancient ruins of Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa and they can be observed in the wildlife parks of Yala, Wilpattu and Minneriya.
Whales and Dolphins
Sri Lanka is the world’s top spot for Blue Whale encounters due to its deep waters and a reef close to its shores/ Sri Lanka’s waters count for 26 of the 86 Catecean species found worldwide including 13 species of Whales and 15 species of Dolphins.
- Trincomalee: Peak season for Blue Whales is from March to April
- Mirissa:90% strike rate for Blue Whales from December to April but do make an effort to book a responsible whale watching safari tour
- Kalpitiya:A fabulous location for super pods of Spinner Dolphins, Brydes Whales and Bottle-nosed Dolphins
Other Wildlife in Sri Lanka not to be missed!
The presence of large mammals, high rate of endemic species and phenomenal species diversity, Sri Lanka ranks among the world’s prime wildlife destinations. To see which parks to visit in any given month check out Sri Lanka Wildlife Calendar