Wildlife Safaris in Sri Lanka: Encounters with Elephants, Leopards, and More

Wildlife Safaris in Sri Lanka: Encounters with Elephants, Leopards, and More

Wildlife Safaris In Sri Lanka

Are you thinking of going on a wildlife safari? Well, there’s no better option than wildlife safaris in Sri Lanka. This small island has 26 national parks, making it one of the best places in Asia to see wildlife. Each park offers a great opportunity to see the flora and fauna of Sri Lanka. That being said, each location and nature experience are different. That’s why it’s important to figure out what type of encounter you want—do you want to see large animals like elephants, fierce predators like leopards, or spectacular bird species?

The island has everything; you just need to know where to find it and what the best nature experiences are in Sri Lanka. We hope this can be your definitive guide to wildlife in Sri Lanka. We will find out which amazing species make the island home, where you can meet different animals. In this article, we delve into the exciting world of nature safaris in Sri Lanka, where natural wonders unfold on every side.

Why go on wildlife safaris in Sri Lanka?

So why is Sri Lanka the ideal spot for your wildlife safari? The island country boasts a remarkable collection of national parks. Each of them offers a unique and fantastic wildlife experience.

On wildlife safaris in Sri Lanka, you can expect to see elephants, leopards, crocodiles, monkeys, water buffalo, and many more creatures associated with African safaris and the Sahara. Other than that, you can expect to see never-before-seen animals and birds too. Your guides will make sure that you have the best possibility of seeing these amazing creatures in their natural habitat.

Furthermore, the thrill of a safari drive is enhanced by the excitement and anticipation of each turn, which reveals a fresh wildlife encounter. The best part is that Sri Lankan wildlife safaris are very affordable.

What Wildlife can you expect to see in Sri Lanka?

Sri Lanka’s wildlife is incredibly diverse. Some of the animals you can expect to see during your safari include:

  • Leopards
  • Asian elephants
  • Crocodiles
  • The gray langur
  • The golden palm civet
  • Turtles
  • Blue whales
  • Sri Lankan Junglefowl 
  • Exotic birds such as the Sri Lanka blue magpie, Old World Babbler, Sri Lanka gray hornbill, Serendib Scops Owl, Yellow-eared bulbul, and others.
  • Sloth bears
  • Sambar deer
  • Other animals that are endemic to Sri Lanka

Which national park is most suitable for you?

There are many national parks in Sri Lanka to choose from for your wildlife safari. The ideal strategy to choose your national park and safari is to first choose the kind of animals you wish to see the most, then choose a national park that is naturally on your path through Sri Lanka, and then go from there. 

Continue reading for a description of each Sri Lankan national park to assist you in making your decision.

Where can I find leopards in Sri Lanka?

1. Yala

Yala National Park is Sri Lanka’s most well-known wildlife safari destination, famed for its high leopard population, arguably the highest in the world. The odds of encountering the elusive leopard in Yala are normally extremely excellent. Leopards in this park are used to seeing jeeps and humans; therefore, they are more comfortable and easier to identify than in other parks.

However, always keep in mind that you’re in their habitat. So make sure to be responsible and not startle the animals. Yala is located in the south-east part of Sri Lanka and can easily be incorporated into most vacations; we find that it works best at the conclusion of a journey in conjunction with a south coast beach stay.

2. Kumana

Kumana National Park, also known as Yala East, is located on Sri Lanka’s south-east coast, about 20 metres south of the popular surfing hotspot of Arugam Bay. It can be more difficult to locate leopards here due to the deeper foliage, rocky outcrops, and shyer animals, but when you do, it is quite satisfying. It’s a beautiful park with amazing overgrown temples.

3. Wilpattu

Wilpattu is Sri Lanka’s biggest national park and one of the country’s oldest protected places. Wilpattu is ideal for leopard sightings during the dry season (January–April), which also happens to be mating season. The cubs from the previous year will be around a year old and at a very lively and curious stage.

The best time to see leopards in Wilpattu is generally in August–September, just before the North-east monsoon starts, when leopards are pushed out of their forest hiding spots in search of water at the park’s many ‘villus’, or lakes.

Where can I find elephants in Sri Lanka?

Did you know that Sri Lanka is home to around 7,500 wild elephants? This means you have the best chance of seeing these magnificent creatures.

1. Udawalawe

The Udawalawe National Park is full of all kinds of wildlife but is especially famous for its Asian elephants. With amazing year-round viewing, you won’t be lucky if you don’t see an elephant within the first 5 minutes of the Safari! 

A huge elephant orphanage is also attached to the park. The Elephant Transit Camp, managed by the Born Free Foundation, helps rehabilitate injured and orphaned elephants up to 5 years of age.

2. Gal Oya

Gal Oya National Park is another ideal spot to see these gentle giants. Probably one of the most beautiful parts of Sri Lanka, the park itself is a dense forest with a river in the middle. This place also allows you to go on a boat safari and, if you’re lucky, catch a glimpse of elephants bathing among the park’s many islands.

3. Minneriya

Minneriya National Park and Kaudulla National Park are adjacent parks located in the Cultural Triangle and are Sri Lanka’s most popular parks for elephant viewing. Although elephants can be found throughout the year, during the dry season (June–September), elephants congregate in these parks because of the water sources there. Fun fact: this “meeting” is the largest gathering of Asian elephants in the world!

4. Wasgamuwa

Wasgamuwa National Park is also known for its elephants. The elephants are larger than in Minneriya, and since there are fewer visitors to the park, they tend to be more “wild”. This means that if you do get to see them, you could be in for a pretty special experience. The best way to visit is to camp in Wasgamuwa for 1–2 nights.

Where can I find birds in Sri Lanka?

In short, everywhere! Sri Lanka has incredible bird species all over the country. You don’t even have to be in the park to see them; as you drive from one place to another, you can see birds of prey and amazing endemic birds like the Sri Lankan Blue Magpie, Red-faced Malkoha, and Sri Lankan Drongo. However, for the real twitchers, there are some amazing places that we recommend. Here is an example of what bird watching in Sri Lanka might look like.

1. Sinharaja

The Sinharaja Rainforest in Sri Lanka consists of a large area of undisturbed tropical rainforest and is home to many of Sri Lanka’s native birds. Sinharaja is home to 20 of Sri Lanka’s 33 native bird species, making it a must-see for bird enthusiasts.

Bundala National Park is an essential part of a Sri Lankan birding tour because of its abundance and diversity of rare and magnificent birds. Bundala, near Yala and the southern beaches, is a maze of water bodies, lagoons, and dunes, an ideal home for thousands of birds. It is possible to see more than 1,000 flocks of flamingos.

2. Kalametiya

Kalametiya Bird Sanctuary is also a great birding destination on the south coast, home to over 150 species. The country is a rich wetland consisting of salt lagoons and mangrove swamps, and it shelters many endemic and migratory bird species. It is particularly known for its water birds.

3. Horton’s Plains

Horton’s Plains National Park is a mountainous plateau with rich biodiversity and endemic species. It is home to 21 endemic bird species, including the Sri Lankan blue magpie.

Where can I find sloth bears in Sri Lanka?

Sloths are one of Sri Lanka’s endangered animals. They are notoriously difficult to spot throughout Asia and are increasingly vulnerable to habitat loss. Located north-west of the Cultural Triangle, Wilpattu National Park gives you the best chance to see these worn creatures, followed by Yala National Park and then Wasgamua. 

The best time to spot a sloth is after the rains, i.e., from April onwards. May is the absolute highlight, as it is the Palu season, a fruit much loved by sloths.

Where can I find turtles in Sri Lanka?

Five of the seven types of turtles are regularly found on the coast of Sri Lanka: Hawk, Green, Loggerhead, Olive Ridley, and Leatherback. You can see them all year round, but hatching occurs from November to March. 

Turtle watching is possible at Rekawa Beach near Tangalle on the south-east coast of Sri Lanka. We do not promote this experience as it is often considered too disturbing for the animals and can disturb them when they are laying their eggs.

You can visit turtle hatcheries along the south-west coast of Sri Lanka and see the rehabilitation of turtles and injured turtles. We recommend Kosgoda as the best turtle hatchery to visit. It takes good care of the animals and provides extensive information on turtle conservation.

The Best Tips to make the most of  Wildlife Safaris in Sri Lanka

  • During peak season, book ahead of time because Yala National Park and Udawalawe fill up very quickly.
  • Book if you arrive in low season or if you have time to wait for the cheapest trip with your accommodation.
  • This is the only travel experience where a zoom lens can come in handy, so if you want great photos, bring a DSLR (or mirrorless camera) and a great lens to capture the best moments of wildlife.
  • Morning and evening safaris offer roughly the same experience, so don’t sweat it if you can’t choose between the two.
  • If you don’t know which park to go to, go to Yala National Park, where you’ll find a diverse range of animals.

What is the best time for wildlife safaris in Sri Lanka?

Sri Lanka is a wonderful wildlife destination all year. Sri Lanka has two monsoon seasons, each affecting the eastern and western parts of the country at different times of the year. This means that there are always dry areas that offer great safaris whenever you want to visit them.

Generally, the best time to visit the southern parks is from December to August. Due to the mating season of leopards and migratory birds, they are especially bright from December to April. The northern parks are usually at their best in May and August and January and April. The bird life is amazing all year round, but especially spectacular in November and March when the migratory birds are resting and nesting.

If you love aquatic animals, you can go whale-watching. Generally, the ideal season for whale watching is from December to March. You can see them on the south coast of Sri Lanka, in Mirissa. Be careful though: many companies offer whale watching experiences, and they are not always ethical. Always check with an expert about the standards of your supplier (it is not only good for the whales; ordering from a reputable company will ensure that you also have a better experience).

Wrapping up

There you have it! You know all you need to know about wildlife safaris in Sri Lanka. Going on a wildlife safari in Sri Lanka’s national parks is an exciting adventure that will bring you face-to-face with the country’s diverse and fearsome wildlife. Whether you choose Yala National Park, Udawalawe National Park, or Wilpattu National Park, get ready for an extraordinary journey where you can see majestic elephants, elusive leopards, vibrant bird life, and countless other fascinating creatures.

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