If you want to be spoiled with choices, we suggest you apply for a Sri Lanka visa as soon as you can and fly away to this beautiful tropical paradise. Sri Lanka might be a small island country, but it surely packs a punch when it comes to catering its visitor’s needs. There’s everything from beaches, world heritage sites, hill stations, tea plantations, and national parks in Sri Lanka, because of which it’s one of the most sought after destinations for tourists from all over the world.

Also known as the Emerald Island due to lush greenery enveloping the country, it is a delight for nature lovers who love to experience nature by either trekking, hiking or simply surrounding themselves to the calm and quaint atmosphere provided by nature. One of the best ways to experience nature in its truest form, to explore the flora and fauna of the land is by visiting a national park and Sri Lanka is home to nearly 26 national parks. Another reason why you would be spoiled with choices!

With too many national parks in Sri Lanka, It can be confusing to decide which ones to include in your Sri Lanka itinerary, so to help you out we have compiled a list of our top 10 picks, let’s have a look at them below:

1. Yala National Park

Leopard spotting in Yala National Park
Leopard spotting in Yala National Park

The most visited and famous of all national parks in Sri Lanka, Yala National Park is definitely a crowd puller. Earning the nickname of “Land of the Leopards” due to the high leopard density in the park, it has the world’s densest leopard population. Apart from leopards, the park is also home to sambar, toque monkey, elephants, langurs, golden jackal, spotted deer, sloth bears, Asian civets, various species of birds, etc. Located in the south-east part of the island near the Indian Ocean, the park has sandy beaches on its border but as you venture into different blocks of the park, you get to experience a variety of ecosystems like a monsoon forest, grassland and even a forest of thorns.

  • Best known for – Sighting leopards.
  • Best time to visit – Between February and July.
  • Location – Around 06 hours away from Colombo.
  • Other activities – Magul Vihara and Sithulpahuwa the two pilgrimage sites are situated within the national park where worshipers visit in hoards. Arugam Bay close by is a great surfing point.

2. Udawalawe National Park

Elephants playing in mud in Udawalawe National Park
Elephants playing in mud in Udawalawe National Park

Getting its name from the Walawe River, Udawalawe National Park was built to rehome the animals that were displaced after the Udawalawe Reservoir was built on the above mentioned river. Functioning since 1972, this is one of the oldest national parks in Sri Lanka. Udawalawe National Park is home to approximately 500 elephants, and has elephant orphanages in the surrounding areas to look after lost and separated elephants. Apart from sighting the gentle giants, seeing crocodiles, sambar, a few leopards, wild buffaloes, and unique birds such as Indian short-toed snake eagle, grey headed fish eagle, and the changeable hawk eagle, etc. add to the thrill of visiting this National Park in Sri Lanka.

  • Best known for – Sighting elephants.
  • Best time to visit – Between February and July.
  • Location – Around 04 hours away from Colombo.
  • Other activities – You can visit nearby hills covered in tea plantations.

3. Bundala National Park

Flock of herons in Bundala National Park
Flock of herons in Bundala National Park

If there is a bird watchers paradise in Sri Lanka, it has to be Bundala National Park. Located along the western coastline of the country, Bundala National Park, a World Heritage Site, was declared a Man and Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO in 2005. With the vast difference of ecosystem from the wetlands to sand dunes, Bundala is the vacation house of migratory and non-migratory birds like flamingos, open billed storks, bee eaters, painted stork, black headed ibis, spot billed pelican, purple heron, etc. and a year round residence of elephants, porcupines, grey-naped hares, civets, crocodiles, etc.

  • Best known for – Sighting flocks of migratory birds like flamingos and having around 200 different species of birds.
  • Best time to visit – Between October and March.
  • Location – Around 05 hours away from Colombo and an hour away from Yala National Park.
  • Other activities – Beaches of Bundala National Park witness the 5 species of turtles, namely – Green, Ridley, Loggerhead, Hawksbill, and Leatherback come ashore between October to January to lay their eggs. During the months of April to June visitors can witness the eggs hatch and the hatchlings waddling towards the sea as a part of night safari.

4. Horton Plains National  Park

View from World's End, in the Horton Plains National Park
View from World’s End, in the Horton Plains National Park

Horton Plains National Park in Sri Lanka is located at the heart of the country in the central highlands. Located at the height of 2100-2300 metres this UNESCO World Heritage Site is one of the highest national parks in Sri Lanka. It has the famous “World’s End” cliff where the park abruptly comes to an end at the plateau with a drop of 880 metres in height, and is a good viewing point for bird watchers to spot Sri Lankan bush warblers or whistling thrushes. If bird watching doesn’t excite you, then this national park in Sri Lanka is also a great place to hike through rivers, waterfalls and clouds. Make sure to dress up warmly as the temperature here gets so cold that a species of lizard, the dwarf lizard has evolved and gives birth to its young ones instead of laying eggs.

  • Best known for – Birdwatching with a panoramic view. Bambarakanda Falls – the highest waterfall in Sri Lanka is also situated in this national park.
  • Best time to visit – Between September and December.
  • Location – Around 05 hours away from Colombo.
  • Other activities – Visitors can visit the hill station of Nuwara Eliya which is pretty close to the national park and also the base of “Adam’s Peak”, a pilgrimage site and the fifth largest mountain in Sri Lanka.

5. Minneriya and Kaudulla National Parks

 Cormorants fishing in a lake
Cormorants fishing in a lake

These national parks in Sri Lanka exist due to the irrigation tanks constructed and later abandoned by King Mahasen and his subjects between 277 and 305 AD! With just a distance of half hour between both, these national parks in Sri Lanka witness the largest gathering of Asian elephants in Asia called “The Gathering”. These parks act as a corridor for these elephants, aiding them in easily migrating between the two. These national parks have a variety of ecosystem from a forest to grassland, and apart from elephants, also accommodate flocks of cormorants, Sri Lankan leopards, wild boars, sloth bears, lorises, etc.

  • Best known for – “The Gathering” – event where large numbers of Asian elephants gather at the Minneriya tank.
  • Best time to visit – Between July and September.
  • Location – Around 04 hours from Colombo and around half an hour from Polonnaruwa and Sigirya both.
  • Other activities – Visit the city of Polonnaruwa and explore the ruined palaces and monasteries.

6. Wasgamuwa National Park

Wasgamuwa National Park
Wasgamuwa National Park

One of the only national parks in Sri Lanka to offer a volunteer program in accordance with the Sri Lanka Wildlife Conservation Society, that lets the visitors closely observe the elephants while also taking part in their conservation efforts. Surrounded by mountains covered in forests, Wasgamuwa National Park is truly a glorious sight to behold. Although not as frequently visited as the neighboring Minneriya and Kaudulla National Parks, this park is mostly unexplored and untouched by the humans.  Herds of elephants and buffaloes are a common sight but one can occasionally spot bears, crocodile, redfaced malkoha, spotted deer, sambar and various other residents of the park.

  • Best known for – Herds of elephants and buffaloes and endemic species of birds.
  • Best time to visit – Between November and May.
  • Location – Around 05 hours from Colombo.
  • Other activities – Explore the caves of Dambulla town that are filled with statues of Buddha.

7. Sinharaja Forest Reserve

Black and light yellow Sri Lankan Giant Squirrel feeding on fruit berries
Black and light yellow Sri Lankan Giant Squirrel feeding on fruit berries

“Sinharaja” meaning Lion King, is one of Sri Lanka’s important rainforests and national parks in Sri Lanka. The UNESCO World Heritage Site houses diverse varieties of flora and fauna. The rainforest is alive by sounds of the birds and insects that inhibit it. The most notable phenomenon observed here is the mixed flock of birds, where birds of different species all group together to fly and forage for food, this sight is surely unique to this forest reserve.

  • Best known for – Mixed flock of bird that have been studied for a long time now.
  • Best time to visit – Between January to April and August to September.
  • Location – Around 05 hours from Colombo.
  • Other activities – Head over to Mirissa beach in the south to experience the marine wildlife and the underwater biodiversity. 26 species of whales including sperm and blue, giant turtles, dolphins, dugong, etc have been spotted near Mirissa.

8. Wilpattu National Park

Herd of spotted deer In Wilpattu National Park
Herd of spotted deer In Wilpattu National Park

The largest of all national parks in Sri Lanka, Wilpattu or “Land of Lakes” has around 60 lakes in the massive area that it is spread over. Due to such high natural water resource available in and around the area, the flora and fauna flourishes vastly and abundantly adding to the beauty of this national park. Not as famous as the Yala National Park, this park also offers sights of leopards, Indian python, whistling teal, barking deer and sloth bears frolicking around. Herds of water buffaloes can be seen soaking up in these naturally occurring salty and freshwater lakes. 

  • Best known for – High number of natural lakes and Sloth bears.
  • Best time to visit – Between May and September
  • Location – Around 04 hours from Colombo and 01 hour from Anuradhapura.
  • Other activities – Visit the ancient city of Anuradhapura and witness the 2,000 year old sacred Bodhi tree that was planted from a branch of the tree under which Gautam Buddha attained enlightment.

9. Gal Oya National Park

Gal Oya National Park
Gal Oya National Park

One of the least visited national parks in Sri Lanka, Gal Oya National Park is the most unique amongst the all. Offering a boat safari to its visitors to witness 32 different species of mammals and birdlife in the park, Gal Oya National Park is different from all the national parks in Sri Lanka. Egrets, golden orioles, eagles, paradise flycatchers, ibises, cormorants and many more species of birds flock towards this serene park cohabiting with butterflies, geckos, and if you wish to observe them up close, then this is the place you have to be at. With original tribes like Veda still inhabiting the lands, it is one of the least exploited parks out of all. 

  • Best known for – River Safari.
  • Best time to visit – Between March and July.
  • Location – Around 03 hours from Colombo.
  • Other activities – Senanayake Samudraya, a large manmade lake to collect rain water is situated in the park where visitors can ride a boat and have a picnic on its island.

10. Kumana National Park

Mangroves of Kumana National Park
Mangroves of Kumana National Park

One of the historic national parks in Sri Lanka, Kumana National Park is not only visited by various birds, but is also the roosting and breeding ground for them. Pelicans, spoonbills, pintail snipes, ibises, herons, storks, etc. are just some of the frequent visitors to this park. The birds however are not alone as they have to be on the constant lookout from predators like jackals that roam around the swamps. Not just fauna, but the flora of this region also stands out with kumbuk trees and mangroves scattered about the park covers all the bases from diverse fauna to diverse flora.

  • Best known for – Regional and migratory birds.
  • Best time to visit – Between February and July
  • Location – Around 06 hours from Colombo.
  • Other activities – Visit the ruins of Bambaragasthalawa Naga Pabbata Monastery that was built in the 9th century and witness one of the few reclining Buddha statues in the world.

And with that we conclude our list.

Sri Lanka is a beautiful country and with such amazing nature parks it is sure to attract nature lovers like a moth to a flame. No matter when you plan to visit the country or what part of the country you visit, there will always be something new to see, something exciting to experience and something to permanently preserve in your memories. We won’t be surprised if you book a Sri Lanka holiday just to experience the wildlife and the nature of the country.

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