Sri Lanka’s Wildlife Beyond Yala
A few of Sri Lanka's other noteworthy wildlife spots
Sri Lanka’s wildlife is world famous. This tiny tear drop shaped island is home to hundreds of amazing species. From the Asian elephant to the sloth bear it has something for everyone. Of course its most famous resident is the leopard. Many travellers on the “hunt” for the big cat will head straight for Yala National Park. This is the most popular park in the country. Although it is definitely a great place to visit, we wanted to highlight a few other places that are worth your attention.
Wilpattu National Park
Wilpattu is Sri Lanka’s oldest and largest national park that has only fairly recently reopened after decades of being used as a battle ground during the civil war. Not many know this, but the leopard population here is just as large as Yala, although it does take a bit more patience and luck to see it as the landscape here is much thicker with forest. Wilpattu is also a great spot to see sloth bears and an amazing array of resident and migratory birds.
How to get there: Best way is to hire a car and driver for the 3.5 hour drive from Colombo. The two main towns near Wilpattu National Park are Eluwankulama and Hunuwilagama. Here you can spend the night at one of the lodges or hotels and hire a safari jeep.
Bundala National Park
Bundala National Park, just a stone throw away from Yala, is located right on the ocean of the Southern coast. This geographic location makes for impressive wetlands that are home to some 400 species of plants, many marshes and streams. Bundala is a globally critical spot for migratory birds, with the most famous visitors being flocks of greater flamingos. In addition to birds you can also see grey langur monkeys, occasional elephants and crocodiles.
How to get there: Best bet is to get a car and driver to take you on the 4.5 hours drive. There is also a bus that takes about 8 hours to get to Tissamaharama, which is also the best town to find accommodation and hire a safari jeep.
The Sinharaja Forest Reserve
You would not be wrong to call Sinharaja one of the distinctive environments in Sri Lanka. This primary tropical forest is a UNESCO heritage site that is home to almost 50% of Sri Lanka’s endemic mammals and butterflies. Aside from spotting the Sri Lankan long tailed squirrel and getting to experience holding a millipede you will also get a reprieve from the tropical sun as the forest is located at a higher altitude and tends to get quite misty and wet.
How to get there: from Colombo it is best to hire a driver for the 4.5 hour ride. There is very little by way of public transport in this direction. The main entrance is off the main road near the town of Mediripitiya where you can also find accommodation. Here you can arrange for a guide to take you inside the forest. A guide is required by the national park.
Udawalawe National Park
A great near by alternative to the popular Yala, Udawalawe promises a spectacular elephant show. It is said that there are some 500 elephants in the park and at times they wander in heards of up to 60. Here you can also spot lots of birds and water buffalos.
How to get there: best way is to hire a driver. By car it will take you about 2.5 hours from Colombo to Udawalawe town. Here you can find accommodation and hire a safari jeep.
Whale Watching in Weligama Bay
Beside all the land animals, Sri Lanka is also an amazing place to see the world’s largest marine mammals. Just off the southern coast you can see blue, sperm and orca whales as they migrate from the waters off the east coast of Africa to the Bay of Bengal. There are a lot of boats offering the service to take out visitors to watch whales, however we would advise to pick an operator that is going to treat the wildlife with respect and not get too close. Our pick is Borderlands.
How to get there: one way is to take the train from Colombo to Weligama. The journey is about 2.5 hours. You can also take a car (under 2 hours drive). Once in Weligama you can head to the coast to find boat operators. There are lots of accommodation around here as well.