Nature Reserves You Must Visit
Sri Lanka is home to 22 national parks which is an impressive amount for such a small island, sometimes making the whole country seem like a nature reserve. Of course, you can’t visit all the national parks, but here are the ones which are a must.
Polonnaruwa & Dambulla
Best known for their archaeological sites, Dambulla and Polonnaruwa are close to Minneriya and Kaudulla National Parks which merge together in the middle. The world’s largest gathering of wild Asian elephants occurs in these parks, and this happens during the dry season from June to September since the elephants are drawn out from the shrubbery and into the open plains where the water tanks usually are. This is a really special experience because you will be able to see about 200-600 wild elephants, some just a few feet away from you.
Hambantota is a great base to visit Sri Lanka’s most popular park– Yala National Park. Yala is home to Sri Lanka’s “Big Three”: elephants, leopards and bears, and has the highest density of leopards in a geographical area. The park can get quite crowded so make sure you leave Hambantota early because the best time to spot an elusive leopard is either in the early morning or the late afternoon. You will definitely spot a few elephants as well as deer, peacocks and crocodiles, but if you’re lucky you’ll see a bear and a leopard so keep an eye out!
Trinco is on the northeast coast of the island, and it has one of the two marine national parks of Sri Lanka– Pigeon Island National Park. The park is a small island off the coast of Nilaveli and the only way to access it is by boat. The island was given the name because of the rock pigeons that settled on it a long time ago. It is also home to colourful coral and a variety of fish species. Take your snorkelling gear or rent some from the Nilaveli snorkelling centres.
Haputale is a small town nestled in the southern end of the hill country. The town itself does not have much to offer, but it is ideal to use as a base if you decide to visit Horton Plains National Park. Trek through Horton Plains, where you’ll come across Baker’s Falls and the World’s End, the two main attractions! The whole trek takes about 3 hours, and it’s a good idea to pack a few snacks so that you can have a picnic in the park.