Sri Lanka’s National Parks and What They’re Famous For
Big cats, rare birds and majestic elephants – Sri Lanka’s got it all! If you’re hoping to spot some of these elusive creatures during your holiday, you must hit up some of the country’s famous national parks. The island has been identified as one of 34 biodiversity hotspots in the world, with a variety of different ecosystems within its borders and providing a tropical home for a diverse range of wildlife species.
Out of the 22 national parks in the country, here are the most popular ones and what they’re famous for. Plan your solo adventures in Sri Lanka accordingly.
Yala National Park
Famous For: Leopards
Yala gets the lion’s share of visitors every year when compared to Sri Lanka’s other national parks, and for good reason. It is the second biggest national park, behind Wilpattu National Park, and is home to one of the highest population densities of leopards anywhere in the world. The park is located approximately 300 kilometres away from Colombo (roughly five hours by car) in the Southeast corner of the island. It has a range of ecosystems ranging from the sandy coast to rugged terrain and thick jungles, all of which are great natural habitats for wildlife.
There are more than 200 different species of birds that can be found in Yala and more than 40 different species of mammals. In addition to its famed resident, leopards, visitors can also spot elephants, sloth bears, monkeys, water buffalo, sambar deer and spotted deer, mongooses and jackals within the park. Although you can visit throughout the year, the best time to spot the Big Three (leopard, elephant and bear) are between May and August. Birds, deer and crocodiles are easier to spot between October and December. The park is generally closed in September.
Minneriya National Park
Famous For: “The Gathering”
During the dry season between the months of August to October, elephants gather around the Minneriya Tank; one of the few sources of water within Minneriya National Park. The Gathering is the largest congregation of wild elephants in one area – where you can easily spot more than 200 elephants around the tank. This natural phenomenon was also featured on NatGeo as it is one of the largest gatherings of elephants in Asia. The sight is stunning to behold, and not to be missed by elephant lovers!
Minneriya National Park is located 180 kilometres from Colombo in the North Central Province of Sri Lanka, and is a major national park that hosts several other species of wildlife. These include monkeys such as the purple-faced langur and the toque macaque, sambar and axis deer, leopards, and sloth bears, to name a few. The park is also home to more than 170 species of birds. The Kaudulla National Park is also a great place to view elephants and other animal species. It is located in close proximity to Minneriya, and is generally less crowded.
Read more about The Gathering.
Horton Plains National Park
Famous For: World’s End
Located on the highest plateau in Sri Lanka’s central highlands, Horton Plains National Park sits at an altitude of between 2,100 to 2,300 metres and is home to over 20 species of mammals and 80 species of birds. The area is covered by montane grasslands and a cloud forest. It is the source of three major rivers: the Mahaweli River, the Kelani River and the Walawe. During your trek, you will also spot endemic animals such as sambar deer, purple-faced langurs, leopards and more.
The most famous attraction within Horton Plains is World’s End, a sheer cliff with a drop of 1,200 metres. Close to this main cliff is a smaller one called Mini World’s End, that features a smaller 300 metre drop.
Follow this guide as you plan your solo travel to Horton Plains National Park.
Bundala National Park
Famous For: Birds, Especially Flamingos
This national park was the first wetland in Sri Lanka to be declared as a Ramsar Site, giving it the honour of being designated as a wetland site of international importance. Located in Sri Lanka’s Southern Province, about 245 kilometres outside of Colombo, it is home to 15 species of vertebrates, 32 species of mammals, 48 species of reptiles and a whopping 197 different species of birds. There are also more than 50 different types of butterflies that flit through the park.
Bundala National Park is perhaps best known however for its large population of greater flamingos, which visit in flocks of over a thousand at a time. Birdwatchers from all over the globe stop by Bundala to observe the varied bird species that can be seen here, including waterfowl, cormorants, herons and storks.
Here’s a guide to the best places for solo bird watching.