Wilpattu National Park
Located approximately 1.5 hours from Kalpitiya town, and 4 hours from the city of Colombo, Wilpattu National Park is one of the largest and oldest national parks in Sri Lanka. The park is known as the Land of Lakes (“Willu” translates to “lake”), due to the presence of more than 105 natural lakes and tanks that are spread over it. These lakes are natural, sand-rimmed water basins that are often filled with rainwater. It’s also the best place of spotting the park’s residents; be it elephants or crocodiles, as they lounge in the refreshing waters to shake off the island’s heat.
A Haven for the Sri Lanka Leopard
The park covers an area of more than 1,300 square kilometres and is world-renowned for the population of leopards residing within it. A survey conducted in the park in 2015 by the Wilderness & Wildlife Conservation Trust showed that there were at least 49 individual leopards living at the park. The park was closed in 2003 due to the looming dangers of the Sri Lankan Civil War, before being reopened to the public more than a decade later. However, only 25% of the park is currently open to visitors.
The Best Time to Witness the Park’s Biodiversity
Park safaris are conducted throughout the year, but the best time to visit is between the months of February and October, during the dry season. This is where residents venture from the thick shrubs in search of food and water, which gives you a higher chance of spotting Sri Lanka’s beautiful creatures. There are more than 30 different species of mammals that have been identified as residing within the park, including elephants, leopards, water buffalos, spotted deer, mongoose and shrews. It is also the home of several species of birds such as owls, terns, eagles, and several wetland bird species.