A herd of elephants at Udawalawe National Park, Sri Lanka
A herd of elephants at Udawalawe National Park, Sri LankaShutterstock

Explore Sri Lanka’s Breathtaking National Parks

From lush rainforests to arid plains, these protected areas offer a haven for diverse wildlife and an immersive experience for those who love the outdoors

Sri Lanka, the pearl of the Indian Ocean, is famous not only for its beautiful beaches and rich cultural heritage but also for its fascinating national parks that highlight the nation's rich biodiversity. Whether it is the majestic elephants that wander free in Minneriya National Park, the elusive leopards in Yala National Park, or the colourful birds in Sinharaja Forest Reserve, Sri Lanka's national parks stand as a testament to the nation's dedication to conservation. Join us on a journey through these natural gems to experience the unique charm each park offers for adventure seekers and animal enthusiasts alike.

Yala National Park

Dried up lake at Yala National Park
Dried up lake at Yala National ParkShutterstock

Yala National Park, situated in the southeast region of Sri Lanka, is one of the country’s most popular wildlife destinations. Spanning over 97,000 hectares, it is renowned for its high leopard population. If leopard sighting is your priority, try to visit between February and June/July; the water levels are at their lowest, making it the most convenient time to sight these majestic big cats.

Barring the park’s star attractions, there are other fascinating creatures to be found at Yala National Park, such as elephants, monkeys, spotted deer, and the Sri Lankan sloth bear, which is best spotted in the months of May through July, as this is when the fruiting palu trees attract the bears out foraging.

Distance from Colombo: 263 kilometres

Sinharaja Forest Reserve

River at Sinharaja Forest Reserve
River at Sinharaja Forest ReserveShutterstock

Sinharaja Forest Reserve is a national park famous for its rich biodiversity. UNESCO has named the reserve a Biosphere Reserve and a World Heritage Site. Sinharaja is a tropical rainforest home to a vast variety of flora and fauna. More than 60 per cent of the trees in Sinharaja are endemic or native to the region. Besides, it is home to more than half of the indigenous animal species in Sri Lanka.

As one of the last remaining primary rainforests of Sri Lanka, Sinharaja is well-known for its tall trees that are unique all over the world. Various mixed-bird species are present here, including the green-billed coucal, Sri Lankan Blue magpie, and red-faced malkoha.

Exploring Sinharaja involves trekking through lush trails and immersing oneself into its serene ambience. Guided tours are available.

Distance from Colombo: 145 kilometres

Udawalawe National Park

A lonely jumbo at Udawalawe National Park
A lonely jumbo at Udawalawe National ParkShutterstock

This large, well-known park on the southern fringes of the country's hilly area is primarily covered with low-lying scrub, making it easier to sight the majestic herds of elephants in the park. The ideal times to see them are at sunrise or sunset on a jeep safari. Udawalawe is a haven for birders, too, with 200 varieties of birds, including the grey hornbill, owls and jungle fowls. Crocodiles are also common here.

Distance from Colombo: 245 kilometres

Horton Plains National Park

Baker's Falls, Horton Plains National Park
Baker's Falls, Horton Plains National ParkShutterstock

Horton Plains National Park, located in Sri Lanka’s central highlands, is a biodiverse and picturesque destination. This park boasts a diverse range of ecosystems ranging from grasslands, forests and fauna.

With a number of breathtaking vantage points overlooking the park, Horton Plains is well worth a visit. The national park features a gorgeous, dense forest that ends abruptly in front of plateaus and peaks that reside among the clouds. The World's End precipice, which provides breathtaking views of the surrounding areas, is one of the most loved viewing points.

As the park is the source of three of Sri Lanka's main rivers, Horton Plains' wet nature guarantees the flourishing of its flora, fauna, and wildlife.

Distance from Colombo: 185 kilometres

Wilpattu National Park

Leopards at Wilpattu National Park
Leopards at Wilpattu National ParkShutterstock

Wilpattu is the largest and oldest national park in Sri Lanka. Located on the northwest coast of Sri Lanka the park boasts stunning scenery and lakes that attract diverse animals. The park's distinctive feature is its collection of natural lakes, which play a vital role in sustaining the wildlife during the dry season. Wilpattu is renowned for its significant population of leopards, offering a unique opportunity for wildlife enthusiasts to spot these elusive big cats in their natural habitat.

Since it only reopened in 2010 following the civil war, it hasn't yet attained the level of popularity of Yala National Park, which makes it possible to make the most of the same major attractions—a leopard, an elephant, and a sloth bear—without the crowds! It is only a little over an hour's drive from the ancient city of Anuradhapura, so it can easily be coupled with the UNESCO-listed sites of the Cultural Triangle.

Distance from Colombo: 184 kilometres

Bundala National Park 

Painted Stork at Bundala National Park
Painted Stork at Bundala National Park Shutterstock

Nestled along Sri Lanka’s southern coast, Bundala National Park is renowned as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve and celebrated for its remarkable birdlife. The park attracts a multitude of migratory birds, especially during the winter months, making it a paradise for birdwatchers. Flocks of flamingos, painted storks, pelicans, herons, and numerous other waders and shorebirds make this park their temporary home, offering visitors a captivating avian spectacle.

A watery wonderland of bird-filled wetlands and coastal lagoons that speaks to lovers of all things aquatic. Flamingos (which number in thousands) and crocodiles are the stars of the show, but the more astute observer will be delighted by the vibrantly coloured bee-eaters and openbill storks. Another attraction is the elephants, who are best seen in December during the park's high season. Bundala National Park claims nearly 20 km of the southern littoral zone, between Kirinda and Hambantota encompassing a lengthy stretch of beaches.

May to September are the best times to visit this park when wildlife sightings are at their peak.

Distance from Colombo: 253 kilometres

Gal Oya National Park

Mountains at Gal Oya National Park
Mountains at Gal Oya National ParkShutterstock

This wet and wild park was originally created by the adjacent Senanayake Samudraya reservoir, which serves as a catchment area for the excess water that the reservoir is unable to hold. As a result, the national park is home to several wetlands and lush forests that happily soak up the water, converting it into verdant leaves and dense fauna. What sets Gal Oya apart is the splendid Gal Oya Reservoir, the largest inland body of water in the country, serving as the focal point of the park's ecosystem.

Visitors to the park may get a peek at some of the amazing animals that call the park home, with elephants, buffaloes, and leopards living inside its boundaries. Other than animal adventures, visitors can go camping. Boat tours can take you very close to the animals at the watering hole.

Distance from Colombo: 181 kilometres

Getting there

Flying from India to Sri Lanka is the most convenient option, and you'll probably reach there the same day you depart. Sri Lanka has a bustling airport called Bandaranaike Internal Airport. Located in Colombo, this airport serves as the arrival point for Sri Lankan flights from major locations worldwide. Assuming you’re travelling from Delhi to Colombo, the total travel time would be 3 hours and 35 minutes (for a non-stop flight).

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