Sri Lanka has an enviable record of animal conservation, with numerous well established national parks. Discover Sri Lanka's leopards and elephants on luxury safari or by jeep with Boutique Sri Lanka's specialist wildlife guides. Our country experts will combine your wish-list of culture, sightseeing and wildlife for your dream holiday. Live like kings in luxury tents and sip tea in the tropical gardens and admire nature at its best.
Sri Lanka has an enviable record of animal conservation, from the founding of a flora and fauna reserve at Mihintale, at the birth of Buddhism in the third century BC, to the establishment of the many sanctuaries and National Parks at the present day. These range from Safari Parks with family-friendly easy-viewing jeep tours, to the strict natural reserves, e.g. Sinharaja rainforest, open only to specialist visitors.
There is no need to book entry and a guide in advance but it is best to plan ahead for a half day or full day safari. Morning safaris start at around 6am and 2pm for afternoon trips each lasting 4-5 hours. Those who wish to stay all day, can picnic on the beach for lunch. Ensure that you are at the front of the morning queue of jeeps to avoid joining a long convoy. In other words, set your alarm and “get up”.
Jeeps can often be hired from your hotel but ensure that they have good safari experience as the engine cutting is crucial for some close-up approaches. The guides are employed by the conservation and wildlife societies and must accompany all visitors to the park. Costs can adjust in accordance with govt. tax and we try to keep up to date.
Our current guide is as follows:
|Park||Entry Fees inc jeep (pp)||Open Hours||
|Uda Walawe||$70||6 am-6 pm||$15|
|Gal Oya||By boat||6 am-6 pm|
|Minneriya||$70||6 am- 6pm||$15|
|Kaudulla||$70||6 am -6pm||$15|
|Yala||$70||6 am- 6pm||$15|
|Bundala||$70||6 am -6pm||$15|
|Sinharaja||$ 60||8am -5pm||Below 3 years free|
What you may see on the island
|leopard||3 species monkey||wild boar||langur monkey|
Other mammals inculde:
|crocodiles||marine turtles||Other reptiles include:|
From large game fish – marlin, tuna, to many colourful aquarium species – red scissortail, barb, paradise fish
Over 400 varieties, from critically endangered black-necked stork, to the tiny sunbirds and green bee-eater. For more details on bird watching and ideal locations see our bird watching review.
The National Parks of Sri Lanka
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South Central - Uda Walawe Park
In our opinion, Uda Walawe is the best place to view elephants in the wild. More natural than the orphanages and often you can get just as close.
Take a Jeep safari to see samba, deer, wild boar, jackals, elephant, wild buffalo, mongooses, foxes, water monitor lizards, crocodiles, sloth bears. Dry months are best for close up sightings as the mammals go in search for water and then stay.
East - Gal Oya
Motor boat safari viewing animals and birds from the lake.
Ancient Cities - Minneriya
June – September, dry season best time, elephant, deer, macaques, many birds.
Another great location for elephants with the highest population in the smallest park and hence great close-up sightings.
Jeep safaris and are best taken August-December, and take the guide's advice on which park as to the best population of elephants at any given time. A more fun means of travel but not embraced by some conservation groups is to step aboard an Elephant and take a bird's eye view around the tanks (lakes). Bear in mind that the sound of the elephant will scare away any ground mammals but it is a great way to see the birds. Some eco groups feel this is not friendly to elephants due to the weight of mounting cages and hot tarmac- let that be your guide and you make your own decision.
Catamaran trips over the tanks in this area are also available and ideal for spotting fish eagles.
Ancient Cities - Kandulla/Habarana
Jeep safaris and are best taken August-December, although a more fun means of travel are on the Elephant safaris around the tanks (lakes). Bear in mind that the sound of the elephant will scare away any ground mammals but it is a great way to see the birds.
Catamaran trips over the tanks are also available.
South East - Yala
Yala is the largest and most famous National park with Yala West (Ruhuna) combining a strict nature reserve with the Park. Sri Lanka boasts the world’s largest population of leopards. Yala has been the centre-stage to many BBC and Discovery Channel documentaries.
The cat’s purr can be heard from a distance and is so soporific. They love to bask in the sun at the top of 30ft rocks and it’s breathtaking, so take a zoom/telephoto lens.
February-June/July is the optimum time to visit when water tables are low. Leopard, elephant and many smaller animals are competing for the same drinking supply. You are likely also to see sloth bears, deer, wild boar, buffaloes, crocodiles and monkeys. Birds are in profusion – up to 130 species. The park also contains a monastic settlement, Situlpahuwa and other important centres of pilgrimage.
We prefer the morning safaris (sorry, 6am start) but if you haven’t seen enough, picnic on the beach and return in the afternoon. Cinnamon Wild will also allow you to enjoy the odd wild elephant, boar or buffalo at night.
The guides and jeeps (if you don’t negotiate something cheaper in Tissamaharama) join you at the Yala gates. The guides are very knowledgeable and intent on ensuring you have a great time. Despite their daily trips, they too love to find the rare animals.
Yala is now attracting hundreds of tourists so be patient during peak season as convoys are unavoidable. Avoid Christmas, Christian and Sinhala New years.
Yala closes its gates in September/ October during mating season, so November- December is a super time to catch the cubs
Yala East – rarely visited during the Tamil fighting but now open and a less crowded option than Yala West. The general fauna on view is similar, with the addition of many water birds towards the east coast and in the mangrove swamps.
South East - Bundala Nature Reserve
Important wetland sanctuary sheltering about 150 species of birds and is the winter home to the flamingo. From October to January, 4 species of marine turtle lay their eggs on the coast, plus crocodiles, elephant and giant squirrels live amongst the scrubby jungle, lagoons and beaches.
North West - Wilpattu National Park
Wilpattu is the largest park.
Dense pockets of jungle scrub and poaching was prevalent until the re-opening and wildlife, mostly deer and wild boar, seem wary of humans. Sadly the civil war of the late 90's forced the park to close and many fighters resorted to poaching as a means of survival. The Sri Lankan Tourist Board are investing heavily to restore this park to its former glory.
There are few hotels nearby so the Park attracts fewer tourists and the best way to explore the park is based at a savannah safari campsite. The tourist could also explore Wilpattu from Anuradhapura.
Most of the parks close in September during mating season, so October-December is a super time to catch the cubs.
South West - Panadura Wildlife Resource Centre
Here you can enjoy Canoe safaris through the wetlands.
Turtles – February-July is the peak nesting season to observe females lumbering up the beach to lay their eggs in the soft sand. Turtle watch begins 9.30pm – wear dark clothing so not to disturb turtles.
Birds – November-March is the best time to include all the migrants.
From October to December you may not see much other than deer and crocodiles. Other animals are more elusive at this time in the South & West.
Sinharaja is Sri Lanka’s only remaining rainforest and is now a protected zone. The best time to visit is early morning (sunrise) between February and April. Either embark upon a 3hr/3-mile trek with guide. Or take time to absorb the unique sights, sounds and community. On your travels you will come across rusty spotted cats, deer, squirrels, porcupines, pangolins, 45 species of reptiles, 147 species of birds and many stunning butterflies.
The drier months of August-September and January-April make best viewing but you will still need your waterproofs and cover up your ankles and skin to avoid leeches.
Rainforest Edge is an eco-boutique delight on the edge of the forest ideal for a couple of nights! However, day trekking excursions can be arranged form the South and South west coasts if you don't wish to repack your bags. Contact our consultants for more details.
Where To See Your Favourites
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Elephants can still be seen in working environments with mahouts/trainers around the country, especially the Cultural triangle, but many construction companies now use mechanical diggers etc.. You will find elephants en masse, in herds of 100 or so, in Uda Walawe Park and Kaudulla (our favourites) or more informally at Yala and Bundala Parks. Elephants can be found all year round but females with calves are prevalent between November and March.
The Elephant Orphanage at Pinnewalla is a popular visit for children and adults alike for watching the 60 babies being cared for. Also Lanugala Minneriya, Gal Oya, Kandulla and Kanneliya.
Leopards - Yala has the largest leopard population in the world and since 2002 the breeding season has resulted in a growing population of leopards. If you are very lucky you will also see some at Horton Plains and Sinharaja Kanneliya. Leopards tend to come out from their hiding February to June when water levels are low.
Crocodiles - are in abundance at Bundala, Yala but they can be hard to spot amongst the mud or on the tanks meniscus. You will see close-ups of baby crocodiles in the fresh water banks of Bentota river, especially around Christmas time.
Turtles - Turtle Conservation Project can be found all around the South & South west coasts. Some are working farms and will gladly let you join in, whilst Kosgoda, Rekawa Beach, east of Tangalle, Bundala and Unawatuna are more commercial and have a visiting centre.
Whales - The Blue whale and Sperm whale can be seen on the North West coast (a breeding ground), Mirissa and Welligama areas, and off the East coast of Trincomalee, one of their mating and calving zones. We are currently sourcing a well established guide for trips but these are still underdeveloped tourist regions. We can arrange a whale and dolphin watching trip as part of a deep fishing excursion from Mirissa bay- just ask our consultants.