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Portrait of an Sri Lankan Leopard, Yala, Sri Lanka

The National Parks

Sri Lanka’s isolated island location, heavy rainfall from two annual monsoons and a wide range of altitudes give Sri Lanka biodiversity normally found across an entire continent.

Sri Lanka is home to some of the most beautiful and unexplored National Parks that are abundant with wildlife. Visiting a park during your holiday to Sri Lanka is always a rewarding experience. 

Experiences

It’s all here. Things to see and do, places to explore and moments to discover.

The Elephant Gathering

Witness hundreds of elephants gathering in Minneriya National Park during Sri Lanka’s dry season.

Bird watching

Sri Lanka is a birds paradise. Spend a few days in the Knuckles mountain range, a unique ecosystem and home to over 120 bird species.

Sinharaja Forest Reserve

View the magnificent mixed-species bird flocks of Sinharaja, Sri Lanka’s premier rainforest. Other animals present include leopard, purple-faced langur, barking deer and three types of squirrel.

Leopards of Yala

Experience one of the planet’s largest leopard populations at Yala National Park.

Meet the Veddha Tribe

Walk through Gal Oya forest with a member of the Veddha Tribe and learn about living life in the forest.

Sloth Bears

Observe the Sri Lankan sloth bear in its natural habitat at Wilpattu National Park.

Leopard, Yala, Sri Lanka
Yala National Park, Sri Lanka
Bird, Yala National Park, Sri Lanka
Yala National Park, Sri Lanka
sloth bear, Yala National Park, Sri Lanka
Yala National Park, Sri Lanka
Green Bee Eater, Yala National Park, Sri Lanka
Yala National Park, Sri Lanka
Morning Game Drive, Yala National Park, Sri Lanka
Yala National Park, Sri Lanka

Yala National Park

Situated in the south-east of the country, bordering the Indian Ocean, Yala is the second largest national park in Sri Lanka. Yala is divided into five zones, zone one and five are open to the public. Depending on how many jeep drives you do, you will likely spend the majority of your time in zone one where the greatest number of sightings are reported. Zone five, however, is very beautiful and still worth visiting. Yala can have a reputation for being busy due to its popularity and leopard sighting success, but you can avoid the crowds and still get a unique eco-friendly wildlife experience. Yala does remain the best place, worldwide, to spot leopards. Yala National Park closes for six to eight weeks each year, typically from the beginning of September onwards.

Leopard Safaris and Noel Rodrigo’s Leopard Trails offer tented camping options with jeep safaris into the park included. This unique camping experience is hands-down the best way to see Yala. Staying on the border of the park and dining under the stars is an unforgettable experience. It’s great for anyone looking to add a little adventure to their trip.

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Baby Elephant, Minneriya National Park, Sri Lanka
Minneriya National Park, Sri Lanka
Elephant Herd, Minneriya National Park, Sri Lanka
Minneriya National Park, Sri Lanka
Elephants, Minneriya National Park, Sri Lanka
Minneriya National Park, Sri Lanka

Minneriya

Minneriya is usually visited during a tour of the cultural triangle as it’s only a one to two-hour drive from Sigiriya and Dambulla.

Large numbers of Asian elephants can be found here at certain times of year during their migrations between the various parks. They are most numerous from July to October, peaking in August and September when water elsewhere dries up and as many as three hundred or more come to the tank’s ever-receding shores to drink, bathe and feed on the fresh grass that grows up from the lake bed as the waters retreat – as well as to socialize and search for mates.

Wild Elephants, Uda Walawe NP, Sri Lanka
Udawalawe National Park, Sri Lanka
Reservoir at Udawalawe National Park, Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka

Uda Walawe

If you love elephants and are wondering where to see them during your holiday in Sri Lanka, Uda Walawe National Park is where you’ll find hundreds of elephants roaming free. Uda Walawe is about a third of the size of Yala and typically less crowded, located on the southern boundary of the central highlands. A visit here works well on a journey from the Tea Country to the beaches on the south coast and Galle. With herds of elephants, wild buffalo, sambar deer and leopards, Uda Walawe is a fantastic park and arguably rivals the savannah reserves of Africa. Due to its light vegetation, it is easy to spot and watch the game.

Knuckles Mountain Range, Sri Lanka
Knuckles Mountain Range, Sri Lanka

Knuckles Mountain Range

The Knuckles Mountain Range spreads across the districts of Matale and Kandy in central Sri Lanka. It is named after the appearance of its conical peaks which resemble a giant set of knuckles poking out of the ground. The Knuckles range is a stunning UNESCO World Heritage Site and popular with wildlife enthusiasts and hikers. With cascading waterfalls, quaint villages, terraced rice fields and a high level of biodiversity, this region displays the best of Sri Lanka’s diverse natural beauty. Spending a few days in here is extremely rewarding.

You’re not likely to see leopards and elephants here – although they are around, the numbers are very small and the chances of a sighting are rare. The Knuckles is more about smaller things: birdlife, lizards, butterflies, frogs, and loris.

Elephants, Wilpattu National Park, Sri Lanka
Wilpattu National Park, Sri Lanka
Leopard, Wilpattu National Park, Sri Lanka
Wilpattu National Park, Sri Lanka

Wilpattu National Park

Once off-limits during the civil war, Wilpattu has been beautifully preserved, receives much less tourism than other parks and is actually Sri Lanka’s largest national park. Wilpattu is often compared to Yala given their similar size and diverse range of wildlife. However, Wilpattu is notably much greener than Yala with forests and lakes making up a large part of it. Wilpattu is located on the north-west coast of Sri Lanka, extending inland to the ancient capital city of Anuradhapura. Wilpattu is also 30kms from Puttalam and 190kms from Colombo.

The many lakes and sand-rimmed water basins attract a wide range of aquatic birds. Wilpattu is also a great place for spotting leopards and sloth bears.

Gal Oya National Park, Sri Lanka
Gal Oya National Park, Sri Lanka
Vedda Man, Gal Oya National Park, Sri Lanka
Gal Oya National Park, Sri Lanka
Elephant, Gal Oya National Park, Sri Lanka
Gal Oya National Park, Sri Lanka
Elephant, Gal Oya National Park, Sri Lanka
Gal Oya National Park, Sri Lanka

Gal Oya

The picturesque Gal Oya nature reserve is Sri Lanka’s most remote and least visited wilderness areas. This beautiful national park is home to a large elephant herd that can often be seen swimming across the reservoir, best viewed by boat safari. In fact, Gal Oya is the only national park on the island where you can view elephants swimming by the boat. It’s a breathtaking experience.

Most people come to Gal Oya for the elephants, but there’s much more in the park. Expect a vast array of aquatic birdlife, wild boar, sambar and axis deer, among other things. It is also possible to spend time with the local forest-dwelling tribe, The Veddas.

Meet our experts

A passion for travel runs right through every one of our experts - meaning they're always ready with first-hand insight about their specialist countries.

Joe Parkes

As a child I read voraciously so the seed of travel was planted by none other than Enid Blyton. Family holidays ran the gamut from icy dips in the early summer seas of Cornwall, to camel rides in north Africa, from Times Square to Tenerife. A GAP year upon leaving school cemented the travel bug. After graduating University and before stumbling, happily, into a career in the travel industry I spent a couple of glorious years exploring southern and east Africa, large swathes of South-east Asia, India, Nepal, and Sri Lanka.
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Kate Hitchen

My travels were first inspired by my love of the UK, which I take as much pleasure in exploring as countries far and wide. For me, travel is all about the adventure, the people I meet and the food I sample along the way. In fact, I am never happier than when I’m cycling, trekking or simply eating my way through a country! My heart and head regularly pull me east, notably to India but I may also be found wandering through the galleries and piazzas of Italy or daydreaming about fresh ceviche in the far west.
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It was all very last minute from us so Kate did a great job in responding to a change in dates and negotiating a good deal.

Sri Lanka

We had the most amazing holiday. Thank you to all at Steppes and a huge thank you for our surprise meal at Ministry of Crab. We are so grateful.

Sri Lanka

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