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Leopard, Yala National Park, Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka – In the Company of Naturalists

  • TAILOR-MADE HOLIDAY IDEA

Duration

14 Days

Prices Start from

£4,700 ex. flights

Spotting leopard in lush jungles, seeing the forest through the eyes of the Veddhas, private whale watching experience off the south coast, Sri Lanka is a perfect destination for wildlife enthusiasts, young and old. In the company of naturalists, discover lesser visited forest reserves and National Parks not on the tourist trail.

Key Highlights of this Itinerary

sloth bear, Yala National Park, Sri Lanka 1

Wilpattu and Yala

Track leopards and sloth bear on a jeep safari at Wilpattu and Yala National Parks.

Gal Oya National Park, Sri Lanka 2

Gal Oya

Senanayaka Samudra Lake, the largest inland body of water, is home to swimming elephants.

Whales, Trincomalee, Sri Lanka 3

Whale Watching

Sri Lanka is one of the best places in the world to see the Blue Whale.

Knuckles Mountain Range, Sri Lanka 4

Knuckles Ranges

Hike towards Ella Rock for stunning views across the Knuckles Mountain Range.

Why we like it

What other destination can offer whale watching one day and elephants and leopard sightings the next? This well-thought-out trip visits five national parks, concluding with an ocean-based sea excursion. Each step of the way we ensure you are meeting expert naturalists, such as Damian of Gal Oya and other engaging personalities. Interspersed with leisurely hikes into the hill country and wanderings through ruined ancient cities, this holiday suits the most curious traveller with a penchant for nature.

Don't forget, we will customise this journey to suit you.

Explore our suggested itinerary

  • Day 1
    Colombo - Makandura
  • Day 2
    Makandura - Wilpattu National Park
  • Day 3
    Wilpattu National Park
  • Day 4
    Wilpattu National Park - Sigiriya
  • Day 5
    Sigiriya
  • Day 6
    Sigiriya - Gal Oya National Park
  • Day 7
    Gal Oya National Park
  • Day 8
    Gal Oya National Park - Ella
  • Day 9
    Ella
  • Day 10
    Ella - Yala National Park
  • Day 11
    Yala National Park
  • Day 12
    Yala National Park - Galle
  • Day 13
    Galle
  • Day 14
    Galle- Colombo
Leopard, Yala National Park, Sri Lanka
Yala National Park, Sri Lanka

Explore the National Parks

Sri Lanka is home to some of the most beautiful and unexplored National Parks in this part of the world. The island’s isolation from the mainland, heavy rainfall from two annual monsoons and a wide range of altitudes give Sri Lanka biodiversity normally found across an entire continent. Get off the beaten track and visit remote national parks such as Gal Oya, Wilpattu, Bundala and Keneliya. 

What sets Wilpattu apart from other parks is the peace, space, and tranquillity away from other safari vehicles. Venture out on a game drive into the verdant jungle. Sightings of sloth bear are a frequent occurrence at Wilpattu. See the magnificent leopard roaming freely in Yala National Park. 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.

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

Gal Oya Lake

Gal Oya National Park is surrounded by plenty of water and little islands making this the perfect environment for the wild elephant to roam and crocodiles to bask. It can be scary watching from your tiny safari boat as a 12-foot crocodile slinks off the bank and disappears into the water — but there’s nothing to be afraid of. Sri Lanka’s freshwater mugger crocodiles are less aggressive than their saltwater counterparts and are not known to attack humans! Gal Oya Lake is the only national park on the island where you can view elephants swimming from your safari boat. It’s a breathtaking experience. We would argue that this unique national park is one of Sri Lanka’s best-kept secrets.

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

Walk with the Vedda

Gal Oya Lodge is neighbour to one of the last remaining communities of the Vedda – the forest-dwelling, indigenous people of Sri Lanka. the village Chief will accompany you on a walk through the jungles of his ancestors. Learn about local nature as he brings the forest alive by explaining his tribe’s use of medicinal plants, ancient hunting grounds and cave dwellings while providing a fascinating insight into how the hunter-gatherers lived in the jungles of Gal Oya.

You will quickly find that the vedda people are friendly and open people with great knowledge of the nature that surrounds them. They worship dead ancestors and sing songs to the spirits in the forests to ensure safe passage as they travel. If you visit during the honey season, you may even have the opportunity to watch the Veddas harvesting honey from the giant combs that sit high in the trees.

Whilst at the lodge, we encourage you to spend time with the excellent and ever enthusiastic in-house naturalist, Damian. Visit the Wildlife Research Centre on the grounds. Damian and the lodge team are actively monitoring the species surrounding the lodge, which include mouse deer, water monitor, and the endangered thick-tailed pangolin. They have exciting camera trap imagery that they will share with you.

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Tea Pickers, Sri Lanka
Nuwara Eliya, Sri Lanka

Trek and Tea Experience

Rise early to avoid the warmer temperatures later in the day and enjoy clear views of the valley and surrounding hills. 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.

Walk with a local farmer who will guide you to Ella Rock. Aside from trail hikes, Ella offers a fabulous tea experience. Meet Salinda Madugalle, a tea planter for over 30 years. Salinda will show you around the tea estates as they exist now, and take you on a walk down the memory lane of the life of a tea planter. Meet some locals plucking tea and later join Salinda for a private tea tasting experience at Santani.

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Whales, Trincomalee, Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka

Whale Watching

You can see up to ten different species off the Sri Lankan coast, including fin, Bryde’s, minke, humpback, sperm, and of course a plethora of dolphins, between late November and mid-April. Between February and March, it is krill feeding time when blue whales are jumping out of the ocean. Just an hour from Galle, board your private catamaran operated by Sail Lanka, setting off from Mirissa Harbour.

Avoid the bun fight that happens each morning by being one of the first vessels to leave the harbour. It is questionable if the public boats have responsible tourism at the heart of their operations or just cashing in on the experience. Sail Lanka is accredited by the WDCS and has a responsible tourism policy. So bring your binoculars and support all conservation initiatives as much as you can.

With breakfast and lunch on board, a friendly and well-trained crew, as well as snorkelling and paddle boarding gear included, this is a great opportunity to not only catch a glimpse of the gentle giants of the ocean but to explore the south coast in all its beauty.

 

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Sinharaja Forest Reserve, Sri Lanka
Sinharaja Forest Reserve, Sri Lanka

Visit the Kaneliya Rainforest Reserve

Another fantastic experience, close to the town of Galle, is to explore Kaneliya and Hiyare Rainforest Reserves. Visit this impressive rainforest, on foot, with your wildlife tracker. In comparison to other wildlife parks in the country, both these reserves are much more serene and tranquil but boast an eco-system that includes a natural lake and diverse variety of plants, birds, insects as well as deer and porcupine. The trek through the forest reserve itself can be quite an adventure, as the only ways through the forest is by foot or paddle boat.

 

Accommodation

Below you can see some of the wonderful places we recommend you stay on your journey.

Kulu Safari Yala £££££

  • Sri Lanka
  • Tented Camps

Kulu Safaris offer comfortable accommodation with a minimal ecological footprint while experiencing a definitive wildlife experience.

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Noel Rodrigo Leopard Safaris Wilpattu £££££

  • Sri Lanka
  • Tented Camps

Noel Rodrigo’s Leopard Safaris in Wilpattu is found on the edge of the forest, perfect for wildlife spotting, looked down upon by pink sunsets and the reflection of stars in the nearby lake. After years of being off-limits during the civil war, Wilpattu, the largest national park in Sri Lanka is certainly off the beaten track and a must visit the park for the nature enthusiast.

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Galle Fort Hotel £££££

  • Sri Lanka
  • Boutique

One of the largest private houses inside the Dutch ramparts of the UNESCO site of Galle Fort has been wonderfully renovated and converted into a luxurious 12 (7 suites) room hotel. Whilst life continues its hectic pace outside, the hotel provides a calming atmosphere.

Gal Oya Lodge £££££

  • Sri Lanka
  • Safari and Wildlife Lodge

Gal Oya Lodge offers environmentally responsible tourism from an eight bedded wildlife lodge, set on 20 acres of private forest. There is also a two bedroom villa perched at the highest point of Gal Oya Lodge, which has the most breathtaking views. Gal Oya National Park is relatively unheard of. The journey to reach here is at some times tedious, but well worth the effort. With the largest lake in Sri Lanka, and wildlife viewed by unique boat safari, the lodge and untouched surroundings are unlike anywhere else in Sri Lanka.

25 Rampart Street £££££

  • Sri Lanka
  • Boutique

Taru Villas 25 Rampart Street is a beautiful four-bedroom boutique hotel within the storied ramparts of Galle Fort. The villa has been restored into an intimate and luxurious place to stay providing an elegant combination of antique charm and modern amenities. Taru Villas 25 Rampart Street is also one of the few properties within the entirety of the Galle Fort that provides the luxury of a private swimming pool.

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Let’s chat

Speak to our experts

Our team is waiting to help you tailor a trip that will leave you with stories for a lifetime. Call us on

01285 601 784

Send us an enquiry

Or send us a quick email below and start your next journey.

Call us

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

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

Kate Hitchen's help in organising this trip was excellent. She was very knowledgable and tailor-made our trip to suit our three teenage children.

Sri Lanka

A note on price

Prices will vary depending on the time of year you are travelling. Prices do not include international flights. Please ask one of our Travel Experts for an accurate quote. Flights purchased through Steppes Travel departing from the UK are ATOL protected.

This Itinerary
Price
From £4,700 Per person

When to travel

Sri Lanka in January

Sri Lanka benefits from generally good weather all year round and experiences a tropical climate with the best and most popular to visit being during our winter months, from January to April.

Sri Lanka in February

Visit the Southern and Western coast of Sri Lanka to experience the hot and humid climate in coastal areas or visit the mountainous regions for cooler temperatures with less humidity.

Sri Lanka in March

In Northern and Central Sri Lanka, temperatures will start to rise, and these regions will become more humid with March being generally a dry month for Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka in April

Overall, April is a very good time to visit Sri Lanka, with most of the island experiencing high temperatures and lots of sunshine, all before the first monsoon rains of the year begin in the South.

Sri Lanka in May

From May to August, the country experiences the first of its two annual monsoon seasons in Southwest Sri Lanka. Therefore, during these months it is best to visit Northeast Sri Lanka including Batticaloa and Passekudah.

Sri Lanka in June

Rainfall with continue in the South during the monsoon season whereas in Northern Sri Lanka, June is one of the best times to visit this area with a warm climate and high temperatures throughout.

Sri Lanka in July

In Northern Sri Lanka, the months of June and July are particularly good times to travel to the area, with minimal rainfall, particularly high temperatures and long days of sunshine.

Sri Lanka in August

Throughout the country, you can expect excellent climate conditions. August is ideal month for those wanting to experience both the Northeast and Southwest regions of the island, typically quite unusual due to Sri Lanka’s monsoon seasons.

Sri Lanka in September

September will start to see the end of the monsoon season in the Southwest and whilst rainfall and thunderstorms are less frequent, are still likely across the region.

Sri Lanka in October

Prior to the monsoon season, rainfall is likely throughout the country and can sometimes be unpredictable, meaning disruptions in travel are likely.

Sri Lanka in November

From November to February, Northeast Sri Lanka will experience one of two annual monsoon seasons. Whilst most days will experience rainfall, it is a great time to travel to experience the lush, green countryside.

Sri Lanka in December

Due to the monsoon in the Northeast, it is best to visit the southwest coast of Sri Lanka prior to the second monsoon reaching this area in May. Experience high levels of sunshine, perfect for Sri Lanka’s beaches.

Why Choose Steppes?

Our knowledge and expertise sets us apart. So too our curiosity. A curiosity of the world and of you, and your passions. It is this that drives us to create a journey that is really bespoke to you.

Are you ready to discover extraordinary?


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