We are Cez and Agness, best friends and travel buddies. We both love touring the world for new unique adventures and have been at it since 2011. Besides just seeing the world, we like using our experiences to provide others with the best tips for travelling. Let us do it with Sri Lanka today.
Tourism in Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka has earned its rightful place as one of the 34 world biodiversity hotspots, boasting a distinctive wildlife diversity, with a lot of species endemic to the island. These include more than 4,000 flowering plants, 492 bird species (32 of which are endemic), 245 butterfly species, 207 types of reptiles, 108 amphibians, 95 species of terrestrial mammals, 85 freshwater fish species, and thousands of invertebrates.
Additionally, the country is packed with unique wildlife spectacles – like the largest concentration of Asian elephants in the world (known internationally as ‘The Gathering’), the world’s largest collection of leopards, and is one of the top places, if not the best, to see blue whales. What’s more, this is the only place where you get to see the planet’s biggest mammals, the elephant and whale, in one country.
Get a visa to Sri Lanka in advance. Sri Lanka offers tourist visas for a maximum of 30 days, and even though several years wouldn’t be enough to experience everything worth trying in the country, one month is a good start. For help with organizing your Sri Lanka visa click here.
So, just where exactly do you go to get the different breathtaking experiences Sri Lanka’s nature has to offer?
Places of interest
1) Yala National Park
Located 300 km from the city of Colombo in the south-east part of Sri Lanka is Yala, the second largest National Park in the country. Yala occupies a long stretch of coastline that is mostly studded with dry scrub and rocky outcrops.
The reserve is covered with jungles, lakes, beaches, and rivers. This diversity in habitats has resulted in an excellent variety of wildlife. Yala hosts the largest concentration of leopards, approximately 125 bird species, 32 sorts of mammals and many reptiles as well as lagoon fauna.
The spotted deer, sambar (a sizeable deer), wild pig, buffalo, ruddy and stripe-necked mongooses, langur and toque monkeys, Indian palm civet, and golden jackal are some of the animals you should expect to see. As for the leopards, though existing here in substantial numbers, they might be difficult (not impossible) to find. This probably because their heightened senses enable them to avoid contact with humans.
You could combine your trip to Yala National Park with one to Bundala National Park (an hour’s drive) or the closer Palatupana Salt Pans (ten minutes). We especially recommend the two for bird watching.
Minneriya National Park
This impressive 8000-hectare (just over 30 sq mi) land between Habarana and Polonnaruwa is home to lots of elephants, deer and leopards. The natural habitat is composed of trees, dense shrubs and vast grassland that surround a lake.
Although game viewing is arguably low, the spectacular congregation of elephants – The Gathering – is a must-see. This event occurs during the period between September and October when at least 300 elephants convene by the Minneriya reservoir.
Another remarkable site is the tank which was built in the 3rd century BC by King Mahasena. More so, like most other parks, Minneriya is quite the birdwatcher’s paradise with not less than 130 bird species.
The best times to visit is from June to September when the dry season forces most animals to stay close to the lake. Another national park, Kadulla, is located within half an hour’s drive away from Minneriya. We also recommend stopping by the ruins of the ancient city at Polonnaruwa or the monasteries, should you wish to add the marvel of classical Sri Lankan architecture and culture to your tour.
The Whale Watching Hotspots of Mirissa, Kalpitiya and Trincomalee
Mirissa is close to the Dutch fort and Galle port. Punctuated with luxury villas and outstanding food, it might as well be the most developed site for whale watching tourism, particularly for blue whales. It is best visited in the months from December through March for maximum chances (about 80 percent) of an encounter. The driving time to Mirissa from Colombo is about 1 ½ hours.
Situated at a 3-hour-drive distance from Colombo is Kalpitiya, a peninsula famous for its pods of dolphins and recurrent visits by extra-large numbers of sperm whales, forming the world’s largest gatherings accessible to tourists.
At two kilometres off the coast of Kalpitiya is Bar Reef Marine Sanctuary. The sanctuary offers a snorkelling encounter you wouldn’t want to miss. For the snorkelling fans, the best time to visit this reef is between October and May, when the waters are calm, warm and inviting. Also located close to Kalpitiya is Wilpattu National Park, one of the best places to see the elusive sloth bear.
In the northeast, you’ll find Trincomalee. Here you might get to see blue whales from the poolside of one of the many resorts here. For a more natural experience, however, Swami Rock is where you want to be. It stands among the top shore-based places for viewing blue whales.
Gal Oya National Park
Within the eastern province of Sri Lanka is a treasure by the name of Gal Oya, covering about 100 sq miles. It is home to a wide range of animals, such as macaque monkeys, leopards, sloth bears, langurs, elephants and about 150 bird species among others.
March to July is the most reasonable time to visit Gal Oya. Here you may take a boat ride (to the bird island), jeep or both for a grand tour across miles of the unique topography of elevations and depressions, grasslands, evergreen forests, water bodies and rock-strewn plains.
Sinharaja Forest Reserve
Sinharaja is one other remarkable site in Sri Lanka, which made it into the UNESCO World Heritage list for its copious biodiversity. It possesses a wide range of endemic and rare species of many life forms.
The canopy soars as high as 45 metres and over half the trees here exist nowhere else in the world. Also, at least six kinds of birds are endemic to this forest, including species like the red-faced malkoha, Sri Lankan blue magpie, and green-billed coucal. Among other animals present are the barking deer, purple-faced languor, leopard and three kinds of squirrels.
What are you waiting for?!
Has any destination in Sri Lanka caught your attention yet? Now you can go ahead and start preparing for your trip, or just leave already anyway ;-). After all, Sri Lanka is such a beautiful and tranquil place to be.