1. Yala National Park
Located in the southern province, bordering the Indian Ocean, Yala National Park is the second-largest and most visited of all national parks in Sri Lanka. Known for its rich wildlife diversity, a jeep safari at the park will almost certainly guarantee you spottings of crocodiles, elephants, water buffalo, spotted deer, monkeys, and leopards. In addition to wildlife diversity, Yala National Park also has diverse landscapes – scrubs, light forest, grassy plains, and salty lagoons.
Best time to visit: Dry season – February to June. The park is closed in September every year for maintenance.
2. Minneriya National Park
In 1997, this area in the North Central Province of Sri Lanka, which was previously a wildlife sanctuary, was designated as the Minneriya National Park. This park is reported to host the largest known wild Asian elephant gathering in one location. Over 200 elephants have been spotted around the water reservoir during their feeding and bathing times, along with flocks of beautiful birds such as painted storks, herons, cormorants, and large pelicans. Scrub, forests, and wetlands are what you will be driving through on your game drive at the Minneriya National Park.
Best time to visit: July to October
3. Wilpattu National Park
Along the northwest coast of Sri Lanka, the Wilpattu National Park gets its name because of its unique feature – natural sand-rimmed water basins that fill up with rainwater, also known as “Willus”. This national park is the oldest and largest of its kind in Sri Lanka and is abundant with dense forestations. The park is relatively uncrowded in comparison to the above two, which means that the unspoiled seclusion makes it ideal for those looking for a peaceful safari experience. Over 31 special of mammals, including the wild boar, Asian elephant, spotted deer, sloth bear, mongoose, and the leopard can be found here.
Best time to visit: February to October
4. Udawalawe National Park
Udawalawe National Park is one of the best places to see wild Sri Lankan elephants in action. Soaring highlands frames its northern boundary while grasslands and bush forests make up the rest of the landscape here. Located on the borders of Sabaragamuwa and Uva provinces, Udawalawe National Park is a couple of hours drive from Yala National Park, and is also one of the best places for game spotting. In addition to elephants, buffalos, crocodiles, spotted deer, and peacocks, the park also boasts 184 varieties of birds including endemic varieties such as the junglefowl, spurfowl, grey hornbill, green pigeon, wood shrike and swallow.
Best time to visit: Any time of the year for elephants. October to April for birds.
5. Bundala National Park
Identified as one of the best places for bird watching, Bundala National Park is a wetland habitat harboring about 100 species of water birds, of which half are international migrants. Out of the 197 bird species identified here, 58 are migratory. During the migration season, large flocks can be observed here, the highlight of which is the Greater Flamingo. Bundala National Park is also popular because safari-goers can observe both estuarine and mugger crocodiles here.
Best time to visit: September to March
6. Sinharaja Rainforest Reserve
A biodiversity hotspot in Sri Lanka – internationally recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Sri Lanka, the Sinharaja Rainforest Reserve should be on your Sri Lanka tour itinerary if you are a nature and animal lover. Recognized as a living heritage, this tropical rainforest is home to 50% of Sri Lanka’s endemic wildlife and boasts a high diversity of vegetation. Drawing thousands of visitors, this ecosystem boasts the co-existence of birds, mammals, reptiles, insects, fish, amphibians, and plant-life! Mammals include the Rusty Spotted Cat, Barking Deer, Jackal, Purple-faced Langur, Macaque, and reddish-brown monkeys. Reptiles such as python, vipers, and lizards are seen here, along with endemic amphibians such as the Greater hourglass tree frog, Reed frog, Wrinkled Frog, and Torrent Toad. Sinharaja Rainforest Reserve is also popular for unique bird sightings of about 30-50 birds of 10-12 different species, erupting various bird sounds while they feed.
Best time to visit: To avoid the monsoons, January – April, and August – October are preferable months.
7. Gal Oya National Park
Established in 1954, Gal Oya National Park surrounds the largest reservoir in Sri Lanka, thereby giving wildlife lovers a unique safari experience both on-road and by boat. While on a boat safari, visitors are taken to an island within the reservoir known as ‘Bird Island’, which is swarming with bird varieties such as ducks, eagles, pelicans, and more. The boat safari also provides an experience of seeing herds of elephants swimming from one island to another in the reservoir. The jeep safari track is of either 5kms or 13kms and offers elephant, wild boar, spotted deer, water buffalo, and leopard sightings.
Best time to visit: March to July
8. Horton Plains National Park
Located within the Central Highlands of Sri Lanka – which is a UNESCO World Heritage site, a visit to Horton Plains National Park is an experience similar to the African Savannah. Rich in biodiversity and endemic species, this park features a world that is completely different from the other national parks in the country. Three major rivers: Mahaweli, Kelani, and Walawe begin from here. The plateau that covers the trail at Horton Plains comprises of rocky outcrops, thick forests, wild grasslands, networked waterfalls, and misty lakes. The sudden end of this trail comes at an 880m drop which is known as ‘World’s End’ – which offers stunning views of surrounding mountains and lakes.
Best time to visit: Early mornings throughout the months of January to April.
9. Kaudulla National Park
Designated as recently as 2002, the Kaudulla National Park is located in the north-central province of Sri Lanka. Habarana is a popular tourist destination, close to Sigiriya and Dambulla, which would be an ideal stop to explore this national park. Surrounded by grasslands, this park is home to elephants, monkeys, crocodiles, and a few leopards.
Best time to visit: July to October for elephant gatherings, but otherwise, any time of the year.
10. Wasgamuwa National Park
Except for its southern border, the Wasgamuwa National Park is almost entirely surrounded by rivers: Mahaweli Ganga in the east, Amban Ganga in the north, and Dunuwila Oya in the west. Water sources within the park, such as streams flowing from the Sudu Kanda mountain range, add to the natural beauty of the park. Several water monitors and crocodiles are seen along the riverbanks, together with reptiles such as the red-lipped lizard and the earless lizard. 140 bird species (Red-faced Malkoha, Yellow-fronted Barbet), 50 butterfly species, and 23 mammal species (axis deer, water buffalo) have also been recorded at the less frequented Wasgamuwa National Park.
Best time to visit: January to March.