Wherever we talk about wildlife in Sri Lanka, the only way to explore is by foot or on a jeep safari ride. Gal Oya National Park offers something unique and exclusive – a safari by boat! This is the only national park in Sri Lanka that offers a boat safari ride to indulge in nature’s beauty as well as explore the wildlife.
A safari by boat is possible because Gal Oya National Park is home to Senanayake Samudra Lake – the largest inland body of water in Sri Lanka. The calm and beautiful waters of this lake are dotted with a few islands popping up from beneath. While this feature makes the park unique, it also plays a role of turning an elephant safari into a one-of-a-kind experience: something that is not found anywhere else on the island.
32 mammal species reside at the Gal Oya National Park. These include the langur, leopard, toque macaque, wild boar, water buffalo, deer and sloth bear. So you are assured to see quite a few of these animals peacefully residing in their natural habitat. But the most famous resident of the park is the Asian elephant. They roam around through the forests and lush greenery, walking back and
forth the same path, and drinking water from the same location as their ancestors. This is a struggle for survival that has continued a similar routine for hundreds of years, which in itself is an awe inspiring scene in front of you.
Behold! There is more to this – a mysterious ritual:
In adapting to the aqueous habitat, the elephants at Gal Oya National Park have evolved into fantastic swimmers!
During your boat safari ride, look out for elephants swimming from island to island, and they move with so much grace – as much as any other water-dwelling creature. Not only is swimming an action of necessity for elephants at Gal Oya National Park, but it is also sometimes a social activity carried out either solo or in small groups. Until today, no one really knows all the reasons and motives for the swimming elephants but this is something that is still being studied.
Why Choose Gal Oya National Park?
Sri Lanka has about 4000 elephants, 1000 leopards, and over 400 bird species. Choosing to explore this wildlife at Gal Oya National Park is definitely a good choice. Located on the southeast of the island, a boat safari at Gal Oya National Park gives you a very quiet and peaceful experience, compared to the noisy jeep safari explorations at other national parks. It is true though that the animals here are more reserved, but the stunning serenity of the lake with mountains fading into the horizon more than compensates for that.
It is a delight to see exotic birds fly past while you are on the boat. Even if you are one of those who cannot tell the difference between a sparrow and a thrush, at Gal Oya, you will see eagles, herons, storks, egrets and more.
Compared to all the other mammals in Gal Oya National Park, the strongest swimmers are the elephants. They have undoubtedly claimed the leafy green islands as their own. Watching the Asian elephant swim from island to island is a sight that is sure to add to some of the most memorable moments to take back home from your tailor made holiday in Sri Lanka. They move with such
calm and purpose, revealing their immense size as they emerge out of the water. No words can really describe this sight accurately – you have to see it for yourself.
Another unique offering at Gal Oya is the nature trail with Veddahs. This is a tribe descending from the aboriginal population and is struggling to survive with the realities of the 21st century. Only a few hundred from this tribe still remain but they continue their original lifestyle – living in mud huts and hunting with bows and arrows.
Where to Stay?
The undiscovered natural treasures at Gal Oya National Park will soon gain popularity as the new road from Kandy to the east opens up and more hotel chains move into the area. Currently, though, Gal Oya Lodge is the only place to stay if you want to visit this park. This hotel is cleverly harmonized with its surroundings – buried into the jungle without even a sign on the main road as proof of its existence.
Nine bungalows in the style of circular rice stores are built on the property of Gal Oya Lodge. Although they are built using materials from the jungle and solar heating for water, the bungalows are spacious and comfortable. Floor-to-ceiling windows and a terrace looking out into the jungle really makes you blend with nature at all times. The lodge also facilitates a swimming pool and a Sri
Lankan kitchen that offers authentic local dishes. What makes the stay more interesting is that the staff at Gal Oya Lodge are also guides and naturalists who are always on the lookout for different animal species based on research projects they are working on – whether it is during a safari or a simple walk around the property to escort you to your bungalow.
If you have fixed a night or two on your Sri Lanka itinerary at Gal Oya, beware – there is no internet or TV. You are completely secluded from the outside world while you relax on your terrace without another human or bungalow in sight and wait for the birds to storm by.