Going on a safari in Sri Lanka is an absolute MUST DO! There is so much wildlife, you can spot wild elephants, jackals, sloth bears, many different species of birds, crocodiles and even leopards! In Trincomalee and Mirissa you can also go whale watching in the right season. But before planning your Sri Lanka Safari you have to know what the right season is for which National Park. Especially when you have a specific wish to see a certain wild animal! In this blog post I will share all the information you need to plan your Sri Lanka Safari!
Which National Parks are in Sri Lanka
In total Sri Lanka has 22 National Parks, covering 13% of its landmass which is protected as National Parks, all with their own types of wildlife. With so much choice it might be hard to know where to go for your perfect Sri Lanka safari tour. During the one month that we’ve been traveling around Sri Lanka, we did 3 jeep safaris in 3 different National Parks. In this section I will explain what to see in the 6 most famous and most visited parks in Sri Lanka.
- Yala National Park
- Udawalawe National Park
- Bundala National Park
- Minneriya National Park
- Kaudulla National Park
- Wilpattu National Park
About Yala National Park
Yala National Park consists of five blocks with a total of 130,000 hectares of land. It is the most popular and second largest National Park in Sri Lanka. The most popular area at Yala which is open to tourists is block 1. There live an estimated 25-30 leopards which is the highest density of leopards in the world!
There are some amazing glamping options in in the park, for example the all inclusive Yala Safari Camping. We stayed there for 2 nights and it was absolutely incredible! It’s the only tented camp that is literally inside of Yala National Park.
Animals to see during a safari in Yala National Park
- There are 215 different species of birds like the Sri Lankan wood pigeon, blue-tailed bee eater, grey hornbill and Sri Lankan jungle-fowl, Red wattled lapwing, Asian openbill and Hawk Eagle. We’ve seen all of these birds during our Yala Safari adventure!
- 44 mammals live in Yala National Park including the famous Sri Lankan elephant, leopards (Yala has the highest density of leopards in the world!), the Sri Lankan sloth bear, spotted deer, jackal and many more.
- 47 reptiles species including the Sri Lankan saltwater crocodile, monitor lizard, flying snake, Indian cobra and many more.
Because Yala National Park is so popular, you will be in the park with many other jeeps. The best time to spot leopards in Yala National Park is in the dry period from February to July. With the water levels lower, it’s easier to spot animals, especially leopards, coming out to the lagoons to drink. The park normally closes each year during the months of September and October to give the animals rest. Often you can already spot wild elephants along the road on your way to the entrance of Yala National Park.
About Udawalawe National Park
Udawalawe National Park is located in the south of Sri Lanka. The park is easily accessible from the beach destinations on the south coast such as Mirissa and Tangalle and from the country side such as Ella and Haputale. The Udawalawe National Park was created to provide a sanctuary for wild animals displaced by the construction of the Udawalawe Reservoir on the Walawe River. But also to protect the catchment of the reservoir. Spotting the many elephants and crocodiles is the main attraction of Udawalawe National Park. You can visit Udawalawe all year round but the best times to spot the animals are in the early morning or late afternoon.
Animals to see during a safari in Udawalawe National Park
- 42 different mammals are recorded in the park, particularly the Sri Lankan Elephants! Udawalawe is one of the best National Parks in Sri Lanka to spot hundreds of them. Other mammals are buffalos, sloth bear, sambar deer and monkeys. A few leopards live in the park, but the chance of seeing one is very small.
- 180 species of birds are recorded in the park, like the Red-faced Malkoha, Grey Hornbill and Spurfowl. Udawalawe is actually known as one of the top bird watching sights in all of Sri Lanka!
- 32 reptiles species live in the park including crocodiles, snakes, garden lizards and many more!
About Bundala National Park
Bundala National Park is an internationally important wintering ground for migratory water birds in Sri Lanka. In Bundala live 197 species of birds, the highlight being the greater flamingo, which migrate in large flocks. It Is the least visited National Park in Sri Lanka and not a good choice if you want to see elephants. But if you like birds and reptiles it is a great choice! The best time for a Bundala safari is from September to March.
Animals to see during a safari in Bundala National Park
- 200 different species of birds are located in the Bundala park.
- 32 mammals live in the park including some elephants, mouse deer, wild boar and the leopard among others.
- 43 species of reptiles including the rat snake, python and crocodile live in the park.
About Minneriya National Park
The 89 square kilometre park is an ideal place for elephants. You will see many bushes, swamps and open plains. Minneriya National Park is also called “The Gathering” because here you will find the largest gathering of Asian elephants in the world! Hundreds of elephants come together to the Minneriya Tank to drink and bath. Especially in the dry season which runs from May to September when there is not much water in other areas of the park. This is also the best time to spot elephants.
Animals to see during a safari in Minneriya National Park
- 24 different types of mammals are recorded in Minneriya park including many elephants, deer, purple-faced langur and macaque monkeys among others. Rarely seen, but some leopards live in this park.
- 160 species of birds.
- 25 species reptiles including the painted-lip lizard, saltwater crocodile, Indian pyton, Asian water monitor and others.
- Over 25 species of butterflies live in this park as well!
About Kaudulla National Park
The Kaudulla National Park has opened in 2002 and is surrounded by grasslands. The park is not particularly large, but certainly large enough for a complete jeep safari. It is one of the best National Parks in Sri Lanka to spot wild elephants which makes it the biggest attraction of the park.
The best time to visit the elephants in Kaudulla National Park is between August and December. The elephant herd migrates from Kaudulla National Park to Minneriya National Park because those two are connected. During the drought period, the elephants move to the Minneriya National Park in search of water and food. The safari tours certainly take this into account. They know exactly where the herds can be found in the morning and then go to the right park.
Animals to see during a safari in Kaudulla National Park
- 24 species of mammals including elephants, a handful of leopard (very rare to spot), deer, small black bears, deer and many monkeys.
- 25 species of reptiles such as crocodiles and the monitor lizard.
- 26 species of fish.
- 160 species of birds. Kaudulla has therefore been identified as an important bird area.
About Wilpattu National Park
Wilpattu National Park is located north of Colombo close to the ancient city of Anuradhapura. It was decalred as a National Park in 1938, but during the Sri Lankan civil war it was actually closed for 16 years. Now it’s open to the public again! The history of the park is also very interesting with ancient ruins which have been discovered. The dry jungle is thickly grown and home to many natural lakes. Wilpattu is among the top National Parks in the world, renowned for its leopard population. The best time to visit Wilpattu National Park is during the months of February and October.
Animals to see during a safari in Wilpattu National Park
- There are approximately 31 species of mammals in the Wilpattu National Park which include the Sri Lankan Elephant, Sri Lankan Leopard, Sloth Bear, Spotted Deer, Water Buffalo, Sambar and Mongoose.
- Reptiles and amphibians living in Wilpattu National Park include the Monitor Lizard, Mugger Crocodile, Common Cobra, Rat Snake, Indian Python, Pond Turtle and the Soft Shelled Turtle.
- Wetland bird species found in the Wilpattu National Park include the Garganey, Pin tail, Whistling Teal, Spoonbill, White Ibis, Large White Egret, Cattle Egret and Purple Heron. Also many species of Gulls, Terns, Owls, Kites and Eagles are also live in Willpattu. The Sri Lanka Jungle fowl, Little Cormorant and the Painted Stork can also be seen.
How much does a Sri Lanka jeep Safari cost?
Of course this depends if you’re going for the all inclusive experience on a safari camp, or if you book your safari separate from your accommodation. Take into account to pay around $30 entrance fee per person for a National Park. You can google beforehand to know the exact price. For the jeep you normally pay around $40, so the more people, the cheaper it gets. But also the less space you have to move around and take pictures in the jeep.
What to expect during your Sri Lanka Safari
It might be cliche to say this, but no one can guarantee you to see all the animals who live in the National Parks. So expect nothing and appreciate everything during your safari. This will be the way to really enjoy the experience and hopefully you will be surprised by some amazing wild animal encounters!
Every safari is unique and therefore unpredictable, so try not to stress about the things you cannot control. Sometimes you won’t see much, sometimes you’ll see a lot. Sometimes the ride will take longer than expected, and sometimes it will be tougher than expected. Take into account that temperatures can vary a lot, especially on your way back after sunset. Also be prepared for wind and sun, mosquitoes and flies, and mostly for a rough ride. While most of the time you will be driving on gravel or sand roads, sometimes the driver might decide to cross a river, drive through the bush, or cross a stone field.
It depends on the season and National Park you’re going if it’s busy with jeeps. Yala National Park is the most popular and therefore busiest park of Sri Lanka. In contrast to Wilpattu National Park or even Gal Oya National Park where you might be one of the only jeep in the park! But, this might change in the coming years!
What is the best time to do a safari in Sri Lanka?
You can go on safari in Sri Lanka all year long, but depending on the month and area you’re going, you have to check what the best National Park is to got to. Throughout this blogpost I have mentioned for each National Park what the best time is to visit. So take that into account before booking your Sri Lanka safari.
Which National Park is the best for the ultimate Sri Lanka safari?
This really depends on what kind of wild animals you want to spot and in which period you are planning to go on safari in Sri Lanka. Read in the paragraphs of the several National Parks what the best time to go is. Our favorite safari was the one in Yala National Park including the glamping experience. This really gives a complete experience with staying in the jungle. There is even a high chance of spotting leopards in this National Park. But if you want to spot many wild elephants gathering together you should better go to Kaudulla or Minneriya National Park!
Camping in Sri Lanka
The best way to really experience a safari is to combine it with a camping / glamping experience which included the safari. There are many options in the several National Parks. We stayed at Yala Safari Camping in Yala National Park which was an unforgettable experience! Watch the short film we made of our experience below!
It’s not particularly necessary to stay in a camp, but it really adds a lot of value to your experience. The jungle sounds and luxury camping experience is something you will never forget!
What to prepare before your Sri Lanka jeep Safari
If you love nature, wildlife and photography, you will be completely in your element during a safari! Because you want to be sure to capture every moment you see an animal, there is a big chance that your memory cards will be full in no time. So take enough of these with you and always make sure you have empty memory cards before you leave for the safari!
- Mosquito repellent with DEET
- Zoomlens, if you have one. Otherwise this would be a perfect reason to buy one if you love photography! 200mm is the minimum you will need! Also a camera with very good Inbody Stabillization is highly recommended!
- Binoculars. Some tour operators provide them, but if you’re with more people in one jeep it’s not guaranteed that everyone can use a binocular at the same time
- Take enough water with you. Most of the tour operators provide water, but I would suggest to always take at least half a litre refill bottle yourself
- Light snacks
What to wear on safari in Sri Lanka
Whatever you wear on safari, it will get dirty very quickly because of the dust and eventually mud. It can get very cold or hot on safari, so make sure you are well prepared for both. Not because it’s hot when you leave for the safari at 3pm, you won’t be freezing on the way back after sunset. So my advice is to always dress in layers.
Safari clothing packing list
- Windproof jacket
- Long pants or shorts
- T-shirt or blouse
- Sun hat
- Closed shoes but sandals will work too
More Sri Lanka travel guides
Read more about all the amazing things you can do in Sri Lanka in our other blog posts.