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Sri Lanka is an independent island nation located in South Asia, just off the coast of India. In recent years, the country has seen quite a boom in tourism. Sri Lanka has become known for its beautiful beaches, friendly people, incredible cultural sites, and believe it or not, its wildlife. For its size, Sri Lanka has an impressive amount of flora and fauna, many of which are endemic to the island. It’s said that the number of animal species in Sri Lanka is five times what it should be for an island of its size.
The island is only 65,610 sq km (25,332 sq mi) but has over 120 species of mammals, 183 species of reptiles, 122 species of amphibians, and 227 species of birds. Sri Lankan wildlife has become a huge draw for tourists around the world. It rivals that of African countries but a safari in Sri Lanka is much more affordable and accessible. In this post, you’ll find everything you need to know about going on safari in Sri Lanka.
Why Safari in Sri Lanka?
A safari in Sri Lanka is budget-friendly. Compared to the Sri Lankan rupee, the US dollar is strong and can be stretched quite far. The cost of safari in Sri Lanka is a small fraction of those in African countries. Sri Lanka may not have Africa’s Big Five but it does have its own incredible animals. It has numerous national parks that are home to elephants, leopards, Sloth Bears, monkeys, and many more.
Sri Lankan parks are not as remote as those in Africa countries and a lot can be seen in just a day. This also makes the process of planning a safari in Sri Lanka much simpler. Sri Lanka is small, making it easy to get around. Most destinations are very accessible due to the rail system and taxis are plentiful. Lodging is also more available and reservations are not required months in advance. My trip to Sri Lanka was very last minute and I was able to plan everything in the week prior to my arrival.
How Many Days for a Safari in Sri Lanka?
The great thing about a safari in Sri Lanka is that it’s not necessary to go for multiple days. Unlike, an African safari where many of the parks are remote, the parks in Sri Lanka are fairly easy to access. The number of days you choose to go on safari will largely depend on your budget and how much time you have in Sri Lanka.
Many people choose to spend one to three days on safari in Sri Lanka. Obviously, the more time you spend in the parks, the more wildlife you will see. However, with a good guide, it’s possible to see quite a bit in a short amount of time. It’s even possible to see both Yala and Udawalawe National Parks on the same day.
If this is something you plan to do then I recommend visiting Yala first thing in the morning and arriving at Udawalawe in the afternoon. The animals tend to be more active during cooler times of the day, so make sure you stay through the early evening.
Is a Guide Necessary for Safari in Sri Lanka?
Technically, no but should you have one? Absolutely! Currently, there are no regulations that say you must have a guide and you can even arrange for a driver at the gate but drivers usually only offer transportation and speak little English. I highly recommend arranging a guide in advance. Professional guides are extremely knowledgeable and the quality of your safari can depend greatly upon your guide. Preferably, you will want to find a safari company that can offer you a naturalist.
A naturalist guide is educated in the history of the area and the animal species that call it home. He/she will be able to spot animals that you probably otherwise wouldn’t notice and even have the ability to track animals. They are familiar with the places animals frequent and what time of day that they visit those areas. A guide will make your safari much more interesting. You’ll have the opportunity to learn about different species, the parks, and animal behavior.
I came across Lakpura Travels Ltd. while searching for ethical tour operators and couldn’t have been happier with my choice. Lakpura is a reputable company that has been in business since 2008. They are properly insured, licensed, and a member of the Sri Lanka Inbound Tour Operators Association. The company is based out of Sri Lanka’s capital, Colombo, but can arrange transportation from just about any of Sri Lanka’s major cities. They offer a variety of tours throughout the island; however, they specialize in safari and can organize a visit to any of the major parks.
Everything with Lakpura, from start to finish, was easy. The booking process was simple and I was able to quickly complete my reservation via email. The sales agent was great and swiftly returned my emails despite the large time difference. If you aren’t exactly sure what you are looking for, a sales agent will be happy to make recommendations or even customize a safari for you. Our guide, Ruwan, was punctual in his arrival and extremely professional. He happily volunteered all kinds of great information and made our safari wonderful. Read more about my experience below.
Where to Go on Safari in Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka has 26 incredible national parks with the two most popular being Yala National Park and Udawalawe National Park. Others include Wilpattu, Minneriya, Kaudulla, Horton Plains, and Bundala National Parks. If you are unsure of which parks to visit, Lakpura can make recommendations based upon what you hope to see and what areas you are traveling to.
Yala National Park
Yala National Park is the second-largest national park in Sri Lanka. The park encompasses 979 sq km (378 sq mi) of land. It’s located in the southeast portion of the country, near the town of Tissamaharama, and is about a six-hour drive from Colombo. Yala was designated a wildlife sanctuary in 1900 and then a national park in 1938. The park is a diverse ecosystem made up of shrubbery, grasslands, lagoons, forests, and even sandy beaches.
Yala is home to 44 different mammal species, 215 bird species, and 47 reptile species. It is also known for having one of the densest leopard populations in the world. The likelihood of spotting a leopard in Yala is fairly good but never guaranteed. It’s important not to set your expectations too high. If one is spotted it will likely be surrounded by a crowd of vehicles, high up in the trees, or partially hidden by the heavy shrubbery. If you are able to get close and/or have an unobstructed view, consider yourself very lucky. I was able to view one from a distance as it rested high up in the trees.
Other commonly seen animals in Yala include Sloth Bears, elephants, Sambar Deer, jackals, Water Buffalo, peacocks, and crocodiles. The huge park is divid