The best wildlife spots in Sri Lanka

With a diverse climate and landscape, the island nation of Sri Lanka is one of the best countries in Asia for seeing a variety of wildlife. Its isolation from mainland Asia, two monsoon seasons and wide range of altitudes have led to a biodiversity of the range you’d normally find across an entire continent. As a result, its rulers have sworn to protect the land the wildlife lives on, creating more than a hundred areas of protected land across the island, from National Parks to nature reserves. These are just some of the best places to head to in Sri Lanka to find a variety of fascinating wildlife.

Yala West National Park

The premier national park of Sri Lanka, Yala is a beautiful stretch of land with a long coastline and lowland dry scrub, making it one of the best places to spot Asian land mammals. Here you can find the Sri Lankan leopard, the country’s own subspecies, as well as the sloth bears, which are found during the fruiting of the palu trees in June and July – and spotted deer, buffalo, monkeys and wild pigs. It’s also great for birdwatchers; the park contains marine, freshwater, woodland and scrub areas which has enabled the place to become home to more than 220 types of birds.

Uda Walawe National Park

Established to protect the Uda Walawe Reservoir, this National Park is a vast open space of grassland set alongside riverine forests and scrub jungles. Elephant sightings are pretty much guaranteed if you visit Uda Walawe, though sightings of other mammals here are fairly thin on the ground. Birdwatchers however will enjoy the sights of the hawk eagle, grey-headed fish eagle and serpent eagle.

Wasgomuwa National Park

Set within the dry lowlands of the North Central Province, Wasgomuwa is one of the best places to spot big game and land mammals. You’ll find family units of elephants here making their way across the vast open lands, and you may also be lucky enough to spot bears and leopards.

Sinharaja Rainforest Reserve

Perhaps the best-known rainforest in Sri Lanka, Sinharaja is found in the tropical south-west. Its plant life alone is impressive; more than half the tree species found here cannot be found anywhere else in the world. Then there’s the bird life: it’s home to six endemic bird species, including the red-face malkoha and the Sri Lankan blue magpie. The wildlife found here is also not to be sniffed at, as you’ll discover leopards, squirrels and barking deer.

Horton Plains National Park

The highest plateau on the island, Horton Plains is found up in the central highlands of Sri Lanka, where night-time temperatures can drop below freezing, meaning it attracts a different variety of plant and wildlife species. Best seen here are the native birds the Sri Lankan whistling thrush and the Sri Lankan bush warbler, as well as the dwarf lizard.

Where to stay

The boutique accommodation to be found across Sri Lanka is as bountiful and diverse we recommend as the wildlife the country hosts. We especially recommend Buckingham Place for nature lovers: one of our beautiful Sri Lanka hotels on the island’s south coast, where you can also enjoy whale and dolphin watching. The River House, with its riverside setting and sprawling tropical gardens, is also another fantastic option for nature enthusiasts.

See our full collection of boutique hotels in Sri Lanka here

Andrew is a firm believer that travelling like a local inevitably leads to the best off-the-beaten-path finds which truly make a destination remarkably more memorable. From traditional Indian festivals in humid Hyderabad to fresh seafood pasta by the Sorrentine Peninsula, he appreciates variety when travelling. He hasn't been everywhere, but it’s on the list.