The Top National Parks to Visit in Sri Lanka

Horton Plains is the highest national park in Sri Lanka and a dream destination for hikers
Horton Plains is the highest national park in Sri Lanka and a dream destination for hikers | © imageBROKER / Alamy Stock Photo
Photo of Orana Velarde
Sri Lanka Hub Writer2 September 2021

Sri Lanka is a natural wonderland with beaches, mountains, forests, jungles and waterfalls. There are also 26 national parks to explore, many of which are home to extraordinary wildlife. That may be too many to visit in a short trip, so to help you out, here are the top national parks in the country. Bring your camera.

Yala

Park, Natural Feature
Map View
Portrait of an Sri Lankan Leopard (Panthera Pardus Kotiya), Yala, Sri Lanka
© Daniel Lamborn / Alamy Stock Photo
Yala National Park is the most famous and well-known national park on the island. It is also leopard country; the animals roam freely in the bush along with elephants, peacocks and hundreds of birds and animals. There are five sectors and two are open to the public. It was named a national park in 1938 and a wildlife sanctuary in 1900. It is located southeast of Colombo and extends from the coast to the jungle.

Wilpattu

Park, Natural Feature
Map View
wetlands of Wilpattu National Park, Sri Lanka, Wilpattu National Park
© blickwinkel / Alamy Stock Photo

Wilpattu sits north of Colombo close to the city of Anuradhapura. The park is famous for the tanks (rainwater reservoirs) that act as a lifeline for the resident birdlife. It’s believed that Sinhalese royalty used to live in the area thousands of years ago, but it’s now full of wildlife safari visitors. Wilpattu was named a national park in 1938 and you can go for the day or stay overnight in a tented camp.

Minneriya

Park, Natural Feature
Map View
Sri Lankan elephant (Elephas maximus maximus), Minneriya National Park, Sri Lanka, Asia
© robertharding / Alamy Stock Photo

Minneriya National Park is home to The Gathering, a rainwater tank that is the largest elephant meeting place in all of Asia. Located northeast of Colombo in the north-central plains, the closest city is Polonaruwa. The best way to visit Minneriya is to camp there in one of the tented camps. There are lots of jeep safaris that go out every day. Minneriya was named a national park in 1997.

Horton Plains National Park

Park
Map View
View of landscape from Horton Plains National Park, Central Province, Sri Lanka
Horton Plains is the highest national park in Sri Lanka and a dream destination for hikers | © imageBROKER / Alamy Stock Photo
Horton Plains is the highest national park in Sri Lanka – located about 2,000m (6,560ft) above sea level, it is a great place for trekking and hiking. The trek to World’s End is one of the most memorable on the island. The trail goes from the entrance of Horton Plains through forests, over rivers, by waterfalls and through bush plains until you reach World’s End, a drop-off overlooking the valley below.

Sinharaja Forest Reserve

Park, Natural Feature
Map View
Sinharaja Forest Reserve in Sri Lanka
© Nobuo Matsumura / Alamy Stock Photo

The Sinharaja Forest Reserve has been a national park since 1978 and is also a Unesco World Heritage Site. Sinharaja is the last area on the island with primary tropical rainforest. It is home to 50 percent of all of Sri Lanka’s endemic species of mammals and butterflies. There is also many native reptiles, insects and rare amphibians.

Pigeon Island

Park, Natural Feature
Map View
Sri Lanka, Eastern Province, Nilaveli, Pigeon Island, divers on the beach of Pigeon Island
© Hemis / Alamy Stock Photo

Pigeon Island is one of only two national marine parks in Sri Lanka and a paradise for scuba divers. It’s actually formed of two islands, the larger of which is wrapped by coral reefs. The area gained sanctuary status in 1963, before begin updated to a national park in 2003. The best time of year to visit is between April and September.

Gal Oya

Park
Map View
Lake in mountain scenery, Gal Oya National Park, Sri Lanka
© Ariadne Van Zandbergen / Alamy Stock Photo
Gal Oya is one of the least exploited national parks in the south of Sri Lanka. The main attraction here is the large tank, a man-made rainwater lake called Senanayake Samudraya. You can take a boat to the centre of the lake and have a picnic on the island. You can also meet the Veda tribe members that still live and hunt in the area.
These recommendations were updated on September 2, 2021 to keep your travel plans fresh.

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