Yala National Park is the most visited and second largest national park in Sri Lanka. The park consists of five blocks, two of which are now open to the public, and also adjoining parks. The blocks have individual names such as, Ruhuna National Park (block 1) and Kumana National Park or 'Yala East' for the adjoining area. It is situated in the southeast region of the country, and lies in Southern Province and Uva Province. The park covers 979 square kilometres (378 sq mi) and is located about 300 kilometres (190 mi) from Colombo. Yala was designated as a wildlife sanctuary in 1900, and, along with Wilpattu was one of the first two national parks in Sri Lanka, having been designated in 1938.
Sitting in the centre of the cultural triangle, Minneriya is a good alternative to the busier parks in the south and it's easy to weave in a day here between visiting the ancient cities. The dry season, preferably from June to September, is the best time to visit the park when the ancient tank, the lake that dominates the area, dries out and the grasses and shoots push through. During this time it is possible to see herds of up to 150 elephants feeding and washing, as well as toque macaques, sambar deer and leopards. The hungry bird flocks include cormorants and painted storks. Minneriya, closest by car to the ancient city Polonnaruwa, was upgraded from a Nature Reserve to a National Park because of the increased number of tourists coming to see the elephants. A game drive in the park comes complete with English speaking guide and a driver.
Located east of Minneriya, this park consists of riverine and dry evergreen forests, grasslands and wetlands. Wasgomuwa is endowed with a number of canals and waterways springing up from the 470 metre high Sudu Kande (hill) near by. Famous for the elephants frequenting the Mahaweli River, which runs along one of the boundaries of the park, Wasgomuwa is also home to numerous other animals including sloth bear, sambur, spotted and barking deer, wild boar, the purple-faced leaf monkey, and 143 species of bird. Archeological ruins of ancient settlements dating back to the period of Sinhala kings can be seen within this national park. Wasgomuwa can be accessed from the districts of Matale or Polonnaruwa.
An extensive wildlife sanctuary edged by a lake that is inhabited by herds of elephants, water buffalo, deer, crocodile and numerous species of birds. Go on a boat safari along the lake and if you’re lucky, you might even spot a wild elephant swimming along side to get to the islands.
Bordering the main A4 route from Wellawaya to Arugam Bay, the Lahugala National Park covers over 1,554 hectares. This National Park was a favorite with elephants which used to converge in their hundred to Lahugala tank (lake) and the adjoining Kitulana tank. An elephant’s delicacy – a species of grass known as `Beru’ which only grows in these two tanks, was the main attraction for these wild elephants. Unfortunately, unchecked logging has reduced the forest cover here and the elephants inhabiting the park have reduced. Still small herds of elephants can be spotted here and if you’re lucky you may even see them from the main road. Lahugala is also home to monitor lizards, water buffalo and a variety of birds.
Kumana, also known as Yala East National Park covers an area of about 18,000 hectares. The villus (swamp lakes) of Kumana is nesting sites for water birds. During the nesting season which begins towards June, large colonies of pelican, spoonbills, herons, painted storks, and egrets can be spotted here. The jungles of Kumana are also home to wild elephants, buffalo and deer. Kumana is edged by the Indian Ocean. Often the endangered marine turtles come ashore to nest here on the secluded beaches. The main entrance to Kumana is located in Okanda which is south of Arugam Bay. Best time to visit is at dawn and late afternoon when the animals are easily spotted. A guide can be hired at the entrance gates.
Covering an area of 131,000 hectares that stretches from the Northwestern coast to the north-central province, the Wilpattu National Park is one of Sri Lanka’s oldest wildlife parks. Wilpattu’s varying natural habitats - coastal belt, natural lakes (villus), cliff tops, scrublands, open grasslands and dense forest – consists of numerous species of animals. Many of the 'big game' found in Sri Lanka including elephant, sloth bear, water buffalo, spotted dear and leopard can be seen here. The coastal belt and natural lakes attract many species of birds such as painted storks, white ibis, open bills, Whistling teals, spoonbills, cormorants and kingfishers as well as water monitors and mugger crocodiles. Situated away from the common tourist routs, Wilpattu is unspoilt and can be enjoyed in tranquil seclusion.
Uda Walawe situated between the highlands and the south coast, most resembles an African game park and is the best place in Sri Lanka to see wild Asian Elephants throughout the year. Unlike other National Parks, Uda Walawe does not have a seasonal variation in elephant numbers and it is easy to encounter a few of them at any time of the year. Wildboar, spotted deer, sambar, the endemic Toque Macaque and Grey Langur, and mugger crocodiles can also be seen here. Bird watching is best during October to March when the migrant birds can be spotted. A wildlife safari into Uda Walawe is best done at dawn and late afternoon when the animals are easily spotted. Late evenings give the best lighting for photography with amazing sun sets over the Uda Walawe Reservoir.
Horton Plains National Park in Ohiya is a protected area in the central highlands of Sri Lanka and is covered by montane grassland and cloud forest.
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