For its size, Sri Lanka is astonishingly diverse. Tropical beaches give way to countryside dotted with paddy fields and plantations. National parks dominated by lush lakes and dense jungle contrast with the mysterious Sinharaja Rainforest. The island’s central hill country is covered in an astonishing array of flora. These varied landscapes provide a home for an astonishing array of wildlife.
From exotic mammals such as the leopard, elephant, and sloth bear to over 400 species of bird, there are endless amazing creatures to be seen in Sri Lanka. The ocean surrounding the country is also rich with animals including dolphins, whales, and endangered marine turtles. How many destinations can provide so many easily accessible wildlife opportunities within a two-week tour?
Travellers with a passion for nature can create the ultimate Sri Lanka wildlife holiday by speaking with specialists to design a personalised itinerary. Be sure to include these top 9 wildlife experiences in Sri Lanka to discover the very best animals the island has to offer.
Best national parks in Sri Lanka
Spot leopards at Yala National Park
When you investigate wildlife in Sri Lanka, chances are that Yala National Park will be the first result. This area of scrubland on the south-east coast has a high density of leopards so sightings are frequent. A jeep drive through the park also brings you in proximity with elephants, sloth bears, crocodiles, and a wide variety of birds.
See sloth bears in Wilpattu
In the opposite coastal corner of the island is Wilpattu National Park which provides a home for many of the same animals, although the lush lake scenery is in stark contrast to Yala’s arid scrubland. Sloth bear sightings are particularly rewarding here, especially in May and June when the trees are producing their favourite fruit.
Most unique wildlife experiences
Boat safari at Gal Oya National Park
Those seeking to go off the beaten track will love Gal Oya National Park, a secluded nature reserve in the eastern centre of the island. Here you can go on a sunset boat safari to see elephants swimming between islets while birds of prey wheel overhead. This park is also known for its rare flora which can be explored on a guided walk while staying at Gal Oya Lodge.
Birdwatching at Bundala & Tissa Wetlands
If birdwatching is your passion, visiting Bundala & Tissa Wetlands is a must. Positioned on the south coast of Sri Lanka, this nature reserve is a patchwork of beaches, marshland and salt-water lagoons. This striking environment attracts over 150 species of bird each year, including the Greater Flamingo. Marine wildlife is also abundant here – you could spot nesting sea turtles between October and January.
Search for dolphins and whales in Mirissa
Anyone with a love of marine mammals has to include a Sri Lanka whale watching experience in their itinerary. Between December and March, you have a 90% chance of spotting whales on a half-day expedition out to sea. You will also see dolphins and sting rays playing in the waves closer to shore. Shared and private boats are available.
Top family-friendly wildlife activities
Meet the monkeys of Polonnaruwa
There are loads of great family-friendly wildlife activities in Sri Lanka. One of the most unique is to meet the monkeys of Polonnaruwa, the subjects of the Disney documentary Monkey Kingdom. An expert guide will tell you about the daily life of the monkeys who have this medieval monument their home.
Walk with elephants at MEF
Children can also get up close and personal with elephants at the Millennium Elephant Foundation. Retired elephants live out their days here under the care of a team of expert volunteers. You can walk beside elephants, feed and bathe them, and explore the on-site shop which sells products crafted from elephant dung.
Active Sri Lanka wildlife experiences
Trek through Sinharaja Rainforest
Like to be active? Trekking through Sinharaja Rainforest is a great Sri Lanka wildlife activity for you. This mysterious and murky place houses an rich array of flowers and tropical trees, and you will be able to hear monkeys swinging through the branches and birds calling to one another in the canopy. Sinharaja is Sri Lanka’s last surviving stretch of rainforest.
Snorkel with turtles at Pigeon Island
If you are travelling in the summer months, Pigeon Island is an unbeatable wildlife experience. This east coast nature reserve just north of Trincomalee boasts beautiful coral reefs where you can see tropical fish, black tip reef sharks, sting rays, and endangered marine turtles including Hawksbill and Olive Ridley.