Sri Lanka

The Best National Parks in Sri Lanka

The Best National Parks in Sri Lanka

The silence is deafening as you sit aboard a little boat with an expert naturalist in Gal Oya Valley National Park. Drifting quietly between the towering rigor mortis-like limbs of petrified trees, all eyes are trained on the dense forest that surrounds the lake and all ears listen out for the splash of a distant trunk disturbing the reservoir’s calm waters. And then you hear it. The silence is shattered by an outburst of trumpeting from the undergrowth, followed by the thundering of feet as a herd of Sri Lankan elephants appear for their morning dip. With trunks raised like oversized snorkels, they head into the deep green waters of the lake for a swim, leaving you wide eyed, witnessing one of the most spectacular elephant behaviours on the planet. Whether seeking out the very largest group of elephants or waiting patiently for a lone leopard to slink out of the undergrowth, Sri Lanka’s national parks are bursting at the seams with heart-in-your-mouth wildlife moments that are just waiting to be ticked off your bucket list. Here is our list of the best national parks in Sri Lanka…


  1. Yala National Park
  2. Wilpattu National Park
  3. Horton Plains National Park
  4. Minneriya National Park
  5. Gal Oya National Park
  6. Udawalawe National Park


Yala National Park

Yala in Sri Lanka’s southeast is The Jungle Book brought to life. It is brimming with monkeys crashing through the trees, trumpeting elephants and elusive leopards shifting like shadows through the undergrowth. Rudyard Kipling aptly said: “The air was full of all the noises that, taken together, make one big silence” and in Yaya, when first light creeps over the horizon, the melodies and calls of hundreds of birds and animals bring the scrubland to life, creating a symphony so loud you can hear nothing else. The abundance of wildlife means the park is often very busy, especially in Block 1 in the south, however head out on a guided tour to explore Blocks 2, 3, 4 or 5 for a deep dive into Yala’s wonderful wilderness.

Elephant in Yala National Park, Sri Lanka


Wilpattu National Park

Wilpattu is perfectly placed to combine the fascinating sights of the Cultural Triangle with Sri Lanka’s wonderful wildlife. Having been off limits to visitors during the civil war, the park retains a genuine sense of wilderness, especially as visitor numbers are still low. Head out bright and early with a private guide in search of two of the park’s most special residents; keep an eye out for the spotted coat of a Sri Lankan leopard in the undergrowth or a fuzzy eared sloth bear stripping bark from a tree. Both creatures are often elusive due to a lack of human interaction, so seeing them is a unique opportunity that few get to experience.

Leopard drinking in Sri Lanka


Horton Plains National Park

Horton Plains National Park’s precipitous peaks and chiselled valleys are a geographer’s dream and can be seen for miles. The only way you won’t spot the misty mountains is if they are shrouded in fog, and with weather similar to the UK for most of the year, this isn’t uncommon. But don’t let that put you off this stark wonderland. Nearby Nuwara Eliya, often referred to as ‘Little England’, with its colonial-era buildings and Tudor-style hotels is a perfect place for an authentic afternoon tea pitstop or you can take a dive into tea country to explore how Sri Lankan tea is grown and produced. If an adrenaline kick is what you are after, don your walking boots and head to the third highest point in Sri Lanka, Adam’s Peak, where you will find loud, cascading falls and stunning verdant scenery.

Horton Plains National Park, Sri Lanka


Minneriya National Park

Every year, over 300 elephants congregate in Minneriya National Park and ‘The Gathering’, as it is known, is the largest meeting of elephants in the world. Different herds travel together as one along an elephant corridor during the dry season, with a single goal in mind: water. The sweet waters of Minneriya Wewa, the vast lush grasslands and surrounding shady forest entice these mighty beings to come and eat, drink and play. Once you’ve had your fill of gentle giants, head into the Cultural Triangle to explore Sigiriya, Dambulla and all the other cultural gems that central Sri Lanka has to offer. If you’re on a Cultural Triangle adventure or just searching for the best national parks in Sri Lanka, a safari here is a must - especially if your party contains nature afficionados or elephant-loving little ones.

Elephant spotting in Sri Lanka


Gal Oya National Park

Wilderness is an understatement when it comes to Gal Oya National Park. A true hidden gem that is rarely visited by tourists, nature here has continued to evolve untouched by humans, meaning the park is teeming with wildlife, with 30% of all bird species in Sri Lanka found here. From water safaris with majestic swimming elephants using their trunks as snorkels, to guided tours of a local Vedda village where you can meet the chief, Gal Oya is without a doubt one of the best national parks in Sri Lanka. Once you’ve had your fill of swimming elephants and local culture, head east to the coast for a well-earned rest on a sandy beach. Keep your eyes peeled, though, as sometimes elephants like to come down to the beach to surprise tourists with an evening dip.

Elephants swimming in Gal Oya National Park, Sri Lanka


Udawalawe National Park

Yet again, Sri Lanka’s national parks have come up trumps when it comes to elephants. Udawalawe National Park is famed for its resident population of Sri Lankan elephants, and it is not unusual to see herds gather together to feed and bathe in the waterholes that fill the park. What really makes Udawalawe stand out as one of the best national parks in Sri Lanka is its elephant orphanage, where animal lovers can feed baby orphaned elephants by bottle and learn all about their often-sad little lives. From here, head to Ella where you can hop aboard the iconic blue train that weaves through verdant sloping tea plantations to the bustling city of Kandy, home to the Temple of the Tooth.

Safari in Sri Lanka


Written by Immy Kelly