Gal Oya National Park

For those who long to get off grid to get up close and personal with Sri Lanka’s stunning wildlife, Gal Oya National Park is the perfect answer. Not only is the park Sri Lanka’s best-kept secret, but the ancient Vedda tribe who live here (yes, they really do still wear loincloths and hunt with poison tipped arrows) are its hidden cultural treasure. What’s more, it is the only place in Sri Lanka where you can take a boat safari in the hope of seeing the mighty Asian elephant swimming in its natural habitat.

Safari holidays in Sri Lanka are a very special experience, but Gal Oya is especially rewarding. You’ll find tranquility, encounter untainted nature and mind-blowing scenery, with Sri Lanka’s biggest man-made lake, peppered with islands, and framed by the green mountains beyond.

True, the animal residents are more elusive than in Yala National park or Uda Walawe but that doesn’t detract from the experience.

On the contrary, seeing a swimming elephant or watching a croc glide into the water is all the more exciting. And when it comes to birdlife,you are likely to see eagles, herons and storks along with a colourful array of kingfishers and thrushes.

And for those who relish the prospect of a first-hand encounter with a  genuine indigenous civilisation, the long road to Gal Oya is a must. On any cultural holiday in Sri Lanka, a meeting with the Vedda, one of the last communities of forest dwelling people, is a true highlight.

A walk through the ancient forest with the tribal chief has to count amongst the most evocative and spiritual encounters possible in Sri lanka. You can listen to fascinating stories about the tribe’s ancestors and how they have lived from the jungle for hundreds of years leading a hunter gatherer existence, foraging, hunting and using plants for medicinal use.

Surprisingly the Sri Lanka luxury hotel scene has not yet arrived in force in this safari holiday paradise. Instead, there is just one choice of accommodation for discerning travellers: Gal Oya Lodge, a fabulous boutique hotel surrounded by 20 acres of private reserve.

If you only do three things in Gal Oya National Park…

Be up with the birds to see elephants swimming between the islands in the lake.

The jungle cooking course is amongst the best on the island.

Meet the Vedda and learn about their fascinating way of life.

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Thoughts on a postcard

It was an early start to climb to the top of monkey mountain but the 180-degree view from the summit was stunning. Beneath the rising sun the jungle canopy was still shrouded in mist.