Wilpattu National Park
Wilpattu National Park is a sensational hidden gem that is thankfully overlooked by mainstream visitors to Sri Lanka. Brimming with flora and fauna, almost any Sri Lankan Naturalist (and some of our most experienced Yonderers!) consider it to be the most exciting of the 26 national parks in Sri lanka.
There is a sense of it still being a genuine wilderness where the natural world abounds. Elephants, leopards and sloth bears are all residents, along with jackals, deer, crocodiles and a vast array of birds and butterflies. But the greatest delight of safari in Wilpattu is that with a bit of luck on your side you won’t be sharing a sighting with hordes of other tourists. The name Wilpattu literally means ‘natural lakes’ and this is exactly what you will find. Its a park of magnificent proportions, the largest wildlife sanctuary in Sri Lanka no less, where dry arid forest meets grassy plains before they turn into a system of over 50 wetlands.
In fact the eco system in Wilpattu is so complex, and the area so large, that even today naturalists have struggled to record accurate numbers of the parks residents. Leopards, which are often the main attraction, are well known to be numerous but there is no official census number. Records indicate that there are 41 species of mammal (of which 4 are endemic), 149 bird species and 57 reptile species.
Wilpattu National park was cut off for almost 30 years during the war meaning that today, only a handful of luxury tented camps have ventured off the well trodden path to set up their accommodation. And boy are we grateful to them. Some of our most rewarding safari experiences in Sri Lanka have taken place in Wilpattu and there is nothing more authentic and exciting than sleeping on the parks boundary with canvas above our heads. But the small number of quality accommodation options means that competition is intense and often expensive in comparison to similar options available in the more popular national parks.
For us, Wilpattu has an irresistible magic that draws us back time and time again. The feeling of it still being raw, rustic and an untouched habitat for Sri lanka’s wondrous wildlife is something that is hard to articulate. It’s a privilege to visit and to experience the majestic animals in their spectacular natural habitat undisturbed by the tourist frenzy found in Sri Lanka’s other national parks.
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If you only do three things in Wilpattu National Park…
The park gates open at 6am so get up and out early to have the best chances of seeing sloth bears and leopards
Wilpattu is home to a large number of elephants which will gather around the shores of the lakes to cool off and frolic in the shallows
There is a twitcher in all of us, so grab the bird book and ask the driver to park your jeep at the end of one of the lakes to see countless species fishing over the water