Sri Lanka being an island country comprises a wide range of landscapes, from pristine beaches to green canopied forests, and cold highlands – all of which provide a home for a plethora of exotic wildlife species. 

Now if you are wondering exactly how many wildlife species – there are more than 500 individual animal species living in Sri Lanka, with the most notable being; leopards, elephants, water buffaloes, sloth bears, and endemic and migratory birds. 

Visiting one of the many spectacular national parks in Sri Lanka, allows you the chance to view these incredible animals living in their natural habitat. So to help you organise your travels, we’ve created a list of the best national parks in Sri Lanka and which animals you could hope to see in them!

How Many National Parks Are In Sri Lanka?

Sri Lanka is home to an incredible wealth of biodiversity and wildlife. The country is home to 26 official national parks, all of which are filled with exotic and iconic animal species., some of which are endemic to the tropical island country.

The Best National Parks In Sri Lanka

1. Yala National Park 

Yala National Park is located in the south-eastern part of Sri Lanka and borders on the Indian Ocean. It is one of the most popular national parks in Sri Lanka, however, out of its five blocks only two blocks are open to the public – these are zone 1 and zone 5. 

Due to the the variety of the park’s landscape, it provides a home to more than 45 types of mammals and 200 species of birds. 

The Top 10 National Parks In Sri Lanka
Leopard sitting on a sand road in Yala National Park

You can enter Yala through Tissamaharama and stay there overnight, or choose to camp inside the park as this usually increases your chances of spotting wildlife. 

The most common sightings reported are of the Sri Lankan leopards, and it is said there is an 80% chance of seeing one when going on a safari in Yala. However, as always, you are not guaranteed to see one as there are only 40 leopards in the entire national park. 

Here you can also see elephants, sloth bears, crocodiles, spotted deer, jackals, and birds like peacocks, painted storks, flamingos and pelicans.

2. Udawalawe National Park 

Udawalawe National Park, located just 1 and a half hours away from the iconic town of Ella, is famous for its huge number of elephants. It is one of the best places to see elephants in the wild, roaming about in search of food and water. 

The Top 10 National Parks In Sri Lanka
Lone elephant in Udawalawe National Park

There are more than 600 elephants in Udawalawe. You can also visit the Udawalawe Elephant Transfer Home which is located within the national park; it provides a safe home and for over 45 orphaned elephants. These orphans are cared for around the clock, and released back into the wild once they are old enough to live without the support of their ‘mother’.

Apart from the elephants, there are more than 40 mammal species, 185 birds, and amazingly, 135 species of butterfly. You can also see leopards, spotted deer, peacocks and many others. 


3. Minneriya National Park

Minneriya is another must-see national park for elephant enthusiasts traveling to Sri Lanka. The site of the largest elephant gathering in Asia, the best time to visit Minneriya National Park is between July and September.

The Top 10 National Parks In Sri Lanka
Elephants playing in Minneriya National Park

Minneriya is located in the northern central plains of Sri Lanka, about 40 minutes away from Sigiriya. Here there are more than 20 species of mammals and 165 bird species.

The elephant gathering occurs when herds of more than 500 come together in search of food and water by migrating between the Minneriya and Kaudulla National Parks. Apart from elephants, you can also see leopards, spotted deer, sloth bears, monkeys, mongoose, and birds like woodpeckers, hornbills, sandpipers, etc. 


4. Kaudulla National Park

Kaudulla National Park is more suited towards those looking for a more peaceful safari adventure, and it serves as a great alternative to Minneriya which is often packed with safari jeeps in the peak season.

Large herds of elephant in Kaudulla National Park

It is also famous for its elephant sightings; they migrate back from the Minneriya National Park after drinking water from the Minneriya Reservoir in the dry season. It is estimated that Kaudulla is currently home to a herd of about 200 elephants. 

As if that weren’t enough, there are more than 20 other mammal species, 25 species of fish, and 150 types of bird found in the park. There is a good chance of spotting axis deer (and sometimes albino axis deer), sambar deer, crocodiles, and leopards. 

5. Bundala National Park

Bundala National Park, which is also a biosphere reserve as declared by UNESCO, is a birdwatcher’s paradise! With more than 300 species, including water birds, Bundala is an absolute must-visit for keen birders.

Brightly coloured peacock in Bundala National Park

Along with the resident species, it is also a great place to spot migratory birds such as flamingos, sandpipers, and Kentish Plovers. With this in mind, the best time to visit Bundala is from September to March. During this time you could see hundreds of flamingos that have migrated from southern parts of India. You can also see water birds like pelicans, painted storks, ibis, and egrets. 

There are 30 mammal species found in Bundala National Park, including leopards, elephants, sloth bears, axis deer, sambar deer, wild boars and Indian civets. 

6. Wilpattu National Park

Wilpattu National Park is the largest national park in Sri Lanka, and is distinguished from the other parks because there are more than 30 wetlands (Villus) in the park. These provide enough water for the park’s animals all year round.

The Top 10 National Parks In Sri Lanka
Sloth bear crossing a dirt road in Wilpattu National Park

Wilpattu is not on the usual tourist routes, so if you’re a wildlife enthusiast or photographer looking to observe animals in peace, then is the place for you. 

The park is home to a large number of mammals including leopards, elephants, spotted dear, sambar deer and crocodiles. The most commonly seen animal in Wilpattu National Park is the sloth bear.

7. Gal Oya National Park

Gal Oya National Park is located in the southeast of Sri Lanka, and is the only national park in the country that offers boat safaris – an extraordinary way to view wildlife!

These boat trips run through the Senanayake Samudra Lake, which is located inside the park. Here there are tiny islands scattered beautifully throughout the lake.

Cormorant’s flying just above the surface of Senanayake Samudra Lake

The most common sighting in Gal Oya National Park is of the elephant herds swimming from one island to the other. It is a magnificent and unique sight to see so don’t forget to bring your camera!

Apart from elephants, the reserve provides a home to more than 30 species of mammal and 150 species of bird; including the leopards, axis deer, sambar deer, wild boars, crocodiles, and the largest bird in Sri Lanka, the Lesser Adjutant. 

8. Horton Plains National Park

Horton Plains National Park is another one of the best national parks in Sri Lanka, and with incredible views of mist-covered mountains, it is one of the most beautiful.

Located in the country’s central highlands, you will feel a difference as soon as you start out on safari due to the regions distinctive weather conditions. Here you’ll find a cooler climate when compared to other national parks. Average temperatures range from 10 degrees Celsius to 25 degrees Celsius.

The view from World’s End in Horton plains National Park, Sri Lanka

Most people skip Horton Plains National Park when creating their Sri Lankan itinerary. But if you decide to visit this magical place, you will definitely not regret it! 

It is a great place to learn about indigenous Sri Lankan flora as there are more than 700 plant species in Horton Plains. The park also provides a home to 24 species of mammals, 80 birds, and 15 types of amphibian. 

The most common sightings are of the purple-faced langur, toque macaques, red slender loris, fishing cat, and spotted chevrotain. You can also see birds like Sri Lankan magpie and Sri Lankan wood pigeon here.

9. Kumana National Park

Kumana National Park, also known as the Yala East National Park is situated in the southeastern part of Sri Lanka.

It is famous for its aquatic vegetation comprising of a 200-hectare mangrove swamp (Kumana Villu), and provides a home for migratory and endemic waterbirds, best seen in May, June and July. 

Painted stork stands on a green meadow in Kumana National Park, Sri Lanka.

You can see more than 250 bird species in Kumana National Park including the Sri Lankan jungle fowl, lesser whistling duck, white-bellied sea eagle, blue-faced Malkoha, oriental dwarf kingfisher, malabar pied hornbills, and pintail snipes that migrate from Russia. Other than birds, occasional sightings of leopards, elephants, and crocodiles are reported.

10. Wasgamuwa National Park

Wasgamuwa National Park sits just 2 hours away from the historical town of Polonnaruwa.  The climate is dry and temperatures can reach up to 32 degrees Celsius.

Toque Macaque mother and baby in Wasgamuwa National Park, Sri Lanka

It is home to more than 20 species of mammal, 100 species of birds, 50 species of butterfly, and 150 types of flora. The most commonly reported sightings are of elephants, toque macaques, mugger crocodiles and sloth bears. However, it is one of the lesser-visited national parks in Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka is an incredible destination for wildlife enthusiasts, so whether its elephants, leopards, crocodiles or birds that you’re hoping to see, there’s no doubt that there are incredible sightings waiting for you in any of these amazing national parks in Sri Lanka.