We all know about African safari’s and while they sit on many people’s bucket list, the price tag usually makes it a bit out of reach for the majority of us. But, an alternative destination to get your animal fix is Sri Lanka!
This budget friendly destination is home to no less than 26 National Parks making it the perfect activity to add your family’s safari trip for your Sri Lanka itinerary. With a safari option for all budgets, the kids, and you, will have a great time animal spotting.
There is something for every budget, and every animal lover. Sri Lanka even has its own Big Five animals to spot; Sloth Bear, leopard, elephant, sperm whale and blue whale. Including Asia’s greatest elephant migration.
No trip to Sri Lanka with kids is complete without a safari drive.
Our kids are pretty accustomed to a more interesting selection of animals after growing up in Borneo, but the safari comes high of their list of highlights.
How to choose where to go for your safari
The first name that usually comes up when talking about a safari in Sri Lankan is Yala, but there are numerous national parks across the island, each offering unique wildlife experiences.
In central and northern areas, the parks close to Sigiriya like Wilpattu, Minneriya, Kaudulla, and Hurulu Eco Park are ideal.
In the south, Udawalawe and Yala National Parks provide a wider variety of wildlife, including elephants, crocodiles, and even leopards in Yala.
Minneriya National Park: An Elephant Haven
One of the highlights of our Sri Lanka trip was the safari in Minneriya National Park. With a 5am wake up, (take something warm, it’s surprisingly chilly at that time) we set off in our private jeep, for a three-hour adventure through the park’s, on the hunt for wild elephants. What was really enjoyable was the lack of other people, which meant when you found elephants, you didn’t share them with others, there was no mad rush of cars chasing down the animals and it felt like it offered as little disturbance as possible. There were lots of other animals too, but the elephants as by far the highlight.
Yala National Park: The search for Leopards
Yala is known for its leopards, making it one of the busiest parks in Sri Lanka. We visited over 10 years ago when young and kid free and it was insane. Each car had a radio which as soon as word was given of a possible leopard sighting here was a mad dash to try and find it. We saw lots of other animals but not the leopard and honestly, it wasn’t surprising why. The Yala safari price is also much higher than some of the other parks.
Kumana National Park: A Hidden Gem in the East
For a more authentic and less crowded safari experience, Kumana National Park in Eastern Sri Lanka is a must-visit. Its untouched beauty and rich biodiversity make it a unique destination for families seeking an off-the-beaten-path adventure.
Wilpattu National Park:
Another fantastic safari destination in Sri Lanka is Wilpattu National Park, located in the northwest. It’s known for its leopards, sloth bears, and beautiful lakes. We saw a sloth bear on our trip, well, we saw its butt which definitely still counts as seeing one. Again, another quiet safari which made the experience much more enjoyable.
Bundala National Park:
A famous bird-watching spot over the wet-lands. It also has lots of crocodiles, civets and giant squirrels.
Safari Tips and Insights
- Morning Safaris: Morning safaris can be chilly, especially for children. Dress in layers for the chilly morning air, especially for kids.
- Pack Snacks: Standard instructions when doing anything with kids but take snacks, for hunger and for boredom. Be mindful of waste.
- Be mindful of the bumpy terrain, particularly for full-day safaris. Take motion sickness pills if you get a little queasy.
- Choose a respectful and knowledgeable guide to enhance your safari experience.
- It can be boring for the kids, especially when there is nothing to spot, our youngest took an audiobook to listen to in those quieter moments.
- Full-Day Safari Considerations: Keep in mind that a full-day safari can be exhausting, especially for younger kids. A half-day safari might be a better option.
Early Morning Advantage: Most safaris will advise an early morning trip when animals are most active. You avoid the heat of the day too.
Check the current entrance fees for the national parks and inquire about any special rates for children. Children under five often enter for free
Check https://www.dwc.gov.lk/revision-of-fees-visitor-services/ for the most up to date list
The fees listed before are for entry only- Without Tax / Levies / Vehicle entry permit / Local guide
Obviously learning about the animals, they may see is great for building excitement but take advantage of the safari to educate your children about the importance of wildlife conservation and the role of national parks in preserving natural habitats. We use this website to learn about different animals in the countries we visit. In Wilpattu, we saw the interaction with elephants and the trainline and the devastating consequences they can have. It was a great opportunity to take about the interactions between animals and humans. There are endless opportunities for learning when travelling in Sri Lanka.
Choosing Safari Accommodation
There are a variety of options of places to stay for a safari on booking.com and Agoda.com. The cheapest will generally be to stay in the nearest town and arrange your safari from there but there is also the option to glamp near or on the outskirts of the national parks. These resorts usually offer full board and additional activities. We liked the look of.
When to go on safari
Sri Lanka is an all-year-round destination but that being said, certain places are best to visit at certain times. And whilst there is a ‘season’ sometimes the weather doesn’t quite get the memo and does its own thing so look to get local, on the ground weather details. Check the weather updates before you go, try and keep your itinerary loosely planned, especially if travelling out of high season.
The best time to visit safari parks in Sri Lanka can vary depending on the location and the specific wildlife you want to see.
In an attempt to gather the information, here’s a general guideline for when to visit some of the most popular safari parks in the country:
- Yala National Park:
- Best time to visit: February to July
- Yala is known for its leopard population, and the dry season, which runs from February to July, is the best time to spot leopards and other wildlife as they gather around water sources.
- Wilpattu National Park:
- Best time to visit: February to October
- The best time to visit Wilpattu is during the dry season from February to October when the water levels are lower, and wildlife congregates near the remaining waterholes.
- Minneriya National Park:
- Best time to visit: July to September
- The highlight of Minneriya is the “Gathering,” where hundreds of elephants gather around the Minneriya Tank. This occurs from July to September, making it the best time to visit.
- Udawalawe National Park:
- Best time to visit: December to May
- The dry season from December to May is the ideal time to visit Udawalawe to spot elephants and other wildlife as they come out to water sources.
- Bundala National Park:
- Best time to visit: September to March
- Bundala is a great place for birdwatching and is best visited during the dry season from September to March when migrant birds are present.
- Horton Plains National Park:
- Best time to visit: December to March
- The best time to visit Horton Plains is during the dry season from December to March when the weather is clear and cool for hiking.
- Kumana National Park:
- Best time to visit: April to July
- If you’re interested in birdwatching, Kumana is best visited from April to July when many migratory birds arrive.
There are so many reasons we love Sri Lanka and the opportunity to see animals in the wild just added to it. It is one of our all time favourite destinations and the kids love Sri Lanka too.