Sri Lanka has some excellent national parks dotted throughout the country. You’d be crazy not to factor in time to see at least one or two of these amazing parks as part of your trip. Whether it’s a national park for wildlife watching or getting out for some excellent hiking opportunities, you’ll be blown away by the natural beauty.
Given the length of our trip to Sri Lanka (10 nights) we sadly couldn’t fit in more than two national parks to our itinerary: getting our hike fix at Horton Plains National Park, and a half day safari experience at Udawalawe. In hindsight, we probably could have fitted in a half day visit to Yala National Park, but this will have to be on the itinerary for our next trip to Sri Lanka!
Horton Plains National Park
Not the cheapest National Park entrance fee in the country (at circa USD $30 per person) but it was a big highlight of our trip. One aspect that makes this national park experience so great is that you are free to roam at will without having to hire a guide. All the tracks are well maintained and clearly signposted, making this an excellent place to get out on your own and soak up the stunning and varied landscapes.
We hiked the 3 hour loop that takes you from Mini Worlds End, to the main Worlds End, through the most incredible wild grassland plains, before reaching Bakers Falls. The landscape varies so dramatically throughout; it is incredible to see the changes from wild grasslands, to red layered rock formations.
Mini Worlds End offers a peaceful and beautiful viewpoint with only a handful of other people. I suspect many people skip this vista, racing onwards to get prime positions for the main event: Worlds End. However, in our opinion this viewpoint was just as impressive. You do get that incredible feeling of being away from the masses, with just your travel companion and the vastness of nature.
Worlds End is famous for its sheer drop 880m to the valley below. It really is a sight to behold; making this the perfect place to perch, open up your packed breakfast box, and just take in the wonder of the view. You will have to share the view with others: we had possibly 20+ others at the viewpoint, which is not excessive, and it won’t detract from the breathtaking vista before you. Besides you might even find a really friendly traveler to help take a photo for you!
It is essential to make it a VERY early morning to start your day at the National Park, as come 9am a misty cloud cover will roll in and obstruct the view completely out of sight. We arrived to Horton Plains at 6.30am and as you can see from the photos, the views were beautifully clear at this time of the morning.
What to Take
Warm clothing is required at this early hour of the morning; I would suggest a waterproof jacket and some layers as you’ll likely warm up after walking for some time, especially if you get a sunny morning. Comfy walking shoes, plenty of water, and your camera are the obvious essentials, but don’t forget sunglasses, hat, and suncream for when the sun arrives.
I highly recommend arranging a packed breakfast to bring with you (most guesthouses are equipped to supply this with enough notice), however please be mindful that the National Park does not allow you to enter with any plastic wrapping in your bag. You will go through a bag check procedure where any plastic is confiscated and replaced with paper as an alternative. A very impressive initiative that more National Parks should take on board!
Stay / Getting Here
Horton Plains National Park is located between Haputale and Nuwara Eliya, making either of these towns an easy base to travel from. The entrance to World’s End is actually really close to the Ohiya train station, so we planned our day so that we could hop on board the train from here into Ella following the morning of Hiking.
We travelled to the National Park from Nuwara Eliya, where we stayed at Villa Tea Fields guesthouse which you can read more about here in the Hill Country blog.
Udawalawe National Park
I’m sure this experience varies considerably for those who might have visited safaris in other destinations around the world. For me, it was my first rodeo – I mean safari – and I loved every minute of it.
Udawalawe is best known for elephant spotting, with somewhere close to 600 elephants said to be living in the national park. During our visit we got to see several different herds about the park, which included a range of elephant ages and personalities. Seeing the cute baby elephants was a real highlight. If you are lucky you might even get to see one of the husked elephants living in Udawalawe. There are only a handful, so its quite a rare experience.
Other than elephants, you’ll find water buffalo, crocodiles, monkeys, and monitor lizards which are relatively easy to spot. Harder to find locals include sambar deer, sloth bears, mongooses and on the really rare to see spectrum, a leopard or two.
You will also see plenty of bird life – which actually blew our minds! We have never been ‘bird-watching’ before, but it was really amazing to see the huge variation of species. During our morning visit we spotted 3 different types of eagles, 2 different types of honeyeaters, kingfishers, cranes and storks, and plenty of beautiful peacocks.
What to Take
If you’ve booked the morning half day safari, it is another early morning start leaving your accommodation around 6am. So again, make sure you are prepared with layers of clothing especially as the safari cars are open air. I also suggest wearing a hat / head scarf / head band to keep your hair from blowing in your face (and the dust out of your hair). You probably won’t need sunscreen during the early morning sun, but sunglasses are essential especially if you are trying to animal spot into the rising sun.
Pack a water bottle, but do not take any food along in your bag … you don’t want to encourage any greedy monkeys your way.
Cameras are an obvious essential, but also make sure you have sufficient cash on you for purchasing the national park ticket at the gate (if you haven’t already pre-paid this through the tour company) and some cash to tip the driver at the end of the tour (optional, but we gave USD $10 as our driver was great).
Stay / Getting Here
We booked our safari tour through our Guesthouse, which is the most common way to arrange tours of the National Park. Options include a 4WD group tour with up to 8 people or a private Jeep booking for 2 people, as well as full day to half day tours. We selected a half day morning private Jeep tour, which was a great balance of price and experience. In total the cost was about 12,000 LKR (USD $70), of which we paid 4,000 LKR direct to the Guesthouse for the driver and the remainder was paid directly at the National Park gate for entrance fees.
The Guesthouse: The Countryside Udawalawe, was perfect for our one night stay. It came with great reviews (which it lived up to), is an easy 20 minute drive from the National Park entrance, had excellent service throughout the booking process, and provided the ease of home cooked dinner and breakfast meals. Breakfast comes included in the room rate – which if you are up for the morning safari, means you come home post tour to a delicious feast before check out. There will be egg hoppers awaiting you! Dinner is an optional extra, which I would highly recommend. Not only does it mean you don’t have to leave the comfort of the Guesthouse, but also because the buffet style rice and curry, with plenty of vegetables and papadums, is super tasty and plentiful.