Ruhuna National Park, also known as Yala National Park, in the south-eastern part of Sri Lanka is a must-see for every nature lover visiting the island. Ruhuna is the ancient name of the region, whereas Yala is the name of a former coastal village within the national park boundaries.
Sri Lanka’s most beloved national park is famous due to the enthusasiastic reports of many impressed visitors and excellent TV-documentaries about its leopard population. The vastest area is covered with dry scrub and woodlands as well as moist monsoon rain forest, whereas the most visited part, Block 1, has lots of rock bolders, open grassland and small freshwater lakes and marine wetlands. Ruhuna National Park harbours 44 mammal species, 46 reptile species and 215 bird species, including 6 that are endemic. Common birds are Brahmini Kites, Bee-eaters, Painted Storks, Asian Open bills, Black-headed Ibises and Sri Lankan Jungle fowl, the national bird. Chances to observe wild elephants and salt water crocodiles are high. The density of leopards is, besides Wilpattu, the highest in the world. Nevertheless, leopards should not be expected to be spotted on each and every safari.
Ruhuna National Park safaris
Most visitors book a tour of three hours in the morning or in the late afternoon. Full day safaris are easily managable, too. Overnight stays are possible in bungalows. After some public debate in 2013, only very few tour operators are permitted to organize camping tours for guests with special permission.
Ruhuna block 1 standard safaris
Most tourists visit block 1, which indeed is the most scenic and ecologically rich part of Ruhuna National Park, with two dozens of leopards roaming or often relaxing on trees or rock bolders. Don’t expect to have block 1 reserved for yourself when visiting it by jeep. This wilderness is not loneliness. The mammal species you will watch most frequently are human beings, because in Block 1 you will probably share the sandy paths with dozens of other jeep sometimes driving in columns and assembling wherever a leopard is spotted. But it’s really worth it, particularly for those who cannot spend more time or money for a wildlife experience. Very few guests of block 1 are disappointed due to the tourist hurly-burly. Most guests are amazed by the beauty of the landscape and the variety and density of wildlife. But do not expect large herds, Sri Lanka is not Africa.
Real safaris in Ruhuna
Real safaris in other blocks are usually not managable and the prices are high. Indeed, there are tranquil areas with even good or higher chances to observe leopards than in block 1. The classic is the offroad safari starts from block 1, crossing block 2, which is situated between the rivers Menik Ganga and Kumbukkan Oya, arrives in e neighbouring Kumana National Park in the east. But be aware, this rarely permitted real safari is not possible after heavy rainfall, because there are no bridges crossing the river.
Beyond doubt, real Ruhuna National Park safaris including Kumana are the most amazing adventure highlight Sri Lanka has to offer for wildlife enthusiasts. But they are expensive due to the charges of the Wildlife Department. For those travelling on a smaller budget we can arrange an alternative in another wildlife area, which is close to Ruhuna alias Yala, with overnight stays in Lunugamwehera National Park.
Read more about Ruhuna National park here...
When approaching Colombo International Airport from the open ocean, aeroplanes cross the Negombo Lagoon just before landing. The lagoon, situated south of Negombo town and west of the airport, is 10 km long from north to south and 3.5 km wide on average. The palm-rich spit separating it from the ocean is only 500 m wide on average, at some places only 250 m. The southern end of the estuarine lagoon is the sanctuary of the Muthurajawela wetland in the river delta of the Attanagalla Oya. This mangrove swamp attracts a wide variety of water birds including gulls and other shorebirds.
The Negombo fishing harbour is situated at the northern end of the lagoon, where it opens to the ocean via two narrow channels. The lagoon is used for fishing, too. Traditional Oru boats, sometimes wrongly called katamarans, can be seen on the ocean and in the lagoon alike. The crabs and prawnd of the Negombo lagoon are held in high esteem for their taste. Motorboat tours can be arranged at the fishing port as well as in the Muthurajawela wetlands. Oruwa “katamaran tours” can be organized, too.
Sinharaja is a a mountain range in the south-west of the island, halfway between coastline and Sri Lanka's central highlands, separated from the latter by the Sabaragamuwa lowland area of Ratnapura. Sinharaja's highest peak reaches 1171 m. Tea and pepper is grown at the eastern slopes of the chain of hills. The Sinharaja Forest Reserve, Sri Lanka's largest and best preserved tropical rain forest, covers the western half of the range. 21 km long and 7 km wide, the reserve cannot be called a deep or endless jungle, however, due to its biodiversity and the plentitude of endemic species, it was declared a World Heritage Site in 1988. Situated exactly downwind towards the monsoon, Sinharaja is Sri Lanka's area with the highest levels of rainfall. Annual precipitation is above 3000 mm and can even reach 6000 mm. Visiting Sinhara is not recommended during monsoon season between June and September, when weather is rainy, pathes are muddy, and anaimals are hiding.
Two thirds of the tree species in Sinharaja are endemic to Sri Lanka, many of them are rare. 211 woody tree and liana species are identified within the reserve, 139 of them are endemic. High levels of endemism are also probable for the lower plants like ferns and epiphytes.
Sinharaja harbours 20 of Sri Lanka’s endemic bird species. (The island’s other 6 endemic bird species occur only in the dryzone.) Sinharaja is also famous for its butterflies, 50 % of Sri Lanka’s endemic species occur in Sinharaja's virgin forest.
Sinharaja is a perfect trekking area, though only during the dry season, sea above. There are numerous hiking and trekking routes of various lengths. Actually, you can spend several days int the forest reserve. The trails lead to peaks, too, where you can enjoy nice vistas. The highest peak is Hinipitigala. Among hikers and local weekend-travellers the trail to Mulawella peak is quite popular, too. The forest at its lowest is 270 m above sea level at the southern boundary of the Forest Reserve, where about a dozen waterfalls are situated.
Moderate price level
Among nature lovers the tropical wet evergreen forest of Sinharaja is one of Sri Lanka’s must-sees. And they have good luck in at least one respect: Because it is not run by the Wildlife Department but by the Forest department, a stay in the Sinharaja camp is comparatively cheap.
You can find a link-list of more than 200 Sri Lanka travel destinations in the footer. Some lovely place of interest is missing? Then please leave a comment and let us know your proposals to add further attractions...
No photos in this blogpost, but the title claims, there are plenty of them... What's wrong here? Admittedly, there is a problem. The problem is, our main article about Mihintale's attractions has so many photos of 900 by 600 dots size that it can take some time to load the very, very long page. So we ask for your patience. But we propose to wait a second or two, because our article provides very comprehensive information about Mihintale and surroundings and the photos give you an impression, how many lovely things you can see in Mihintale and how many of them can not be seen in your illustrated guidebooks. So if you are looking for highly attractive sites off the beaten path, you don't have to walk far distances in Mihintale. Nevertheless, the most famous sites, such as Ambasthala Dagaba, which are frequented by many more tourists, are still charming Buddhist sites, as they are visited by even more Sinhalese pilgrims. Mihintale, known as the cradle of Sri Lanka's Buddhism, is a sacred place. You have to behave accordingly, and you will confirm: This is not the atmosphere of mass tourism. Mihintale is genuinely Sri Lankan.
We highly recommend to visit Warana, also known as Varana, for several reasons.
First of all, it's a living forest monastery and education centre in the genuine tradition of Sinhalese Buddhism. Please be aware, that this tranquil place is inhabited by monks. You have to keep silent and ask for permission to walk around. If treated respectfully, the monks will be helpful to organize a guided tour for you and open some of the caves for you. You should not expect that everybody can understand English in Warana.
Secondly, Warana is an undisturbed classical Sri Lankan heritage site in a beautiful green setting and undisturbed by mass tourism. Though not far away from the Colombo-Kandy mainriad, it's really off the beaten path.
Thirdly, Warana played a prominent role in western Sri Lanka in all major periods of the island's history. It was founded in the earliest Buddhist century of the Anuradhapura period. It was visited and embellished by King Nissanka Malla during the Polonnaruwa period. It was one of Sri Lanka's most important monasteries under royal patronage in the Kotte period, the design of the cave is mainly in the style of the Kandyan period. And it's a modern Buddhist center where monks meet for meditation and studies.
We uploaded a more detailed description of the Warana Rajamaha Viharaya just today. More images will be posted in the main article later on. For a first impression, we present some small-sized photos in this blog post.
starting tomorrow, Monday 23 November, we will upload blog posts on a daily base. In the beginning, we will present you a series about Sri Lanka's holiday destinations. In contrast to our more detailed destination pages, the blog posts will provide basic information in a concise way. You will find quickly: 1. What can be seen at the specific location and 2. where is it and 3. when is the best time to visit it? Furthermore, we will use smaller photos in the blog posts. This helps to load the articles quickly, even if you don't use high-speed internet connections. Of course, the blog posts will be linked to our more comprehensive descriptions and larger photos on the corresponding destination pages, allowing you to scroll the blog for getting some first ideas and to browse to your selected places of interest.
Please don't hesitate to write your own comments to the blog posts. We are interested in corrections and additional information and your own experiences and advice for other travellers and in further suggestions what should be included in the list of destinationations.
Yours Lanka Excursions Holidays Team
Nuwan Chinthaka Gajanayaka,