Sri Lanka: forget the wild life, enjoy the wildlife

By Murray Stewart, a Travel Enthusiast

Read more on Sri Lanka.

Overall rating:4.0 out of 5 (based on 4 votes)
Recommended for:
Beach, Cultural, Eco, Expensive, Mid-range

Against a backdrop of smiling people and gentle chaos, Sri Lanka boasts ancient history, as well as modern all-inclusive beach resorts. But focus on the accessible wildlife - you won't be disappointed

The street vendor shakes his head, a strange hybrid of up, down and side-to-side. Does he mean 'yes,' or 'no'? Perhaps it's a sign of mild resignation. Whatever, our gentle haggling is finished and he’s now the owner of 300 of my rupees. I’m now the proud owner of a baseball cap, decorated with a resplendent lion motif.

Of course, there are no lions in Sri Lanka, other than on the national flag - and the baseball caps. But there is plenty of other wildlife in this beautiful land. It’s waiting to meet you, and certain to provide you with a few surprises. Whether it's mongoose mating in the car park, or monkeys stealing the shower gel from the hotel trolley, it won’t always show up when and where you expect it.

Getting around

Train travel in Sri Lanka - while fun - requires time and patience, maybe more than you can spare in a fortnight’s break. And the wildlife hotspots are not easily reached by public transport.

While the Sri Lankans drive with a rather gentle, restrained madness, self-drive cannot really be recommended for a stress-free holiday. Potholes, wandering animals and slow vehicles should deter you from getting behind the wheel. If your budget allows, however, hiring a car and driver will let you relax and give you real flexibility, with the additional bonus that you have a captive native - the driver -  to interrogate about fascinating Sri Lankan life. He'll collect you from the airport, and take you from hotel to hotel and all points in between. After all, this beautiful country, recovering from the recently-ended civil war, deserves your full attention. Arrange your chauffeur before you leave home, perhaps through (ask for Manoj Boteju).  Based around the destinations below, he'll create a tailor-made, animal-orientated island-tour for you.

And now for some animals...

To guarantee that you see the big beasts, there are a number of recommendations to consider.  Yala National Park, in Sri Lanka’s southwest, will get you close to elephants, jackal, deer, crocodiles and an abundance of birdlife - all from the safety of a Land Rover. Fortune and persistence may be rewarded by an encounter with a leopard or sloth-bear.

Get your driver to take you to the beautifully-located Yala Village Hotel, on the edge of the park, where the animals roam the hotel grounds. Accommodation is in individual chalets, costing around 15,000 rupees for two people. After dark, you have to call for an escort to take you from your chalet to the restaurant for dinner. While there’s not much chance of you becoming dinner yourself, being trampled by a wild elephant or charged by the ubiquitous wild boar would definitely stop you reaching the delicious buffet. Post-meal, and safely back in your hut, you may be kept awake by the scratchings and screechings of beasts unknown. Keep your windows shut.

If you haven’t pre-booked a safari or two, the hotel can organise National Park trips and bird-watching walks. (You won’t stroll far without meeting a green bee-eater, painted stork or crested eagle). Although you have to pay the fixed fees for entrance to Yala National Park, you can try to team up with other hotel guests, as this will share the costs of the jeep and driver. And you can haggle – gently, please.

Evening entertainment here is restricted to a dip in the pool, a game of pool, or a naturalist’s talk. No wild life, only wildlife.

…. and some more animals

But you don’t even have to pay National Park fees to enjoy Sri Lanka's rich fauna. As you tour the island, serendipity will ensure you will encounter beautiful kingfishers, monitor lizards, water buffalo and fruit bats: you’ll see these for free. But in Central Sri Lanka, a night safari at Sigiriya, organised by Sigiriya Hotel (doubles 8500 rupees) will show you wild elephants grazing, as well as civet cats, deer, owls and wild boar. And keep watch for that elusive leopard. Back at the hotel, you can sit in the lounge bar and drink one of their award-winning cocktails, or gawp at the towering Sigiriya rock-fortress from the swimming pool. Hotel locations really don’t come much better than this.

….and then some more

For elephant close-ups the orphanage at Pinnawela is justifiably famous, but for an alternative, less-crowded site, direct your chauffeur to the lesser-known Elephant Transit Home at Udawalawe. Here, you can watch the baby elephants being fed their milk through metal funnels. (And judging by their tantrums, some feel they aren’t fed quite enough.) If staying in this area, the eco-friendly jungle retreat, Kalu's Hideaway (double room 13,000 rupees) has a Jacuzzi and pool, and is small enough to make you feel special. They also organise trips to the nearby National Park, and even to caves to meet the local bat population!

….and now for a well-deserved rest

So, after nearly two weeks armed with your camera, playing the big game hunter (but shooting only photos), it’s nearly time to go home. With a few days before your flight, why not chill out on a beautiful beach, enjoy the sun and indulge yourself at one of Sri Lanka’s West Coast resorts? All international flights arrive and leave from Colombo International Airport, so Negombo – being the resort nearest to it – would be the logical choice for some downtime.

Further south, however, Bentota has a better beach, and the Serendib Hotel Bentota¬† (doubles 11,000 rupees) is slap-bang in the middle of it. Get yourself a relaxing ayurvedic massage, swim in the pool, or shop for tasteful handicrafts nearby. For a change from the hotel buffet, simply cross the single railway track to The Golden Grill restaurant (tel. +94 34 2275455) and indulge yourself with fresh lobster or swordfish steak.

If you have time for a day trip from Bentota, take a tuk-tuk to Lunuganga, ( the former home of the late Geoffrey Bawa, Sri Lanka’s famous architect and style guru. Here, amidst beautiful surroundings, admire the artistic interiors, watch the estate workers tend the rice paddies and, as you enjoy an unhurried tour of the gardens, perhaps you’ll catch a last glimpse of a kingfisher or a water monitor lizard.

After all, having just spent two days on the beach, surely you'll be missing that wildlife by now?

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More information on Sri Lanka: forget the wild life, enjoy the wildlife:

Murray Stewart
Traveller type:
Travel Enthusiast
Guide rating:
Average: 4 (4 votes)
Total views:
First uploaded:
27 January 2010
Last updated:
5 years 42 weeks 4 hours 45 min 18 sec ago
Destinations featured:
Budget level:
Mid-range, Expensive

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Community comments (4)

0 of 0 people found the following comment helpful.

Another great and engaging read. I took the train in Sri Lanka and it was the most memorable journey on a train ever. We even had a sword swollower - I've never seen anything like it - esp on a bouncy old train. I would have loved to know more about some of the towns, Galle etc. or the tea plantations but perhaps you didn't visit there? I didnt see the "game" when I was there (except for one wild elephant) but now I want to go back and see it and experience that aspect of the country. Was there any safety elements to consider or "vibes" anywhere left over from the recent fighting.

Yet another country to re-visit, thanks for the enticing read!

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0 of 0 people found the following comment helpful.

Cathy and Jan, thank you both for your positive feedback. (I will try harder on the 'Hotel Widget'next time).

Jan, a fair point re the fishes, as this is an aspect that could indeed draw people to visit. I didn't do any diving/snorkelling at all on this trip, so couldn't really comment on whether it's good or not. We are limited in the length of articles we can submit to Simon Seeks, so I have to be concise - stops me woffling!

Maybe you could visit the country, do some diving, and write a Simon Seeks article about it - I'd certainly read it!

Thanks again to both.

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0 of 0 people found the following comment helpful.

A thoroughly inspirational article which really met the information needs as well as being enjoyable - I liked the relaxed, gentle style while maintaining a good pace and throughput of useful facts. The only thing that I felt was missing was any reference to snorkelling & the tropical fish - animal lovers might well want to take that in too. I particularly appreciated the added sources of information such as how to find a driver which had eluded me so far. The article was a good length though I would have happily read a good deal more.

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0 of 0 people found the following comment helpful.

I love your very friendly, personal writing style, Murray and your observations of the people (and animals) that you meet on your trips. This guide has taken me back to a holiday in Sri Lanka when I peeled back the sheets after a tiring day on safari and found a very large lizard enjoying the comfort of my pillow. Thank you.

One small technical point...please make sure that you double check the name of your hotels before you add them to our database as most of your hotels were already in there. For example "Sigariya Hotel" was listed under "Sigiriya Hotel". You also need to make sure that each hotel is included in your Make it Happen box by using our Recommended Hotel widget. If you are having any problems please let us know. Thanks, I look forward to reading your next guide.

What do other readers think of this guide? Has it inspired you to visit Sri Lanka? As always, rate it and leave a comment to have your say.

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