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Sri Lanka may be small in size but this island boasts an impressive diversity of wildlife both on land and in the sea. The incredible animals I encountered in was the highlight of my month in Sri Lanka. This post will go over seven ways to see wildlife in Sri Lanka including safaris, national parks, diving expeditions, and more.
1: Swim with blue whales
Sri Lanka is known for its whale-watching opportunities, but I didn’t expect to be able to swim with blue whales. I was ecstatic to find this out while visiting Trincomalee and immediately signed up to go. Well it is expensive to go by Sri Lankan standards, the price is about 1/4 of what you would pay in my hometown of Newfoundland. I paid $50 USD to go swimming with the blue whales in Trincomalee, and it was worth every penny.Here is some footage from swimming with the blue whales:
The whales only surface at the top for a few minutes, so you need to be ready to jump in at any moment. It was a completely surreal moment to be next to the world’s largest mammal. Because you only have a quick moment with the whale, the boat will repeat the process several times. In total we jumped in with 5 whales.
If jumping in with the whales isn’t appealing to you, whale watching in Sri Lanka is also a fantastic activity. You can go whale in watching in Mirissa on the South Coast as well as Trincomalee. After the whale snorkeling, the boat let us watch a couple of whales before heading back to shore. It was a fantastic morning.
2: Go on an elephant safari in Sri Lanla
Sri Lanka and elephants go hand in hand, as the country is home to the highest density of wild Asian elephants in the world. They have done an amazing job of protecting the wild elephants while still making them accessible to tourists. There are a number of national parks where you can go on an elephant safari in Sri Lanka.
I went searching for wild elephants on a safari at Udawalawe National Park, and absolutely loved my experience. During a safari at Udawalawe National Park in Sri Lanka, you will have the chance to spot many animals including elephants, water buffalo, crocodiles, lizards, monkeys, and exotic birds. If you’re really lucky, you may even spot a leopard.
On top of all the incredible animals you will see on the safari in Sri Lanka, the landscape of the park is beautiful. It was completely different than anywhere else I visited in Sri Lanka, and actually felt like we were in Africa. The mountain ranges of nearby Ella provide a stunning backdrop to the park.
I also saw two elephants during my visit to Wilpattu National park. Well this isn’t a huge amount, there was hardly anyone else around and we got to see the elephant up close bathing himself in the lake. It was a special experience.
Sri Lanka also has elephant orphanages you can visit but I didn’t feel comfortable going to these after reading about how they treat the elephants. Make sure you do your research and support organizations that actually help the elephants and are not just after a profit from tourists. Avoid anywhere that advertises elephant riding. I know it sounds like a cool experience but elephant riding is HORRIBLE. Wild elephants won’t let humans ride on top of them, so in order to tame them, they are tortured as a baby to break its spirit. You can watch this disturbing video if you’re curious.
Sri Lanka has an abundance of opportunities to see elephants in their natural habitat through safaris in the national parks. This is the best way to see them for both you and the elephant, so please take advantage of these parks. If you get lucky, you may even just see one crossing the road in front of you. This happened to a few friends on me!
3: Release a baby sea turtle into the ocen
I will never forget how incredible it felt to release a baby sea turtle into the ocean. I actually felt my heart grow 20x bigger as the little guy headed towards the open sea. Even though the turtles we released were only born the day before, they instinctively know to head towards the direction of the ocean.
I released a baby sea turtle during a visit to Koggala Turtle Farms. I was skeptical about visiting a turtle hatchery in Sri Lanka. I’d heard negative things about them, such that some actually capture and keep wild turtles captive just to draw in money for tourists. I felt that this wasn’t the case at Koggala. The farm felt genuine in their efforts to protect and conserve sea turtles in Sri Lanka.
There was a small tour at the beginning where the guide showed us some grown turtles in tanks. All of these turtles had been brought in by fishermen because they had injuries, and Koggala was trying to rehabilitate the turtles to be able to go back into the ocean. All of the sea turtle eggs were found on the nearby beach and kept at Kosgoda to hatch. The chance of survival in the wild is only 1-2%, whereas when you release them from the sanctuary the odds of survival increase to 15%. Thus, helping to conserve the population of sea turtles in the wild. All of the profits from tours at the turtle farm go back towards turtle conservation.
4: Cuddle with snakes
Snakes may not be everyone’s favorite animals but for those that do like them, Sri Lanka is the place to go on a snake safari. The country boasts over 100 different species! On the southern coast of Sri Lanka, there is a 3rd generation snake farm which you can visit. Get directions here.
I was hesitant about visiting the snake farm at first, but I warmed up to them during the visit. The owner was so knowledgeable and allowed us to hold several of the snakes. It was so cool being able to see these guys up close. By the end of the tour, I had three different snakes cuddling me!
5: Say hello to the friendly riendeers in Horton Plains National Park
Horton plains National Park is famous for the view of worlds end, but another great feature of this park is that it has an abundance of deers that aren’t afraid to come say hello! They came right up to our van on arrival to greet us and were even there to say goodbye. Of course, the views aren’t bad either.
6: Take your chances at spotting a leopard
Sri Lanka has the highest population density of leopards in the world along with affordable safari so it’s a great place to take your chances at spotting one. Leopards can be seen on safari at Yala and Wilpattu National Park in Sri Lanka. I decided to try my luck at Wilpattu National Park as Yala was closed for annual maintenance during that time I was there. Unfortunately I didn’t see one on my safari at Wilpattu National Park in Sri Lanka, but I did see a bunch of other amazing animals including a sloth bear.
7: Go on an underwater safari in Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka is home to many incredible dive sites which you explore at affordable prices. I was able to get two dives for $60 USD in Trincomalee including all equipment rentals. During my dives in Trincomalee, Sri Lanka I saw many underwater animals including sea turtles, stingrays, cuddle fish, moray eels, lionfish, and an abundance of colorful fish and coral reefs. Another cool feature about diving in Trincomalee is that one of the dive sites is below a temple, and sculptures sometimes get thrown into the water, so you can see these underwater ruins.
Diving is a year round activity in Sri Lanka. From October – March you can dive on the southern coast and from April- September you can dive on the East coast. Here’s some footage from diving with a sea turtle in Tricomalee.
If you aren’t certified to dive you can do your open water in Sri Lanka for around $300 USD. If diving just isn’t your thing there are great spots to snorkel in Sri Lanka. Pigeon Island off Trincomalee is a great site to snorkel as the water is clear and you can see tropical fish, reef sharks, and sea turtles. The southern coast is also well known for its abundance of sea turtles.
These were my favorite wildlife encounters in Sri Lanka but there is still so much more. Sri Lanka is full of incredible animals to spot. You will find monkeys and lizards almost everywhere you go, friendly hostel dogs, and colorful birds right outside your door. Sri Lanka is a great destination to visit if you love wildlife!
Planning a trip to Sri Lanka? Check out my guide on how to plan a perfect 1-4 week trip itinerary through Sri Lanka!