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One of the best things to put on your Sri Lanka Itinerary is a visit to one of the many national parks across the country, and Wilpattu National Park is the largest.
After spending a day with the elephants in Udawalawe National Park, I was still eager to tick off one of the remaining things on my Sri Lanka bucket list: to see a leopard in the wild.
Yala National Park and Wilpattu National Park are both known for their leopard sightings. In fact, Wilpattu National Park is world-renowned for its leopard population. However Yala National Park is more popular as the size of the park is much smaller then Wilpattu, so leopard sighting are more common.
I was visiting Sri Lanka during September, when most of the blocks at Yala were closed for annual maintenance. Given this, I figured my chances to see leopards would be better at Wilpattu National Park. It’s also the only national park in Sri Lanka where you can see sloth bears, so this attracted me.
Wilpattu National Park
The unique feature of Wilpattu National Park is the “Willus”, which means natural lakes. These are natural, sand-rimed water basins that fill with rainwater and attract wildlife. there are nearly sixty lakes throughout Wilpattu.
Wilpattu is the largest park in Sri Lanka at an impressive size of 1,317 square kilometers. It’s also one of the oldest National Parks in Sri Lanka!
How to get to Wilpattu National Park
Wilpattu National Park is located in the Northwest coast of Sri Lanka. The park is located 30km West of Anuradhapura or 180 km north of Colombo.
I was coming from the the town of Trincomalee on the East Coast, so I took a bus to Anuradhapura and then a tuk-tuk to my accommodation just outside of the national park.
If you are visiting from Colombo, you could take the train to Anuradhapura and then a tuk-tuk. Anuradhapura is an intesting place as it’s the capital city of the Central Northern Province, and one of the ancient capitals of Sri Lanka. It has a well preserved archeological site you can visit. Alternatively, you could take a day tour from Colombo to visit Wilpattu.
Wilpattu National Park Accommodation
Depending on your budget, there are some amazing accomodation options inside Wilpattu National Park.
For an epic glamping experience, check out Leopard Trails Wilpattu, which offers all-inclusive tents including a private bathroom. Thamaravila By The Elephant Stables also looks incredible, offering a 5-star hotel experience inside the park with a concierge service, tour desk, air conditioning, a flat-screen TV, and more.
For a more budget-friendly option, check out Wilpattu Tree House which is just outside the park entrance. Sometimes the elephants even roam by the tree houses at night!
I stayed here and enjoyed the tree house, but I will warn you to make sure you book the right room online. We booked what we thought was a tree house and ended up being just a regular boring room. In the end we got a treehouse, but had to pay more then expected.
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Planning your Safari in Wilpattu National Park
Since Wilpattu is a large park it’s important to understand that if you only book a half-day safari or even one-full day, your chances of seeing a leopard are not guarenteed.
We arrived at our accommodation in Wilpattu National Park late at night, so we opted to do one full-day safari (12 hours) the next day. This made for a long day of driving, and I wouldn’t recommend it.
A better option, if you are only staying one night in Wilpattu, would be to do two half day safaris. One in the afternoon on the first day, and another one in the morning of the second day.
An even better option to maximize your chances of seeing wildife in Wilpattu National Park would be to book a 2 night/3 day trip. In this case you would have the opportunity to do three safaris. One in the afternoon of first day, a full day safari on day two, and third day morning safari before checking out.
If time is not an issue you can even do a 3 night/4 day trip. This is the recommended option because of Wilpattu’s massive size. In this case, you could do one safari the afternoon of day one, a full day safari on day two and three, and a morning safari on the fourth day before checking out.
Booking your Safari
If you stay at any lodge near or in the park, they will be able to help you book a safari and guide. We booked our full-day safari through Wilpattu Tree House for the next morning after arriving late at night. Alternatively, you could book a safari online in advance.
Wildlife in Wilpattu National Park
You can see just about all the wildlife Sri Lanka has to offer inside Wilpattu National Park. The only problem is that the park is so large, it can be difficult to find it all on a single safari. This is what I saw on my 12-hour one day safari.
Just kidding. The only leopards we saw were on these signs. Although we did meet another group of tourists who did see a leopard the same day we were in the park. The park is large so it comes down to being in the right place at the right time.
Not gonna lie, it was disappointing to not see a leopard. But there’s never a guarantee with wildlife. Overall, I was still pretty happy with my experience at Wilpattu National Park because we got to see so many other types of wildlife. Plus, spotting the sloth bear made my day.
A nice thing about Wilpattu National Park is that there is hardly anyone else there. In some of the more popular parks there are so many jeeps crowding around one animal that it takes away from the experience. But Wilpattu is so large that often it is just you and the wildlife.
Doing a one-day safari in the park felt rushed, and I didn’t get to see a leopard which was a disappointment. If I had my time back, I would spend at least two days or more in the park to increase my chances of seeing the elusive leopard.
Have you been to Wilpattu National Park? Were you lucky enough to see a leopard? Let me know about your experience in the comments below!