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Wilpattu National Park

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Experience the wonders of a jungle safari at Wilpattu National Park – the largest and one of the oldest National parks in Sri Lanka. With over 30 species of mammals and an impressive variety of flora and fauna spanning its jungles and nature trails, a visit here is definitely something to remember for a lifetime.
The name Wilpattu essentially means a land of many lakes ‘villus’ or water bodies and this is exactly what you’ll find here. In addition to the flood plain lakes that are banked with white delicate sands, the park is full of endless dense, dry zone woodland forest interspersed with masses of birds and an awesome array of wildlife including spotted deer, wild boar, sloth bears, elephants and leopards.

Where is Wilpattu National Park located?

Wilpattu lies inland on the northwest coast of Sri Lanka, approximately 26 km north of Puttalam and 180 km north of Colombo. It spans towards the ancient capital of Anuradhapura, which is approximately 30 km east of the park. The park spans the border of North Central and North Western Province of Sri Lanka and covers an impressive 131, 693 hectares (1,317 sq km/508 sq miles), making it the largest national park in the country! The west border of the park stretches 35 km along the north-western coast of Sri Lanka. There are two zones of Wilpattu – the main zone in the north and the smaller zone which lies to the interior which has no coastal border.

When was Wilpattu National Park established?

Wilpattu was declared as a wildlife sanctuary in 1905, and was upgraded to National Park status on 25th February 1938, making it the oldest park in Sri Lanka. The northern area of Wilpattu was declared as Wilpattu North Sanctuary on 7th November 1947. The park was closed for several years from 1988 onwards due to security concerns Sri Lanka was facing. It was reopened in February 2010 and is now open to both local and foreign tourists.

How to reach Wilpattu National Park?

The main entrance and office to the park is at Hunuwilgama, where one can obtain a ticket and enter the park. This is approximately nine kilometers from Thimbiriwewa, which is a small hamlet located in between Puttalam and Anuradhapura. Thimbiriwewa is reached by travelling on the A3 main motor road from Colombo to Puttalam (approximately 140 km north) and then along the Puttalam- Anuradhapura A12 main road (45km north-east) to the Wilpattu Junction. From here to the main park entrance, it is approximately 10 km.

Travel time:

  • Puttalam to Wilpattu: 40 mins
  • Kandy to Wilpattu: 2.5 hours
  • Colombo to Wilpattu: 3.3 hours

Tourists that are staying in Kalpitiya – which is famous for whale watching, dolphin watching, kitesurfing and various other water activities – will have easy access to Wilpattu. Accommodation options such as Dolphin Beach are located approximately 30 km from Puttalam. Wilpattu is a 1.5 hour drive away from Dolphin Beach.

When is the best time to visit Wilpattu National Park?

The best time to visit the park is from February to October. It is best to avoid rainy weather, and to visit the park during early morning or late afternoon as it is difficult to see animals in the afternoon as they hide in the forest to avoid the harsh heat. The park is open throughout the year for visitors.

How to reach Wilpattu National Park?

The main entrance and office to the park is at Hunuwilgama, where one can obtain a ticket and enter the park. This is approximately nine kilometers from Thimbiriwewa, which is a small hamlet located in between Puttalam and Anuradhapura. Thimbiriwewa is reached by travelling on the A3 main motor road from Colombo to Puttalam (approximately 140 km north) and then along the Puttalam- Anuradhapura A12 main road (45km north-east) to the Wilpattu Junction. From here to the main park entrance, it is approximately 10 km.

Travel time:

  • Puttalam to Wilpattu: 40 mins
  • Kandy to Wilpattu: 2.5 hours
  • Colombo to Wilpattu: 3.3 hours

Tourists that are staying in Kalpitiya – which is famous for whale watching, dolphin watching, kitesurfing and various other water activities – will have easy access to Wilpattu. Accommodation options such as Dolphin Beach are located approximately 30 km from Puttalam. Wilpattu is a 1.5 hour drive away from Dolphin Beach.

When is the best time to visit Wilpattu National Park?

The best time to visit the park is from February to October. It is best to avoid rainy weather, and to visit the park during early morning or late afternoon as it is difficult to see animals in the afternoon as they hide in the forest to avoid the harsh heat. The park is open throughout the year for visitors.

What is the landscape like at Wilpattu National Park?

The park consists of mostly dry zone high forest, with extensive open plains. Since it is so large and ranges from 0 – 152 meters above sea level, the park supports over ten habitats covering three ecosystems within it (forests, wetland and coastal & marine ecosystems), making it a biodiversity hotspot of flora and fauna.
The main feature of the park of course is its name sake – the presence of ‘villus’ or natural lakes that are found all over. These natural lakes are natural water basins that are surrounded by white sand that fill with rainwater. There are over 60 lakes and tanks natural lakes that span the park that range from small ponds to large natural reservoirs. Majority of the villus are filled with fresh water and are extensive wetlands, whilst some are filled with sea water and brackish water.
In addition to these natural lakes, certain zones of the park have copper red loamy soils. The western side of the park has deeply forested areas and thorny bushes similar to Yala National park. The park also has minor irrigation reservoirs or tanks over the eastern boundary, which were rehabilitated in 2010. The incredible variety of terrain, ranging from jungle and plains to wetland makes the park a haven for all kinds of flora and fauna.

What is the climate like in Wilpattu National Park?

It is best to visit the park during the dry season, which falls between February and October. The rainy season at the Wilpattu is between September to December during the north eastern monsoon. Inter monsoon rains occur between March and April, followed by extensive drought from May to early September. The park has an annual temperature of 27.2°C and an annual rainfall of approximately 1000 mm. Although the park is situated in the dry zone, the flora is very green and luscious due to the presence of various water sources.

What flora can be found in Wilpattu National Park?

Majority of Wilpattu is composed of dense forest and scrub (75%), while the remainder is made up of pockets of extensive open plains. There are several flowering plant species in the park, with over 25 endemic plants. There are three main types of vegetation found in the park.

  • Littoral vegetation which consists of an abundance of salt grass and low scrub that is adjacent to the beach.
  • Low stature monsoon scrub is found 5 – 10 km within the coastal belt.
  • Monsoon forest with tall emergents is located further inland. Some of the tall emergent trees to look out for include Manilkara hexandra (slow growing evergreen tree that can grow up to 40 – 80 feet tall and 1 – 3 m in circumference, with a grey black rough bark), Chloroxylon swietenia (also known as Sri Lankan satinwood, tropical hardwood medium sized deciduous tree that grows up to 50 – 65 feet with a fissured, corky bark), Vitex altissima (woody plant that grows up to 65 feet in height with a scaly grey bark), Diospyros ebenum (hard black wood tree) and Alseodaphne semecapriflolia (endemic 60 foot tree with a brown bark).

What fauna can be found in Wilpattu National Park?

There are several different types of animals to be found here, with an impressive array of mammals, birdlife and reptiles. As the park is quite large, the animals are spread out thinly.

Mammals at Wilpattu

The best place to view mammals is at the interfaces between forests and the scrub and grasslands in the western part of the park, as well as around the natural lakes and drainage systems in the middle of the park. This is because most animals take refuge from the sun during the day in the forests and then come out to the open plains and the lakes to drink water early morning and in the late afternoon when it gets cooler.

There are 31 species of mammals that have been identified at Wilpattu National Park and the park is an excellent location to view several species. This includes the leopard (Panthera pardus kotiya), which is the top predator of Sri Lanka. With luck, tourists will be able to spot a leopard or two during cooler parts of the day.

Enjoy looking out for sloth bears (Melursus ursinus), golden jackals (Canis aureus), sambar deer (Rusa unicolor), spotted deer (Axis axis), barking deer (Muntiacus muntjak), ruddy mongoose (Herpestes smithii), wild boars (Sus scrofa) and more mammals on your safari at Wilpattu.

A number of endemic mammals of Sri Lanka can also be sighted here including the golden palm civet (Paradoxurus zeylonensis), northern mouse deer (Moschiola meminna) and a subspecies of the purple–faced leaf monkey (Semnopithecus vetulus nestor). A few elephants (Elephas maximus) and water buffalo (Bubalus bunalis) can also be seen. Herds of elephants are only usually spotted during the height of the dry season, although lone bulls can be seen on occasion throughout the year at frequently visited lakes.

Birdlife at Wilpattu

Bird watching enthusiasts are in for a treat at Wilpattu and will be able to spot an amazing array of birdlife. The lakes around the park support a large number of resident and migratory wetland bird species.

Resident bird species at Wilpattu include the endemic brown-capped babbler (Pellorneum fuscocapillus babaulti), endemic Ceylon grey hornbill (Ocyceros gingalensis), Sri Lanka green pigeon (Treron pompadora), dark-fronted babbler (Rhopocichla atriceps siccatus), little ringed plover (Charadrius dubius jerdoni), Black-capped bulbul (Pycnonotus melanicterus), racket-tailed drongo (Dicrurus paradiseus), golden-backed woodpecker (Dinopium benghalense jaffnense) and the spot-bellied eagle-owl (Bubo nipalensi).

Commonly viewed migrant birds such as the Indian paradise flycatcher (Terpsiphone paradise), orange-headed ground thrush (Zoothera citrine), Asiatic golden plover (Pluvialis fulva), Indian pitta (Pitta brachyuran), Indian blue robin (Luscinia brunnea), black tailed godwit (Limosa limosa) and pintail snipe (Gallinago stenura) can also be spotted at Wilpattu.

Other bird species that can be viewed at Wilpattu include the spoonbill (Platalea leucorodia), white ibis (Threskiornis melanocephalus), painted stork (Mycteria leucoephala), openbill stork (Anastomus oscitans),
garganey (Anas querquedula), whistling teal (Dendrocygna javanica), large white egret (Egretta alba modesta), cattle egret (Bubulcus ibis), purple heron (Ardea purpurea), lesser adjutant (Leptoptilos javanicus) and Indian darter (Anhinga melanogaster). Other common birds that are found within the vicinity of the lakes of Wilpattu are white-shafted little tern (Sterna albifrons), whiskered tern (Chlidonias hybridus), gull billed tern (Gelochelidon nilotica), great stone-curlew (Esacus recurvirostris), red wattled lapwing (Vanellus indicus) and black winged stilt (Himantopus himantopus).

Common raptors that can be spotted include the white-bellied sea eagle (Haliaeetus leucogaster) crested serpent eagle (Spilornis chela), and crested hawk eagle (Spizaetus cirrhatus). Don’t forget to look out for ground feeding birds at Wilpattu such as the peafowl (Pavo cristatus) and the Sri Lanka jungle fowl (Gallus lafayetti), the latter of which is the national bird of Sri Lanka.

Reptiles at Wilpattu

Given that Wilpattu is full of natural lakes, several reptiles can be spotted at the large permanent villus. The land monitor (Varanus bengalensis) is a common sight at Wilpattu. However, other species can be found including the mugger crocodile (Crocodylus palustris), estuarine crocodile (Crocodylus porosus), pond turtle (Melanonchelys trijuga) and the soft shelled turtle (Lissemys punctata) in addition to star tortoises (Geochelone elegans) which can be found on the grasslands.

There are a few snake species present at Wilpattu such as the common cobra (Naja naja), rat snake (Ptyas mucosus), Indian python (Python molurus), common bronzeback (Dendrelaphis tristis), common bridal snake (Dryocalamus nympha), Indian Russell’s viper (Daboia russelii), Forsten’s cat snake (Boiga forsteni), endemic flowery wolf snake (Lycodon osmanhilli) and the endemic Sri Lankan flying snake (Chrysopelea taprobanica).

Butterflies at Wilpattu

There are many species of butterflies that can be spotted at Wilpattu at the end of the rainy season making it a treasure trove for lepidopterists. The Ceylon lesser albatross (Appias paulina) is a white butterfly that gathers in large numbers close to water puddles. Colourful butterflies found around the park include the blue Mormon (Papilio polymnestor), the Common Mime (Papilio clytia), Common Banded Peacock (Papilio crino), Great Orange Tip (Hebomoia glaucippe), Common Jay (Graphium doson), Large Salmon Arab (Colotis fausta), Dark Wanderer (Pareronia ceylanica), great eggfly (Hypolimnas bolina), Indian sunbeam (Curetis thetis), Redspot Duke (Dophla evelina) and the tawny rajah (Charaxes bernardus).

What is the cultural significance of Wilpattu National Park?

Apart from the amazing flora and fauna, the park and its coastal belt are steeped in history and legend, which adds to the excitement of your visit, as you are also visiting a culturally important site. According to history and popular legend, in 543 BC Prince Vijaya from India landed at Tambapanni in the north western coastal belt of the park which is now known as Kudrimalai Point (Horse Point). It was here that he married Kuweni and thus founded the Aryan Sinhalese population. Queen Kuweni, who is considered to be the mother of the Sinhala race, lived in Kali Villu which is also located in Wilpattu. Both Kudrimalai Point and Kali Villu are thus culturally significant points of interest.

In addition to this, history shows that Prince Saliya, the son of King Dutugemunu, lived with Asokamala in Maradanmaduwa in Wilpattu approximately 2000 years ago. Another significant location is Pomparippu, as remains belonging to people from pre-Vijayan times were excavated from that site. There are also remains of an ancient harbor between Palangaturai and Kollankanatte. Ruins of Buddhist temples are also located in Wilpattu that are overgrown by bush jungles and are covered with the dense forests.

What types of safaris are available at Wilpattu National Park?

Wilpattu is best explored via a jeep safari. There are several safari tour companies that provide jeeps, drivers and expert guides for an enlightening, informative and safe tour. The guides are experienced forest rangers and will be able to ensure that your time is well spent within the park premises as they are familiar with the areas most frequented by fauna. The guides are also experts at spotting wildlife in between the bushes and will also be able to ensure that all safety precautions are adhered to.

There are two types of safaris available – full day and half day. Tours can be arranged according to your preference. Half day tours can either be in the morning (6 am to 11 am) or evening (3 pm to 6 pm). Most animals can be sighted easily during a half day safari, but true fans of nature will enjoy the full day safari, which allows one to enjoy wildlife at a slower pace. Full day safaris include approximately 12 hours of game drive. As approximately 75% of the park is dense forest, tourists will only be able to tour 25% of the total area of the park. The park has a good network of roads between the water holes, although the ride can get quite bumpy.

Dolphin Beach arranges excursions to Wilpattu, which includes transport to and from the park to the hotel, jeep fees, ranger fees, park entrance fees, taxes and refreshments and lunch if required. We work with the best safari tour companies that provide expert guided tours in well maintained jeeps with safe drivers and expert rangers. Jeeps can accommodate up to 6 persons.

 

Estimated rates per person for a half day safari:
Package up to 6 persons half day

1-2 pax: US$ 170
Additional person US$ 40

Vat and service charge not included (10% SC + 2% NBT + 15% VAT) Package includes transfer to the park and back, jeep with driver and tracker in the park lunch snack pack.
Entrance fee to the park is extra $ 25 for adults, $ 12.50 for children 6-12, children under 6 free.
The above rates include 3 – 4 hour safari (morning safaris are 4 hours, evening safaris are 3 hours), jeep fees, park entrance fees, rangers, taxes. Lunch and refreshments can be provided at an extra fee.

 

Estimated rates per person for a full day safari:
Package up to 6 persons full day

1-2 person $ 220
Additional person $ 65

Vat and service charge not included (10%SC + 2%NBT + 15%VAT)
Package includes transfer to the park and back, jeep with driver and tracker in the park, breakfast and lunch snack pack.
Entrance fee to the park is extra $ 25 for adults, $ 12.50 for children 6-12, children under 6 free.

The above rates include a 12 hour safari (6 am – 6 pm), jeep fees, park entrance fees, rangers, taxes. Lunch and refreshments can be provided at an extra fee.

Package up to 4 persons overnight

1 person $ 450
2 persons $ 600
3 persons $ 750
4 persons $ 900

Vat and service charge not included (10%SC + 2%NBT + 15%VAT)
Package includes transfer to the park,accommodation in bungalow (2 separate bedrooms with attached bathroom) inside the park with all meals (lunch on departure, dinner and breakfast), drinks (water, soft drinks, tea, coffee)
2 guards in bungalow , 2 jeeps, 2 drivers, tracker and a chef
Naturalist $ 100 extra on demand depending on availability.
Entrance fee to the park is extra $ 25 for adults, $ 12.50 for children 6-12, children under 6 free.

What do I need to know regarding Wilpattu National Park safari?

  • All your guided safaris are with expert rangers at the park who are aware of the distances needed to be kept from the animals in order not to disturb them in their element. Listen to the advice of your ranger at all times.
  • During your safari it is important not to get off the jeep and expose yourselves to possible encounters with animals in the wilderness. Do not reach out of the vehicle when travelling and take care when standing up as low lying tree branches and thorny shrubs may strike you and cause injury.
  • Fortunately the park is quite peaceful and calm and not many other jeeps will be around, so you can enjoy your safari in peace. As the park is very large, wildlife is spread out more and you will feel like you have the park to yourself.
  • Ensure that you are in good health during the safari and do not suffer from ailments that may require emergency treatment. This is because the drive inside the park is quite bumpy and long and it will take a few hours to get help if necessary.
  • Keep hydrated and take plenty of water to sip throughout the safari. If you are on a full day tour, you will need to pack lunch and snacks to munch along the way. Do not litter or throw away any rubbish in the park. All rubbish needs to be taken back with you.
  • Protect yourself from the heat by applying sunscreen lotion and wearing a hat and sunglasses. It is also wise to wear light colored/breathable clothing as it can get quite hot.
  • When you encounter an animal at close range it is wise not to make loud noises or harass the animals in any way. Do not ever feed the animals – this can lead to serious injury to you or the animals.
  • Don’t forget to bring your camera and snap some of the most wonderful shots of nature you will ever take on your Wilpattu safari!

What makes Wilpattu National Park unique?

  • Oldest and largest park in Sri Lanka, spanning over 1,300 sq. km.
  • Relatively peaceful park, with not many jeeps or tourists to obstruct views or distract you from your safari.
  • Perfect for dedicated safari goers who enjoy reconnecting with nature and feeling a part of the wilderness.
  • Over 60 villus and tanks which attract various species of fauna
  • A range of topography from dry zone tropical forest to open grassland and coastal belt to scrubland supports a wide variety of flora and fauna.
  • Bird enthusiasts will love the impressive array of birdlife of resident and migratory birds.
  • Leopards, elephants, sloth bears, deer, boars, crocodiles, monitors, turtles and more animals can be spotted here.
  • The park can be visited throughout the year, although February to October is the prime time.
  • Historical and culturally significant sites are present within the park.
  • Excellent and safe guided safari tours with experienced drivers and informative rangers.

Dolphin Beach is the ideal accommodation option for tourists that are looking to visit Wilpattu National Park. Located by the relaxing beach of Kalpitiya that is 1.5 hours away from Wilpattu, Dolphin Beach is the epitome of luxury and serenity with luxury air-conditioned tented accommodation, en-suite bathrooms, tantalizing meals and spectacular views of the Indian Ocean. The resort is the perfect way to relax after your eventful safari outing at Wilpattu National Park.

Elephants

The Sri Lankan elephant, a distinct sub-species of the mainland Asian elephants of India and Thailand, is the easiest of the Big 5 to see, with several established “elephant safaris” available in most wildlife parks. Its contrasting gentle demeanor and indomitable size has made the gentle-giant a much-loved wildlife icon the world over and although as many as 10, 000 of them roamed Sri Lanka at the turn of the century, only about 5,000 live in the wild today. This is largely due to the “Human Elephant Conflict” (HEC) that leaves about 150-200 elephants dying each year, leading to the classification of the elephant as an endangered species on the IUCN Red List.

Leopard

The top predator in Sri Lanka, the leopard is found in all types of forests – from thorn scrub and dry deciduous forests, to lowland rain forests and mountain forests. Research in 1996 led to the Sri Lankan leopard being classified as a separate sub species, having being considered to be the same as the Indian subspecies until then. Weighing 37-90 kg for males and 28-60 kg for females, the leopard is affected in Sri Lanka by habitat loss and poaching, and is now listed as a threatened species by IUCN (2007).

Sloth Bear

The Sri Lankan Sloth Bear is the only species of bear found in Sri Lanka and like the elephant, is a distinct subspecies to the Indian species. The wild population of the Sloth is little as 1,000 in many isolated areas, although it is only classified as “vulnerable” (IUCN Red List). Destruction of dry-zone natural forest is the main threat to its livelihood. The sloth bear is the most elusive of the Big 5 and organised efforts will have to be put in place to popularise the sighting of this very interesting animal on regular game drives at National Parks.