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  • Safaris in Sri Lanka

    Safari Holidays in Sri Lanka

    A safari holiday in Sri Lanka is an unforgettable experience. With a range of hugely diverse National Parks, each suited to different species of mammals, birds, and reptiles, the island offers a real sense of variety that is unparalleled across the globe. For Milly Beighton, our Sri Lankan specialist, her stay at Yala National Park was the highlight of the research trip she took at the end of 2016. A stay of a few nights just outside a National Park, with game drives during the day and evenings spent dining under the stars, is a brilliant addition to any touring holiday to Sri Lanka, but also makes for a highly rewarding single-centre holiday. Use the tabs above to view the types of safari accommodation available and the wildlife and landscapes available in each National Park.

    Sri Lanka is endowed with an amazing diversity of plant and animal species within a relatively small land area and is considered to be one of the world’s biodiversity hotspots. With its wet, temperate and dry zones and varied landscapes, this creates a fascinating concoction for a nature and wildlife holiday where elephants, monkeys and the elusive leopard freely roam.

    Influenced by Buddhist respect for all living creatures, Sri Lanka has a deep conservation ethic. There are 12 National Parks and 52 sanctuaries, accounting for 13% of the total land area. All Parks are accessed by jeep, except Horton Plains and Sinharaja Rainforest which are visited mainly on foot, and most have an accompanying National Park warden.

    There are 29 specific ecosystems accessible from all across Sri Lanka. Tropical rainforests and plantations populate the south-west, temperate mountains sit at its core (with the highest density of waterfalls in the world), and arid plains occupy the north and east. The unique vegetation and rich bio-diversity allows for more than 3,000 species of flowering plants and a host of medicinal plants used in Ayurvedic health care to flourish.

    The island’s central mountains are topped with cloud forests that harbour unique animals such as the dwarf lizard. The rainforests of the south-west support most of the island’s indigenous plant and bird species. Sri Lanka provides a habitat for five species of endangered marine turtles, around 100 species of waterfowl, and many other migrant birds. It is one of the best places in the world for seeing large mammals in their natural habitats, particularly the wild Asian elephant, and has the highest concentration of leopards in the world.

    Our safari holidays offer our clients once-in-a-lifetime first-hand experience of Sri Lanka’s most famous wildlife, with scheduled flights, game drives, private transfers to and from the campsite, and often dining plans, taken care of. Browse the options below to discover how you can visit the National Parks of Sri Lanka as part of a wider touring holiday or on a dedicated long-stay safari holiday.

    Our Safari Holidays

    Our safari holidays to Sri Lanka focus on the south east of the island and Yala National Park. This is widely regarded as the best and most popular location to see leopards, sloth bears, crocodiles, deer, and birdlife. Those looking to stray off-the-beaten-track may choose to go to stay in Wilpattu National Park in the northwest as it is quieter, though there is a less dense population of leopards, so sightings are rarer.

    We offer a range of different accommodation and safari styles, giving you the chance to stay in a traditional luxury hotel by the beach, in an authentic and rustic safari campsite, or in a charming combination of the two.

    Stay in a luxury tented camp
    Noel Rodrigo’s Leopard Safaris – in both Wilpattu and Yala National Parks, offering accommodation away from the larger hotels and camps in both cases; with luxury tent options, excellent food, and hot water showers; when staying in Yala, Noel may attend the game drives with you
    Leopard Trails – offering luxury air-conditioned tents in both Wilpattu and Yala National Parks, and a very friendly semi-permanent tented campsite; situated very close to the camp entrances
    Mahoora Luxury Safari Camps – available at Yala National Park, Minneriya National Park, Sinharaja National Park, Udawalawe National Park, Bundala National Park, and near the Rekawa Turtle Sanctuary; a touch more rustic, with a very authentic feel; these mobile camps are a great option for those who really want to immerse themselves in the true spirit of safari

    Stay in a luxury hotel
    Jetwing Yala – set between Yala National Park and the beach, this hotel offers you the best of both worlds; spend the early morning on a game drive, and then return for a restaurant meal and an afternoon beside the pool
    Cinnamon Wild – a chalet-style hotel with the feel of a safari camp, but the luxuries of a hotel and excellent access to the beach

    For an alternative to both of these options, stay at the Uga Chena Huts. These rustic dwellings capture the beauty of the natural landscape, but with a sense of privacy and luxury unrivalled by the hotel and camp options. Each suite has beautiful panoramic windows looking out into the wilderness, a private pool terrace, and is accessible via raised wooden walkways.

    Read more about the National Parks…

    Each National Park in Sri Lanka has its own merits, and is favoured for different reasons. Read on to find out which Parks are best for spotting which animals, and which get you away from the popular tourist trails.

    Yala National Park, South East Coast
    Yala National Park offers the best chance to see leopards in the wild. The lack of other large carnivores means that the leopard is the top predator, so adults and cubs can be remarkably relaxed during the day. Yala is also the best place in Asia for sighting the shy and usually nocturnal sloth bear. Over 250 elephants roam wild in the park, including large tuskers. You may also see spotted deer, sambhur, wild boar, jackal, Hanuman langur and toque monkey, stripe-necked, brown and ruddy mongoose, black-naped hare, several species of civet, and the mugger crocodile. Three species of sea turtle are known to nest on the beaches. Yala has a spectrum of habitats from scrub jungle, lakes, and riverine, to brackish lagoons and mangrove swamps. Endemic birds include the Ceylon junglefowl, Ceylon woodshrike, and Ceylon swallow. A day's birding in the park, during the northern winter, can yield 100 species. Around February, the park is also good for butterflies.
    Stay at...
    Noel Rodrigo's Leopard Safaris
    Leopard Trails
    Mahoora Luxury Safari Camps
    Uga Chena Huts
    Cinnamon Wild
    Jetwing Yala

    Uda Walawe National Park, South of Tea Country
    At Uda Walawe you are virtually guaranteed to see elephants in the wild. The elephant population is estimated at around 400 and it is sometimes possible to see 50-60 elephants during a visit. The terrain is mostly flat, hot, dry with some wooded areas, bordering a reservoir and two rivers. The watering holes are magnets for wildlife searching for water in the dry terrain. Wild boar and water buffalo, toque monkeys, Hanuman langur, spotted deer, black-naped hare, marsh crocodile, monitor lizard, ruddy mongoose, and sambhur are likely to be seen. Leopards are present but rarely seen. This area is good for bird-watching, as it is home to the little green bee-eater, Malabar pied hornbill, Ceylon swallow, and blue-faced malkoha. There is also an Elephant Transit Home near the entrance to the park supported by WWF, where you can see young elephants up to 5 years old roaming free in a large field, and flocking into the feeding enclosure for meal times (3 or 4 times a day).
    Stay at...
    Mahoora Luxury Safari Camps

    Wilpattu National Park, North West Coast
    On the west coast of Sri Lanka, Wilpattu National Park is located close to the historic and religious ancient centre of Anuradhapura. The area is densely vegetated, though many small lakes intersperse the thick jungle, attracting a range of migratory water-birds. Reputedly home to many historic royal figures, the landscape is dotted with impressive ruins. Though the density of wildlife in Wilpattu is much lower than in the southern National Parks, it is comparatively less ‘discovered,’ and so offers a more personal type of safari holiday. Over 30 different mammals live in the Park, including the Sri Lankan elephant, leopard, sloth bear, spotted deer, buffalo, sambar, and mongoose. Around the lakes you will see water-birds such as the spoonbill, kites, eagles, the purple heron, the white ibis, the large white egret, the pin tail, garganey, and many more. Reptiles and amphibians include the monitor lizard, the mugger crocodile, cobra, rat snake, pond turtle, Indian python, and the soft-shelled turtle. The park is best visited between February and October.
    Stay at...
    Noel Rodrigo's Leopard Safaris
    Leopard Trails
    Mahoora Luxury Safari Camps

    Minneriya National Park, Cultural Triangle
    This park offers an excellent chance of seeing wild elephants. The large population are often seen on the edge of the vast Minneriya tank. Visitors are also likely to see endemic toque and Hanuman langur monkeys, grizzled Indian squirrel, spotted deer, wild buffalo, crocodile, sambhur, water birds and peacocks. Rarer sightings include leopard and sloth bear. Endemic birds such as Ceylon junglefowl, brown-capped babbler, the Ceylon grey hornbill, Brahmini Kite, and the Fish Eagle can also be seen. Between August and October (best in September), you can witness up to 300 elephants gathering in the late afternoon around Minneriya tank, one of the largest gatherings of wild elephants anywhere in the world.
    Stay at...
    Mahoora Luxury Safari Camps

    Sinharaja Rainforest Reserve, South West
    Sinharaja Rainforest contains over 800 of Sri Lanka’s endemic species of flora and fauna. Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Sinharaja is the only large tract of virgin rainforest left in Sri Lanka. It is very humid with dense canopy, cicadas, and cascading rivers. Its staggering array of flora and fauna place it among the top biodiversity hotspots in the world. Half of Sri Lanka’s endemic butterflies and mammals are found here, the most common being the purple-faced leaf monkey and the grizzled Indian squirrel. Sinharaja is also home to the elusive leopard. There is a rich reptile population and myriad insect species, many yet to be classified, and over 130 species of bird, which swoop in ‘waves.’
    Stay at...
    Mahoora Luxury Safari Camps

    Bundala National Park, South Coast
    Bundala National Park is a mix of scrubland, lagoons, salt pans, and sand dunes stretching along the coast, great for bird-watching (nearly 200 reported species). Endemic birds include the brown-capped babbler, Ceylon woodshrike, and Ceylon junglefowl. From November to April, large numbers migrate, such as gold and Kentish plover, curlew sandpiper, and greenshank. Greater flamingos and peacocks are also seen. Mammals include elephant, spotted deer, Hanuman langur, black-naped hare, and wild pig. Turtles nest on the beaches.
    Stay at...
    Mahoora Luxury Safari Camps

    View our individual region pages to discover the luxury hotel options, without safari drives, near each National Park.

    About Expressions Holidays

    Expressions Holidays is an independent specialist tour operator which was established in 1989 and offers tailor-made holidays to Sri Lanka, providing personal service with a professional approach. We pride ourselves on interpreting your demands and requirements to provide you with the holiday that you want, ensuring a successful match between client and holiday. Not only are your holidays tailor-made to your individual requirements, but you also have the chance to deal with one person from beginning to end, offering you confidence and security and the best possible prices.

    Personal and professional service

    We personally know the majority of the hotels that we feature, and we put together our holidays with our clients in mind. Contact with Expressions Holidays means contact with the people who know the holidays, who will share their knowledge and experience with you – our team of travel consultants know the country and culture very well, and operate a concierge service that helps you to explore every aspect of special interest or activity that fits with your holiday.
    All aspects of your holiday are personalised, from the itinerary to your holiday confirmation and documentation which provides you with information that is relevant to you. From the point of initial contact with us, you will deal with the same sales consultant, who will handle all aspects of your booking and ticketing.
    We approach your holiday in a way that offers you the arrangements you want, not to slot you in to pre-existing arrangements. This might mean juggling dates, securing the last available room at a hotel or tailoring a complex itinerary involving numerous components. Your holiday is as individually fashioned and tailor-made as you want it to be.

    How we price your holiday
    All prices mentioned on our website and in our brochure are simply guides, as there are many variations that might affect the price including exchange rates, flight costs and special offers. To find out exact prices for the holiday that you are interested in, contact us for a tailor-made quotation.
    All our holiday arrangements have been designed to afford you maximum flexibility and freedom of choice. We include travel arrangements, whether it be flight, ferry or tunnel crossing or rail travel as well as many nights' hotel accommodation as you want, in as many different places.

    Our Price Guarantee
    We guarantee that once you have made a firm booking with a deposit payment, there will be no increases in the price of your holiday due to currency movements. If, for any reason, there have been changes in the price of the holiday you want, you will be advised at the time of booking.

    Full Financial Protection

    Full financial protection is offered when you book a holiday with us. Our air holidays are ATOL protected, and we are a member of the Association of Bonded Travel Organisers Trust Limited to protect non-flight packages. We are also members of ABTA and AITO (the Association of Independent Tour Operators), an organisation of some of Britain’s best specialist tour operators.

  • Cinnamon Wild

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    Rustic accommodation immersed in Sri Lankan wildlife.

    Jetwing Yala

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    A luxury alternative to safari park camping in Yala National Park.

    Leopard Trails

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    A luxury campsite in Yala National Park with very comfortable accommodation.

    Mahoora Luxury Safari Camps

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    Mahoora luxury tented camping offers wildlife camping in style

    Noel Rodrigo's Leopard Safaris

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    Luxury camping in Yala and Wilpattu National Parks, away from the crowds.

    Uga Chena Huts

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    The Uga Chena Huts are a serene accommodation option in a breath-taking natural location.
  • Active Family Tour of Sri Lanka

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    Two-week tour of Sri Lanka for families with many activities and excursions. Prices from £2670 per person.

    Best of Sri Lanka Tour

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    Spend two weeks exploring Sri Lanka and seeing the best of the country. Prices from £3150 per person.

    Southern Sri Lanka Luxury Tour

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    Spend two weeks in southern Sri Lanka where you stay in luxurious hotels. Prices from £4490 per person.

    Unique Sri Lanka tour

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    11 night tour which allows visitors to get off the beaten track in Sri Lanka. Prices from £3190 per person.

    Wildlife of Sri Lanka tour

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    Spot whales, elephants and leopards during this 10 day tour of Sri Lanka. Prices from £2350 per person.
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  • Sri Lanka

    Find out more about Sri Lanka

    Sri Lanka FAST FACTS

    Capital
    Sri Jayawardenapura-Kotte, with Colombo the commercial capital
    Airport
    Bandaranaike International Airport is 1 hour from downtown Colombo
    Currency
    Sri Lankan Rupee (£1 = 208 Sri Lankan Rupees)
    Size
    268 miles long and 139 miles wide
    Population
    21 million
    Average temperature
    The climate varies dramatically between coast and interior year-round, and between the south-west and north-east according to time of year. Average coastal temperatures in areas we feature is 30 degrees whereas the temperature is much cooler in the hills, with hot water bottles needed (and provided) at most hotels. Rainy season in the south-west is September to October, and April to May in the north-east.

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