WILPATTU NATIONAL PARK
BIST FOR: Leopards and elusive sloth bear spots.
DRIVE TIME FROM COLOMBO: 4.5 hours.
WHAT’S NEARBY? The sacred 2,000-year-old Bodhi tree amid the monuments of the ancient city of Anuradhapura. Shorebirds and windsurfing on Mannar Island.
Wilpattu, Sri Lanka’s largest park, is situated in the dry lowlands of the island’s north-west and comprises a series of lakes with varying degrees of freshness or salinity.
It’s best to enter from the main gate at Hunuwilagama, near Anuradhapura; however the entrance at Eluwankulama works well if you’re coming from Kalpitiya and using a local safari vehicle as these drivers are allowed at the discretion of the park office to enter the park without a national park guide; if all of the guides are utilised, they will not allow vehicles in unless they’re confident that the driver will not get lost, Wilpattu is famous for its leopards.
Encounter rates are lower than in Yala, but once found, the cats have a reputation for being in no hurry to move away. The park’s fauna is similar to Yala, but visitors also have a chance of seeing the muntjac deer.