Wilpattu National Park
♦ Introduction to Wilpattu national park
The Wilpattu national park is the oldest and largest national park in Sri Lanka. It spans over a large area of 130,000 hectares. Located on the northwest coast, Wilpattu is surrounded by water. In the north and south, there are two rivers named Kala Oya and Modaragam aru. In the west, the park is bordered by the Indian ocean. Wilpattu was reopened recently after the conflicts in the north of Sri Lanka that lasted for over 3 decades.
This national park is mainly known for its villus. These villus are small lakes that are naturally created by rainwater in the rainy season. There are more than 60 villus spread around the Wilpattu national park. The name ‘Wilpattu’ itself means ‘10 small lakes’ (‘villu’ – small lake, ‘pattu’ – 10 in Tamil). These villus last for a long time during the dry season and are the main source of water for the animals who live in the park. When there is water, villus become hubs of action. You will be amazed by the deer, elephants, and such other animals that come to these areas looking for water. These water bodies are also a prime attraction for migrating birds.
♦ Little brief of Sri Lankan National parks
Sri Lanka has 26 national parks dedicated to preserving the natural forests and wildlife. Almost all of these parks will let you have a good time observing the incredible forests. But, if you are looking forward to spotting rare species of animals such as leopards and sloth bears, your choices are limited. The best-known parks for spotting rare animals are either Yala or Wilpattu. Yala is undoubtedly the most popular park among these two parks. But it is also more crowded. And, this can greatly affect the natural habits of the animals living in the park.
Wilpattu is much quieter than Yala and does not receive as many tourists even during the high times. Moreover, this is also one of the most important and protected forests in Sri Lanka. It has a large number of endemic and threatened flora and fauna species as well. From great scenes to rare animals, this park is the one-stop for everything a wildlife enthusiast can dream of. Are you a traveler interested in experiencing an authentic and genuine adventure in the wilderness? If the answer is yes, you’ll love spending the day roaming this beautiful national park.
♦ Wildlife of Wilpattu national park
Wilpattu is home to over 30 different mammal species. These animals include the beautiful Sri Lankan elephant, Sri Lankan leopard, sloth bear, barking deer, buffalo, sambar, mongoose, and many more. Apart from mammals, there are many reptiles including crocodiles, cobras, pythons, lizards, and soft-shelled turtles to be seen in the park. The most common reptile is the monitor. The specialties of Wilpattu is the ability to see rare animals such as the leopard, sloth bear, and barking deer. While you may occasionally come across these animals in other national parks in Sri Lanka, you are much more likely to encounter them here.
Wilpattu national park also receives a large number of migrating birds and you can also spot kites, eagles, gulls, and owls. Wetland birds such as the Garganey, Pintail, Spoonbill, and so on are also common. The jungle fowl, a bird endemic to Sri Lanka is also common here. This bird has colorful feathers and is truly a delight to see. Other than that, you will also get to spot gorgeous peacocks going about the area and dancing with all their bright feathers on display.
Wilpattu is also famous for its different varieties of butterflies. Lime Butterfly Papilio demoleus and Banded Peacock Papilio crino are some common types. The Butterfly season starts in November and continues to March. In the rainy season, butterflies settle down in the damp ground in large numbers. If you are lucky, you may even spot one or two birds launching down to hunt these butterflies.
The best thing about the Wilpattu national park is that the safari jeeps go on different routes. Because the area is so large, it is uncommon to meet another jeep. So, it will be just you and the incredible wildlife. This is so not the case for most other national parks in Sri Lanka. However, keep in mind that it might be rather hard to spot animals because of the dense forest. The tour guides will take you to the best spots but keep watching your surroundings closely to spot as many animals as possible. Most of the time the animals will be far away from you. So, if you want to get a good look, invest in a pair of good binoculars before you go to the Wilpattu national park.
Wilpattu is rich in a plethora of flora species. This park has over 623 flowering plant species. And most of these plant species are either endemic to Sri Lanka or threatened. There are large tree species such as Palu, Milla, Veera, Satin, and Ebony. These trees are the natural habitat of a large number of birds and sometimes, resting places for the leopards. It’s truly a sight to see these large cats propped on branches.
Roaming around Wilpattu will never bore you due to this wide variety of flora. And this is more than you can say for most over touristed national parks. Everywhere you go, you will feel the authentic vibes of being in the wilderness and we assure you, you’ll love every second of it.
According to historical records, the Thambapanni beach in Wilpattu is where Prince Wijaya and his followers landed after being exiled from India. In stories, the prince touched the copper-colored sand and named the beach ‘Thambapanni’ (copper-palmed).
It is also said that Kuweni, who is known as the mother of the Sinhala race, lived here. There are ancient ruins of a palace complex in the park. This palace is believed to be Kuweni’s palace. The story about the tragic love of Kuweni and Prince Wijaya is a popularly told story among Sri Lankans. Prince Wijaya later went on to form the Sinhalese kingdom. His descendants built the historic city, Anuradhapura.
Historical evidence also shows that Prince Saliya, son of the powerful king Dutugamunu of Sri Lanka lived here more than 2000 years ago.
♦ Best time to visit Wilpattu
The park is open for visiting all year round. However, during the rainy season, the foliage can grow up fast. So, you may not get to spot many animals. Overall, it won’t be a pleasant experience to go sightseeing in the rain either. The rainy season starts in December and continues through February.
So, to have the best time in Wilpattu try to visit between February to September. This is the dry season for the region. From May to September, animal sightings are much more common than other months. This is because most water bodies dry up and animals start coming out looking for water. It is a common sight to see many species of animals gathered around a water body at this time.
♦ Is Wilpattuwa the best national park for you?
If you are traveling with your family and younger children, you may have to rethink your decision. Because this park is so large, you will have to spend at least one day here to see everything. This may become too tiring for younger children.
If that is the case, we suggest you visit other national parks such as Sigiriya national park or Udawalawe national park. However, Wilpattu national park is the perfect, all-rounded destination if you want the whole package of experiencing wildlife.
♦ How to get there?
Wilpattu is located approximately 45 km away from the historic city, Anuradhapura. And, if you are arriving here straight from Colombo international airport, the distance is 190 km and it would take about 3 and a half hours to drive to Wilpattu.
The easiest way to travel to Wilpattu is by arranging a pickup or taking a taxi. And, if you are feeling particularly adventurous, take the train to the nearest stations Puttalam or Anuradhapura. This is one of the most scenic routes you can take to Wilpattu. After you get down from either Puttalam station or Anuradhapura station, it would take about 45 minutes to reach the park. You can also get here by helicopter or seaplane!
When you visit Wilpattu, try to dedicate one full day. There is just so much to see in this park. And, a half-day trip would only give you time to visit a handful of popular spots. If you get tired during the day, you can take a quick lunch break or have some relaxing time at the beach.
This park is full of natural habitats designed for a wide variety of wildlife. So, you will get to experience uniqueness everywhere you go. The best time to be out exploring is during the morning and evening. Animals come out looking for food at these times. But, there are some animals like elephants that come out even in the noon. Overall, Wilpattuwa national park is an incredible experience where you will get to see the best of Sri Lankan wildlife. So, don’t miss this gem when you visit Sri Lanka.