Kumana National Park

Top choice national park in Kumana National Park & Kumana Reserve

Image by ShaniMiller Getty Images

This 357-sq-km park, once known as Yala East, is much less frequently visited than its busy neighbour, Yala National Park. Consequently, it's a far less zoo-like experience and it never feels too crowded here, even during high season. Yes, the density of animals is lower, but it’s not rare to spot a leopard, along with elephants, crocodiles, turtles, white cobras, wild buffalo and tons of birds. About a dozen bears live in the park, but they’re rarely seen.

There are modest exhibits at the ticket office near the park entrance.

The park’s best-known feature is the 200-hectare Kumana bird reserve, an ornithologically rich mangrove swamp 22km beyond Okanda. May to June is nesting season. There have been sightings of Sri Lanka’s very rare black-necked stork, but more commonly spotted, even outside the bird reserve, are Malabar pied hornbills, green bee-eaters, blade-headed orioles and painted storks, among others. Watchtowers provide a terrific perspective for birdwatchers. Visitors regularly report seeing dozens of peacocks here.

Entry fees are myriad, and can really add up. A mandatory guide (who may not speak English) accompanies each vehicle. Guesthouses in Arugam Bay can arrange for a jeep and driver; the going rate is around Rs 8000 per day.