There is no country in Asia where there are so many national parks, nature reserves and sanctuaries to be to found within such a small area as Sri Lanka. The government takes the care of nature very serious and tries to protect the natural environment as much as possible. The Department of Wildlife Conservation is the government executive body in this field. They also manage the accommodation in some national parks. Most of unspoiled nature is to be found in the eastern and northern part of the country, while large areas in the central highlands also have surprisingly beautiful pieces of nature.
If you are interested to include national parks in your itinerary, you have several options to choose from. In almost all of the national parks you will be assured to see elephants. Sri Lanka has the largest population of Asian elephants in the wilderness. Apart from elephants there are still so many other species to be observed, such as deer, wild buffaloes, leopards, roar bears, sloth bears, a variety of monkeys, langurs, lizards, crocodiles and numerous smaller mammals, as well as hundreds of interesting birds, nowhere else to be found. The flora in Sri Lanka is also quite diverse and depends on the area and elevation you explore. The mountains have different vegetation than the lower elevated areas.
Sri Lanka also has many artificial lakes, called ‘tanks’. Many of those are very old and were constructed by Buddhist kings some 2000 years ago for irrigation purposes; they are master pieces of water- engineering works for which the Sri Lankans are very proud of. They are now the homes for a great number of birds and other animals.
Entrance fees, jeep safaris and tour guides national parks
Every National Park (except the marine parks) demands an entrance fee. This fee may vary from LKR 1,000 to 4,000, dependent on the park. Children under 12 pay half price and children below 6 are free of charge. The entrance fees for locals are considerably lower and some tourists feel very uncomfortable with the fact that they have to pay so much money compared with locals. However, it needs to be said that almost all Sri Lankans are unable to celebrate holidays, let alone make a trip outside the country. Small trips are the only affordable travel opportunities for the majority of the Sri Lankans.
National parks, except for the marine parks and Horton Plains, can only be entered with a vehicle and one is not allowed to leave the vehicle whenever inside the park. That makes that there has become a severe competition among jeep safari operators and guides. You pay for the rent of a jeep, not per person. Of course you can share seats and so make the price per person cheaper. In 2013 it was approximately between LKR 5,000 and 7,000 per jeep, dependent on the quality of the equipment, service and knowledge of the guides. For the Huru National Park in Habarana you may even catch a jeep for LKR 3,500. Nowadays unfortunately there are several scams and unprofessional people who try to persuade you and over-price you as well (see also the header: warning for travelers). Do your homework well before you book a jeep and guide, compare prices, listen to other travelers who have more experience and also read the testimonials of others! You may also book an excursion from your resort where you are staying. Add up all the expenses of transportation, jeep, guide and entrance fees before taking a decision, to avoid disappointments. Many jeep safari’s also provide a so called ‘tracker’, that is a person who tries to find the tracks of the animals. Sometimes the drivers do the job, sometimes the guide/tracker.
Opening hours for the national parks in Sri Lanka are from 06.30 am to 06.30 pm.