Sinharaja Forest Reserve is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and national park – the last vestige of Sri Lanka’s tropical lowland rainforest. Spanning 7,650 hectares, the lush virgin rainforest is home to a canopy of foliage over undulating terrain rife with ridges and valleys. Nestled in the southwest lowland Wet Zone of the Sabaragamuwa and Southern Provinces, it is bounded by rivers on three sides. Of its high biodiversity, a large share of flora and fauna is endemic to Sri Lanka while some species are native to Sinharaja.
Mirissa is one of the most popular whale watching hotspots in Sri Lanka and the safest of three similar locations. A small town off the Matara District’s southern coast, it has a large fishing port. The whale watching season starts in November and ends in April when the ocean is warm and calm.
Udawalawe National Park is situated south of the Central Highlands with the mountains making for a captivating backdrop at the centre of which lies the Udawalawe Reservoir. Set up in 1972 to protect the catchment area of the reservoir, the national park spans some 30,800 hectares comprising thorny scrub jungle with grasslands.
Rekawa is among Sri Lanka’s few sea turtle nesting sites – a quiet beach is visited by five species of turtle virtually every night. The best season for sightings is between January and April especially when there’s a full moon.
Bundala National Park, a thorny scrub jungle of over 6,200 hectares in the southeastern arid zone of the Hambantota District, has a distinct ecotourism appeal. And it is an internationally reputed wintering ground for migratory waterbirds. A fusion of land, marine reaches and wetland, this park has over 380 plant species, 32 species of mammal and 197 species of birds including migratory waterfowl.
Kalamatiya is the oldest bird sanctuary; a tranquil venue for birdwatching nestled between Tangalle and Hambantota. A colourful menagerie of marine and bird life, its coastal lagoons, mangrove swamps, scrub jungles and open grassy areas are home to 150 species of birds (54 migratory and four nationally threatened), 38 species of threatened reptiles and 41 species of fish.
SINHARAJA FOREST RESERVE Common sightings include sambur, mouse deer, barking deer and purple-faced langur. The Indian brown mongoose and golden palm civet have also been sighted. The red-faced malkoha, Sri Lanka blue magpie, ashy-headed laughingthrush, white-faced starling and the green-billed coucal are endemic to the island.
Whistling lizards – an arboreal species, the rarest of all lizards, – are found here. The only turtle recorded is the Sri Lankan black turtle (gal ibba). The Sri Lankan pit viper and hump-nosed viper are endemic to Sri Lanka.
MIRISSA Cresting the waves here are blue, Bryde’s, sperm, fin and killer whales. Common, bottlenose, spinner, Risso’s and striped dolphins sport alongside. Other sightings include sea turtles and diverse marine species such as bluefin tuna and flying fish.
UDAWALAWE NATIONAL PARK Accompanying the statutory elephants are water buffalo, wild boar, spotted deer, sambur, jackals, hares, mongoose, bandicoots, foxes, and the endemic toque macaques and gray langurs. Bonus sightings include leopard, and smaller fishing and jungle cats. The park is one of the best places to spot raptors and endemic migratory birds, and its satin trees attract swarms of butterflies.
REKAWA Moonlit shores are visited by olive ridley sea turtles, hawksbill sea turtles, loggerhead sea turtles, green sea turtles and leatherback sea turtles – all vulnerable or endangered.
BUNDALA NATIONAL PARK This is the best place for greater flamingo sightings. The rare black-necked stork and great thick-knee are highlights. Commonly sighted are blue-tailed bee-eater, spoonbill, red and green shanks, spot-billed pelicans, blue-faced malkohas, crested hawk-eagles and brown shrikes. Leopard, bear, jackal, giant squirrel, Indian pangolins and civets are among rare mammal sightings. This is the only place in Sri Lanka where saltwater and mugger crocodiles cohabit.
KALAMETIYA Wetland birds such as the slaty-legged crake, black bittern, watercock, grey heron and western swamphen and endangered species like western reef heron, glossy ibis and black-capped kingfisher nest here. The Indian grey mongoose and gray langur have also been spotted.
Compiled by Nicola Jayasundera