Located about 30km west of Anuradhapura, Wilpattu National Park is the largest and among the oldest of Sri Lanka’s national parks. This wild expanse covers an area of over 1,300 square miles most of which is dry scrub forests and open grasslands. The park owes its name to the signature villus dotted across the landscape. These are naturally occurring sand-rimmed water basins that get filled up with rainwater during the monsoons and act as a vital source of hydration for the park’s animals during the dry season. And as far as animals go, there’s a wide variety of species that call the park home – from giant herbivores to elusive wild cats and even a few oddities. All of this makes Wilpattu one of the premier safari destinations in all of Sri Lanka, and a trip here is sure to be full of thrilling sights and exciting adventures.
Wilpattu holds an interesting position in Sri Lanka’s history as according to ancient historical texts, Horse Point – located within the park – is where Prince Vijaya initially landed with his party after being exiled from India. Vijaya would then go onto establish his kingdom in the surrounding area and give rise to the Sinhalese nation. The park had also been visited by powerful rulers from far across the globe – namely the Roman emperor Claudius in 47AD after his ship was blown off course by a monsoon storm. The park itself was first designated as a wildlife sanctuary in 1905 and would go onto becoming a national park in 1935.
Despite all the history and beautiful landscapes, Wilpattu’s main draw has always been its wildlife. The diversity of life on display here gives credence to the notion that Sri Lanka is one of the best safari locations in the world outside of Africa. The park is a refuge to some of Sri Lanka’s most majestic and threatened animals, which includes the Asian elephant. Large herds of these gentle pachyderms roam the sanctuary and can make for some great sightings. In particular, be sure to check around the villus during the dry season as elephants will flock to these water sources for their daily drinks and mud baths. Wilpattu is also home to the Sri Lankan leopard, a shadowy cat that rules the park as its top predator. Leopards can be hard to spot in the dense underbrush, but with a keen pair of eyes and a bit of luck, you’ll be able to catch a glimpse of this beautiful big cat. There’s a number of other wonderful species inhabiting the park, from the odd sloth bear to a spectacular array of endemic avifauna – all this and more await you on your safari!