10 Things to Do in Kumana: A Bird Lovers Paradise

Kumana National Park, where a sanctuary and paradise combine.

A rustic bird sanctuary with a turbulent past awaits you at Kumana National Park.

Kumana—formerly known as the Yala East National Park—is a paradise for birds. It protects over two hundred and fifteen different species, each spectacular in their own right. The mangrove swamp Kumana Villu acts as a nesting and roosting ground for many water birds during May and June. Each year, hundreds of thousands of birds migrate here. Access to the Kumana Bird Sanctuary requires a 4WD vehicle. The Kumana Bird Sanctuary has a little bit of a rocky past. Yala National Park was closed from 1985 until 2003 during the Sri Lankan Civil War. Less than two years after it reopened, the 2004 tsunami hit. Fortunately, recovery has been swift and it was restored, so tourism has returned! Cave carvings dating to the 3rd century B.C. can also be found, and Kumana also lies in the path of the traditional annual pilgrimage to the Hindu temple at Kataragama. Such an exciting and remarkable place to visit!

Things to Do

1. Aquatic Bird Watching

Kumana Bird Sanctuary is one of the best places for birdwatching in Sri Lanka.  During the migratory season (April to July), Kumana is a paradise for migratory birds. Two hundred and fifty five bird species have been recorded in Kumana, including endemic and rare birds.  If you are truly passionate about birds, this is a great spot for you. You can also learn exciting things from your guide, like a legend about a god named Katharagama, worshipped by almost all the  communities in Sri Lanka, made his first landing close proximity to the Kumana National Park.

Duration: More than 3 hours

Cost: Starting at $75 USD per person plus Rs 4000 entry fee per person.

Transportation from Colombo Airport: Via train or bus 14 hours, via taxi or drive 7 hours

Opening Hours: 6 am to 6:30 pm

Location: Panama-Kumbukkana Road, Hambantota, Tangalle 32508, Sri Lanka

How to get there from the city: 40 minute drive from Okanda, 1 hour drive from Panama

Website: https://lanka.com/about/attractions/kumana-national-park/

2. Camping

Accommodations can be found in two circuit bungalows, one of which is named Kumbukkan Oya. The campsites can be booked through the Wildlife Conservation Office. It’s advised to camp only in campsites designated by the Wildlife Office due to the risk of wild elephant attacks at night. After the reopening of the park, camping became very popular among the wildlife enthusiasts. The campsites are nice and well equipped so you can enjoy your stay and nature to the fullest! For correct price make sure to get in touch with the Wildlife Office.

Duration: More than 3 hours

Cost: You have to request a price quote. Children under 6 free of charge, children under 11 half price.

Transportation from Colombo Airport: Via train or bus 14 hours, via taxi or drive 7 hours

Opening Hours: 6 am to 6:30 pm

Location: Panama-Kumbukkana Road, Hambantota, Tangalle 32508, Sri Lanka

How to get there from the city: 40 minute drive from Okanda, 1 hour drive from Panama

Website: http://kumanasafari.com/3.html or http://www.dwc.gov.lk/Aoldsite/index.php/en/component/content/category/87-contact-us

3. Mangrove Swamp

Mangrove swamps are coastal wetlands found in tropical and subtropical regions. They are characterized by halophytic (salt loving) trees, shrubs and other plants growing in brackish to saline tidal waters. Kumana National Park adjoins a lagoon area that supports the mangrove vegetation in Kumana. Severals streams pull water from Kumbukkan Oya to the mangrove swamp. A 200 hectares mangrove swamp called “Kumana Villu” within the Park is subject to occasional inundation with sea water. It is at this swamp that many water birds nest, during the months of May and June.

4. Kumana Villu

Kumana National Park consists of dry forests and villu (or lake) areas. Water flows from the Kumbukkan Oya by narrow canals and due to the closeness of the sea. Villus at Kumana are also known as a breeding and nesting ground for aquatic birds. Visit early morning to hear the wonderful songs of the birds! Boat rides are also available to travel through the mysterious and unique Kumana Villu featuring even crocodiles!

5. Rock Inscriptions

Several stone rock inscriptions can be found in various places in Kumana National Park. One inscription at Kudumbigala mentions that Kudumbigala was built by a giant warrior called Nandimithra, who was a member of King Dutugemunu’s army. Most of these inscriptions are written in Brahmin scripts, which means it’s likely that Buddhist monks from local monasteries wrote them. Many inscriptions were destroyed during the war. You can still visit many of them, it is best to hire a guide who will take you around and tell you all about history.

6. Murugan Devale

Murugan Devale is a Hindu temple devoted to the Hindu deity Murugan, the god of war. Pilgrims on their annual visit to Kataragama Maha Devale also visit the Murugan Devale. It’s also known as the Kanthamalai Velayudha Swami Temple in Kumana. Because it’s regarded as a sacred place, females are not allowed inside. Please take off your shoes and hat prior entering, and do not worry, there are designated workers who will take care off your belongings!

Duration: 1-2 hours

Cost: Free of charge, you may donate

Transportation from Colombo Airport: Via train or bus 14 hours, via taxi or drive 7 hours

Opening Hours: 6 am to 6:30 pm

Location: Center of Murugan, Tangalle 32508, Sri Lanka

7. Bambaragasthalawa Naga Pabbatha Monastery

The Bambaragasthalawa Naga Pabbatha Monastery is hidden from visitors! You have to travel through long kilometers of rough roads to reach it. It was built on a huge rock called Bambaragasthalawa with a large reclined buddha statue and other buildings on the top. Several natural caves used by Buddhist monks skirt the monastery. Travel with a guide, because it can he hard to find, and make sure you are prepared for a walk on the rock! Do not travel on rainy days, it can be slippery and dangerous!

8. Kudumbigala Monastery

The Kudumbigala Monastery is located a few miles away from Kumana and Panama. Kudumbigala was built by King Devanampiyatissa in 246 BC. He constructed a stupa and several caves for the Buddhist monks. Ruins of the buildings and stupa remain in the forest. The importance of the Kudumbigala monastery cannot be expressed in words. The Only Cylindrical Dagaba to survive in Sri Lanka today, is in the Kudumbigala Monastery. It is an amazing sight to visit, where you can learn about nature, history and religion.

Duration: 2-3 hours

Cost: Free of charge

Transportation from Colombo Airport: Via train or bus 14 hours, via taxi or drive 7 hours

Opening Hours: 6 am to 8:30 pm

Location: Right After the Buddhist Temple | Short distance from the eastern beach of Panama, Arugam Bay 32508, Sri Lanka

9. Kumbukkan Oya Reservoir

Kumbukkan Oya is a natural water stream that starts from Dombagahawatta and dumps into the Indian Ocean. The Kumbukkan Oya runs through part of Kumana National Park and Yala National Park. It’s home for endemic aquatic birds and migratory birds. It supplies water for Kumana Wewa and Eraminiyan Wewa at Kumana National Park. Recently the Kumbukkan Oya Reservoir was restored and updated to be more safe. You can visit the rushing river in the heart of the national park.

10. Kudumbigala Forest Hermitage

The Hermitage is located at the Kudumbigala Monastery. This amazing location is home to over two hundred shrines and hermit lodgings that are set in caves or sealed on rocky overhangs. The 4700-hectare site has an amazing landscape covered by an expensive canopy of wars. Due to the large number of stupa built within the monastery premises, archeologists believe the Kudumbigala monastery to be the legendary ‘chethiya pabbatha’ hermitage of the Ruhuna kingdom. Towards the shore, you can find lagoons and sand bars.

Where to Sleep

Most of the accommodation options close to Kumana are in Arugam Bay and Pottuvil. Hideaway Resort and Galaxy Lounge are two lovely eco friendly places we love.

Hideaway Resort, Pottuvil

This boutique guest house offers fresh bungalows or an open front colonial villa built with wooden beam ceilings and equipped with easy chairs. With bungalows spread through a scenic garden, your stay will be peaceful and private.

Galaxy Lounge, Arugam Bay

Stay at a spacious cabana at Galaxy Lounge. Facilities include bougainvillea-filled outdoor garden bathrooms and roof terraces. The ladder leading to the terrace is made of wood that creaks at every step, giving a rustic feel.

Where to Eat

Similar to your accommodation options, the restaurants close to Kumana are also found in Arugam Bay.

Meena’s, Arugam Bay

This small Asian restaurant offers authentic local meals of rice and curry, kotthu, and string hoppers.

Hideaway, Pottuvil

This is the restaurant of  Hideaway Resort and features a fresh menu everyday and only uses ripe, locally sourced ingredients.

Perera Restaurant, Arugam Bay

Looking for a decent rice and curry that you can get at affordable prices? Perera Restaurant is a local roadside joint that serves the best and most genuine Sri Lankan meals without breaking the bank. Western food is also available.

When to Go

There are two monsoon seasons, therefore it’s good to know which time of the year fits best for the holiday. However, there won’t be a really bad time to go, there is always some sunshine and warm weather. Kumana National Park’s weather dictated by the south eastern monsoon, which brings rain from October to April. The rest of the year is more sunny and dry. Being on the coastal region means the average temperature is between 25-30°C at the national park. The best time to go is between April to September, and this is the peak season as well. Also, with Christmas and Sri Lankan holidays there are more tourists around. However, if you want to go when there is less tourist but still good weather, May and June are the best fit for you.

Getting In and Around

Kumana National Park is on the south eastern edge of the island. You can access the national park via Panama. There are frequent buses and trains to Panama from major cities.

Colombo: Colombo is 350 km away from the national park, on the west coast of Sri Lanka. Travel with bus via Kataragama to reach the national park’s entrance at Panama in 12 hours. There is an express train to Kital Elle four times a day, than transfer to a local bus to reach Panama in 11 hours. Via taxi or private car you can reach Kumana National Park in 6 hours.

Negombo: Negombo is 330 km west of Kumana National Park. The easiest option is to travel by taxi or a local bus to Colombo and take an express bus or train towards Panama. Via car or taxi you can reach the national park in 5.5 hours.

Kandy: Kandy is 250 km away from the national park, in the heart of the island. Travel with an express daily train to Kital Ella, than transfer to a local bus to reach panama in 9 hours. Via taxi or a private car Kumana National Park is 4 hours away.

Ella: Ella is 150 km away from Kumana National Park, towards the central of Sri Lanka. You can take a daily local bus to reach Panama in 4 hours. Via private car or a taxi the national park can be reached in 2 hours.

Galle: Galle is 300 km away from Kumana National Park on the south coast of the island. YOu can take a long distance bus through Monaragala to reach the national park in 8 hours. Via taxi or a private car you can be there in 5.5 hours.

Dambulla: Dambulla is 250 km away from the national park, in the northern central region of Sri Lanka. Take a bus via Dehiattakandiya to Monaragala then transfer to a local bus to reach the national park via Panama in 10 hours. Via taxi or car you can reach Kumana National Park in 5 hours.

Sigiriya: Sigiriya is 270 km away from Kumana National Park, just north of Dambulla. Take a bus via Dehiattakandiya to Monaragala then transfer to a local bus to reach the national park via Panama in 11 hours. Via taxi or car you can reach Kumana National Park in 5.5 hours.

Budget

Sri Lanka is a stunning place with its beautiful history and rich culture. If you plan to go there prepare yourself because there are a few highly priced tours, entrance fees and farms. Kumana National Park is a newly restored national park, and a popular choice. There are some fees which you cannot ignore, such as entry tickets and tour fees.  However, you have the chance to find cheaper hotels and hostels ($10-$15), mid-range hotels ($20-$60) or luxury ($90-).  These prices allow both backpackers, families and luxury lovers to experience the beauty of Sri Lanka with their own set budget. Camping is also available at the national park, with an average price of $65.  The entry fees are a bit expensive ($55 per person), but most often it is included in the safari tour prices. The public transportation is the cheapest option to get around ($1- $4), but it’s not to comfortable, as you have to stand most times. You can hire a driver who will take you anywhere for around  $50/day. Restaurants usually ask $25/meal because, but you can grab food from buffets and stands, which won’t cost too much ($1-$5).  Try the papayas with chilli powder from street vendors, which are popular choice among tourists.

Dress Code

When visiting Sri Lanka make sure you are aware of the cultural standards and religion. It is inappropriate to visit temples and sacred places with uncovered shoulders and knees. Also, make sure to take off your hat when you enter a building!

Make sure your clothing is respectful towards the locals and their religion. You can wear shorter clothing on the beach but Do not enter restaurants or shops underdressed.

Evenings and early mornings can get a little colder, and if you are going on a hiking trip bring a light jacket and a raincoat! When visiting cave temples or the safari a light shirt and trousers are a great options.