Lahugala National Park: Compact and Full of Wildlife!

Lahugala National Park might be small but full of treasure!

Small and sweet is definitely the way to describe Lahugala National Park! Lahugala Kitulana National Park is one of the smallest national parks in Sri Lanka. Despite its land area, the park is an important habitat for Sri Lankan elephant and endemic birds of Sri Lanka. Located in the eastern province of Sri Lanka, the Lahugala Kitulana National Park is one of the smallest parks on the island. Having originally been declared a wildlife sanctuary in 1966, the area became a National Park in October of 1980. Due to ethnic violence at the park, it was closed for many years before being reopened in 2005. There are three main reservoir located here; Lahugala, Kitulana, and Sengamuwa.

Although flat with rocky outcrops, this dry-zone evergreen forest has a unique charm. Elephants frequent the park in herds of over one hundred and fifty. Other endemic species to Sri Lanka live here, including the toque macaque, the sloth bear, the tufted grey langur, the Sri Lankan leopard, the Sri Lankan axis deer, and the Sri Lankan sambar deer. The wetland birds include the purple heron, the painted stork, the lesser adjutant, the great white pelican, The white-throated kingfisher, and the spot-billed pelican.

Things to Do

Jeep safari

An exciting Jeep safaris can be arranged while visiting Lahugala, and are available at both the Pottuvil and Monaragala entrances. The route along Lahugala tank is the best track to spot wild elephant herds, sloth bears and leopards. Evenings and mornings are ideal for your Jeep safari. It is not permitted to enter the National Park with your own vehicle, so it the best if you pre book your jeep safari to fully enjoy the park and its wonderful nature!

Duration: More than 3 hours

Cost: Price depends on number of people. Starting at Rs 4500 per person.  Jeep rental price is $5 usd per hour.

Transportation from Colombo Airport: Via bus 13 hours, taxi or private car 5.5 hours

Opening Hours: 8 am to 5 pm

Location: Lahugala Kitulana National Park, Kithulana, Ampara 32000, Sri Lanka

How to get there from the city: Only a 15 minute car ride from Pottuvil

Bird Watching

Wet zone birds thrive in the grasslands of the Lahugala tank. Many endemic birds are frequently spotted here. Keep an eye out during migratory season, as many birds flock around here.  Birds tend to nest in the long grasses around the reservoirs, so watch for sea eagles, common eagles, and pelicans. There are also unique birds and bee eaters, so if you are truly interested in birds make sure you book your safari accordingly to your needs.

Elephant Viewpoint

Even though Lahugala National Park is the smallest national park in the country, it’s known for the massive elephant herds. Check it out in the morning  for your best chance at spotting some elephants. During the monsoons, elephant gather frequently around the reservoirs and feed off the grasses there. If you are lucky you can even spot baby elephants, but make sure you do not disturb them as mother elephants can get angry easily while protecting the small ones. Your safari tour guide will tell you all about these amazing creatures.

Magul Maha Viharaya

The Magul Maha Viharaya was built in the 2nd century BC by King Devanampiyatissa to celebrate the marriage with Vihara Maha Deviya. According to legend Viharamahadevi, the daughter of King Kelanitissa volunteered to sacrifice herself to the sea to appease the gods who were enraged at the King for punishing an innocent monk. Ruins of an ancient monastery, moonstone, stupa, Bodhigara, and the foundations of a building where the wedding ceremony happened still remain. Hire a guide to tell you more about these magnificent ancient legends!  Make sure to check out the wonderful architectural details.

Duration: 1 hour

Cost: Free of charge

Transportation from Colombo Airport: Via bus 13 hours, taxi or private car 5.5 hours

Opening Hours: 8 am to 4 pm

Location: Monaragala Pottuvil Road, Pottuvil 32000, Sri Lanka

How to get there from the city: Only a 15 minute car ride from Pottuvil

Ancient Moonstone

The moonstone at the Magul Maha Viharaya is a unique masterpiece of Sri Lankan architecture. This moonstone has been identified as one that belonged to the Anuradhapura era due to similarities when compared with other moonstones from that time. It is one of a kind and it attracts many people from various religions to pay their respects. There are various decorative elements on the moonstone. The elephants on this moonstone all have riders on their backs, something unseen in all other Sri Lankan moonstones. Make sure to check it out!

Lahugala Tank

The Lahugala Reservoir is located inside the park and is surrounded by many rocks, where you can sit and enjoy the beautiful view. The reservoir supports a landscape of Beru grass, which then feeds the endemic and migratory birds. The reservoir is a home for endemic fish and freshwater turtles as well. The Lahugala Tank is a major feature of the Park where you can see herds of elephants congregated around it. Visit in the evening for a stunning sunset view.

Lahugala Kota Vehera

The ruins of an ancient stupa known as the Lahugala Kota Vehera is located off Monaragala–Pottuvil road. Legend states it was once used as a monastery for a novice monk believed to be the rebirth of King Dutugemunu. Ruins of stone pillars, flower altars, and the bricks of a building remain. These ruins indicate that this must have been once a sanctum with the largest image house of Ruhuna. This site was highly neglected due to violence in the era, but now it has been addressed as a protected site.

Where to Sleep

Most of the accommodation is available around Arugam Bay and Pottuvil. Below are few trusted options for different budgets:

Kottukal Beach House by Jetwing, Pottuvil ($$$)

Kottukal Beach House by Jetwing offers tasteful, modern comfort in a serene setting. It’s a boutique villa that doubles as the perfect holiday getaway. Featuring wide, open verandas and high ceilings, the interiors and furnishings are appealing and cozy.

The Stardust Beach Hotel, Arugam Bay ($)

The Stardust was created by Merete Scheller and Per Goodman. They have taken the lush and tropical island and added the sophisticated comforts of Denmark. You’ll find an outstanding restaurant, fine wines, and state-of-the-art accommodation. This is one budget holiday destination you would only expect to find in a fantasy!

Cili Hotel, Arugam Bay ($)

Cili Hotel is located right in the town center and rises just opposite the well-known Arugam Bay Point. Awake in the morning to a delicious tropical fruit for breakfast!

Where to Eat

You can choose to eat at Arugam Bay nearby, which boasts a fantastic array of delicious restaurants serving world-class food.

Zephyr Restaurant and Bar

This beachside restaurant is popular for serving delicious western food with a clever Sri Lankan twist. The Zephyr Burger is well-lovedamongst locals as well as travelers. Visit the restaurant and have an unforgettable time!

Breakpoint

This is a popular family restaurant serves Mediterranean cuisine. The ambiance is cozy and the prices reasonable. They’re known to serve the best coffee in the area. The owner’s hospitality is well known throughout Arugam.

Tandoori Hut

This tree-house restaurant offers authentic Indian and Sri Lankan food. It’s reasonably priced and is known to serve excellent tandoori dishes!

Danny’s Sri Lankan Delicacies

This restaurant offers you a great selection of Asian, Sri Lankan, and vegan dishes. You won’t go hungry in this restaurant, as the food is freshly made and takes time to be served. It’s totally worth the wait!

When to Go

There are two monsoon seasons, therefore its for the best to familiarize yourself with those before you plan your trip to Sri Lanka, especially if you wish to be outside most of the time. Of course there is no bad time to go, but some months are a bit rainier than others. The seasonal monsoon brings rain from May to September, so if you go between these months, bring a rain jacket and a little heavier clothing. The rest of the months are mostly sunny and dry with an average 25-30 degrees. The best is to go between December and April, but prepare yourself for a lot of tourists. If you wish to travel with less tourists, go around October and November which fall outside the peak periods.

Dress code

When visiting the national park make sure to check the weather before hand, because it could get very chilly, especially during monsoon season. If you plan on hiking, take a light coat with you as well.  Jeans or comfortable trousers and a light t-shirt is a great choice of clothing. When visiting temples or sacred places, make sure to cover up your shoulders and knees. Take off your hat when entering restaurants or shops!

Getting In and Around

Lahugala National Park is on the east coast of the island. You can access it via train or buses, and it is close to a few bigger cities as well.

Colombo: Colombo is 320 km away of the national park on the west coast of Sri Lanka. From Colombo take the hourly bus to Haputale, transfer to a local bus to Wellawaya, then take the daily bus to Pottuvil. From Pottuvil you can grab a tuk tuk or a tour bus to take you to the national park with a total trip time of 12 hours. Via taxi or private car you can reach Lahugala in 6 hours.

Negombo: Negombo 300 km away from Lahugala National Park. The easiest is to travel to Colombo with a tuk tuk or a local bus, then transfer to the express buses. Via taxi or car you can be there in 6 hours, via public transportation 13 hours.

Kandy: Kandy is 200 km away from the park, in the heart of the island. Take the express train to Haputale, then transfer to a local bus to Wellawaya, then take the daily bus to Pottuvil. From Pottuvil you can grab a tuk tuk or a tour bus to take you to the national park with a total trip time of 10 hours. Via taxi or car you can be there in 4 hours.

Ella: Ella is 115 km away from Lahugala National Park, in the eastern central area of Sri Lanka. Via bus travel to Wellawaya then take the express bus to Pottuvil to be there in 3 hours. Via taxi or private car it would take only 2 hours.

Galle: Galle 290 km away from the national park, at the south coast of the island. Take the daily bus to Pottuvil via Matara to be there in 10 hours. Via taxi or car arrive to Lahugala in 5 hours.

Dambulla: Dambulla is 215 km away from Lahugala National Park in the northern region of Sri Lanka. Via a local bus travel to Dehiattakandiya, then transfer to the daily bus to Pottuvil via Monaragala with a total trip time of 10 hours. Via taxi or a private car you can be there in 5 hours.

Budget

Sri Lanka is a beautiful and unique place to visit its stunning history and rich culture. If you go there for a longer holiday prepare yourself for some expenses. Foreigners and locals have to pay different prices, so do not let low prices fool you, it usually double price for visitors.

You can find various hotels and accommodations in different price ranges. You can find cheaper hotels and hostels ($10-15), family and children friendly hotels ($20-60) and if you prefer luxury you will definitely find something you like ($90). At Lahugala National Park there is no entrance fee, but you have to pay for the safari, jeep, gas and taxes, totaling up to around $65.

Conclusion

Lahugala National Park is one of the gems—albeit small ones!—of Sri Lanka. If you’re in the mood for excellent bird watching, or to catch a glimpse of massive elephant herds, this is clearly the best place to go. Enjoy your time in the grassy areas of the reservoir, stay for a romantic sunset, or just stop by on your way to Yala. Nearby ruins offer you a touch of history, so don’t forget to stop by and see the moonstones. Arugam has wonderful places to stay and delicious food to eat, so no matter what you decide to do while visiting, the reservoirs at Lahugala National Park are an obvious place to stop!

Updated by Teddy