Ultimate Guide to Wilpattu: The Best Leopard Safari Experience

Wilpattu National Park is the place for wonderful animals and adventures!

Have you ever wanted to see a leopard? Or the elusive sloth bear? Wilpattu National Park protects these animals and more! The name Wilpattu comes from the words Villu-Pattu, which means the Land of the Lakes, referring to the sixty lakes and reservoirs scattered throughout Wilpattu National Park.  The willis or, natural lakes, are depressions in the sandy earth that fill with rainwater during the rainy season (December—February) and the inter-monsoonal rains in March. In the rest of the year the area is dry. The lakes gradually evaporate throughout the year. Wilpattu National Park is a huge area, covering 131,693 hectares of dense jungle scrub with occasional clearings and wetlands. This is the largest and oldest National Park in Sri Lanka!

Many threatened and endangered species live within the park, including the Sri Lankan leopard,  elephants, sloth bears, and water buffalos. Keep an eye out for mongoose, spotted deer, sambar deer, mice, and shrews. Many bird species live here, like the painted stork, the Sri Lanka junglefowl, owls, terns, eagles, kite buzzards, and several wetland bird species.

Things to Do

1. Leopard Viewpoints

Wilpattu National Park is a world famous viewing point for leopards in Sri Lanka. It has been recognized as a one of the top National Parks for the high population of leopards. Special safari trails are designated in the park for the visitors who are interested to see leopards in the Park. It is unknown exactly how many leopards live in the national park due to its enormous size. While visiting the park you can see large volume of leopards, individuals and leopard cubs as well. Keep a wary eye out!

Duration: More than three hours

Cost: Entrance fee Rs 1000 per person plus safari fees

Transportation from Colombo Airport: Via train or bus 7 hours, via taxi or drive 3.5 hours

Opening Hours: 6 am to 6 pm

Location: Chilaw Anuradhapura road, Saliyapura, Anuradhapura 50008, Sri Lanka

How to get there from the city: 1.5 hour drive from Anuradhapura

Website: http://www.wilpattunationalpark.com/

2. Jeep Safari

Jeep safaris with a guide are available at the entrance of the park. You can get a government guide from the Wildlife Office. Jeep safari routes are designated across the villus and other specific animal viewpoints. You can spot leopards, elephants and sloth bears, water buffalo, and sambar deer. There are many tour options to choose from, and safari Jeep Tours in Wilpattu are very convenient as you get free pick up/drop from any hotel situated in the area. Book early mornings for the best experience and make sure to say safe and do not interfere with the wild animals.

Duration: More than three hours

Cost: Entrance fee Rs 1000 per person plus Rs 250 vehicle fee plus Rs 6000 tour fee. You can usually get a deal of $ 160 USD for two adults.

Transportation from Colombo Airport: Via train or bus 7 hours, via taxi or drive 3.5 hours

Opening Hours: 6 am to 6 pm

Location: Chilaw Anuradhapura road, Saliyapura, Anuradhapura 50008, Sri Lanka

How to get there from the city: 1.5 hour drive from Anuradhapura

Website: https://wilpattusafarigamedrives.com/

3. Birdwatching

Although a small island, Sri Lanka has a rich array of bird life that can be spotted in the variety of land and water based habitats found across the country, so Wilpattu has become a great place for birdwatching due to its richness. The salt marshes along the coastline of Wilpattu provide a breeding and nesting area for Sri Lankan birds. Jungle fowls, gulls, eagles, and peacocks are easily seen! The wildlife conservation authority has built bird watching huts throughout the park for interested visitors. Best time to visit the national park is early mornings when there are less visitors and birds are undisturbed.

Duration: More than three hours

Cost: Entrance fee Rs 1000 per person, plus vehicle fees or tour fees

Transportation from Colombo Airport: Via train or bus 7 hours, via taxi or drive 3.5 hours

Opening Hours: 6 am to 6 pm

Location: Chilaw Anuradhapura road, Saliyapura, Anuradhapura 50008, Sri Lanka

How to get there from the city: 1.5 hour drive from Anuradhapura

Website: http://wilpattusafariholidays.com/bird_of_wilpattu.php

4. Pallekonda Church

The Pallekonda Church is located deep inside Wilpattu, a few miles away from the main road of Mannar–Puttalam. It was built during the Portuguese colonial era in Sri Lanka and is devoted to St. Anthony. It’s famous for miracles among the Roman Catholics in Sri Lanka. The recent civil war has, unfortunately, damaged the church. There are many mysteries and legends around the church, why and when exactly was it built and by whom. Make sure to check it out! Be careful because it is hard to find.

5. Pomparippu

Pomparippu is a prehistoric cemetery located in Wilpattu National Park. It’s believed that thousands of people have been buried in this cemetery with their belongings on over 4 hectares of land. Thanks to excavations, many belongings have been found such as ancient stone weapons, clay pots, and shell jewelry. Several graves still remains with shattered clay pots and bricks. Pomparippu is also known as a wonderful elephant viewpoint. Please be respectful towards the historical site and the animals as well.

6. Ochchappukallu Ruins

There is a well-preserved rock inscription in this site which says that this site belonged to ‘ Kanittha Issa. Ochchappukallu was an ancient Buddhist temple complex in Wilpattu National Park. It’s located a few miles away from the entrance and sits on a top of a sprawling rock. SEveral inscriptions, the ruins of stupa, carved flower pedestals, and other buildings remain in the temple complex. Inscriptions in rocks state that caves under the rock were used by Buddhist monks who visited the temple.

7. Kudiramalai Horse Mountain

Kudiramalai is located on the coastline of Wilpattu National Park and is shaped like a horse head. On the top of the mountain are ruins of a Hindu temple and a statue of a horse. A few meters away from Kudiramalai Mountain, you can reach a golden sand beach. It’s believed that King Wijaya met Kuveni for the first time at this beach. It is an exciting spot to visit, especially with a tour guide who can tell you all about the mysterious mountain and history of the buried city.

8. Water sports and whale watching

If you are an adventure seeker, Wilpattu offers water sports! The park has activities such as whale watching, lagoon tours, snorkeling as well as fishing. One of the most popular choices is whale and dolphin watching. You can add these to your Jeep Tour Safari packages, and combine various activities to make  a full day of tours. You can learn so much about these amazing animals from your tour guides. Don’t miss this exciting chance!

When to Go

There are two monsoon seasons in Sri Lanka, so before you plan to go on a holiday, make sure you choose a suitable time for your vacation. The north and eastern regions – especially on the coast, like Wilpattu National Park – the weather is determined by the north-eastern monsoon. This brings rain and wind from October through January and a sunnier, warmer weather between April and September. From the beginning of April, the weather is getting more hot with an average 30°C but it still tends to rain. Therefore the best time to go is between May and September if you plan to stay near the beach. However, if you don’t mind a bit of a rain and lower temperatures (25°C) and less tourists, you can enjoy Sri Lanka in the monsoon season as well. There are always days with sunny, nice weather. These days are ideal for whale watching and safari tours, as it is not too hot! During Christmas or Sri Lanka’s holidays the prices go high with the number of the tourist equally, who want to spend the holiday somewhere nice.

Where to Sleep

Campsites

Mahoora Luxury, Leopard Safari Camp, and Standard Safari Camp are both reputed camping chains spread out throughout all of Sri Lanka for the adventurous travelers who want a more rugged experience. Check them out and reserve your slot soon!

Dress Code

There are certain standards in Sri Lanka regarding clothing. Because it is an island rich in religion and history, it is required to cover your knees and shoulders, especially when visiting sacred sites or temples. Please make sure to take off your hat when entering stores, restaurants or public facilities. Only wear swimwear on the beach, and not on the streets.

When visiting Wilpattu National Park, wear a light shirt and some capri trousers to be comfortable. Early morning and late evenings can get chilly, so do not forget to pack a jacket or a cardigan.

Getting In and Around

The Wilpattu National Park is on the northern west coast of the island, not too far from Colombo. You can access it on the coast or from Anuradhapura.

Colombo: Colombo is 165 km away from Wilpattu National Park, also on the west coast of the island. You can take the train to Anuradhapura, which goes every 4 hours to be there in 5 hours. From Anuradhapura you can take a tuk tuk or a taxi. You can also take an hourly express bus to Puttalam then transfer to a local bus to reach the national park in 5.5 hours. Via taxi or private car you can be there in less, than 4 hours.

Negombo: Negombo is 135 km south of Wilpattu National Park. You can take an hourly express train to Anuradhapura, then transfer to a local bus to be there in 4 hours. Via bus you can travel to Puttalam then transfer to a local bus or tuk tuk to reach the park in less than 5 hours. Via taxi or drive you can be at the National Park in 3 hours.

Kandy: Kandy is 160 km away from the national park in the heart of the island. Take the once a daily express train to reach Wilpattu National Park in 3.5 hours. You can also travel by taxi or a private car to be there in 2.5 hours.

Ella: Ella is about 300 km south of the national park. You can travel with the daily train via Kandy to be there in 11 hours. Via taxi or a private car Wilpattu National Park is 4.5 hours away.

Galle: Galle is 290 km away from Wilpattu National Park, on the south coast of the island. YOu can reach the national park with a train via Colombo in 7 hours. With bus travel also via Colombo to reach Anuradhapura in 10 hours. Via taxi or drive you can be at Wilpattu National Park in 5 hours.

Dambulla: Dambulla is 100 km away from the national park, in south eastern direction. You can take a local bus to be there in 3.5 hours. Travel via taxi or private car to reach Wilpattu National Park in 2 hours.

Sigiriya: Sigiriya is 110 km away from Wilpattu National Park. Access it with a local hourly bus via Anuradhapura or Dambulla. You can also reach it in 2 hours with a private car or a taxi.

Budget

Sri Lanka is a stunning place with its beautiful history and if you plan to go there prepare yourself because you can come across with highly priced safaris, hotels and tours.

You have the chance to find cheaper hotels ($10-$15), mid-range hotels ($20-$60) or you have the option to experience luxury to the fullest with amazing panorama ($90-). The entry fees are not too expensive to the National Park ($15.

Safaris and guided tours are on the more expensive site, but you get a better deal for more people.

 The public transportation is the cheapest option to get around ($1- $4), but it’s not so comfy, as you have to stand most times. Therefore, you have the option to hire a driver who will take you anywhere for around $50/day.

Restaurants usually ask $20/meal, but you can grab food from buffets and stands, which will cost you ($3-$5). Throughout Sri Lanka could be an expensive place to visit because of the cost of the activities, like visiting the heritage sites. However, you can choose from being on a budget holiday or enjoy a more comfortable way to be there, the sights will be eye-catching either way.

Conclusion

Wilpattu, or the land of the lakes, is clearly one of the highlights of your trip to Sri Lanka! This National Park is the oldest and largest of all the parks in Sri Lanka, and offers the most too! From Jeep safari’s to spot an glimpse of the infamous (and most densely populated) leopard, to viewing the villus (or lakes) in the park. A stretch of golden, sandy beach borders one edge of Wilpattu, so if you want some adventurous water sports, this is the place to go! Although there are no in-park places to stay yet, there are campsites for rent, and plenty of resorts for you to enjoy. The delicious cuisine will fill your belly, and you’ll definitely be coming back to see Wilpattu National Park!

Updated by Teddy