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Located in the south east of Sri Lanka, Gal Oya National Park is scenically stunning and is one of the best places in the country to see wild elephants.
Despite this, Gal Oya is also one of the least visited national parks as it is remote and largely undeveloped for tourism, making it a hidden gem for travellers wishing to experience an unspoilt corner of Sri Lanka.
The national park was established in 1954 to protect the catchment area of the Senanayake Samudraya reservoir. It’s the only national park in Sri Lanka where you can take a safari by boat and you can often spot elephants swimming between islands to find greener pastures.
Take an adventurous Jeep ride into the “forgotten” Nilgala area of Gal Oya National Park. In ancient times, Nilgala was once protected by royalty due to the endemic birdlife, abundant medicinal plants and the area’s unique ecosystem.
You can also take a safari on foot, where you’ll hike through the park and explore hidden corners, getting up close and personal with the wildlife with our expert naturalists.
The park is home to large numbers of vibrant wildlife, with elephants being the major drawcard. Not only does Gal Oya have one of the largest elephant populations, it’s also unique in that elephant herds can be seen all year round.
Unlike other national parks, the elephant herds do not migrate back and forth, increasing your chances of seeing an elephant or even a whole herd.
Other animals include sloth bears, leopards, langur, wild boar, mugger crocodile, water buffalo and deer. It’s a bird watcher’s paradise as over 150 species of birds can be found within the parklands.
The region also has a rich history, with many cultural sites found in the park. Visit the Digha Vapi Dagoba, a shrine built to mark the spot where it is said that Buddha sat during his last visit to Sri Lanka. Explore the Henebedde cave near Wadinagala which holds ancient Brahmi inscriptions.
In the evening, join the chief veddha, the leader of a local tribe of hunter-gatherers that has lived in the area since ancient times. He’ll take you on a walk through the jungle, explaining the veddha’s traditional way of life, the ancient hunting grounds and cave dwellings, as well as the tribe’s use of medicinal plants.
Gal Oya is the perfect destination for those looking to escape the crowds, unplug from technology and immerse in some of the country’s most beautiful landscapes and best wildlife spotting.
The best time to visit Gal Oya National Parks is June to December, during the dry season. The warm temperatures are pleasant for roaming the parklands, and it’s also the best time to see elephants. During these dry months, sections of the lake dry up and fresh grass grows on the lake floor. This attracts large herds of elephants searching for food, and it’s the best time for boat safaris. You may even spot a swimming elephant!
January to May is the wet season, where the parklands bloom with lush shades of green. You can expect evening showers which fill up the lake, attracting a cacophony of birds. It’s the best time for bird watchers, as all the migratory species come to the parklands during these months.
We feature a two night stay at Gal Oya National Park as part of our Sri Lanka Wildlife Holiday itinerary. Your time in Gal Oya includes a Jeep safari and foot safari with expert naturalists where you’ll get up close and personal with an array of wildlife, and an evening walk into the jungle with the chief veddha of the local tribe to learn about the veddha’s traditional way of life.
We work with Gal Oya Lodge, a rustic eco-retreat with a focus on wildlife conservation. The lodge is located right on the edge of the park and the tranquil waters of Senanayake Samudraya. The private villas and bungalows are constructed using locally sourced materials and you can look out at the picturesque mountains and acres of untouched wilderness. You may even be able to spot wild elephants roaming the jungle or swimming in the lake.