Birdwatching, Wildlife & Cultural Highlights of Sri Lanka


With 492 species of bird resident or visiting Sri Lanka, there is plenty to keep a dedicated birdwatcher busy; but there is some excellent wildlife to see in this country too, including the World's best leopard watching opportunities, large herds of Asian elephants, sloth bears, wild water buffalo, sambar deer and more. There are also some must see cultural highlights, of which Sigiriya, or Lion Rock, must be one of Asia's most fulfilling sites to visit.

This journey is a balance of these facets, privately guided and tailor made, with an expert birdwatching and wildlife guide whose focus can be designed around your interests. We can also discuss adjustments to the locations and duration of this journey too, so that we can try to incorporate all that you hope to see.

Below is a summary of the locations this draft journey incorporates. Where you see 'more' you have the option to click through to more detail about that protected area or cultural site. Other sites also include:

- The Royal Botanical Gardens in Peradeniya
- Victoria Park in Nuwara Eliya
- Welimada

For a summary of some of the highlight birds you can hope to see on this journey, please click on the |Itinerary| tab which appears just beneath the banner images above.

Bundala National Park

Bundala National Park lies on Sri Lanka's south eastern coast. Beaches here attract nesting turtles whilst extensive wetlands attract crocodiles, flamingos and all of Sri Lanka's species of wetland birds - often in large numbers. Away from the wetlands, short thorny forest predominates... more

Horton Plains National Park

  

Horton Plains National Park is a very scenic upland region of Sri Lanka close to Nuwera Eliya. You can enjoy here a mix of rocky escarpments, waterfalls, higher altitude forests and open plains not unlike a Scottish landscape, especially when a stag appears...  more

Kalametiya Bird Sanctuary

Kalametiya Bird Sanctuary is physically similar to Bundala, with a mix of coastal lagoons, scrub jungle, mangroves and open grassy areas. Birdwatching is the prime reason to visit, where our expert guides can take you out by slow boat... more

Kitulgala Forest Reserve

Kitulgala Forest Reserve is home both to excellent birdlife and as a base for some of Sri Lanka's best adventure travel.  Our adventure options here include white water rafting, mountain biking and white water abseiling. It is equally ideal for slow river descents and nature walks... more

Sinharaja Rainforest Reserve

  

Sinharaja is Sri Lanka's last area of primary (unlogged) lowland rainforest. Amongst trees reaching 45m, reside 19 out of Sri Lanka 20 endemic birds, primates, orchids, tree frogs. Sinharaja is a highly rewarding rainforest experience with one of our expert guides... more

Tissamaharama Wetlands

Tissamaharama Wetlands are adjacent to the pretty Tissa Wewa Reservoir which was built in the 2nd Century BC by King Kavantissa. Along the shore  you can find flocks of aquatic birds including spot-billed pelicans, stork-billed kingfishers and lesser whistling ducks... more

Udawalawe National Park

Udawalawe National Park is famous primarily for great opportunities to see Asian elephants. This 308 km2 park comprises of open grassy plains and a huge lake which was created by a dam. Here we can see crocodiles, monitor lizards and a large array of birds... more

Udawattakele Forest

Udawattakele Forest borders Sri Lanka's second city of Kandy. There is a surprising variety of flora and fauna here, including several endemic species of plant. About 80 types of bird can be found here including the endemic Layard's parakeet and Sri Lanka hanging parrot. Mammals include... more

Yala National Park

Yala National Park is most famous for its concentrated population of leopards and elephants. Your chances of seeing leopards here are pretty much as high as anywhere in the world. This beautiful coastal savannah and woodland reserve in southern Sri Lanka... more

Sigiriya: The Temple Fortress

Sigiriya, or Lion Rock, is a temple fortress carved literally from a solid piece of rock nearly 200m high. Lying in the north central region of Sri Lanka, this is perhaps the single most famous monument in Sri Lanka... more

Temple of the Tooth

The Temple of the Tooth Relic (Sri Dalada Maligawa) in Kandy is Sri Lanka's most important Buddhist religious monument - a symbolic, cultural centre of Sri Lankan independence and pride… more

If you can spare more time in Sri Lanka, then an ideal addition to this journey is the Wilpattu National Park. Click HERE for details.

Itinerary

Sample 15 Day Itinerary

This is a tailor made itinerary, so you can enlarge or reduce this itinerary as needed. As a consequence, some special interest species are listed for more than one location.

Day 1: Colombo

Arrive Colombo where you will be met and transferred privately to a centrally located premium hotel. You may have time to enjoy some fine Ceylon tea on the verandah overlooking the Indian Ocean.

Day 2: Habarana

You can take the morning to relax at the hotel and recover from your flight and time differences.

After checking out, you will drive 4 hours north east to Habarana, which is just beyond Dambulla in the centre of Sri Lanka's Cultural Triangle in Anuradhapura District. You will be staying here at a lovely 5 star hotel.

Day 3: Sigiriya & the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic

This morning your private guide will take you to Sri Lanka's most famous cultural highlight: Sigiriya, or Lion Rock. Here you will be able to visit the temple and walk to the top of the rock and admire some fantastic views. There are also some lovely gardens surrounding the rock with some surprisingly prolific birdlife.

In the afternoon you will drive about 3 hours to Sri Lanka's second city of Kandy. You will have time to visit Dalada Maligawa, or the Temple of the Buddha's Sacred Tooth Relic.

You will stay at a lovely hotel overlooking the Mahaweli River.

Day 4: Udawattakele Reserve & Royal Botanical Garden in Peradeniya

In the morning you will visit the Udawattakele Forest Reserve which stands directly behind the Temple of the Tooth Relic. Though small, there is a wide range of birdlife, smaller mammals and flora to view here. Noteworthy birdlife species you might be able to see include:

Ceylon Hanging Parrot
Layard's Parakeet
Yellow-Fronted Barbet
Ceylon Small Barbet
Crimson-Backed Flameback
White-Rumped Shama
Tickell's Blue Flyctacher
Brown-Capped Babbler
Emerald Dove
Common Hill-Myna

In the afternoon you will visit the Royal Botanical Garden in Peradeniya. With 67 heactres there are more than 4,000 botanical species here. Birds to watch out for include Common Hawk-cuckoo, Alexandrine Parakeet, Ceylon Small Barbet, Large Cuckooshrike, Indian Pitta.

In the evening you will be driven privately to Kithulgala where you will stay in a rest house overlooking the Kelani River, with instant access to riverside forest.

Day 5: Kitulgala Forest Reserve

You will spend the whole day in Kitulgala. If you wish, we can incorporate a visit to a local visit or some adventurous activity such as biking, rafting or waterfall abseiling.

Bird species in focus will be:

Ceylon Junglefowl
Ceylon Green-pigeon
Ceylon Hanging-parrot
Black Eagle
Rufous-bellied Eagle
Ceylon Spurfowl
Chestnut-backed Owlet
Yellow-fronted Barbet
Layard's Parakeet
Green-billed Coucal
Ceylon Swallow
Ceylon Grey Hornbill
Black-capped Bulbul
Gold-fronted Leafbird
Dark-fronted Babbler
Ceylon Frogmouth
Spot-winged Ground-thrush
Legge's Flowerpecker
Brown-capped Babbler
Ceylon Crested Drongo
Black-backed Dwarf Kingfisher
Ceylon Frogmouth
Ceylong Hill Myna
Black-naped Blue Monarch

Overnight riverside in Kithulgala.

Day 6: Nuwara Eliya

After breakfast you will drive 2 ½ hours to Nuwara Eliya. This 'little England' is set against beautiful backdrops of mountains, valleys, waterfalls and tea plantations. It is supposed to be one of the coldest places on the Island, but it is really just like an English spring day, although the temperature does drop at night. All around Nuwara Eliya you will see evidence of the British influence. Houses are like country cottages or Queen Ann style mansions.

You will have time for guided birding at Victoria Park in Nuwara Eliya. Species you might see include:

Ceylon White-Eye
Kashmir Flycatcher
Indian Pitta
Forest Wagtail
Grey Wagtail
Yellow-Eared Bulbul
Indian Blue Robin
Pied Ground-Thrush

In the evening you will head to your country house style accommodation set inside a tea plantation. Subject to cloud cover, you will be within view of Sri Lanka’s three highest mountain peaks.

Day 7: Horton Plains National Park & Nuwara Eliya

You will make a very early start, heading 20 miles from Nuwara Eliya to the Horton Plains National Park. This park is an important watershed for major rivers in Sri Lanka and is not only a haven for birds, but for many plants too. Almost 750 species of plant have been found here, including orchids of which 16 are endemic to Sri Lanka. The Horton Plains form the highest plateau in Sri Lanka, located at the foot of two of Sri Lanka highest peaks: Kirigalpotta (2,395m) and Tatapola (2,359m).

Birdwatching opportunities might include:

Ceylon Whistling Thrush
Ceylon Scaly Thrush
Ceylon Wood Pigeon
Yellow-Eared Bulbul
Pied Bush Chat
Sri Lanka Bush-Warbler
Grey-Headed Canary
Kashmir Flycatcher
Dusky Blue Flycatcher
Velvet-Fronted Nuthatch
Ceylon White-Eye

In the afternoon, you can stay out on the Horton Plains or conduct birdwatching around Nuwara Eliya where potential species could include:

Sri Lanka Bush-warbler
Rusty-rumped Warbler
Pied Bushchat
Ceylon Woodpigeon
Forest Wagtail
Pied Flycatcher-shrike
Yellow-eared Bulbul
Ceylon Scaly Thrush
Ceylon White-eye
Large-billed Leaf-warbler
Velvet-fronted Nuthatch
Kashmir Flycatcher
Dusky Blue Flycatcher

Lunch, dinner and overnight in Nuwara Eliya

Day 8: Tissamaharama & Yala National Park

You will conduct afternoon birdwatching around Tissamaharama later today, but first we will drive you, early, into the Yala National Park. If you wish to see mammals then leopards, elephants and sloth bears may be high on your wish list. There is also the coast. Species of bird your guide will be watching out for will be:

Mongolian Plover
Greater Sand Plover
Marsh Sandpiper
Wood Sandpiper
Curlew Sandpiper
Little Stint
Bengal Bushlark
Little-Ringed Kentish
Ashy-Crowned Finch-Lark
Brahminy Starling
Rosy Starling
Painted Stork
Black-Necked Stork
Lesser Adjutant
Black-Winged Stilt
Eurasian Stone Curlew
Great Thick-Knee
Small Pratincole
Yellow-Wattled Lapwing
Red-Wattled Lapwing
Pacific Golden Plover
Grey Plover

Day 10: Bundala National Park

This morning you can set out with a packed breakfast (or take an early one at the hotel), to the Bundala National Park. Of mammals, you can hope to spot elephants, water buffalo, golden jackals and mongooses. Of birdlife, the wetlands in particular will be good for trying to see:

Greater flamingos
Watercock Northern Pintail
Great Thick-Knee Garganey
Eurasian Stone Curlew
Oriental Skylark
Great-Crested Tern
Small Pratincole
Pacific Golden Plover
Grey Plover
Little-Ringed Plover
Kentish Plover
Mongolian Plover
Greater Sand Plover
Marsh Sandpiper
Wood Sandpiper
Terek Sandpiper
Curlew Sandpiper
Little Stint
Brown-Headed Gull
Caspian Tern
Rosy Starling
Lesser-Crested Tern
Gull-Billed Tern
Whiskered Tern
White-Winged Tern
Saunders Tern
Little Tern
Brahminy Starling

In the afternoon, you will drive to Udawalawe, staying in a lovely lakeside hotel there.

Day 11: Udawalawe National Park & Sinharaja Rainforest

Early morning you will head into Udawalawe by jeep with a packed breakfast. The national park was created to provide a sanctuary for wild animals displaced by the construction of the Udawalawe Reservoir on the Walawe River, as well as to protect the catchment of the reservoir. Udawalawe is an important habitat for water birds and Sri Lankan elephants.

In the afternoon you will drive about 4 hours to the Sinharaja Rainforest, staying in a modest guest house.

Days 12 & 13: Sinharaja Rainforest

You will have 3 full days to explore the best preserved lowland rainforest in Sri Lanka with your private naturalist / birdwatching guide. In addition to primates, some very diverse flora and insects, bird species of note include:

Malabar Trogon
Yellow-Browed Bulbul
Himalayan Black Bulbul
Ceylon Spurfowl
Ceylon Junglefowl
Ceylon Woodpigeon
Crested Goshawk
Besra Sparrowhawk
Rufous-Bellied Eagle
Crested Serpent Eagle
Black Eagle
Mountain Hawk-Eagle
Red-Faced Malkoha
Green-Billed Coucal
Chestnut-Winged Cuckoo
Serendib Scops-Owl
Chestnut-Backed Owlet
Ceylon Frogmouth
Spot-Winged Ground Thrush
Ceylon Scaly Thrush
Ceylon Rufous Babbler
Ceylon Blue Magpie
White-Faced Starling
Asian Paradise Flycatcher
Ashy-Headed Laughing Thrush

Day 14: Sinharaja & Return to Colombo

At dawn, you will have a quick snack and tea or coffee and then set off on foot in search of wildlife, birds and whatever presents itself.

You will come back to your forest lodge for breakfast and then engage in further walks. As the day moves on, there will be less wildlife and birdlife activity, but this can provide time to focus more on other aspects of the forest.

PM: Drive back to Colombo and check into your same hotel in the city.

Day 15: Depart Colombo

Check out of hotel and private transfer to the airport for your flight home.

Dates

Enquire / Book 01 May 2020 - 31 Dec 2021 - from £ 2,850
from US$ 3,250

Tailor made trip available year round
Privately Guided (15 Days)
Price per person sharing

Notes:
Price per person sharing (based on 2 people travelling)
Price will be lower for 3 or more travelling together

Single room occupancy on shared trip:
2019 - Apr 2020:  £485 / $560

Prices include:
- Expert private guide
- Private transportation - 4WD in national parks
- All accommodation 2  - 5 star (upgrades available)
- All meals outside of Colombo
- Breakfasts in Colombo
- Park entrance fees

Not included:
- International flights
- Optional activities (such as temple visits)
- Tips & gratuities
- Video and camera permits
- Beverages

  • Green Lizard, Sinharaja Rainforest National Park UNESCO World Heritage Site Wildlife photography by Ralph Pannell
  • Anuradhapura Temple Sri Lanka - Charlotte Caffrey
  • Toque Macaque - Charlotte Caffrey
  • Tea Plantation in Nuwara Eliya
  • Elephants in Sri Lanka
  • Cultural Sites in Sri Lanka - Charlotte Caffrey
  • Grey Headed Canary Flycatcher
  • Kangaroo Lizard
  • Sinharaja Rainforest Reserve - Ralph Pannell

Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka National Park & Reserve Guides

Sri Lanka Cultural Sites & Monuments Guide

  • Leopard in Sri Lanka
  • Lankathilake Temple, Kandy
  • Birdwatching in Sri Lanka - Charlotte Caffrey
  • Elephant Sanctuary in Udawalawe
  • Blue Tailed Bee Eater - Ralph Pannell
  • Dambulla Sacred Buddha Caves - Charlotte Caffrey
  • Sambur Deer
Array
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