Wildlife holiday in Sri Lanka, private departure

“Great value, tailor made wildlife holiday to see the island’s plethora of birds, elephants, whales, leopard, buffalo, and more birds. With chauffeur guide and wildlife expert.”

Highlights

Elephants at Minneriya/Kaudulla National Park | Kitulgala | Bird watching in Kelani Valley Forest Reserve, Victoria Park and Bundala National Park | Nuwara Eliya | Horton Plains National Park | Uda Walawe National Park | Elephant Transit Home at Uda Walawe | Tissamaharama | Yala National Park | Whale watching (Nov-April)

Description of Wildlife holiday in Sri Lanka, private departure

Marco Polo decided Sri Lanka as ‘undoubtedly the finest island of its size in the world’ and that description remains accurate today! This lush, tropical paradise was known to Arab traders as Serendib – hence the word ‘serendipity’, meaning discovery by happy accident – and for a small island, it has much to offer visitors interested in nature and wildlife.

Sri Lanka’s very own Big Four are here – leopard, sloth bear, elephant and blue whale – and this 15-day trip includes all the highlights of this environmentally diverse country. Sri Lanka’s 86 species of mammals, more than 400 bird species and colourful array of flowering plants and trees are all found within its 21 National Parks and in the surrounding Indian Ocean, which is alive with mighty blue and sperm whales, as well as large pods of dolphins.

The itinerary below is just a suggestion. We can also tailor make wildlife holidays to Sri Lanka and you can enjoy using our online holiday planner to piece together your own itinerary at your leisure. Explore and plan your route, excursions and activities from the comfort of your armchair, and also select the style of accommodation that appeals to you most.

The best time to come to Sri Lanka is between the main rainy seasons. Thanks to its position just north of the equator, the island enjoys an almost constant temperature throughout the year, but rainfall varies widely. In the south, southwest and Hill Country, the best time to visit is from November to April, after the southwest monsoon is over. However, the north and east are affected by the northeast monsoon during this period and are dry but hot from April to September. The Hill Country remains a lot cooler throughout the year.

Travel Team

If you'd like to chat about this holiday or need help finding one we're very happy to help. The Travel Team.

01273 823 700 Calling from outside the UK?

Departure information

Our tailor made Sri Lanka holidays can be arranged at any time to suit you, and adapted to your requirements as necessary although we do not offer trips for under 10 days.
Our top tip:
Bring plenty of small notes for tipping and don’t be shy of putting your hand in your pocket. This is a big tipping culture and a little goes a long way.
Trip type:
Tailor made for individuals, couples, families and small groups.
Included:
Flights, accommodation, half board 11 nights, air conditioned car with chauffeur guide, park entrance fees.
Accomm:
Small family run guesthouses, hotels and villas.
Vouchers
Accepted

Responsible tourism

Wildlife holiday in Sri Lanka, private departure

Carbon reduction

Your holiday will help support local people and conservation. We must also reduce CO2. Learn about the CO2 emissions of this holiday and how to reduce them.

Tikalanka works hard to reduce its carbon footprint in Sri Lanka whilst acknowledging the impact of long-haul flights. Born from a meeting of like minds and their love of Sri Lanka, they reduce carbon emissions by only employing local office staff, guides and safari rangers – never hiring international alternatives – and promoting smaller, locally owned accommodation that sources home-grown food, which helps to keep food miles to a minimum. Eating as a local is also encouraged as a lot of traditional Sri Lankan cuisine is vegetarian or vegan, which further reduces CO2 emissions. Scenic train travel and cycling or walking through the attractive countryside are included in most itineraries to break up the car journeys. Renewable energy is becoming more popular on the island with many guesthouses and hotels installing solar thermal systems for hot water and solar PV arrays for producing electricity, and the national grid has large wind farms along the coasts. Energy conservation is also promoted through encouraging natural cooling ventilation assisted by fans, or if not, the use of ‘intelligent’ air conditioning systems – heating is not an issue in Sri Lanka! – low-energy fridges and light bulbs, and key-switch bedroom power controls.

Environment

Sri Lanka has diverse habitats and a great variety of indigenous wildlife and plant life. To help maintain breeding populations of some of the more vulnerable animal species endemic to the island, conservation projects have been started and we encourage travellers to visit some of these projects to support their conservation work.

The Born Free Foundation is an international wildlife charity working throughout the world to stop individual wild animal suffering and protect threatened species in the wild. We are an active supporter of Born Free and its animal welfare campaigns, and we encourage all travellers to be aware of potential animal exploitation while on their holidays.

For instance, we do not promote or visit Pinnewala Elephant ‘Orphanage’ following adverse reports from Travellers’ Animal Alert, the global animal welfare campaign of the Born Free Foundation we support, and some of our own customers who visited independently.

Also, we no longer visit the Turtle Conservation Project at Rekawa after feedback of the unprofessional and potentially harmful actions of local rangers as well as the irresponsible and insensitive behaviour of some visitors.

In addition, we no longer visit the Elephant Transit Home (ETH) at Uda Walawe since it was found that some handlers were mistreating the elephants. The Born Free Foundation has rescinded its endorsement of the rehabilitation centre until practices are improved and return to the standards expected by international best practice guidelines. Born Free is currently in negotiation with the ETH and hopefully we will be able to return there in the future.

Please contact us for more details.

Born Free Foundation
The Born Free Foundation is an international wildlife charity working throughout the world to stop individual wild animal suffering and protect threatened species in the wild. Born Free's Travellers' Animal Alert campaign works around the world to generate a greater public awareness of animal suffering and exploitation, encouraging the public to report animal 'attractions' they encounter both in the UK and abroad, and to promote the philosophies of the Born Free Foundation.

Throughout the world there are hundreds of thousands of wild animals exhibited in zoological collections, performing in circuses, dolphinaria and magic shows, or used as photographic props. While some establishments do appear to provide the animals with adequate conditions, many do not and these continue to thrive due to the support of the tourism industry.

Travellers' Animal Alert is about being a compassionate traveller, alerting Born Free of captive animal suffering around the world. Incorporating complaints received from concerned members of the public returning from holidays in both the UK and abroad, Born Free hopes to tackle the growing problems associated with captive wild animal welfare.

We are an active supporter of Travellers' Animal Alert and we encourage all travellers to be aware of potential animal exploitation while on their holidays. In order to help Travellers' Animal Alert, we promote the following guidelines as a provider of responsible tourism:
- Promote Travellers' Animal Alert in our customer travel documents and on our website.
- Pledge not to promote any exploitative animal 'attraction' through our company literature or website.
- Encourage all our holiday service providers not to promote any activity that involves animal exploitation.
- Encourage our staff and customers to look out for captive animal exploitation and report any suffering to Travellers' Animal Alert.
- Actively encourage compassionate and responsible tourism.

Community

Through our Sri Lanka wildlife holidays we actively encourage responsible and sustainable travel to Sri Lanka. By working on our Sri Lanka holidays closely with our associate company in Sri Lanka and other partner organisations, we are endeavouring to promote cultural exchange, social awareness, self-employment and self-development.

Sri Lanka wildlife holidays guides
We only employ English-speaking Sri Lankan chauffeur guides who are all licensed by the Sri Lanka Tourist Board. Experienced guides for trekking, safaris and other specialist activities are hired locally and have extensive knowledge of their chosen area of expertise.

Sri Lanka wildlife holidays accommodation
We actively promote small family-run guesthouses that employ local workers, or in the case of larger hotels, locally owned establishments.

Sri Lanka wildlife holidays restaurants
We encourage travellers to eat at traditional restaurants, roadside eateries, street vendors and market stalls in order for them to enjoy and experience authentic Sri Lankan food.

Sri Lanka community-led projects
The Asian Tsunami highlighted the plight of coastal communities in Sri Lanka and our initial projects were targeted at Sri Lankan individuals and communities devastated by the tsunami (please ask us for details). However, many other communities away from the coast also lack essential materials and services and our objective is to offer long-term support to such Sri Lankan individuals and communities. By channelling all donations received by Forgotten Village Sri Lanka (an independent charitable organisation) into community-based projects on the island, we hope to provide sustained assistance to these communities in their endeavour to improve their lives. We make a contribution to Forgotten Village Sri Lanka for every holiday booked.

13 Reviews of Wildlife holiday in Sri Lanka, private departure

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Reviewed on 27 Aug 2019 by

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?


Where do I start....all of it?? If I had to name one part it would be seeing "the gathering" - 150+ elephants in one place was awe inspiring. Or perhaps seeing three leopards in one day or the sloth bears. Then there is the food.....wow

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?


Make sure that you like curry and rice (if you do then you are in for a treat). When changing money make sure that you get lots of small denomination notes (100 and 500 rupees)

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?


Yes many of the places we stayed exclusively used local people for all of their staff. National parks and world heritage sites have a ban on plastic drinks bottles. We used a local guide and drivers.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?


Sri Lanka is a wonderful country to visit. It's green, has loads of wildlife, culture and really friendly locals. The accommodation was amazing, food spectacular and weather hot. Would highly recommend the company we travelled with and visit again tomorrow if I could.

Reviewed on 23 Jun 2019 by

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?


The park tours where there were few tourists such as Minneriya Park. We also enjoyed canyoning in the mountain region.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?


To avoid tourist jeep scrums in national parks, go to the North or to less well known parks.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?


Many of the activities clearly benefited local Sri Lankans which was great. However, a number of the wildlife activities we felt were an issue - The whale
watching trip felt invasive (and we have discovered a scientific paper about activities in this particular area affecting whales), at the Elephant Transit Home
we witnessed baby elephants being treated aggressively at feeding time and at lake Tissa we witnessed boat tours which sped up to a island where around
150 birds were settled (and who we were watching from a distance) and scare them all off of the island when the boat landed and tourists walked onto the
island. This guide was one who has told us he was supposedly the wildlife expert from the hotel where we were staying.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?


The country, scenery, wildlife and locals are amazing and our guide was particularly fantastic. However, we really felt that the pressures on the tourism
industry seem to be having an impact on how tours are run, which inevitably affects the wildlife and environment. In Yala national park we even saw a tourist
from anther group smoking and blowing the smoke towards monkeys settled in a tree. Their guide said nothing. For such reasons we would probably only
come back to tour the North where there are less tourists.

Read the operator's response here:

We are very pleased that, overall, you enjoyed your wildlife holiday to Sri Lanka with us and that our specialist guide looked after you so well. However, we are very disappointed to hear of your experiences of the Elephant Transit Home (ETH) and whale watching. We endeavour to be a responsible tour operator that is vigilant and proactive to the changing face of tourism in Sri Lanka, and feedback from customers is essential for our monitoring of places
and activities that we promote or visit.

Your observations of the treatment of elephants at the ETH are shocking, and the behaviour of some of the staff there unacceptable and reprehensible. We will pass on your observations to the Department of Wildlife Conservation in Sri Lanka, which runs the ETH, and we will visit the facility ourselves as follow up. In the meantime, any of our customers who would like to visit the ETH will be informed of your experience, and if any customers decide to visit, our
accompanying guide will monitor the visit for us and feedback.

The popularity of whale watching from Mirissa, similar to jeep safaris in Yala NP, has highlighted the issue of over-tourism and the welfare of animals. We and our customers have been concerned about the irresponsible activities of some whale watching and jeep safari providers and other visitors’ behaviour for the past two or three years since more and more people take these trips. The feedback from past customers on our chosen whale watching boat safari provider, Mirissa Water Sports, has been positive but we are unhappy that you consider their behaviour to be too aggressive in chasing whales at the
surface.
Again, we will visit Mirissa Water Sports to discuss the way the company approaches whale watching safaris in the future and their obligation to ensure the welfare of whales and education of tourists in best practice. Thank you for bringing this issue to our attention.

Please be assured that our primary concern is animal welfare, but also appreciate that the actions and behaviour of companies and visitors not associated with our holidays are beyond our control.

Reviewed on 02 Apr 2018 by

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?


There were lots of memorable moments, here's the top few in terms of wildlife: Kaudulla National Park Safari (~200 elephants on grasslands by lake). Mirissa Whale & Dolphin Sea Safari (7 Blue Whales & a pod of ~100 Spinner Dolphins). Mahamodara River Boat Safari (2 Sea Eagles swooping down & catching some breakfast). Udawalawe Elephant Orphanage (~30 young elephant orphans being fed). Other highlights were: Horton Plains circular walk, including World's End. Sigiriya Rock Walk up to the Fortress. Scenic Train Journey from Nuwara Eliya to Ella. Several Ella Walks (Ella's Rock, Little Adam's Peak & Nine Arches Bridge). Kandy Temple of the Tooth.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?


Use this as a starter & tailor it to exactly what you want.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?


Definitely benefited local people, less obvious on reducing environmental impacts & supporting conservation.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?


Brilliant. Great Variety: Not just wildlife but also great scenery and interesting culture & history. Great Hotels. Good Food & Drink. Good Value. Lovely People.

Reviewed on 28 Feb 2018 by

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?


When an elephant came alongside our jeep and visiting the Elephant Transit Home where we saw young elephants being fed.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?


There are a lot of stairs to climb to see, for example, the Rock Fortress at Sigiriya, the Dambulla cave temples and the rock temple of Mulkirigala Raja Maha Viharaya, so you need to be reasonably fit and not scared of heights! The sea tends to be quite rough, so better for surfing than swimming. It can be difficult to wander around on your own, as the roads tend to be rather chaotic and shared by dogs, cattle, people, tuk tuks, bikes, cars and vans.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?


I saw posters reminding people to protect the environment by not leaving litter around. Jeeps entering the Uda Walawe National Park had to check in with the authorities first, presumably to avoid any rogue vehicles entering. Natural materials were used in the construction of beach cabanas and most of our accommodation was unobtrusive and blended in with the environment. All of the places we stayed, as well as tourist attractions, appeared to employ local people.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?


Sri Lanka is very diverse with spectacular scenery and beaches, as well as lovely people.

Reviewed on 06 Feb 2018 by

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?


So many memories! it's impossible to choose just one! Almost being charged by three unhappy elephants at Use Walawe was one - I still have video of them trumpeting and growling, the beauty and tranquillity of the upper hill country especially at sunrise, getting so close to birdlife at the national parks that we could almost reach out and touch and walking around Galle Fort in the evening after the day trippers had left.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?


Try the local food - we found hygiene was carefully observed and enjoyed some wonderful meals at even small places. With hindsight, we would have added in a couple of extra days at 98 Acres just to unwind as we had several very early starts in a row while we were still feeling the effects of the flight and the accommodation and location was just wonderful.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?


Sinharaja Rest was family-owned and our guided walk was with a passionate advocate of the rainforest. Whilst tourism may have its downsides, it does support the work the National Parks do and guarantees their future. Employing a car and driver may not have been the most environmentally friendly option but allowed us to cover the distances comfortably and, as public transport is subsidised for the benefit of the locals, meant we were not benefiting from a subsidy we did not need.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?


We loved it all - the scenery, the people, the food and the wildlife. The coastal resorts were our least favourite and perhaps not our cup of tea - although it allowed us to see blue whales.

Reviewed on 24 Oct 2017 by

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?


The wildlife and the food

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?


Go to the Kandy House.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?


I believe the providers used supported conservation.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?


Very good

Reviewed on 20 May 2017 by

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?


We are used to spending time with elephants on the African savanna and were wonderfully surprised how great the elephant viewing was in UdaWalawe and Yala NPs. Seeing wild elephants against a background of lush forest and wild flowers was a photographic wonder.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?


Read up on what you want to see and then take advice from your tour operator. We went with TikaLanka who were honest and helpful which resulted in a great and memorable two week trip. We plan to go back soon with the same company.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?


Tourism is a double edged sword. We felt our tour operator advised us well on local accommodation and provided a great guide whose knowledge of wildlife was superb. There are some real conservation problems we observed with so many jeeps chasing leopards in Yala and too many boats chasing whales in Mirissa. This is where the tourism is out of control. These things are out of the control of a single tour operator, and generally we were impressed with a strong responsible ethic of our tour operator.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?


Fantastic

Reviewed on 14 Apr 2017 by

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?


Seeing so much great wildlife and landscapes. Spectacular.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?




3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?


Yes, locals benefitted, made sure to tip as per the guidance sent before out holiday, this made sure locals benefitted - guides, rangers etc.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?


Superb.

Reviewed on 12 Feb 2017 by

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?


Seeing Blue Whales

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?


Don't pack too much as there are many lovely things that you may wish to buy to bring home, plus laundry is swift and cheap. Take good binoculars for wildlife spotting.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?


It benefited local people because we purchased goods from them. We were aware of not using Air Con between 5 -8pm to conserve electricity in some places.
We supported conservation by visiting the Elephant orphanage and the Turtle Hatchery and leaving a donation.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?


Brilliantly organised with lots of variation in hotels and places to see. Safe and friendly driver/guide.

Reviewed on 07 Feb 2017 by

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?


Most exciting part is always arriving in a new country and taking in the different culture, weather, sounds etc. Other exciting moments were seeing whales in Mirissa, releasing turtles on a beach whilst the most memorable moments were the peace and tranquility staying at Sinharaja Rest and the sheer beauty of the Maldives.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?


Dont take too many clothes! When it says its hot, it means it!

In discussion with our driver we changed the turtle experience as it was going to mean a very long drive at night and because of the weather forecast it was likely we would not see turtles. Instead we went to a turtle clinic closer to Mirissa where we had close contact with the turtles. We found Yala a horrific experience in respect of how the drivers behaved. I would never recommend anyone to go there. In retrospect we would have liked to have done more cultural activities rather than concentrating on wildlife but we had limited time and chose to go the Maldives for our final days. While we dont regret that at all, we should have taken a longer holiday to try and fit a little more in eg tea plantation.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?


Its always hard to tell and I have very mixed feelings about this. Tourism is clearly a major industry for Sri Lanka and supports many people however I always feel guilty about the amount we spend in areas where people have very little.

To be honest I dont know enough about this to answer but would be very interested to hear more about it.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?


Fantastic!

Read the operator's response here:

We are disappointed that your jeep safari experience in Yala was unsatisfactory. We have a very good local jeep safari provider which only employs responsible drivers sensitive to the needs of the animals. Unfortunately, due to Yala’s increasing popularity, there are a number of other companies that behave inappropriately towards the wild animals in the park and we have made complaints to the local authorities through our jeep safari provider. Ultimately, it is the responsibility of the National Parks authority to police the behaviour of licensed jeep drivers and we have approached our colleagues in Sri Lanka to impress upon the National Parks authority of the urgent need of affirmative action in this regard.

As noted, tourism is a major industry in Sri Lanka and supports many people. According to the World Travel & Tourism Council, which is the leading authority on travel and tourism worldwide, tourism accounted for 11.1% of Sri Lanka’s total GDP in 2014 and it is forecast to increase by over 6% per annum by 2025. Our holidays directly contribute to Sri Lanka’s economy since we use locally managed and owned guesthouses and hotels, employ local Sri Lanka Tourist Board-licensed chauffeur guides, and run our operation from our own office in Kandy staffed by Sri Lankans. Also, we encourage our customers to visit conservation projects such at the Elephant Transit Home at Uda Walawe, a project supported by the Born Free Foundation, and the Turtle Conservation Project at Rekawa.

Reviewed on 19 Feb 2016 by

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?


Visiting the wildlife reserves, Udawalawe being the best of them all. Fantastic
photographic opportunities especially the birds.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?


Be prepared for some early morning starts, dawn is the best time for wildlife watching.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?


Supported conservation definitely and we believe it benefited local people to a degree.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?


Excellent

Reviewed on 19 Aug 2015 by

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?


Most memorable aspects of the holiday was enjoying the diferent culture/way of life in Sri Lanka. The people were lovely, very friendly and welcoming. The birdwatching and jeep safaris at Udawalawe were excellent and seeing the Leopard and Sloth Bear at Yala were very memorable. And who can forget our fantasic guide, Anura.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?


If a wildlife based trip, do your reseacrh and buy a book/guide or two. Also if poss book to go at the best time of year. We had to go in the school summer holidays which is not ideal but it was still very good. I recorded over 140 species of birds.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?


Yes, tourism provides jobs via local employment. Many of the hotels had policies re saving water etc.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?


I woudl rate it as very good/excellent.

Reviewed on 29 Mar 2015 by

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?


Being at Mihintale on a Poya day was a great experience, seeing a historic site still attended and used as part of Sri Lankan culture, vibrant and busy with people celebrating family and practicing their faith.
The walk at dawn over Horton Plains to the beautiful World's End.
And you can't beat the Elephants.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?


Do your research and discuss what you want out of your holiday with John. He is very knowledgeable and helpful.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?


I think pretty much everywhere we stayed, ate or shopped was locally owned/run so hopefully we benefited the locals.
We were less environmentally friendly as we had a car and driver to ourselves but it was really the only practical way to get around for us.
We visited the born-free supported Elephant Transit home rather than Pinnewala and hopefully, by spending a considerable time visiting several of the national parks showed support for the conservation of these areas for wildlife.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?


Amazing - exceeded our expectations.

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