Gal Oya National Park is something of a hidden gem, one of Sri Lanka’s least visited national parks due to its remoteness and dearth of accommodation (aside from the wonderful Gal Oya Lodge), yet it is a place of beautiful landscapes home to vibrant wildlife.
In the south east of Sri Lanka, centred around the vast Senanayake Samudra reservoir, the park is covered in evergreen forest and swathes of savannah, while the lake itself is peppered with islands which were once hilltops. It is one of best places in the country to see elephants, who can sometimes be spotted swimming between the islets on boat safaris, following the routes of their traditional migration 60 years after the waters rose.
Other animals in the park include Sri Lankan leopard, langur, toque macaque, sloth bear, wild boar, mugger crocodile, water buffalo and deer, as well as some 150 bird species which can be seen in flocks numbering in the thousands by the water.
There is also a rich cultural aspect to the region, with the ancient Brahmi inscriptions in Henebedde Cave and sacred shrine at Dighavapi, said to have been sanctified by the Buddha during his third visit to Sri Lanka, as well as being home to the indigenous Vedda people.
Gal Oya is very much below the radar for most visitors to Sri Lanka. It’s a long drive to get there and there’s no Wi-Fi or phone signal, but it’s an excellent place to avoid the crowds and enjoy some of the country’s best wildlife spotting – take a boat safari to view numerous elephant families which congregate around the country’s largest lake.
When to go
January to May is green season, with chance of afternoon and night time showers. The lake is at it's fullest and it is an amazing time for birding as all the migratory species are in residence. June to December is the dry season which sees the lake subside over the year, exposing some of the lake floor where fresh grass grows and attracts large herds of elephant. This is the best time of year to do boat safaris.