Sri Lanka Wildlife Spectacular

The fabulous Leopards of Yala National Park will be one of the main targets of this adventure (Gehan de Silva Wijeyeratne)

The fabulous Leopards of Yala National Park will be one of the main targets of this adventure (Gehan de Silva Wijeyeratne)

Friday 7th July - Monday 17th July 2017
(11 days)

Leader: Inger Vandyke
Group Size Limit: 8

Potential photographic highlights

  • Very good opportunities for photographing Leopards at what has to be one of the best sites in the world for seeing this generally elusive cat.
  • Brilliant gatherings of photogenic Asian Elephants at Minneriya.
  • Chances to photograph other rare species such as the imposing Sloth Bear.
  • An excellent variety of birds that can be photographed during our safari-style excursions around Yala National Park.
  • Cultural wonders such as the famous Sigiriya ‘Lion’ Rock and Polonnaruwa, the medieval capital of Sri Lanka and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, both with excellent primate photography opportunities, as well as the Dambullah Cave Temples.

This two-centred 11 day photographic safari focuses on two of Sri Lanka’s little-know treasures. The first is Minneriya National Park where spectacular gatherings of Asian Elephants have delighted the small number of photographers that have been privileged enough to find out about them. The second is the wonderful wilderness that is Yala National Park, one of the best places in the world to see and photograph wild Leopards and Sloth Bears. Plenty more magnificent wildlife will be encountered and we will also have several opportunities to visit some of Sri Lanka’s cultural wonders, making this a relatively easy and relaxing holiday for the wildlife photographer that wants something a little exotic!


Day 1  The tour will begin in the early afternoon at Colombo Airport. From here we will make the three and a half hour transfer to Habarana for a three nights stay. Our hotel is beautifully designed and located in close proximity to Minneriya National Park. The large and elegantly designed rooms spread across the attractive grounds. The hotel overlooks the Habarana lake, where one can walk around the nature trails to the edge of the lake and the tree houses, providing fantastic opportunities to photograph a wide range of bird species such as Purple Heron, Common and Pied Kingfishers, the impressive White-bellied Sea-Eagle, Brahminy Kite and, if we are lucky, the superb Brown Fish-Owl. Among the reptiles, water and land monitors (huge lizards) are plentiful. Large numbers of Toque Macaques and Tufted Grey Langurs are also seen around the property, allowing fantastic opportunities to photograph primate behaviour. Asian Palm Civet, Golden Palm Civet and Sri Lanka Giant Squirrel are some of the other mammals seen regularly around the hotel.

Day 2  This morning, we will climb the world famous Sigiriya ‘Lion’ Rock. The dramatic story of this iconic rock centres around Prince Kasyappa, the son of King Dhatusena (459 – 477 AD). Being the King’s son by a non-royal consort, Kasyappa executed his own father to gain the throne. The Crown Prince, Mogaliana, fled to India in fear of his life. In order to protect himself from future attacks from the rightful king, Kasyappa made Sigiriya his capital and built a palace on the summit of the rock, elevated at around 650 feet. He then proceeded to use his artistic genius to create a vision of heaven on earth, making landscaped gardens with water pools, fountains and terraces. The moat around the Sigiriya sanctuary is another excellent site for photographing the Tufted Grey Langur and Toque Macaques, which are plentiful in the area and are the most photogenic of subjects. Over 150 species of birds have also been recorded here, and there is sure to be something of interest to point the cameras at, such as a Crested Hawk Eagle or a Greater Racket Tailed Drongo.

After lunch, we will make an afternoon game drive in Minneriya National Park. From July to October, anywhere from 100 to 300 Asian Elephants gather on the receding tank (lake) beds here. The gathering of the Elephants at Minneriya is a little-known but nevertheless extremely impressive wildlife spectacle, which is still pretty much unknown in wildlife photographic circles. The gathering provides a fantastic opportunity to photograph elephants in many different situations, such as young elephants and calves at play, big males interacting with the herds in their search for potential mates whilst others are drinking, bathing and playing in the water.

The open areas around the lake are excellent for photographing raptors including Brahminy Kite, Grey-headed Fishing-Eagle and the majestic White-bellied Sea-Eagle. Toque Macaque, Tufted Grey Langur, Sri Lanka Giant Squirrel, Jackal and Chital (Spotted Deer) are some of the other mammals that we are likely to see and may be able to photograph.

Day 3  This morning we will visit Polonnaruwa, the medieval capital of Sri Lanka and a UNESCO World Heritage Site to boot. Here we will visit the world famous rock-cut Buddha statues of Gal Vihara as well as the Parakrama Samudra (‘Sea of Parakrama’) a 2500-hectare man made reservoir (with a capacity of 134 million cubic metres) built by King Parakramabahu I (1153 –1186 AD). Here, we will encounter troops of Toque Macaques, that were famously featured in both the BBC’s Temple Troop and David Attenborough’s Life of Mammals. Here, we will be intrigued  by the power play between the Toque Macaques and Tufted Grey Langurs. Troops of the attractive northern race of the endemic Purple-faced Leaf Monkeys can also be found in this area. In the afternoon, we will make another safari to Minneriya National Park to once again enjoy photographing the ‘gathering of elephants’ and its other wildlife.

Day 4  Today will essentially be a travel day, and after breakfast we will leave for Yala which will be our base for the next six nights. Despite the long drive, we will have a chance to enjoy and photograph some wonderful and varied landscapes in the Sri Lankan countryside. We will travel from the dry zone paddyfields and lakes around Dambulla, to the mountains, waterfalls and tea plantations as we cross the hill country, before arriving at the arid dry zone comprising of shrub vegetation and salt pans as we approach Yala. En-route, we will visit the Dambulla Cave Temples, where we will be able to see the famous rock paintings and rock temples. The temples are comprised of five caves, which have been converted into shrine rooms. Within these rooms a collection of over 100 statues of Buddha is housed , surrounded by the ornately decorated walls. This spectacular site is worth visiting not just for its historical significance, but also for the beautiful views of the surrounding countryside as one climbs up the rock. Later in the day we will arrive at our very comfortable hotel which is situated just a short distance from Yala National Park. The hotel’s observation deck provides a 360 degree view of the park and its surroundings. As a consequence, the wildlife that has been observed from the hotel premises is impressive and can include Wild Boar, Asian Elephant and Sri Lanka Giant Squirrels as well as buffalos and crocodiles that wallow in the nearby tank. Even Leopards and Sloth Bears have been seen infrequently on the approach road to the hotel!

Days 5-9  During our five full days at Yala, our primary focus will be morning and afternoon safaris into Yala National Park. Yala is undoubtedly Sri Lanka's most visited national park and the best in Sri Lanka for viewing a wide variety of animals. It is a wonderful place with a real diversity of habitats from scrub jungle and rocky outcrops, to lakes, brackish lagoons and riverine habitat. Yala National Park (or Ruhuna National Park as it is sometimes known) is divided into five blocks of which only one, Yala West, is open to the public.

Yala’s star attraction, and one of the main reasons for our visit, is undoubtedly the Leopard. Yala West has one of the highest densities of Leopards in the world and is possibly the best place on earth to see and photograph this usually elusive species in the wild. Early mornings and late afternoons are usually the best times to find these spectacular cats: walking along the roads; lying on a rocky outcrop; having a drink in one of the many waterholes; resting with limbs dangling from a tree or simply just strolling through the jungle. Each encounter is different but every one a memorable event! Most years there are also one or two sets of cubs that at times perform for the cameras, providing photographers a great opportunity for photographing social and interactive behaviour of an animal which usually leads a solitary existence.

Asian Elephant can also be seen here, though in smaller numbers and smaller groups than at Minneriya. A highlight though is to photograph the large tuskers, of which there are around ten in the park. Unlike in Africa and in most parts of Asia only 7% of male elephants in Sri Lanka bear tusks!

Yala’s third star attraction is the magnificent Sloth Bear, and there is usually an individual, or mother Sloth Bear with cubs, which is tolerant of vehicles. During our series of game drives we will have an excellent chance of connecting with this seldom seen creature. Indeed, in June and July, when the Palu Trees begin to bear ripe fruit, Sloth Bears can be seen on most game drives!

Other conspicuous wildlife regularly seen at Yala which we may be able to point the lenses at includes the attractive Chital (or Spotted Deer), the large Sambar, Golden Jackal, Wild Boar, Tufted Grey Langur, Toque Macaque, Stripe-necked and Ruddy Mongooses and Black-naped Hare. Some pretty impressive reptiles are likely to crop up too, namely Marsh Crocodile and some rather large monitor lizards which look almost as dangerous as they scamper away noisily at high speed!

And then of course there are the birds. Yala has a very rich and varied avifauna, and over 300 species are known from the park. As we travel around on our morning and afternoon safaris we will no doubt have opportunities to photograph a good number of these, with possibilities including such charismatic species as  Ceylon Junglefowl and Great Thick-knee, and we may get to see some of the dry zone specialities such as Sirkeer and Blue-faced Malkohas and Malabar Pied Hornbill at close quarters. In addition, during the ‘down’ time between our safari drives, for those not intent on resting, relaxing or working on their photos, there will be time to explore the environment around the hotel, where many avian surprises may lurk.

Day 10  After a final morning game drive at Yala National Park, for one last chance to photograph Yala’s big three – Leopard, Asian Elephant and Sloth Bear, we will transfer to Negombo, situated on the west coast of the island, north of the capital Colombo, for an overnight stay. After the long journey back, we will be able to relax and reflect back upon what should have been a marvellous adventure.

Day 11  After breakfast we will make the short transfer to Colombo International Airport where the tour will come to an end.

Accommodation & Road Transport: All the accommodation is of a good standard. Road transport is by air-conditioned minibus and roads are of a variable quality though average mediocre. During our safaris around the parks we will switch to jeeps with plenty of space for photography.

Walking: The walking effort is easy throughout.

Climate: Generally warm or hot, dry and sunny. Overcast weather or early morning mist is not uncommon and some rain is possible at this season and it is likely to be rather humid.


These are confirmed prices

Important Information for Pound Payers: Kindly note that the prices shown here are based on post-EU-referendum exchange rate reality, unlike many tour operators who are still showing prices based on hugely higher and very outdated pre-referendum exchange rates. Consequently you can rest assurred that we will not have to adjust these prices upwards at invoicing, unless the Pound falls significantly further, and if there is a significant recovery by the Pound you will receive the benefit by way of a price reduction.

Tour Price: £2950, €3480, $3860 Colombo/Colombo.

Price includes all transportation, all accommodations, all meals, some drinks, all excursions, all entrance fees, gratuities for local drives/guides, restaurant staff and porters, leader services.

Base prices for this tour are determined in US Dollars, the currency in which we pay for most tour services. The exchange rates applied at the time of costing were: £1 = $1.310 and €1 = $1.110. For those not paying us in US Dollars, prices will be adjusted (either downwards or upwards) at the time of invoicing should there be a significant change in the exchange rate. See booking information.

Single Room Supplement: £530, €625, $694.

Deposit: £350, €400, $450.

Air Travel To & From The Tour: Our in-house IATA ticket agency can arrange your air travel in connection with the tour from a departure point anywhere in the world, or you may arrange your own air travel if you prefer. We can tailor-make your itinerary to your personal requirements, so if you would like to travel in advance of the tour (and spend a night in an hotel so you will feel fresh when the tour starts), or return later than the end of the tour, or make a side trip to some other destination, or travel business class rather than economy, we will be happy to assist. Please contact us about your air travel requirements.

Two young Asian Elephants run through the tank at Minneriya National Park (Gehan de Silva Wijeyeratne)

Two young Asian Elephants run through the tank at Minneriya National Park (Gehan de Silva Wijeyeratne)

A bathing group of Asian Elephants retreat in the late afternoon sun (Gehan de Silva Wijeyeratne)

A bathing group of Asian Elephants retreat in the late afternoon sun (Gehan de Silva Wijeyeratne)

The fabulous Sloth Bear is likely to be seen in Yala National Park (Gehan de Silva Wijeyeratne)

The fabulous Sloth Bear is likely to be seen in Yala National Park (Gehan de Silva Wijeyeratne)

A group of Tufted Grey Langurs sit round as if they're at a coffee meeting! (Gehan de Silva Wijeyeratne)

A group of Tufted Grey Langurs sit round as if they're at a coffee meeting! (Gehan de Silva Wijeyeratne)

Dambulla is just one of the cultural delights we will visit (Gehan de Silva Wijeyeratne)

Dambulla is just one of the cultural delights we will visit (Gehan de Silva Wijeyeratne)


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