The sometimes forgotten Gal Oya National Park is located in between Kandy, Ella and the east coast with some of the most unique ecosystems surrounding Sri Lanka’s largest body of water, Lake ‘Sennanayaka Samudra.’ Most travellers don’t venture this way and instead pick one of the more well known tourist parks such as Yala or Udawalawe, but for us this is exactly why we encourage our guests to adventure to Gal Oya. For us its a far more special and intimate experience to see wildlife on your own without being surrounded by hoards of people and safari jeeps. Instead you can relax, take in the peace and quiet of the surrounding nature and know that what you’ve just witnessed was your own special safari moment.
We do try to manage expectations though because if you’ve come to tick off as many different animals as you can and won’t be happy until you’ve seen a leopard kissing an elephant on the trunk then its not necessarily for you. Its about enjoying a beautiful and rarely touched wilderness and feeling blessed for whatever nature throws at you.
Sangjay Choegyal, co-owner of Gal Oya Lodge, knows the park better than most, so we asked for a few tips and what we can expect…
‘The Park was established in the early 1950s to protect the catchment area of the lake and over the years has become a haven for thirsty animals. Elephants in particular are known to migrate here every year from surrounding national parks from the months of June to March to feed on the fresh grass that grow in the receding lake shore. September to December which is traditionally very quiet in terms of number of tourists is in actual fact some of the best times for elephant viewing. This is due to the lake being at its lowest and therefore lots of temporary open space, an abundant fresh sprouting grass, and a lack of permanent water holes deeper in the jungles.
The lake is stocked with fish by the fisheries department to keep it clean and help the local fishermen in their homemade sailing boats. This has allowed species like the marsh Mugger Crocodile to flourish and grow to incredible size as well as attracting a dizzying array of resident and migratory birds. Birders are in for a treat at the peak of the migratory season, which runs form January through to June each year.
The national park sets itself apart from others in the wildlife rich island of Sri Lanka by being the only national park where you can explore and view wildlife from the water while on a boat safari; if you’re lucky witnessing an astonishing phenomenon of wild elephants swimming up to a few kilometers between islands for the greenest patches of grass and to find mates. In the dryer months, you can walk within the park down the Gal Oya river, through the ‘Dragons Mouth’ where the river flows under a forest of large boulders and out into the flood planes where you can enjoy a picnic with no one but the elephants, birds and wild buffaloes for miles around.’
In terms of fitting Gal Oya National Park into a Sri Lanka itinerary it actually works very well. It’s only 3 hours east of Kandy and depending on the time of year you can then head to the east or south coast for some beach time following your safari experience.