People don’t really talk about going ‘on holiday’ in Africa. Where are you going ‘on yer ‘olidays?’ Botswana. It doesn’t often happen.
It’s ‘safari’ you go there for – in travel-terms much of the continent’s synonymous with it. So it isn’t easy for the likes of Sri Lanka to compete on the safari-front. We’re getting there, though, and will do so best by learning from Africa but doing our own thing.
With experience of both, safaris in Africa and in Sri Lanka, here’s a look at what sets them apart.
No lion, no rhino, no hippo but Sri Lanka does well for big game (though the etymology of that phrase is, thankfully, tenuous here).
Asian elephant are in good number. And leopards are an understandable draw. Yala remains the park of choice for ‘guaranteed’ sightings of the latter but Wilpattu is fast catching up. It’s often the preferred spot for many wildlife enthusiasts. It’s increasingly clear that leopard numbers there are good.
Udawalawe boasts a strong elephant population as does Minneriya during the Gathering. Gal Oya, and even, now, Wassgamuwa offer good elephant sightings. (Max recently spent an extraordinary half an hour there floating down river towards two elephants.)
Sri Lanka doesn’t have that breadth of indigenous culture that fascinates visitors to Africa – how could it? But there’s a growing focus on its indigenous people and an awareness of the need to recognise, and protect those ways of life.
For the Masai and Hadzabe of Tanzania, look to the Veddah in Sri Lanka. Relatively, there aren’t many, and on a small island of course modern life encroaches more quickly. The likes of Gal Oya Lodge, though, do a great job of sitting well alongside them to mutual benefit.
Lodges and camps
Africa has stolen a march on things super high-end. The likes of Duba Plains and Lamai Serengeti are quite incredible. The price of such luxury is hefty, of course.
In Sri Lanka, we are very fond of the aforementioned Gal Oya Lodge and the camps at Leopard Trails. Both offer something different in location and design but equally give a safari-in-style experience.
Again, doing it for much longer, Africa has a wealth of expert guides. Perhaps what Sri Lanka lacks in numbers, though, it more than makes up for in the passion of those involved.
Outside of the camps and lodges, this is a country much in love with its wildlife and natural landscape. Its wildlife guides, then, are wonderful enthusiasts.
And it’s on the guiding front, more than any other, that Sri Lanka’s doing well to learn from the African experience. Leopard Trails is leading the way in setting up partnerships with African camps – earlier this year it partnered with Londolozi on a mutual guiding exchange.
In and out
There’s a joy to the remoteness of African camps. Few spots in Sri Lanka can match that sense of total isolation.
The upside, though, is the relative ease with which visitors here can flip from tea estate to safari camp to beach villa. True, the roads are imperfect, but the distances manageable and that in itself encourages a group who might not otherwise have considered safari to enjoy it for the first time.
From the outset, comparing Africa and Sri Lanka is a rather flawed, potentially unfair idea. Africa won’t be knocked from its perch. Sri Lanka, though, offers a fantastic opportunity to experience great safari without spending five-figure sums. For families, it may even be preferable – safer in some respects and more easily combined with the variety that makes for a happy family trip.
In short, it has a great deal to offer and is doing well to forge its own safari image.