Discover Sri Lanka’s largest national park, unspoilt beaches with dolphin and whale migrations, rural villages with ancient ‘tanks’ and coconut plantations.
Wilpattu, Sri Lanka’s largest national park, boasts one of the highest concentrations of leopards in the world, yet it's so much quieter than Yala that you'll likely go hours without seeing another safari vehicle. Instead, you can hope to see crocs, sambhur, water buffalo, elephants and the elusive sloth bear; plus there's spectacular birdlife (especially from Nov-April), including eagles, owls, kites, plus various waders which thrive around the willus (sand-rimmed basins that fill with rainwater).
Enjoy miles of unspoilt coastline on the Kalapitya Peninsula, just northwest of the Puttalam salt pans. Watch the dolphin and whale migrations (Nov-Feb), or experience fabulous kite-surfing during the windy months of May to July. Of course, it's also an excellent place to snooze in the shade of a beach hut and sun yourself on the sand.
The countryside is dotted with ancient ‘tanks’ or reservoirs, centres for both rural life and local wildlife. Stay at The Mudhouse where you can swim, kayak, wildlife-spot and picnic at the local tank, as well as cycle round exploring the local countryside and sites.
Anawilundawa Bird Sanctuary has the rare boast of having 3 distinct environments in one park - mangrove, coastal and freshwater - which attract an incredibly diverse range of migratory and native species; highlights include Painted Storks, Black-headed Ibis, Grey Herons and Spoonbills. Not to be missed if you are remotely interested in ornithology.
The region also boasts many cultural sites - highlights include the ancient capitals of Yapahuwa and Pandurasnuwara, rock temples and ancient rock inscriptions. It's less well-known though every bit as impressive as in the Cultural Triangle (which is a 2-3 hour drive from here, and easily combined).
A vast green coconut belt stretches from Negombo to Puttalam and inland up to Kurunegala, in the depths of which is Horathapola, a working coconut estate. Explore the grounds on a bullock cart to see how a coconut is picked and sample the water. You can also find out how pepper is grown, how cinnamon is peeled and how the paddy is harvested.