Sri Lanka is one of the most species-rich countries on the planet. Conservation International even named it one of the world's biodiversity hotspots. That being said, it's not surprising that Sri Lanka is famous for wildlife tourism. People from around the world flock to the island to search for the elusive and magical creatures lurking in the wild. If you're active on Instagram, you've likely seen more than one photo of the famous safaris in Sri Lanka. You know the picture of hundreds of elephants bathing in the river at Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage? Just like a lot of Southeast Asia destinations, there are ethical aspects to consider before choosing where to put our dollars. What the photos don't show is the chains on the elephants legs when they're forced down to the river to satisfy tourism demand. What the photos don't show are forty jeeps with their idling engines surrounding an elephant herd. Some of the mainstream safaris have more jeeps than animals, mistreat the animals, and, unfortunately, cross many boundaries with the animals. Luckily, after many discussions with locals, we were guided to an ethical somewhat undiscovered national park in central Sri Lanka. Without further ado we present to you: Wasgamuwa National Park.
how to get there
Being that Wasgamuwa is a little off the beaten path, we knew we needed to find good transportation to the park. This is yet another reason why we chose to rent our own tuk tuk through Tuk Tuk Rental. The drive to Wasgamuwa is stunning and the tuk tuk gave us the option to stop whenever we wanted along the way to snap photos or mingle with the locals. We came from the beach town of Trincomalee, but there are many different routes to take. Wasgamuwa is pretty underdeveloped with little wifi or cell connection (this is good, we promise). We downloaded offline maps and had Google navigate us to the park. That was...until we were led down a very bumpy, pot-holey road. A local flagged us down and told us there was a dam ahead and we had to turn around. Since we were making our own way, we pulled over occasionally and locals were more than happy to guide us in the right direction. They also loved to ask us a million questions about where we were from and why the heck we were driving our own tuk off the tourist path.
where to stay
Kasun Safari Village - This accommodation is seemingly in the middle of nowhere, but located minutes away from the entrance of the park. Ananda, the host, was instantly our friend and also an amazing chef. We arrived hours later than we anticipated due to some unforeseen hiccups, but he graciously welcomed us with drinks and started to prepare our dinner for the evening. Everything he cooks is homemade and grown fresh right there on the property. The room itself was very basic and a few steps away from camping. The structure is pretty open to nature but a bug net is provided to keep all of the critters away. The beautiful jungle soundtrack will put you right to sleep...and wake you right up (mostly peacocks). That evening, we enjoyed reading a book, watching the sunset on the deck, and chatting about our travels with a South African couple.
Ananda arranged our safari jeep to come pick us up at the crack of dawn. He warned us that the evening safari is more active for wildlife, but due to time constraints, we had to set out on the sunrise safari. The massive jeep that showed up in the morning was a perfect vehicle -- comfortable and raised high above the ground for good views. Entering the park felt like the beginning of a Jurassic Park movie. The sun was just beginning to rise and we were headed towards a lake with eerie sticks sticking out. That thought quickly faded when the second we turned into the gate, there was a large male elephant finding his way into the tops of a tree for some breakfast. We sat and marveled at the large creature in his wild environment. Our safari driver was cautious and respectful - keeping our distance and turning the engine off. After a couple of times inching forward toward the elephant, it was clear that he wasn't going to be finishing his breakfast anytime soon. Instead of pushing forward (like many other safaris may do), we quietly turned around and entered the park through a different entrance. During our two hours in the park, we saw many animals such as: mongoose, spotted dear, water buffalo, an owl, various types of birds, and more elephants. Even if we hadn't seen many animals, the beauty of the park itself would have been enough to leave us in awe. As two people who grew up in nature, there is something special about a place so untouched. Lastly, it's important to mention that we were the only jeep in the entire park! We couldn't believe that we were the only ones out there admiring the beauty. The ethical ways which we saw the locals interacting with the park/animals left us with hope. We pray that this park will continue to be preserved and not overrun by unethical tourism companies trying to make a buck.
Stay tuned for Part 02 of our Sri Lankan road trip. Coming soon!