Occupying a vast swathe of land stretching all the way up to the border of the Northern Province, Wilpattu National Park is the largest in Sri Lanka, and was formerly the most popular until the onset of the civil war, when its position straddling the frontline between Sinhalese and Tamil areas led to the widespread destruction of local infrastructure and killing of wildlife. The park finally reopened in 2009 and its wildlife is now gradually recovering, although the effects of long-term poaching mean that the overall density of wildlife remains significantly lower than in parks such as Yala, Uda Walawe and Minneriya, although there’s a small but significant chance of spotting the leopards and sloth bears for which the park was once famous, not to mention elephants, deer, and many types of bird. Equally, the lack of visitors and the size of the area open to visitors (around eight times larger than that at Yala, for instance) means that it’s also supremely peaceful compared to many other parks.
An unusual feature of Wilpattu’s topography are its numerous villus. These look like lakes (indeed the park’s name derives from villu-pattu, “Land of Lakes”), though they’re actually just depressions filled with rainwater which expand and contract with the seasons, attracting a range of water-birds and wildlife.