Accessed around 15km east of Hambantota (and a similar distance west of Tissa), Bundala National Park is one of Sri Lanka’s foremost destinations for birdwatchers, protecting an important area of coastal wetland famous for its abundant aquatic (and other) birdlife, as well as being home to significant populations of elephants, crocodiles, turtles and other fauna. Although it doesn’t have quite the range of wildlife or scenery of nearby Yala National Park, Bundala is much quieter and makes a good alternative if you want to avoid Yala’s crowds.
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What to Expect from Bundala National Park
The park stretches along the coast for around 20km, enclosing five shallow and brackish lagoons, or lewayas (they sometimes dry up completely during long periods of drought) separated by thick low scrubby forest running down to coastal dunes. Almost two hundred bird species have been recorded here, their numbers swelled by seasonal visitors, who arrive between September and March. The lagoons attract an amazing variety of aquatic birds, including ibis, pelicans, painted storks, egrets, and spoonbills, though the most famous visitors are the huge flocks of greater flamingoes. The Bundala area is the flamingoes’ last refuge in southern Sri Lanka, and you can see them here in variable numbers throughout the year; their exact breeding habits remain a mystery, though it’s thought they migrate from the Rann of Kutch in northern India. Flamingoes apart, the park’s most visible avian residents are its many peacocks (or Indian peafowl, as they’re correctly known): a memorable sight in the wild at any time, especially when seen perched sententiously among the upper branches of the park’s innumerable skeletal palu (rosewood) trees.
Peacock, Bundala National Park © Uptopia_88 / iStock
Bundala is also home to 32 species of mammals, including civets, mongooses, wild pigs, and giant Indian palm squirrels, as well as black-naped hares, though the most commonly seen mammals are the excitable toupes of grey langur monkeys. There are also a few elephants, including around ten permanent residents and some twenty semi-residents: larger seasonal migratory herds of up to sixty, compromising animals that roam the Yala, Uda Walawe and Bundala area, also visit the park. All five species of turtle lay their eggs on the park's beaches, although there are currently no turtle watches. You'll probably also come across large land monitors and lots of enormous crocodiles, which can be seen sunning themselves along the sides of the park's lagoons and watercourses.
Not only is Bundala a hotspot for birds, but it is also a treat for plant lovers. Made up of six different wetlands, 400 plant species including seven that are considered nationally threatened, Bundala is a haven for wildlife enthusiasts. Water lilies cover the marshes and streams, and the vegetation is made up of a variety of Acacia scrubs. Combine the biodiverse plant life with the fascinating species of birds and many mammals, you have a picturesque scene straight from a junglistic postcard. With significantly fewer tourists than more popular national parks in Sri Lanka, you can enjoy nature with a sense of peace and quiet to truly maximize your mindfulness with the wildlife.
How to Get the Best from Bundala National Park
The diversity in bird species and mammals in general at Bundala National Park makes it no surprise why visitors travel there in the first place. What once was a wildlife sanctuary in 1969 was upgraded to a national park in 1993 and ever since people have ventured into the park to enjoy all the wildlife it has to offer. To enter the park, an entrance fee is required however if you take part on one of the jeep safari tours this fee is usually included in the overall price, this is a fairly cheap way to see and learn about the wildlife, often from locals who know the park and species best. There are several options for tours, with some venturing further afield to the hidden temples or offering all-inclusive packages (hotel and tour combined).
Accommodation in Bundala National Park is often a unique experience in itself that has options to suit every budget. Choices range from camping style hotels where you spend the night in tents, although closer to 'glamping' with en-suite hot showers and mosquito nets, to more traditional hotels, may that be basic or luxury. Most accommodations require a thirty minute or so car ride to gain entrance to the park, solely due to its size and protected areas. The ride to the park is often a delight and a good opportunity to take in the beautiful scenery that basks the countryside and coasts. Most accommodations in the area provide information and give tours of the park, as this is their main niche in the area.
When to Visit Bundala National Park
The best time to visit Bundala National Park is between September and March when the migratory birds arrive; early morning is the best time of day, though the park is also rewarding in late afternoon. Although the bird migration begins in September, it is worth bearing in mind that the drier season is from December to March. Sri Lanka's climate is made quite complex due to it being affected by two separate monsoons, which is challenging for such a small island. While it might be the dry season on the West and South coasts, it is the wet season on the East coasts.
Featured Image, Bundala National Park © foryouinf / iStock