Sri Lanka is an incredible country with beautiful scenery, amazing food, and some of the friendliest people on earth. It’s a brilliant place for families to travel in as it’s very safe. There is so much to see and do, and children are treated with kindness and affection.
A highlight of any trip to Sri Lanka has to be a safari in one of the country’s 22 national parks. There’s no better way to experience it than by staying in a beautiful luxury tent, enjoying first-class service complete with gourmet meals, and going on game drives where you can view the diverse and unique wildlife at close quarters.
We recently took a family vacation to Sri Lanka with our 4- and 5-year-old children. While there, we visited Yala National Park in southeast Sri Lanka to do a bespoke tented safari with Leopard Trails. Yala National Park is the second largest national park in Sri Lanka and is thought to contain the highest concentration of leopards in the world.
Along with the elusive leopard, which is notoriously difficult to spot, there are also opportunities to view Asian elephants, mugger crocodiles, sloth bears, jackal, wild boar, deer, monkeys, water buffalo, mongoose, and a variety of different bird species.
Our safari experience began in the early afternoon when we were transported to the Leopard Trails camp near Kataragama and close to Yala National Park. As soon as we arrived, we were greeted at the entrance of the camp by some staff who provided us with a lovely cool drink and cold towel. Ari, who was our camp manager, took us over to the beautifully furnished lounge tent to give us the run-down on the itinerary for the safari and what we could expect.
We were then escorted to our home for the night, a luxury safari tent. This was no ordinary tent and it epitomized the concept of “glamping”. The tent was complete with comfortable king-sized beds with beautiful cotton linens, artwork, bath robes and fluffy towels, a fully functioning toilet, an outside shower so you could shower under the stars, and a selection of lovely toiletries. We stayed in the “classic” tent, but you can also upgrade to an air-conditioned tent that has a larger floor space and bathroom – ideal for larger families or groups who are sharing.
We had a short time to freshen up, and then it was time to meet at the dining tent for lunch. A delicious curry and rice feast awaited us (a traditional Sri Lankan dish) complete with our choice of beverages. Leopard Trails was extremely accommodating with regards to dietary requirements, and happily provided our children with an alternative to some of the spicier Sri Lankan cuisine.
After lunch it was time to head out on a short drive to to Yala National Park to begin our late afternoon/evening game drive in a custom-made safari truck. We entered the park and spent the next 3 hours driving around spotting animals. It didn’t take us long before we came across some beautiful Asian elephants, a crocodile, lots of deer, giant water buffalo and some beautiful birds. Our guide Indika was very knowledgeable about the animals and gave excellent explanations.
As we were heading out of the park at dusk, we saw two other jeeps pulled over on the side of the road. There, way in the distance was a leopard, lying down in the field! Indika got out his binoculars and giant zoom lens on the camera and we all got to have a look. It was such a special moment to see one of these majestic animals in the wild, and our children were thrilled.
Dusk was rapidly approaching, so it was time to leave the park and head back to camp for a wonderful shower under the stars to wash away all the dust from the park roads.
At 6:30 pm it was time to head to the back of the camp where a blazing campfire had been lit, complete with comfortable chairs and a portable bar serving ice-cold beverages. We enjoyed chatting with our fellow campmates while our children delighted in roasting marshmallows over the campfire.
A beautiful table setting complete with glowing lanterns was the location for our dinner under the stars. It was a delicious 3-course meal with a lovely pumpkin soup for starter, a selection of barbecued meats and salads, followed by chocolate gateau for dessert. Wine and beer was freely available as were soft drinks and water. It had been a magical evening, but it was time to retire for the night as we were going to be up very early the next morning for another game drive.
At 4:30 am the next morning we got our wake-up call — one of the staff gently calling “good morning” outside our tent. Bleary-eyed, we left our comfortable camp beds and stumbled to the dining tent for a quick coffee and banana before climbing into the truck again and heading out in the pitch black.
This time we were headed to a different part of Yala National Park, about a 35-minute drive from our camp. It was worth the drive though, as we had this section of the park virtually all to ourselves and only saw one other jeep the whole time we were there.
It was absolutely stunning to watch the sun rise and see the animals coming to life. The scenery in this part of the park was wonderful as well, with amazing tree formations in the giant reservoir that is there.
Again we were lucky to see a plethora of animals, including plenty of deer, peacocks, jackals, water buffalo, serpent eagles, and giant monitor lizards.
Around 9:00 am it was time to leave the park and head back to camp. On the road back, we came across a wild elephant in the middle of the road. We stopped for a couple of minutes to observe the elephant, but Indika and our driver were keeping a very close eye on him and moving the truck as soon as he came too close. He seemed intent on coming over to get a look! It was quite a thrilling experience for us in the back of the truck.
When we made it back to camp, a huge, delicious cooked brunch was waiting for us. Then sadly, it was time to pack up our things and head out to the main road where our onward transport was waiting to pick us up.
We had such a fantastic family adventure on this safari and loved every minute of it. Our children are still talking about it and it’s been a very educational experience for them to see animals in the wild, not just in a zoo. These are certainly memories that will last a lifetime.
About Kylie Gibbon
Kylie Gibbon and her family from New Zealand love traveling the globe along with their 4- and 6-year-old children. So far they've visited 12 countries and taken 19 flights through Asia and Europe. You can follow their travels on their blog, Facebook, and Instagram.
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