Gal Oya became a national park in 1954 and is found in the south-east of the island. One of the highlights of visiting this park is watching the resident elephant herd swimming between islands at sunset. Gal Oya is a utopia for nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts. It offers a raw, rugged experience that is spread out across 63,000 hectares of land which is home to an array of diverse wildlife. Here, you will come across three precious herbs that are integral to the age-old Ayurvedic treatments. You will also have the opportunity to meet the Vedda community which lives here, a small population of Sri Lanka’s indigenous people who live an entirely separate existence from the other people on the island. The area is soothing and invigorating for those seeking to escape the stresses of daily urban life.
Gal Oya National Park is in the south-east corner of Sri Lanka, created in 1954 around the Senanayake Samudraya, the largest reservoir in Sri Lanka. As well as its large elephant herd which can sometimes be seen swimming across the lake at dusk, Gal Oya is famed for its flora, which includes three of the most precious herbs used in Ayurveda in Sri Lanka. The park is also home to axis deer, muntjac, water buffalo, sambar, leopards, toque macaque, wild boar, mugger crocodiles and star tortoise, as well as over 150 species of birds.
The calm waters of the Senanyake Reservoir make for a very relaxing boat ride. You can expect to see plenty of birdlife, both migrant and endemic and for the most part you are unlikely to see any other tourists, giving you the ideal opportunity to be alone with nature. If you are really lucky you may even see elephants swimming from shore to shore (This magnificent spectacle is best observed between March and July each year.) or crocodiles bathing in the shallows. The boat ride will take approximately 3-4 hours and if you chose to visit in the afternoon, you’ll catch the sunset. Your naturalist will provide an in-depth and nuanced running commentary on the history of the area and the wildlife you’ll encounter. And to top it all off, you’ll stop half way through on a deserted island offering simply unbeatable surrounding views.
Another unique and transient experience is taking a walk with the Veddas, the indigenous people of Sri Lanka who live in small forest communities utterly separate to urbanised Sri Lanka and its people – discover their hunting methods, which have been passed down for centuries, and listen to them chanting in their mysterious mother-tongue. In order to conserve the secret and delicate nature of the Vedda’s culture, mostly the tribe leader and second-in command will meet outsiders.
They worship dead ancestors and sing songs to the spirits in the forests to ensure safe passage as they travel. If you visit during the honey season, you may even have the opportunity to watch the veddas harvesting honey from the giant combs that sit high in the trees.
You will walk for roughly 2 hours through the forest and there may be some climbing over boulders. It is not a particularly difficult walk but very young children or older travelers may find it a little tough.
Veddas are the last tribe on the island, but parts of their culture have been modernized due to development. These modern aspects may be disappointing to some who were expecting a truly ‘tribal’ experience. Try to go with the flow, learn all you can, and be tactful of their complex livelihood.
A well-kitted out jeep will pick you up from the Lodge and take you on a short drive towards the national park. Your naturalist will brief you on the wildlife commonly spotted in the area and keep you informed on what to look out for. Once in the park, you’ll drive through the forest towards the Makara River, where bubbling fresh water streams down over a boulder garden towards the Senanyake Reservoir. This is the ideal spot for a picnic. Take a dip in one of the rock pools, stretch out and sunbathe on a rock, sip on a cool beer or take a walk to explore your surroundings whilst your personal chef whips you up a feast. Expect a decadent picnic lunch with dips and nibbles to start and freshly barbequed chicken as a main course. Following lunch, ease your digestion by taking a twenty minute hike down to the river mouth for stunning views out onto the ethereal banks of the Senanyake Reservoir. You will then head back through the park by jeep, taking time to stop and view any wildlife that you may encounter along the way.
• Experience will take approx.. 6 hours
• Will take place early morning and afternoons