Gal Oya National Park was established in 1954. And it has been established mainly around the Senanayake samudraya, which is a water reservoir that has been built by constructing a dam across the Gal Oya (a river in Sri Lanka). It can also be introduced as one of the dry zone forest reserves in Sri Lanka, which hugely contributes to the in-situ conservation of wildlife in Sri Lanka. This national park is a very famous national park in Sri Lanka, where you can find hundreds of elephants almost all year.
The Gal Oya national park is spread across a land area of 63,000 hectares. The central government authority that is in charge of the conservation of the Gal Oya national park is the Department of Wildlife Conservation of Sri Lanka. This is a place that never fails to grab the attention of both local and foreign visitors. If you are someone who is enthusiastic about spending some quality time observing nature and animals, you should not miss visiting this wildlife sanctuary in Sri Lanka.
Location of Gal Oya National Park
Gal Oya national park is located across two districts, Badulla and Ampara, which are located in the Uva and Eastern Provinces of Sri Lanka, respectively. When considering the location of this national park from Colombo city, it is located 376 km to the northeast. There are several routes by which you can access this national park.
You can reach the place from Colombo, coming through Kandy and then through Badulla. Coming to Kandy via train and taking a taxi to travel the rest would be the fastest way to reach the national park, as it would take not more than 6 hours to reach your destination.
If you are planning to come only by public bus from Colombo, you can reach there by passing Ratnapura, Palmadulla, Balangoda, Ella, Badulla, and Bibila towns.
Flora and Fauna
There are different grass species that can be seen abundantly in this grassland. A few of them are Imperata cylindrica (iluk), Cymbopogon nardus (mana), and Diospyros. This land also contains a variety of shrubs and plant species. The Gal Oya national park is rich in medicinal plants and shrubs, particularly Pterocarpus marsupium, Mimosa pudica (nidikumba in Sinhalese), and Cassia fistula, which are commonly used in Sri Lankan indigenous (Ayurvedic) medicine. Not just that, there are also fruit plants naturally grown on this land, such as mango (Mangifera zeylanica).
Gal Oya National Park is enriched with biodiversity. This land is a habitat for many mammalian species, reptile species, bird species, fish species, and insect species. This national park is very famous because we can see elephants in this area throughout the year. It is an awesome experience to see elephants and observe their behavior. Also, you can encounter loners and elephants of different ages here. Apart from elephants, there are other mammal species that have made their way here, such as wild boar, toque monkey, Sri Lankan leopard, Sri Lankan sambar deer, Sri Lankan axis deer, water buffalo, and porcupine.
Apart from them, there are insects like butterflies, dragonflies, and moths, and arthropods like different varieties of endemic and non-endemic frog and toad species. Also, if you are lucky enough, you can spot some giant crocodiles around the area of the reservoir. Moreover, there are some other reptiles like the monitor lizard (called thalagoya in Sinhalese), Asian water monitor, Varanus salvator, lizard species, flap shell turtles, and serpents that are living in this zone of Sri Lanka.
Also, it is a residence for both migratory and non-migratory bird species. A few examples of the bird species that can be spotted here are the grey heron, grey-headed fish eagle, white-bellied sea eagle, parrots, cranes, spot-billed pelicans, cormorants, aquatic birds, and oriental darter.
Landscape and other relevant details
As mentioned previously, there is the main water reservoir known as Senanayaka samudraya in the Gal Oya national park. The Gal Oya (river) is the main source that supplies water to the Senanayake Samudraya reservoir via a man-made tunnel, which is called “Makara kata” in Sinhalese. The Senanayake samudraya is the lifeblood of the national park because it is the water source for the wildlife in this land in both dry and rainy seasons, almost throughout the year.
There is a little island in the middle of the Senanayaka Samudraya. It is known as “Birds’ Island.” This island is very important for the survival and existence of the bird population of this national park, as the birds choose this area for nesting, and therefore this island is immensely important to the existence of birds living here.
This national park is not entirely a grassland, as some dense forest areas can also be encountered. But there are both savannahs as well as mountainous grassland areas that can be seen throughout the land area. However, savannah areas predominate over mountainous grassland areas.
Climate and the best season to visit
The area where the Gal Oya national park is located receives rain from the Northeast monsoon. The reported average annual rainfall in this area is about 1,700 mm. In the dry season, the water level in the reservoir can be considerably lower. Still, there is a lot of wildlife that can be seen around the reservoir in the dry season more than in the rainy season because a lot of animals come towards the reservoir and gather nearby during the dry season to fulfill their water requirement, which is essential for them to survive.
Travel and transport
You can choose a feasible and convenient route that you prefer to reach Gal Oya National Park. The cheapest way that one could suggest for transportation from Colombo city would be traveling to Badulla via train and taking buses or a taxi to reach the spot.
You can reach there via the normal bus route as well as a boat ride across the Senanayake Samudraya. A boat ride across the Senanayake samudraya to access the Gal Oya national park is possible from the side of Inginiyagala. This would also be a wonderful experience for you.
Fun activities and facilities
It will be an awesome experience to cross the Senanayake Samudraya by boat. That is a lifetime experience that one could get, as the scenery and the experience itself are amazing and priceless. There are boat and jeep safaris where you can enjoy the scenery for a reasonable price. You can go on a boat safari in the Senanayake samudraya in order to see the “Birds’ Island” there. During the boat safari, you would be able to spot the aquatic birds, freshwater fish, and other creatures that live in freshwater. During the times when the water in the reservoir is tranquil, you can spot a variety of freshwater fish there.
Early morning bird walks are also really funny as you get to see a lot of different birds teeming around the reservoir and the lake in the Gal Oya national park. Also, it is a fascinating view to see the elephants swimming in the reservoir.
There are some infrastructure facilities provided in various different spots around the national park. It is always better to take a cap or hat and a bottle of water if you are traveling during the day. Because it is a very sunny day and since the safaris are quiet for some time, like two or three hours, it would make you uneasy if you did not go prepared.
Places to stay
There are lodges closer to the location of the Gal Oya national park where you can get quality food and a nice stay for a reasonable price. It is always convenient if you can pre-book the lodges or villas prior to your visit.
Gal Oya National Park Safari
There are private safari jeeps available that you can hire in groups to travel across the national park, where you can safely watch elephants and other animals in close proximity. Not only the tourists, but the locals also love the safari ride across the Gal Oya national park, where they get the chance to spend some quality time with nature in safety rather than walking across the park.
Not just jeep safaris, but boat safaris are also available to tour across the reservoir. There are safari boats available near the dam of the reservoir. But it will be pretty exhausting to go on a boat ride in the mid-afternoon of a very sunny day. Therefore, evening time would be the perfect time for the boat safaris, where you can go on a jeep safari in the morning or at noon if it is a sunny day.
Other nearby places to visit in the Gal Oya National Park
The Digavapiya stupa, which is historically significant and very sacred to Buddhist pilgrims, is located closer to this place. If you are someone who likes to see ancient ruins and architecture, do not miss visiting Digavapiya during your visit to this national park.
Danigala is also closer to the area. It is a village where ancient Sri Lankan tribes still live. This Sri Lankan tribe of vaddas is called “Henebadde vaddas.” You can visit these places too if you are planning a tour of the truly stunning Gal Oya National Park to make it a wholesome experience.
(Cover Image Credit: Dinuka Dayananda from Facebook)