This island near Maldives boasts wild leopards, elephants, whales and bears!

Photo by Sadhina Abeysuriya

A safari in a lush tropical island is an absolute must if you’re heading to Asia, and just a short flight from the Maldives is Sri Lanka, where mile-long beaches meet tropical jungles.

Sri Lanka is arguably the world’s best destination to photograph leopards in the wild, with sightings of wild elephants, sloth bears, and huge crocodiles quite common during your safari.

Yala National Park is Sri Lanka’s most-popular destination for leopards, and in the park’s vicinity are beach-front luxury safari camps and lodges, as well as more budget-friendly accommodations.

More than 40 species of mammals can be found at Yala National Park alone—this island nation is teeming with wildlife and has more than 20 national parks and protected habitats.

Try a Sri Lanka safari if you visit Maldives
A leopard sleeps on a tree branch on a balmy day at Yala National Park. © Sadhina Abeysuriya

“There are wet forests, dry forests, thorn forests, marshes and empty stretches of golden shoreline,” writes Kendall Hill in The Australian of Yala’s many landscapes.

“The air echoes with the screams of peacocks and the weary sighs of water buffalo as we motor past Lake Vilapala and come to a screeching halt. Leopard! In the bush, just there, to my right, maybe 8m away.”

Leopard sightings at Yala are not uncommon and guides will often say one needs to be incredibly unlucky not to spot a leopard in their first visit to the national park.

Photograph the elusive sloth bear in its natural habitat

A sloth bear is spotted during a Sri Lankan safari.
A sloth bear walks along a trail at Yala National Park. © Sadhina Abeysuriya

When you’ve snapped up those amazing shots of leopards in the wild, as well as the array of bird species, crocodiles, deer, boar and sloth bears, head to the interior of the island to Wilpattu National Park for another phenomenal safari experience.

Where Yala is arid and the busiest, Wilpattu experiences more rain and is the least-visited of Sri Lanka’s national parks, and it’s widely-recommended for sightings of gathering elephant herds grazing around scenic plains surrounding lakes.

The waters surrounding this enchanting island too are alive with many species, making Sri Lanka a diver’s paradise and now a top destination for whale watching.

Many species of whales in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka is perhaps one of the only places in the world one can observe both the largest land-dwelling mammal (the elephant) and the largest marine mammal (the blue whale).

Whale watching tours are aplenty and expect to see many whale species and dolphins too during your excursions.

Your Asian adventure is incomplete without a visit to what many travellers consider the most compelling and alluring destination in the region – Sri Lanka.

© Island Life