Kumana National Park forms part of Sri Lanka’s huge, southeastern nature preserve that encompasses a vast area of wilderness and several individual national parks that together form a region known as Yala.
Kumana is also known as Yala East, as this is the eastern portion of this contiguous protected area and it’s every bit as beautiful and diverse as the other surrounding parks too.
Kumana tends to be quieter than the major Yala National Park directly to its west, simply because it’s located further away along the coast from Colombo and if you are short on time and want to travel less, it makes sense not to carry on along to the far eastern portion.
That makes this is a wonderful place to visit if you are looking for somewhere a little less touristy but equally as spectacular.
During our visit, we saw a total of two other safari trucks, which is really something to take note of if you are looking for a quiet safari experience.
The most popular National Parks in Sri Lanka have a bit of a reputation for large quantities of safari trucks, making the experiences a little chaotic in my truthful opinion.
However, our visit to Kumana National Park totally changed our perspective and would highly recommend this park for photographers as the birding is great and there are almost no other visitors.
This national park is home to a huge variety of wildlife, and within the park’s boundaries, you can find everything from elephants to crocodiles, while certain times of the year see incredible bird migrations passing through the region.
To help you to plan your safari, here’s our guide to visiting Kumana National Park in Sri Lanka.
Don’t leave home without: Lonely Planet Sri Lanka (Travel Guide)
Best Time of Year to Visit Kumana National Park
Kumana National Park can realistically be visited any time of year, however, you must be aware of the monsoons during certain months, as heavy rains can affect your travel experience significantly.
The dry season usually runs between February and July, and this is the best time to visit Kumana as the animals are much easier to spot in the less dense vegetation.
The rest of the year, the park experiences rainfall and monsoons, and roads can become waterlogged in the already swampy environment, so travel can become more difficult although certainly far from impossible.
The dry season is generally peak season, however, in comparison to the park’s to the west, Kumana sees just a fraction of the number of visitors and you can really enjoy a peaceful trip even in the busiest of months.
For bird watchers, Kumana is one of the best parks in the country to visit and to experience the mass migrations you are the best traveling here between April and July.
Our visit to Kumana was at the end of October, just at the start of the monsoon season and the number of birds we saw on safari was pretty impressive.
How to Get There & Where to Stay
Kumana National Park forms the eastern side of the extensive Yala region, a vast area encompassing hundreds of square miles of beautiful wilderness.
While you can reach the park entrance from the western side, from towns such as Hambantota which also act as bases for the rest of Yala, it’s much easier to base yourself on the east coast of Sri Lanka for much easier access.
Kumana’s main entrance is found on this side of the island anyway and the closest settlement is Okanda, which is where the gate itself is located, but there are several options to the north that make for good transport hubs into the park.
From Colombo, you can take a bus to the town of Pottuvil, a journey of around 7 hours travel time, potentially more. From here, you can travel further south to Arugam Bay or to Panama, both of which act as gateways to Kumana.
You are best taking a tuk-tuk to the main entrance and visitors center, from where you can then join a tour.
Although you can base yourself in one of the nearby towns or villages to the north of Kumana National Park (we based ourselves in Arugam Bay at Arugambay Roccos, which is surprisingly close to the park).
There are also a few camping and glamping options available within the park. These are particularly popular with bird watchers and there are several sites set up close to the bird sanctuary that allow you to be immersed in nature and to spot the wildlife at leisure.
These are remote and isolated camps, but if glamping you will find that despite being in the wilderness you have all the amenities you could ever need.
Our top hotel pick: Arugambay Roccos – this property is right on the beach and is absolutely gorgeous. We spent 2 nights here on our most recent trip to Sri Lanka.
Other hotels to consider in the area:
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Wildlife of Kumana National Park
Kumana National Park is a sanctuary for many of Sri Lanka’s most diverse species of wildlife. The park is home to many different animals and hundreds of bird species.
The swampy landscape and the prolific number of water tanks and reservoirs make this is an area that is particularly well conditioned to be home for reptiles and water-based creatures.
In the waterlogged ecosystem, you can find many different animals including several different species of turtle, otters, and of course, crocodiles.
Yala National Park’s western portion tends to be home to more of the country’s larger animals, but in smaller numbers, you can still find endemic populations of elephant, wild boar and occasionally the rare Sri Lankan leopards and sloths.
While elephants are more common, with a resident herd of around 30, the other animals are extremely rare and very elusive, so don’t count on seeing them here.
For many travelers though, the primary reason to make the long journey to Kumana National Park is for a chance to enjoy the beautiful and varied species of birds that are found here.
During our safari in late October, we saw three elephants, a large herd of wild boars, three jackals (wild dogs), too many peacocks to count, alligators, three eagle species, large herds of buffalo and many different bird species such as the green imperial pigeon, Ceylon grey hornbill, Malabar pied hornbill, little green bee-eater, blue-tailed bee-eater, stork billed kingfisher, and common kingfisher, to name a few.
Kumana Bird Sanctuary
Within Kumana National Park’s boundaries can be found one of the most diverse bird sanctuaries in Sri Lanka. This is the best location in the country to visit if you are interested in spotting the rarest species of birds that are found across the nation.
As already noted, the best time to visit is between April and July as this is when the birds quite literally flock to Kumana National Park.
The sanctuary protects a nesting ground that is integral to the survival of many of these unique types of bird and it’s estimated that across the park you can find over 200 different species.
During the nesting season, you will find thousands upon thousands of birds migrating into Kumana in order to find a safe haven to breed.
The swamp and wetlands are an appropriate haven for many rare and endangered species and at the right time of year, you are likely to spot almost anything within the national park.
Some of the most famous species found here include waterfowl and wading birds, which enjoy the wet conditions, while birds as diverse as storks, moorhens, ducks, and ibis can be found here.
Some birds, such as the pintail snipes, even migrate over 5000 miles from Russia to the warmer climes of Sri Lanka to nest here, an amazing feat of endurance and navigation that is difficult to appreciate.
Book your Safari in advance or the best quality: Private Tour: Kumana National Park Safari
Going on Safari in Kumana National Park
It’s technically allowed to travel through Kumana National Park on safari without a guide, as in the rest of the wider Yala National Park, however, it’s not particularly advisable given the dense swampland and tricky roads.
Animals and birds are difficult to spot at the best of times, let alone when you have never visited the park before.
It’s much easier to join an organized safari with professional, local guides that know the national park inside out. They will not only be experienced off-roaders but will know exactly where to look to find, hopefully, even the most elusive of wildlife.
While you are likely to spot the larger animals with ease, particularly the elephants which are regularly found wandering down the main roads through Kumana, other, rarer creatures may take more patience to find.
Safaris generally run in the mornings and afternoons and you can see different species at different times of day, so you may want to return on a few occasions to the park, especially if there is a particular animal you wish to see in the wild.
Safaris can be booked in advance, there are many companies online these days, or you can easily arrange a tour in Arugam Bay, Panama, or Pottuvil.
You may need to make your own way to the park’s main entrance to join the safari, but this is easily done by tuk-tuk if you are staying in one of the nearby towns or villages.
You will need to pay for the safari costs and pay for entrance to the park itself, a charge which helps to contribute towards upkeep and conservation.
Kumana National Park is generally a very safe place to go on safari, as long as you follow the rules and guidelines laid out by the authorities. As already mentioned, it’s best to join an organized safari as this minimizes the risk to yourself when visiting as the local guides are knowledgeable and experienced.
The animals are of course wild, and that means they can be unpredictable. Don’t antagonize or scare the wildlife you see, particularly the larger animals such as the elephant, which can change without warning if spooked.
The waterways are home to a large population of crocodiles, so you are best staying away from the water’s edge when visiting the park. Don’t even think about taking a swim, as these deadly creatures are often hidden from view but can strike quickly and without warning.
Don’t dwell on the dangers for too long though, as Kumana is a beautiful and wild place that needs to be visited and attacks on humans are incredibly rare.
Book your Safari in advance for the best quality.
Tips for Capturing Great Photos on Safari
One of the questions that we get asked a lot is how to capture great wildlife photos on safari.
While my main response to this is to spend a lot of time learning your camera and practicing before you travel somewhere intent on good photos, there are a couple of things that you can do once you arrive that can assist you in capturing the best photos possible.
- Be quiet. This seems simple enough but I cannot begin to tell you the number of safaris I have been on around the world where people complain that they are not seeing animals. It later comes out that they were laughing, talking and even shouting at times during their safari. If you were an animal, would you hang around if a safari truck full of loud humans came close to you?
- Be patient. It seems easy enough but you really need to have the patience to be in the presence of wildlife and get good photos. If you don’t scare the animal off with loud noise, it is likely that they will hang around and eventually give you a great shot. If they don’t feel threatened, they won’t have any reason to leave. Keep an eye on them through your viewfinder and wait for a nice shot.
- Bring a monopod. Since you’ll be limited to shooting from within a safari vehicle, a tripod if not practical. I highly recommend that you purchase and bring a solid monopod though. This will allow you to stabilize your camera, especially when you are shooting with a big telephoto lens, so you can get sharp shots.
- Don’t zone out. Sounds simple enough but seriously, don’t do it. Always be alert, looking around at the surrounding areas while trying to spot new things to photograph. It’s amazing to me how many people sign up for safaris and then totally zone out until the guide sees something obvious and pulls over. Be part of your safari, the guide only has one set of eyes, and you’ll see so many more animals.
Our Safari Photography Gear List Recommendations
Getting good photos on safari in Kumana National Park can depend on the type of gear that you choose to bring with you. We are always asked about our gear, so wanted to offer up our recommendations and show you exactly what we bring on safari with us.
- Camera Body – I am currently shooting on a Canon 6D. This is a full-frame DSLR that allows you to shoot with complete manual control of each shot.
- Telephoto Lens – This is an essential piece of gear for getting good shots of wildlife. My go-to telephoto lens is the Canon L 100-400mm. It’s a workhorse and shoots tack sharp images.
- Lens Extender – Also known as a doubler, this little gadget allows you to extend the reach of your telephoto lens. This unit can increase my reach on the above lens to 800mm, which is very useful for shooting shyer animals. I have the Canon EF-2.0X III Telephoto Extender.
- Monopod – Unless you have a very steady hand, you’ll want some kind of stabilization for your camera and lens when shooting with a telephoto, especially if you are shooting at max length. We never go anywhere without a pair of Vanguard monopods. We are currently carrying the VEO2 AM-234 and the VEO CM-264 Carbon Fiber.
- Fast Memory – When you’re photographing wildlife you’ll find yourself shooting a lot in burst mode to capture interesting shots. To do this well, you need fast memory inside your camera for the best quality. We never travel without several San Disk Extreme Pro SD cards. Hot tip: Buy the big ones so you don’t run out of space.
- Camera Bag – one of the biggest things you can do is provide a safe and protected place for your gear when on safari. You need a good camera bag and it will end up being the best investment. Broken or dust sogged camera gear is no good, so don’t skimp on protecting it. David carries the Vanguard Alta Sky 51D and I carry the Vanguard Alta Sky 45D.
The Best Safari Park in Sri Lanka?
We’ve been to Sri Lanka twice now and have been on safari in Yala, Kaudulla, Minneriya, Udawalawe and find ourselves continuing to say that our experience in Kumana National Park was the best.
While we didn’t see a leopard, like we did in Yala National Park, and there wasn’t large herds of elephants like we saw in Kaudulla National Park, the overall experience in Kumana was what you look for in a safari experience.
It’s quiet, there are few jeeps and a good variety of animals to observe.
Other safaris in Sri Lanka we recommend:
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- Sri Lanka Express 8 days Negombo to Unawatuna – Explore Sri Lanka’s natural highlights and incredible culture on this eight-day tour. Take in a spice plantation, look for elephants on safari in Udawalawe National Park, and visit a stunning tea plantation. Wrapping up in Unawatuna, this tour is designed for add-on beach time to complete your vacation.
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Colombo to Mirissa
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Colombo to Negombo
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Our safari in Kumana National Park was in partnership with Cinnamon Hotels. All thoughts, opinions and photos are 100% our own, as always.
More on Sri Lanka:
- Places to Visit in Sri Lanka: Our Ultimate Guide
- 10 Sri Lanka Beaches You’d Be Foolish to Miss
- 9 Epic Reasons to Visit Mirissa, Sri Lanka
- 10 Epic Things to do in Ella, Sri Lanka
- Yala National Park Safari: Only Guide You Need
- Safari Guide to Kaudulla National Park
- Arugam Bay Guide to the Perfect Visit
- Boogie Boarding in Sri Lanka