March 13, 2018
Gal Oya National Park in Sri Lanka topped our list of top 5 places to travel to in 2018. Part of the attraction lies in the park and part also lies with the fabulous eco lodge – Gal Oya Lodge – located close to the park. Having stayed there recently during one of our own family tours of Sri Lanka – here are a few of the reasons we love to visit Gal Oya Lodge and the national park in Sri Lanka. A two-night stay at this incredible lodge is part of our upcoming Insights of Sri Lanka small group tour, a fascinating journey to some of the lesser-visited parts of Sri Lanka in 2019, from our group touring brand Remarkable East.
Visiting Gal Oya National Park
Gal Oya National Park is the undoubtedly the least-visited of Sri Lanka’s national parks. Most of the crowds head to Yala or Wilpattu in search of leopards when travellers include a wildlife safari during a tour of Sri Lanka. What makes Gal Oya so unique is the large manmade tank, or reservoir, which is Sri Lanka’s largest water body – in the national park. It is here that you can take a boat safari, an experience not offered at other national parks. A visit to Gal Oya will also mean you will avoid the crowds that head to other parks. (Note – if you are really only interested in searching for leopards then Gal Oya is not for you. Leopards are on the whole, never seen here. If you are a wildlife enthusiast and have a keen interest in the environment and wanting to explore Sri Lankan wildlife on tour than Gal Oya is the place to visit.)
Currently there is only one place to stay near the park. Gal Oya Lodge offers about 10 private bungalows spaced out in the jungle. Most of the environment on the property is savannah grassland. The rooms are new, simple and rustic, but beautifully presented. They feature polished concrete floors and wooden walls, with a thatched roof. They have fans and mosquito nets and a semi-outdoor bathroom. There’s no air conditioning, and in fact, the property has no Wi-Fi or phone signal due to its position surrounded by hills. (An ideal place to really be on holidays!) The rooms are comfortable and spacious. Each room has an outdoor sitting area also. There is a lovely central pool with a spectacular mountain backdrop, and a main lobby/lounge and restaurant.
The lodge offers a number of wildlife-focused activities – including a jeep safari, a boat safari, bird walk and visits to their newly established research centre. There’s also more energetic walks/hikes to the nearby mountain. (As seen from the pool!) They also can arrange a walk and short interaction with the local indigenous people, the Vedda people. We were travelling as a family recently when we stayed at Gal Oya Lodge and found it an excellent place to travel with small children (under 10). ( For more tips about family travel in Sri Lanka and India read our recent travel blog on travelling with kids in India and Sri Lanka.) There were enough activities to engage little people and the safari and bird walk were gentle and manageable with little ones. Plus there’s the pool, and a range of games you can sit and play in the common foyer/sitting area.
A huge drawcard about this property is its excellent naturalists led by Damian – the onsite biologist/host. Gal Oya Lodge and its staff have a wonderful focus on conservation and the environment and their enthusiasm and knowledge is evident. Little is known about this park and its natural inhabitants, so the team is eagerly conducting research onsite and are happy to speak to you about their work at the research centre. If you are interested in conservation or the environment, you will enjoy chatting with the team about their work.
During your stay at the lodge, you will notice the days seem to settle quickly into a routine. The pattern each day goes like this – a wildlife activity in the morning, followed by breakfast, followed by relaxing at the pool. Lunch, again some time to relax, an afternoon wildlife experience and then dinner. It’s very pleasant indeed!
Meals at the lodge are very enjoyable. (and delicious!) They use fresh local ingredients to prepare a set, three-course lunch and dinner each day. The menu is limited to three choices at dinner and about 5 or six for lunch – but the meals are very well done and tasty. We really enjoyed the cold beetroot soup and gazpacho, the fish and chips from locally caught fish, and the quiche and salad at lunch time, as well as the Sri Lankan rice and curry. The chilli, cardamom and chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream for dessert one night was also a major hit!
A note about the park – as we mentioned earlier on – while there are leopards in the park, this isn’t the place to go if seeing a leopard during a wildlife safari in Sri Lanka in your main goal. You won’t see one here. You will see elephant herds, crocodiles, monkeys and bird life to name a few. (For the chance to see a leopard in Sri Lanka, visit Yala National Park. Yala is included in our Classic Sri Lanka 15-day suggested itinerary – a private tour of Sri Lanka.) The boat safari at Gal Oya pleasant, covering just a small portion of the tank over a couple of hours. The boat is a comfortable 8-seater speedboat. It’s open-aired with no roof so cover up for the sun. Enjoy chai and a homemade biscuit during the boat ride in the afternoon, or breakfast at one of the small islands in the park on a morning boat safari in Gal Oya. You’ll see the trees that have been covered for more than 50 years since the flooding of the tank.
Gal Oya is the type of place that just one visit won’t be enough. Experience it now before the crowds discover this incredible national park in Sri Lanka.
Insights of Sri Lanka is one of our small group tours for 2018/19 – it runs for 14 days from March 18-31, 2019. Limited to just 12 passengers, Insights of Sri Lanka is part of our Insights small group tours from our Remarkable East brand. The tour includes a stay at Gal Oya lodge, boat safari, a walk with the Veddas and a morning bird walk. For more details about this remarkable small group tour in Sri Lanka read the full itinerary here: Insights of Sri Lanka