February 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 tours of Sri Lanka – here’s a little more about what you can expect to experience at Gal Oya Lodge and the national park. 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.
Why we love Gal Oya Lodge
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.)
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 well done. They feature polished concrete floors and wooden walls, with a thatch-covered 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!) 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 visit to their newly established research centre. They also can arrange a walk and short interaction with the local indigenous tribal leader, the Vedda people. 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 three course set 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 is your focus. You won’t see one here. You will see elephant herds, crocodiles, monkeys and bird life to name a few. The boat safari is 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. 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. 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