The biodiversity of the tropics and the cultural richness of Asia, Africa and South America are irresistible to the typical ecotourist. Other countries which are not usually associated with ecotourism are also jumping on the ecotourism bandwagon. Sri Lanka is closely following this trend. And why not? The country is an ideal destination for nature-based travel for the adventurous backpacker, for a group traveler, and for the whole family.
Sri Lanka’s wealth of natural resources includes tropical forests and beaches, waterfalls, unspoilt wildlife, and several natural forest reserves, National Parks and sanctuaries. The country’s biodiversity level is one of the highest in Asia. Two of the natural sites, Central Highlands of Sri Lanka (2010) and Sinharaja Forest Reserve (1988), have been designated by UNESCO as World Heritage Sites. Sinharaja Forest Reserve is known in Sri Lanka as a living heritage. The forest has very rich biodiversity with most vegetation endemic to the country. For travellers who are also interested in the country’s cultural background, Sri Lanka offers remnants of ancient civilisation in multiple cultural sites, six of which have been designated World Heritage Sites by UNESCO.
Due to the country’s geographical isolation, Sri Lanka hosts number of unique plant species. The country is most famous for its elephant herds, but you can also spot leopards, bears, birds, and turtles near the coastal areas. Among the 15 National Parks (NP) in Sri Lanka, Yala NP which was established in 1938 is the largest and best known for its elephant herds. Other big game mammals found within the park include: leopard, sloth bear, spotted dear, wild boar, and sambar (deer with three-pointed antlers). You can also find small mammals such as the black-nape hare, grey/ruddy/striped-necked mongoose, grey langur (long-tailed monkey), and porcupine.
This park is also famous for its abundant bird life, counting over140 recorded species to date. Among them: changeable hawk eagle, crested serpent eagle, Malabar pied hornbill, jungle fowl, painted stork, white ibis, and black nape stork.
For bird lovers, Sri Lanka offers several Bird Sanctuaries in addition to the National Parks where you can also do birdwatching. About 431 bird species nest in these sanctuaries, of which 251 are resident and 23 are migratory to the island. Some of the perfect locations for sighting the endemic birds are Horton Plains National Park, Sinharaja Natural World Heritage, and the Peak Wilderness Sanctuary. The wetlands of the coastal area of Bundala and Yala National Parks are great locations for migratory sea birds.
According to the authorities about 12% of the country has been designated for conservation of wildlife and habitat. However, if you are traveling between cities you can find a different kind of natural wonders. One example is a Pinnawela Elephant Orphanage created in 1975 and located 90km from Colombo. It has been developed as the world’s most successful elephant breeding centre and is a major attraction for travellers housing the largest captive herd in the world. Other similar attractions include Dehiwala National Zoological Gardens; Botanical Gardens in Peradeniya, Hakgala and Henarathgoda; and the Natural History Museum in Colombo.
The authorities are promoting Sri Lanka as an Ecotourism destination, with many travel companies now offering ecotourism activities for varying budgets. While the country has much to do in terms of following the International Ecotourism Guidelines (see Ranjith Bandara), these activities are definitely a positive sign towards this nature-based sector of tourism.
Photo by springm- flickr http://markus-spring.info