Painted Storks resting in a lake at Kumana National Park, the Fascinating Birdwatching Hotspot in Sri Lanka
Painted Storks at Kumana National Park, the Fascinating Birdwatching Hotspot in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka, the pearl of the Indian Ocean is simply a marvel of natural wonders. From its alluring golden shores, amazing cascades, huge rocks that stand amidst the lush greenery, to the beautiful florals that shade the surroundings, of course, it has plenty to offer to a nature lover. Besides, the extensive range of wildlife, and the endemic and migratory birds Sri Lanka houses, create perfect opportunities for wildlife lovers to observe them up close and personal. However, among them, the places that offer bird watching opportunities in Sri Lanka are indeed special, and alluring. And yes, the Kumana National Park, about which this read brings information is one interesting place as such.

Maybe or maybe not, you have heard about it before. Still, nothing to worry about! This read will simply make you know everything about it, and even make you visit this wonderful attraction. So, why not? Let us begin our exploration of this beautiful park in Sri Lanka. Here we go!

Significance of Kumana National Park

Simply, Kumana National Park is a bird lover’s dream and one of Sri Lanka’s best bird nature reserves. The park’s birdlife is mostly dependent on the vast mangrove swamps. Besides, the “Kumana Villu” is well-known for the thousands of birds that nest and breed in the park. Moreover, it is just as gorgeous and diversified as the other nature parks in Sri Lanka. However, the most observant birders can see 100 different species in this park in a single day. Further, apart from the rich birdlife it houses, Kumana is home to a wide variety of mammals, including elephants and leopards.

Indeed, Kumana National Park is a swampy grassland merged with a big, saline villus where elephants wade and storks and ibis congregate. The forest on the outskirts of the watery landscape is home to magnificent hornbills, vivid minivets, and charismatic langurs and macaques. With an estimated 40 leopards wandering the park, visitors have a good chance of seeing Sri Lanka’s most iconic mammal without being crowded by other jeeps.

Further, the park’s flora mostly show features of tropical dry zone forests, and this premise occupies an area of 35,665 hectares. When considering its boundaries, its western frontier extends up to the Kumbukkan Oya. Meanwhile, the southern boundary is a coastal strip that extends all the way to Panama. However, all these features together make Kumana National Park significant out of the rest and alluring beyond words.

Where is Kumana National Park?

Kumana National Park is situated in the southeastern area of Sri Lanka. This area is also called Yala East since it is located in the eastern part of this navigably protected region. The western frontier is surrounded by the Kumbukkan Oya and the coastal strip that stretches to Panama to the south, as mentioned earlier.

How to Reach Kumana National Park?

Kumana National Park is reachable from Panama via Kudumbigala. Moreover, Panama stands as the entrance point to this park. In fact, the gateway to Kumana National Park, which covers 356 square kilometres, is at the last coastal town on Panama’s East Coast, through the Kudumbigala sanctuary. Further, one can reach Kumana, from the east coast which is the perfect alternative to the top parks of Yala, Udawalawe, Minneriya, and Kaudulla, with so much nature and breathtaking scenery. However, the park office rests at Okanda, 22 kilometres south of Panama City.

The Landscape of the Park

Kumana National Park covers 35,664 hectares. The park bounds on the west by the Kumbukkan Oya, and on the south by the south-eastern coast, which stretches all the way to Panama. Inside the park, a 200-hectare mangrove marsh known as “Kumana Villu” is sometimes inundated with seawater. During the months of May and June, several water birds breed in this marsh. One can find a few other water springs that are popular with wildlife like Kudawila Wewa, Thummulla Wewa, and Kotalinda well in the Kumana National Park.

In addition, caves are visible at the base of most rock outcrops. Some of them include rock inscriptions that belong to the 1st and 2nd century BC. Giant rocks hide meditation chambers and decaying stupas, some with ancient inscriptions. Bambaragasthalawa, one of these massive rocks, is home to a 9th-century statue of a sleeping Buddha. A nine-meter-tall reclining Buddha statue, now in ruins, is in a large cave near Bambaragastalawa. Besides, Bowattagala is a historic monastic site related to Kumana National Park. The park’s outskirts, Kudumbigala and Lenama, were once the hunting grounds of Nittaewo, mythical pygmies (or dwarf ape-men) who were the terrorists of the Veddhas. Previously, Kumana National Park had a village in it. Later, the inhabitants were relocated to the Mahaweli project district. 

The Climate of the Kumana National Park

The average yearly temperature of the national park is 27 degrees Celsius, with an annual rainfall of roughly 1,300 millimetres. Between the two monsoon seasons, the wind speed at Kumana National Park can range from 15 to 23 kilometres per hour. The hottest weather in Kumana usually comes in July, while the coldest weather is in January.

Birdlife at Kumana National Park

By now, you clearly know that Kumana National Park is a birder’s paradise. Thus, the birdlife out there can never be ignored.

Sri Lanka has over 430 bird species, including endemic, resident, and migrant birds. And the speciality is that the bird observers can easily observe over 200 species of them, within Kumana National Park. However, the large range of birds present in Sri Lanka’s various wildlife parks allows the tropical island to be a world-class bird-watching haven. However, gaming them, the Kumana National Park is undoubtedly Sri Lanka’s most significant and famous bird sanctuary.

Kumana’s birdlife, which is funded by 20 lagoons and a tank, is an ornithologist’s fantasy. Tens of thousands of birds fly to the Kumana swamp areas each year from April to July, and nearly 255 bird species have been reported in the National Park.

Among all kinds of bird species in Kumana, the following list contains the rare species of birds who are the breeding inhabitants of the Kumana villu.

  1. Great Thick-knee
  2. Black-necked Stork
  3. Lesser Adjutant
  4. Eurasian Spoonbill

Moreover, one can find the following set of migrant bird species in this premise.

  1. White-breasted Water Hen
  2. Asian Openbill
  3. Lesser Whistling Glossy Ibis
  4. Great Egret
  5. Purple Heron
  6. Weathercock
  7. Black-crowned Night Heron
  8. Indian Pond Heron
  9. Purple Swamp Hen
  10. Spot-billed Pelican
  11. Intermediate Egret
  12. Indian Cormorant
  13. Little Cormorant
  14. Little Egret
  15. Common Moorhen
  16. Little Grebe
  17. Glossy Ibis
  18. Watercock
  19. Pheasant-tailed Jacana
  20. Black-winged Stilt
  21. Lesser Whistling Duck
  22. Yellow-footed Green Pigeon
  23. Greater Racket-tailed Drongo
  24. Malabar trogon
  25. Red-faced Malkoha
  26. Sirkeer Malkoha

In addition to all the above bird species, the following bird species make this park a paradise for birdwatchers.

  1. Pacific Golden Plover
  2. Greater Sand Plover
  3. Lesser Sand Plover
  4. Grey Plover
  5. Ruddy Turnstone
  6. Little Ringed Plover
  7. Wood Sandpiper
  8. Marsh Sandpiper
  9. Common Redshank
  10. Common Sandpiper
  11. Curlew Sandpiper
  12. Little Stint
  13. Common Snipe
  14. Pintail Snipe

Other Animal Species in Kumana

Aside from a variety of birdlife, Kumana is also home to many of the mammals living in the neighbouring Yala National Park. The animal population is smaller, but it is not unusual to see the following set of animals in Kumana, in addition to the bird species.

  1. Leopards
  2. Tigers
  3. Crocodiles
  4. Snakes
  5. White cobras
  6. Wild buffaloes

There are about a dozen bears in the forest, but they are not commonly observable. A dry zone tropical thorn forest surrounds the park’s wetland areas. The Palu trees (Manilkara hexandra) dominate inland forest’s flora. Moreover, a variety of aquatic plants, leaves, and reeds are observable. 

In addition, the following two fish species are most commonly available in the lakes and tanks of Kumana.

  1. Tilapia
  2. Common Mullet

However, Kumana National Park is home to a high variety of vulnerable wetland species, especially the following three turtle species. 

  1. The Green Turtle (Chelonia mydas)
  2. The Loggerhead Turtle (Caretta caretta)
  3. The Olive Ridley Turtle (Lepidochelys olivacea)

Moreover, the following turtles are coming ashore to lay eggs in Kumana due to their coastal position.

  1. The Indian Black Turtle
  2. The Indian Flap-shelled Turtle

In addition, visitors can observe a number of mugger crocodiles at Kumana. If you are eager to watch elephants in Kumana, you have the ability to spot them along the main roads of Kumana. However, other rarer species may require more patience to observe.

Tours at Kumana

Kumana National Park offers visitors a bundle of tour packages based on luxury hotels and homestays. While the facilities offered might vary from service provider to service provider, we can highlight that most of these packages offer free pick up, meals, safaris and accommodation too. Further, in most tour packages, an experienced tour guide will guide the safari. Besides, they would offer specially adapted spacious jeeps for a one-of-a-kind safari experience.

The tour may be more tailored to the visitors’ tastes (family safari, honeymoon safari, photography safari, etc). However, the team approach with the eco team staff and the safari guide, as well as a tour briefing, will take place at the Kumana Safari’s entrance. Normally, the morning half-day tours will start at 6 AM, while the afternoon journeys will start at 2.30 PM.

Upon entering the national park in a jeep with a driver, you will also be able to see many varieties of birds and other animals that have rendered this sanctuary their residence. The guide will illustrate the different fascinating characteristics as you study and appreciate the flora and fauna of Kumana. Further, you will have the chance to travel across the bulk of Kumana National Park, including wetlands, grasslands, and woodland patches.

The Park is open from 6 AM to 6 PM daily. Moreover, the visitors should purchase an entrance ticket to enter the park, and it might cost around $15 per adult.

Most Popular Tour Packages at Kumana

For a better overview, we have mentioned below some of the best tour packages in Kumana. However, please note that these prices may vary depending on various factors. Also, these wildlife safari tours will not be accessible for wheelchairs. Further, people having back problems, heart problems or any other serious health conditions are advised not to take part in these tours. Besides, pregnant mothers are not encouraged to participate in this safari. However, as these safari tours need good weather, they would be cancelled if bad weather conditions arise. At times as such, the travellers will be refunded the full amount they have paid. Else, they will be offered a different date.

So, knowing these common facts about tour packages, let us now get to know about general highlights of the most popular tour packages at Kumana.

1. Kumana National Park Full-Day Safari

This safari package will offer you a full-day jeep safari at Kumana with fascinating scenery of hidden wildlife treasures of the national park. Most probably, the service providers will come to your hotel to pick you up at around 5 AM and enter the park at 6 AM. Actually, it is one of the best times of the day to observe different rare animals. So, after exploring the thick wilderness of the park for several hours, most of the service providers will offer you lunch with the flavours of Sri Lanka’s cultural meals. However, a full-day safari at Kumana will go till around 6 PM in the evening. A package as such will generally cost between $120 – $130 per person, and this cost will change according to the size of the group.

2. Kumana National Park Shared Safari

Visitors can enjoy a shared safari at Kumana National Park, and a package as such will generally cost between $25 – $30 per person. However, this cost will change according to the size of the group. The travellers have the ability to engage in bird watching and other activities while travelling in rough terrain (4WD) game vehicles. At the time of booking, one can receive the confirmation of the offered facilities.

3. Kumana National Park Wildlife Safari

This tour starts from Panama Village and costs between $20 – $30 per person. However, the significant fact is that the travellers have the chance to contribute to the development of the community and environment conservation while taking part in this tour. As this tour is a private one, only your group will have the ability to participate in this.

4. Morning Safari in Kumana National Park

Morning safari tours in Kumana usually start in the early morning. Travellers can arrive at the ticket issuing centre at 5.55 AM and start the safari at 6 AM. A morning safari will cost between $95 – $105 per person. But, this amount varies according to the size of the visitors’ group.

A morning safari will allow the visitors to observe leopards and elephants more often in addition to the birds and other mammals. At 8 AM, travellers can reach Kumana Villu and Kumbuk River for a short break and can have breakfast there. Further, most of these morning safaris will conclude at around 11.30 a.m.

5. Kumana National Park Night Camping 2 days/ 1 Night

Anyone who needs to make the wildlife trip to Kumana extra memorable will definitely go with this unique package. This package will cost between $260 – $270 per person. But, this amount varies according to the size of the visitors’ group. Generally, this package will provide visitors with accommodation according to their choice, camping tents or wildlife bungalows. Further, most of these packages usually include meals, snacks, and photography opportunities as well. Moreover, visitors will be offered two safari sessions available for 1 night and 2 days.

Threats to the Wildlife in Kumana National Park and Conservation Measures

Bird watchers mark a rapid decline in the number of bird species observed in Kumana in recent years. In addition to the birds, other wild species in Kumana mark a decline in their availability too. Poaching is one of the main reasons for it. In addition, gem mining conducted near the Menik River has created large holes which extend up to 30 meters along the Kumbukkan Oya. Moreover, Chena cultivation burnings conducted by farmers near Kumana have caused a great impact on the number of birds found. In addition to all these, other conservation issues like logging, cultivation of tobacco, noise and air pollution, uncontrolled tourism, harassments caused to wild animals by tourists vehicles, commercialization, turtles getting caught in fishing nets, the rapid growth of invasive species, fishermen littering the beaches, etc. have caused this great downfall in the availability of wildlife in Kumana.

However, in order to overcome this, the Department of Wildlife Conservation has taken some conservation steps. Conservation of small water ponds, erection of electric fences preventing elephants from moving into villages, stopping the breeding of invasive alien species, and management of grazing lands are among these main conservation measures.

Best Time to Visit Kumana National Park

Visitors can reach Kumana National Park to witness all these at any time of the year. But, one should be careful of the monsoons during particular months, since severe rains can have a considerable impact on one’s trip experience.

The dry season, which lasts from February to July, is the best time to visit Kumana since the mammals are much easier to detect in the less thick forest. During the remaining period of the year, the park gets rain and monsoons, and roads can get waterlogged in the already marshy terrain, making travel more difficult but far from impracticable.

A large number of birds flock to Kumana each year around the months of April and July. Moreover, Kumana is one of the best sanctuaries in the country for bird watchers, and the best time to visit is between April and July to witness the enormous migrations.

The Bottom Line

Conclusively, let us highlight to you again that visiting Kumana National Park is indeed the best way to experience the thrill and excitement of Sri Lankan wildlife, especially the birdlife. Besides, the pleasant and relaxing climate out there, the greenery, ecosystem and charming landscapes are sure to enthral your eyes, with the best views one can ever imagine. So, all these fascinations bundled together, make Kumana National Park one of the must-visits. So, if you are arriving in Sri Lanka, make sure that you do not miss this land of nature. Happy and Safe Travelling!