Situated over the eastern and Uva provinces, the Gal Oya National Park is 376 km North of Colombo. This park was originally established in the year of 1954 as the main catchment area of the Senanayake Samudraya (lake) which is the largest reservoir in Sri Lanka. This reservoir was created by putting up a dam across the Gal Oya river and therefore, the park was named as the Gal Oya National Park.
Spreading over 25,900 hectares, the Gal Oya National Park is one of the four sanctuaries that were named in order to protect the catchment of the Senanayake Samudraya. The other sanctuaries that were named for this purpose were the Gal Oya Valley North-East Sanctuary, Gal Oya Valley South-West Sanctuary and the Senanayaka Samudraya Sanctuary. These sanctuaries together spread over an area of 62.937 hectares.
The special feature in the Gal Oya park is that it provides a rich wetland topography which allows different flora and fauna to be adopted here. Around 45% of the land at the park is covered with evergreen forests while 33% is covered with savanna, 9% with grasslands, 2% with chena cultivation and the rest is covered with water tanks.
In terms of the wildlife, the park hosts a variety of 32 species of mammals. Among them some of the most anticipated wild animals are the Common Langur, Endemic Toque Macaque, Leopard Sloth Bear, Elephant, Wild Boar, Deer and Water Buffalo.
The park also holds great importance as a home for many birds mainly due to its topographical features. Around 150 species of the birds in Sri Lanka are spotted at the Gal Oya National Park. Several of these bird species that can be spotted at the park are the Lesser Adjutant, Spot-billed Pelican, Red-faced Malkoha, Indian Cormorant, Oriental Darter and Grey Heron.
The Gal Oya National Park was named as sanctuary in the year of 1954 after the completion of the Senanayake Samudraya in the year of 1950. The park was originally maintained by the Gal Oya Development Board until the Department of Wildlife Conservation took it over after identifying its significance in terms of a national park in the year of 1965.
The park was also closed down for the general public for two decades due to the civil war that took place within the country against the LTTE.
How to Get There
There are several options to choose from when travelling to the Gal Oya National Park from Colombo and they are by road, bus, train and air.
By Road – The route to the Gal Oya National Park from Colombo by road is a long journey. First you need to taxi or drive to Dambulla and then travel to Gal Oya National Park from there. This journey approximately takes 7 hours to complete and hence could leave you weary. However, the total distance to reach Gal Oya from Colombo is 311.6 km.
By Bus – Traveling to Gal Oya from Colombo by bus is the most economical mode of transport. However, it should be noted that there are no direct busses that lead to the Gal Oya National Park from Colombo. You have to first travel 6 hours and 45 minutes to Bandarawela and then taxi or drive to the Gal Oya National Park for another 3 hours and 15 minutes.
By Train – There are no direct train services to reach the Gal Oya National Park from Colombo. The nearest station to the park is the Kandy railway station and it would take approximately 2 hours and 30 minutes to reach Kandy from Colombo. Thereafter, you have to taxi or drive 148.6 km to the Gal Oya National Park which would again take approximately 3 hours and 30 minutes.
By Air – Sri Lankan Airlines and Cinnamon Air provide domestic flight services to reach Gal Oya from Colombo. This is the costliest mode of transport but also the quickest. There are three options of flying to Gal Oya but the most recommendable option would be to fly to Batticaloa and then taxi to Gal Oya which would totally take approximately 3 hours and 40 minutes. For the other options you need to fly to either Katugasthota or Hatton and then taxi to Gal Oya which is more time consuming than the first option.
From Kandy – There are three options to chose from when traveling to Gal Oya from Kandy. You could either taxi to Gal Oya for 150 km or take a train to Badulla and then taxi to Gal Oya. You also have the option to fly to Batticaloa and then taxi to the park. Both the direct drive and flying options will totally take approximately 3 hours and 30 minutes to reach the destination, but the train ride will take approximately 9 hours and 45 minutes.
From Arugam Bay – The only mode of transport available to reach the Gal Oya National Park from Arugam Bay is to taxi or drive. The total journey will cover 133.8 km and it will approximately take 2 hours and 35 minutes to complete the journey.
Gal Oya National Park which mostly has a tropical weather, has an average temperature of 27.2 degree Celsius annually. The rainfall of the park also ranges up to 1,700 mm per year on average while that rain is collected mainly through the north eastern monsoon of Sri Lanka. Maximum wind recorded at the park on average is around 30 kmph.
Food and Drink
Most of the restaurants available for dining when traveling to the Gal Oya National Park are situated in close proximity to the park. These restaurants provide both local and foreign cuisnes to suit your needs. Some such restaurants available around the park are the Kevin’s Park Restaurant, Mindada Restaurant, Saliya Inn, Sea Breeze Hotel and Restaurant, Kings Family Restaurant and Big Bite Burger. Several of these restaurants are also situated towards the beach side which will allow you to have a great meal while feeling the sea waves on your skin.
Gal Oya National Park Safari – Take yourself through one of Sri Lanka’s most authentic and untouched wildlife parks. A safari at the Gal Oya National Park will allow you to see what the world used to be with the natural fauna and flora in its own behaviour.
Camping in Gal Oya National Park – Enjoy a unique and immersive experience of living within the untamed Sri Lankan wildlife parks. These private tented camps isolate you in the midst of the national parks so that you could have the most close-up but yet the most-safest experience of the wildlife.
Dragon’s Mouth – Dragon’s mouth also known as the Makara Kata among the locals, is the beautiful site where the Gal Oya river falls on to the Senanayake reservoir. This site has a breath-taking scenery and thus attracts many visitors during their visits to the Gal Oya National Park.
Senanayake Samudraya – Completed in the year of 1953, the Senanayaka Samudraya provides a breath-taking view of the flora and fauna surrounding the tank. This reservoir is also Sri Lankas’ largest and one of the most iconic reservoirs.