Renowned for the variety of its wildlife and typically dry zone tropical thorn forest, Kumana National Park comes together with Ruhuna National Park to the west to form the wider Yala National Park – Sri Lanka’s most well-known.
The colloquially known ‘Yala’ is split into six blocks for management purposes, and of these, only Block One (Ruhuna National Park) is on the tourist trail. Kumana National Park, formerly known as ‘Yala East’ was established on the 26th December 1969 and lies on the south east coast of Sri Lanka in Eastern Province, 12km south of Arugam Bay. The park is best accessed through the Kudumbigala Sanctuary to the north east of the boundary.
The main physical feature of Kumana, which covers over 18,100 hectares, is the world famous mangrove swamp which covers some 200hectares and is surrounded by plains and jungle. The flat terrain of the east coast is broken by numerous rocky outcrops and large saline lagoons often surrounded by extensive plains.
As with many of Sri Lanka’s protected areas, Kumana incorporates a vast cultural heritage including caves, some with rock inscriptions dating back to the 1st and 2nd Centuries BC, and a nine-meter statue of the reclining Buddha among many others.
The vegetation in the park comprises semi-arid thorn scrub with fairly large areas of dense forest, whilst the fauna found here is diverse, particularly in regards to the avifauna. Large numbers of wading birds congregate to nest in the mangroves from May to June, including species such as pelican (Pelecanus sp.), painted stork (Mycteria leucocephala), spoonbill (Platalea leucorodia) and open-billed stork (Anastomus oscitans). It is even possible to observe one of Sri Lanka’s rarest birds, the black-necked stork (Ephippiorhynchus asiaticus asiaticus) here. Mammalian species include spotted deer (Axis axis ceylonensis), wild boar (Sus scrofa), elephant (Elephas maximus maximus), leopard (Panthera pardus) and sloth bear (Melursus ursinus), although due to a lack of exposure to humans, these animals are shy and can prove a challenge to find.
During the recent insecurities in the area (finished in 2009), the park fell off the tourist radar. Now stable, the park is open to and welcomes visitors, however the animals are more shy than in nearby Ruhuna National Park.
The park is best reached from your hotel in Arugam Bay or it can be tied into a full day trip from Arugam Bay or Ella, visiting Lahugala National Park as well.