The Puttalam district, an area north-west of Colombo, is a secret treasure trove long left untouched by mass tourism. Thinly populated by a fascinating mixture of cultures and religions, this northwestern province is beautiful and wild, with looming rocks rising sharply from the earth and dreamy wewas (reservoirs) with their circling storks and eagles, flashing kingfishers and beautiful water lilies.
The area has several nature reserves, the two most spectacular being the massive Wilpattu National Park and the Puttalam Lagoon. Wilpattu is a vast park which re-opened as recently as 2010. Unique scenery and flora combined with a very healthy number of leopards make this park a fantastic and far less touristy alternative to Yala at the right time of year. To really experience this off-the-beaten-track park, an overnight stay is wonderful.
The Chilaw area is a birdwatching haven as it is on the cusp between Sri Lanka’s dry and wet zone. The Anawilundawa reserve is a particularly good and remote spot.
Puttalam itself is a melting pot of Moorish, Tamil, Christian and Sinhala cultures, with an interesting frontier town atmosphere and some good food. As you head north from here, the land becomes drier and sparser past the lagoon towards Kalpitiya.
For an interesting beach option, head to the Kalpitiya Peninsula, home to several lovely, laid back beach hotels. The beaches are sandy and empty, though in truth, much less pretty than the bays of the southern coast. You'll find the region is somewhat dry and dusty and there are few outside dining options. There is also a prominent power station off-shore a few miles away and several wind turbines. That said, the beach would suit people who like to get right away from it all and the dolphin watching here is incredible during the right season, which runs from October through to April when the weather is settled and hot. Visitors also come for kitesurfing, too and the season for this runs from May to September when forceful winds are pretty constant.
Further inland, The Mudhouse is a unique experiment in simple village-style living and excellent local excursions and activities. It is an eco-retreat near the mysterious and beautiful Paramakanda Rock Temple, far away from the beaten track. Bicycles come with the room and exploring this rural area is a joy.
This area resounds with history and legend, but two of the most interesting sites are the former and short-lived capital of Pandus Nuwara, the site of a local Rapunzel-like legend about a princess with long hair, and the rock citadel of Yapahuwa.
Take the opportunity to see a part of the country that most people miss.
Selected Wildlife Holiday Ideas:
Nature & Wildlife Explorer
Gorgeous scenery, birdlife, and the varied animal population that Sri Lanka has to offer, staying in tucked away hotels.
Sri Lanka's Big Mammals
Tailor-made for wildlife enthusiasts. Travel off-the-beaten-track with expert guides in search of elephants, leopards, whales and more.
Natural & Wild Sri Lanka
Enjoy the incredible wildlife of animals without missing the astonishing scenery, glorious beaches and local life.
Birdlife and Natural Wealth of Sri Lanka
This holiday is ideal for those who love nature, especially birdlife. Visit the beautiful rainforests, coast, and wetlands of Sri Lanka.