An important centre of ancient Sri Lankan culture, Wasgamuwa National Park has been left off the beaten track for a number of years but is now gaining in popularity once more.
Located approximately 50km northeast of Kandy in the Polonnaruwa and Matale Districts, the park is isolated by large rivers on all but its southern boundary. It is dominated by the Sudukanda Mountain Range which runs from north to south between the Amban Ganga and Mahaweli Ganga rivers and of course by their associated floodplains. With an area of just over 39000 hectares, the park is contiguous with the Riverine Nature reserve on the right bank of the Mahaweli Ganga.
The park was originally designated a game sanctuary in 1907 and then upgraded to a Strict Nature Reserve in 1938. After a period of accelerated clearing from the Mahaweli Development Project, which deprived the wildlife of its habitat, the Wasgamuwa National Park Strict Nature Reserve and a neighbouring piece of land were brought together into one unit and given National Park status on 7 August 1984 in an effort towards biodiversity conservation. The vegetation here is tropical dry mixed evergreen forest, with trees such as the weera (Drypetes sepiara), wa (Cassia roxburghii) and the endemic kaluwara ebony (Diospyros ebenum) present among others. The hilly ridges of the park are covered in dense forests, as are the banks of the major rivers. The park is not only characterised by dense forests however; there are extensive open plains in the south-eastern and eastern parts of the park dominated by grass illuk (Imperata cylindrica).
Twenty three species of mammal, 143 species of bird, 35 species of reptile, 15 species of amphibian, 17 species of fish and 52 species of butterfly have been recorded in Wasgamuwa National Park. The main draw cards here are the herds of Asian elephant (Elephas maximus) and the notoriously shy sloth bears (Melursus ursinus) which are said to have a high chance of being spotted here. In addition, you may encounter leopard (Panthera pardus), golden jackal (Canis aureus), water buffalo (Bubalus bubalis), slender loris (Loris tardigradus), wild boar (Sus scrofa), many species of deer, and even the fishing cat (Prionailurus viverrinus). Of the 143 species of bird to be found within the park, eight of them are said to be endemic such as the yellow-fronted barbet (Megalaima flavifrons) and red-faced malkoha (Phaenicophaeus pyrrhocephalus).
The park is not only known for its wildlife; it is also an important cultural heritage area, with the Buduruwayaya ruins located to the south west. Dating back to 2nd Century AD, the ruins feature a statue of the Lord Buddha reclining as well as some stone pillars. Other 2nd Century ruins can be found throughout the park, making it a great location for both wildlife lovers and history lovers alike.
Accommodation options around Wasgamuwa National Park are limited to say the least! However, you can also reach the park from Kandy and the hotels just north of Kandy, but bear in mind this will be a long day with an early start! The park is still far off the tourist track and its isolated location appears to be the main reason for this.