Sri Lanka – The Country
Sri Lanka is a really beautiful country and our time there in 2011 was a truly memorable experience. Not having been there before, our expectations were that it would be very similar to neighbouring India. Our whole time in Sri Lanka far surpassed our expectations and we were amazed by the warmth and friendliness of the people. The standard of living was way above the level that we have seen in India, and almost everywhere is clean and tidy. The food was excellent. The southern part of the country (all our itinerary is in this area) is virtually malaria free which also makes the holiday more enjoyable.
The southwest coastline also forms a major nesting ground for marine Turtles.
Sri Lanka Safaris – 2011 & 2012
Photographers on Safari completed a gruelling 16 day “recce” trip to Sri Lanka in 2011. Many different venues and wildlife parks were visited. Some turned out to be superb and some were disappointing. It is this fact finding experience that has enabled Photographers on Safari to come up with a safari that will present some amazing non-stop photographic opportunities from start to finish. The less productive venues have been dropped and we have compiled an itinerary that should easily outperform that of any competitor. The overall quality and variety of the photographs taken on this safari are quite stunning. All dinners and breakfasts are provided during this tour. Inexpensive lunches are taken on location – usually at a cost of just £6 or so. The hotels will be in the comfortable 2 to 3 star bracket with hot water, showers and air conditioning. The exception is our 5 nights at Yala which is superb and very close to a 5 star rating. The safari was completed very successfully in it’s revised format in December 2012.
Click here to see the Sri Lanka Photo Gallery
The seas combined beautiful shades of blues and greens and the golden sandy beaches were lined with fruit-filled coconut trees. Add a fisherman, dressed in traditional loincloth and headgear fishing from stilts that are some 20 to 30 metres off shore, plus a golden sunset, and you have a wonderful scene that will stay with you forever. Stilt fishing has been practised in Sri Lanka for centuries, but it is fast being replaced by fishing from boats further out to sea. The most productive time to fish from stilts is at sunrise, but there are always a number of fishermen in the vicinity of the stilts that will pose for us at sunset for a small fee.
Whales, Dolphins and Flying Fish
Sri Lanka is becoming a major spot for watching Whales and Dolphins. The frequent sightings all year round has put Sri Lanka and the Mirissa area on the worlds ‘Top Hot Spots’ for Sperm and Blue Whale sightings. December, January and April are the peak months for sightings when there are great chances of spotting Blue Whales. We will spend three mornings primarily viewing Whales from a large boat in Mirissa. My three cruises in 2011 each produced good quality sightings of at least 6 Whales that lasted for some time. We saw many more whales, but these were enjoyable to watch rather than to photograph. On two of the three cruises we also had encounters with large pods of Dolphins. The first group were Striped Dolphins, about 20 strong, and the second group were Spinner Dolphins and these were well in excess of 200 in number. We stayed with the larger group for almost an hour. The best areas for viewing are about 45 minutes from the shore, and during this period of cruising a number of flying fish were spotted on every outbound and return journey. They are a real challenge to photograph but not impossible, as you will see in the photograph opposite. We tried large and small boats for this purpose. The smaller boats had more speed but it was almost impossible to keep your camera on your subject while these were bobbing up and down on the ocean. Using the bigger boats is the only way you will get consistently good photographs.
Photograph Snakes & Reptiles
We will spend one afternoon, (after Whale-watching), at a Snake Farm. This is the only farm of this type in Sri Lanka and it has a special dispensation to keep Snakes (not normally allowed in Sri Lanka) as the owner is a third generation ayurvedic practicioner and uses them to produce potions to use on locals that have been bitten by these creatures. He told us that he treats 2 people a week on average. He has a sizeable collection and will bring out a number of Snakes and other reptiles for us to photograph in natural surroundings. He is very patient and will assist us in getting some outstanding shots. The species that we photographed in 2011 were; Sri Lankan Krait, Sri Lankan Pipe Snake, Common Cat Snake, Forsten’s Cat Snake, Ornate Flying Snake, Viper, Spectacled Cobra, Green Vine Snake, Tarantula and Scorpion.
Turtle Farm Visit
We will spend our second afternoon, after Whale-watching, at a Turtle Farm. These establishments are deemed by some people not to be the best solution for the Turtles. They do, however, play a vital role in their conservation. The problem in Sri Lanka is that, for centuries, people have eaten Turtle eggs in large quantities. With the recent world decline in Turtle numbers this has had a devastating effect. Turtle farms now pay the people who continue to dig up the Turtle eggs more for the eggs than they are worth to eat. These are then buried on the farm, hatched and released at two days old. A dozen or so adults are also kept for up to seven years before being released. This is the optimum age for survival of a released Turtle. It has a 50% chance whereas a two day old has less than a 5% chance of survival. Conservationists argue that it would be best if the Turtle eggs were left alone to hatch naturally. This, of course, would not happen, as the eggs would be eaten by the local people. Some farms claim to have hatched and released well over half a million Turtles in the last 25 years. Photographers on Safari will make a donation and will release some Turtles, enabling you to photograph these beautiful creatures as they make their way from the beach area to the sea. In 2011 & 2012 we released a Green Turtle, a Hawksbill Turtle and a Loggerhead Turtle. We plan to do something similar in 2013.
Leopards at Yala National Park
Yala National Park claims to have the biggest concentration of Leopards per square metre in the world. We have absolutely no reason to doubt this. The Leopards are most likely to be spotted during the morning safaris. Some were occasionally spotted in the afternoons, but not by us. We used the afternoons to photograph the other animals and the plethora of birdlife that is present in Yala. During the morning safaris we spent almost all of our time looking for some of the 30 plus Leopards that are resident in the park. We were not disappointed. We photographed no less than twelve leopards during our five morning safaris. Two of the Leopards were accompanied by a cub of less than a year old. Sri Lankan Leopards are the largest Leopards in Asia and are separate sub-species, and not the same as those on the Indian mainland. The accommodation at Yala is pure luxury and the choice of food is unending. It is a really luxurious and unforgettable five nights’ stay at this venue. The Bee-eaters at Yala are incredible. They are everywhere, and it is even possible to fill the frame with a 200mm lens at times. Below is a list of the amazing array of animals and birds that we photographed while at Yala.
Leopards, White Bellied Sea Eagle, Flap-shell Turtle, Barred Button Quail, Brahminy Mynah Bird, Brahminy Starling, Black Necked Hare, Indian Pond Heron, Sri Lankan Jungle Fowl, Common Kingfisher, Green Bee-eaters, White Breasted Kingfisher, Hoopoe, Yellow Crowned Woodpecker, Elephant, Buffalo, Jackals, Wild Boar, Langur Monkeys, Spotted Deer, Sambar Deer. Peacocks, Monitor Lizard, Woolly Necked Stork, Open Billed Stork, Crested Serpent Eagle, Indian Darter, Black Shouldered Kite, Indian Paradise Flycatcher, Mating Iguanas, Greater Egret, Little Egret, Intermediate Egret, Painted Stork, Lotens Sunbird, Asian Paradise Flycatcher, Oriental Magpie Robin, Shikra on Snake, Black Winged Stilt, Lesser Whistling Ducks, Marsh Sandpiper, Redshank, Blue Tailed Bee-Eaters, Grey Headed Fish Eagle, Malabar Pied Hornbills, Serpent Eagle on Egret, Orange Minivet, Red Wattled Plover, Yellow Wattled Plover, White Breasted Water Hen, Black Headed Ibis, Mugger Crocodile, Skink, Orange Breasted Green Pigeon, Crested Eagle on Egret, Chestnut Headed Bee-eaters, Toque Macaques, Spotted Dove, Lark, Spoonbill, Brahminy Kites, Chameleon, Grey Heron, Scaly Breasted Munia, Yellow Billed Babbler, Red Vented Bulbul, Paddyfield Pipit, Asian Black Crowned Night Heron, Pelican, Crested Hawk Eagle, Black Shouldered Kite, Chameleon, Brown Fish Owl, Indian Roller, Black Hooded Oriole, Peacock, Python, Star Tortoises.
Udawalawe National Park
The photo opportunities here are not as prolific as in Yala, but no visit to Sri Lanka would be complete without the inclusion of Udawalawe. It is here that you have the best chance of seeing Wild Elephants. There are in excess of 500 here, although they are very scattered as there are small pools of water everywhere, and it is not necessary for them to visit the main waterholes. There is a really impressive man made lake in the park that has lots of dead trees still standing in it. The birdlife here is something else and we spent some time photographing Brahminy Kites, various Eagles, Herons, Egrets, Storks and Pelicans in flight here. We will do just 2 safaris at this location before moving on to our final destination.
Pinnawala Elephant Sanctuary
There are a number of Elephant Sanctuaries in Sri Lanka, but none even come close to Pinnawala for photographic opportunities. The main sanctuary is located on a hilltop and it is here that you can photograph the Elephants in a very large enclosure. With a little care you can get perfect natural backgrounds as well. You have the opportunity to watch the bottle feeding of young elephants and also, for a small fee, to feed or stroke some of them if you wish. The real reason for coming here is that twice a day up to 60 Elephants are taken to a river that is several hundred yards wide. They remain in the shallow river for two hours each session and you can get right down to the water’s edge and photograph them from water level. The backgrounds are perfect and the results are absolutely stunning. You have to pinch yourself to ensure that it is not just a photographer’s dream. We will overnight here so we can witness a full day’s activities from the park’s opening time at 8.30am until its’ close at 4pm.
Pinnawala was initially set up to take small Elephants orphaned by conflict with humans. It is now a closed park that breeds its own offspring. Sadly, it is a fact of life that between 150 to 200 Elephants and 50 to 60 humans are killed each year in Sri Lanka. It is usually disputes over grazing rights that cause this conflict.
Dolphins at Kalpitiya
These were part of our “recce” safari in 2011. We were extremely disappointed with what we found here. We are sure that this venue can produce excellent results, but if the sea is anything but totally calm, then photography of any quality from the tiny boats that are available is virtually impossible. We also visited Wilpattu National Park, which is in the same area, and found this park to be almost devoid of animals. Neither of these venues will be included in our itinerary.
Safari Itinerary – December 2013
Day 1, 04/12/13; Depart London
Day 2, 05/12/13; Arrive Colombo. Transfer to Mirissa, stopping en route to visit a Turtle Farm. Paradise Beach Club , Mirissa. D
Day 3, 06/12/13; Morning Whale Watching. Afternoon visit to Snake Farm + Stilt Fishermen. Paradise Beach Club, Mirissa. BD
Day 4, 07/12/13; Morning Whale Watching. Afternoon visit to Turtle Farm + Stilt Fishermen. Paradise Beach Club, Mirissa. BD
Day 5, 08/12/13; Morning Whale Watching. Afternoon transfer to Yala National Park. Hotel Chaaya Wild, Yala. BD
Day 6, 9/12/13; Morning and Afternoon drive in Yala National Park. Hotel Chaaya Wild, Yala. BD
Day 7, 10/12/13; Morning and Afternoon drive in Yala National Park. Hotel Chaaya Wild, Yala. BD
Day 8, 11/12/13; Morning and Afternoon drive in Yala National Park. Hotel Chaaya Wild, Yala. BD
Day 9, 12/12/13; Morning and Afternoon drive in Yala National Park. Hotel Chaaya Wild, Yala. BD
Day 10, 13/12/13; Morning drive in Yala National Park. Transfer to Udawalawe. Afternoon drive in Udawalawe National Park. Centuria Tourist Hotel, Embilipitiya BD
Day 11, 14/12/13; Morning drive in Udawalawe National Park. Transfer to Pinnawala. Hotel Elephant Park, Pinnawala BD
Day 12, 15/12/13; Whole day in Pinnawala Elephant Sanctuary. Transfer to Tamarind Tree Hotel, Colombo Airport. BD
Day 13, 16/12/13; Depart Colombo. Arrive London. B
Costs for December 2013 £3858.00
All hotels on half-board basis. All transfers. All boat trips and safaris where indicated. Rooms on a twin share basis. Single supplements available.
International Flight. Lunches. Personal expenditure. Tips etc..