A scooter safari in Wilpattu National Park, Sri Lanka
Updated: Jan 22
Fortune favours the bold. And the intrepid scooter driver.
The Jeep Safari
Our first jaunt through Wilpattu National Park was in a traditional jeep on a full day safari tour (£80 for two people, organised through our guesthouse).
This is a quieter, more respectful experience compared to Udawalawe National Park, and with far fewer vehicles around you can go for miles without seeing anyone else.
Wilpattu is famed for sloth bears and leopards; sadly, we saw neither on 12 bumpy, sweaty hours but we did encounter a very grumpy male elephant who took umbrage at our presence and charged us.
Thanks to our quick-thinking driver, we reversed at high speed and escaped unscathed.
We enjoyed seeing peacocks dancing, crocodiles sunbathing and deer prancing around, as well as outwitting the toque macaques who tried to steal our lunch.
The skies were alive with colourful painted storks, kingfishers and green bee-eaters, malabar hornbills flying together and haughty eagles screeching as they searched for prey.
The Scooter Safari
A few days later, The Boyfriend and I were planning our trip from Anuradhapura to Mannar Island when I noticed a faint white line showing on the map through Wilpattu National Park.
Enthused by the prospect of experiencing nature at its finest, we decided to venture forth and see what the omniscient Google Street View could not.
After watching the sun rise over the paddy fields at our beautiful guesthouse, we set off...
We spent a long time talking to the locals to find the exact entrance to the park as GoogleMaps is wrong. They were a bit concerned that we wanted to take that road as they said it was dangerous because of the wild elephants. Gulp.
Admittedly, when we entered through the broken electric fence we got a bit anxious but in for a rupee in for a pound, so on we went...
Our excitement was tinged with caution as we realised that we were literally in the national park with just two wheels for protection.
Soon we encountered a ditch which very nearly scuppered the whole thing.
However, The Boyfriend moved the largest of the rocks aside and managed to chug around the edge.
I'm the more experienced rider so it was a muddy hit to my pride when when I got utterly stuck and he had to rescue my scoots out of the puddle.
There was lots of evidence of elephants. A couple of locals who passed us said that they regularly see them in the morning but as it was hot they were sheltering (phew).
The peace of the park was enchanting without the roar of a jeep engine.
We saw many beautiful birds and a fat mongoose.
And then, quite unexpectedly, I saw a sloth bear in a small clearing!!
We looked at each other for a few seconds and then he scampered away into the bushes. The exact location of the sighting is here.
I felt so exhilarated to have seen one in the wild that I grinned for the next hour. Who needs an expensive safari tour?!
Directions to the entrance
You need map co-ordinates 8.51497, 80.15334.
As you come to the crossroads there are a few shops on the left. Don't take the road straight ahead as shown on GoogleMaps (this goes to a village) but turn right.
When you see the small shrine, take the tiny lane to the right of it.
Follow this and you will get to the broken electric fence and see this sign telling you not to poach.
It took us 2 hours and 20 minutes to travel through the park on this tiny track. It is legal (just) but definitely unwise to do early in the morning when you might get caught between elephants on the path.
Or eaten for breakfast by a sloth bear...