Jungle safari in Sri Lanka: a review of Kulu Safaris
Jacqui Gibson spends three days on safari in Sri Lanka’s Yala National Park with Kulu Safaris
THE SAFARI COMPANY: Kulu Safaris, specialists in tented safaris.
THE LOCATION: Yala National Park, Southeast Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka's second biggest park, Yala, is located about 190 miles (or 300 kms) from the capital city of Colombo. Join a two or three-day Kulu Safari and you'll spend your time in Block 1, Yala's main public reserve area.
BEST TIME TO VISIT: February to June or July, when the water levels in the park are low and your chances of seeing Yala's rare Sri Lankan leopards are at their best. (Though we visited in December and saw a young leopard).
THE ANIMALS: Most people travel to Yala to catch a glimpse of the rare Sri Lankan leopard (Yala has the world’s highest density of leopards with an estimated 100 leopards living in Block 1). But the nature reserve is also home to herds of Sri Lankan elephants, crocodiles, more than 200 bird species and plenty of mammal species like jackals, sambars, sloth bear, spotted chital deer, the common langur monkey and buffalo.
THE ACCOMMODATION: Kulu Safari guests stay in large, private luxury tents made by some of South Africa's best tent makers. The tents are spacious at more than 200 square feet (60 square metres) and are super comfortable. Each one sits on a raised wooden platform and has a small deck - a great place to park up in the evening with a glass of wine - and an ensuite bathroom. So, yes, you can enjoy a hot shower before melting into bed at night.
THE TRANSPORT: Open air safari jeeps (Toyota and Land Rover) that can manage the rutted and, at times, wild terrain and get you close to the action.
THE GUIDES: An experienced team of locals who know the park and its animals inside out. We travelled with a Kulu Safari guide (the very knowledgeable and multilingual Manjula Wijesinghe), an experienced driver, as well as a park ranger who we picked up at Yala's gates every morning.
THE FOOD: On the menu is a delicious combination of Western-style and local Sri Lankan dishes made on site and served outdoors amid the everpresent chatter of the jungle (think: honking peacock, croaking frogs and squawking monkeys). A two-to-three course brunch is served around 10 or 11am after your return from the morning safari (starting in darkness at 5.30am). Similarly, dinners are served after your return from the afternoon safari (ending on sunset around 6pm).
You can choose to mingle and dine with other guests or dine privately by candlelight. Kulu has an extensive range of local and overseas beer and wine. You may want to share a tipple with one of Kulu's guides who are just as generous with their stories and knowledge of the park at day's end.
THE VERDICT: Kulu Safaris offer a high-quality safari experience that provides all the creature comforts you could want, while at the same time delivering the unique experience of camping out in the Sri Lankan jungle (a stone's throw from leopards, crocodiles and bears).
BEST: Seeing elephants thunder out of scrub and into view was definitely a highlight. Spotting a rare leopard in a tamarind tree. Yala's swirling pink sunsets. The evening ritual of peacocks roosting in treetops.
WORST: Having Kulu's credit card facility go down unexpectedly and needing to find a bank in a village nearby.
This review was first published in Food, Wine & Travel magazine.