Located in the remote South-east corner of our paradise isle, bordering the Kumbukkan Oya and Yala Block II to its West, the Indian Ocean to the South and the idyllic town of Panama to its East lies Kumana National Park also known as the Yala-East National Park. In 2011, Kumana was declared as a RAMSAR site as a wetland of international significance and is widely regarded to be amongst the top birding locations in the country with over 300 recorded species. Spanning an area of a square mile in the central part of the reserve is the iconic Kumana Villu which can be regarded amongst the world’s top bird nesting sites.
But Kumana has so much more on offer than simply being regarded as a bird sanctuary. The landscapes here are varied and absolutely spectacular ranging from coastal sand dunes, large expanses of open plains, wetlands, shallow lagoons, scrub jungle with rocky outcrops and lush riverine forests. The undisturbed stretch of beach are regarded as vital nesting sites for the five species of sea turtles (Hawksbill, Olive Ridley, Leatherback and Loggerhead and Green Turtle) found in Sri Lanka.
A large population of elephants have sufficient space to roam within the confines of Kumana and the surrounding Yala sanctuaries while large herds of Spotted Deer along with other dry-zone herbivores such as Sambar, Buffalo and Black-naped Hare graze out in the open. Mugger Crocodiles are plentiful in the waterholes scattered across the park along with the much larger Estuarine or Saltwater Crocodile.
The elusive Sloth Bear is seldom seen but present and sightings tend to increase in frequency during the ‘palu’ season from around May to July as they feed on the fermenting palu fruits during daylight hours. Sri Lanka’s top carnivore, the Leopard is also found here.
Kumana is a sacred land for both Budhists and Hindus alike. Bambaragastalwa and Bovvatagalla are amongst a number of rocky outcrops with drip ledge caves with Brahmin inscriptions indicating the presence of ancient Buddhist monasteries where monks meditated, that date back to the 1st Century BC. The Kebelitta Dewala located deep within the jungle is a holy site where God Skanda (also known as the Kataragama God) met his future wife Walli Amma. Each year, during the months of July to August, leading towards the Esala full moon, thousands of Hindu devotees undertake the long and arduous 300km journey known as the Pada Yatra.
Being around an eight hour drive from Colombo and due to the closer proximity of other national parks, Kumana is often overlooked by both foreign and local tourists alike. You are often amongst just a handful of visitors at any given time during most periods of the year which provides excellent opportunities for undisturbed wildlife encounters. Steeped in history and culture, abundant with wildlife and set amongst the most picturesque surroundings, Kumana has to be arguably the most underrated national park in Sri Lanka.