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What a fantastic leopard sighting @Tdgraves, lovely pictures.

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Really enjoying your report and photos @Tdgraves.  Sri Lanka is on our to do list so am picking up plenty of tips too.  

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Day 12, Morning game drive, Leopard trails, Yala NP, 29/1/19


Our last game drive in Yala. Before dinner the night before, one of the other guides was teasing ours and told him that he was leaving 5 mins before us, in order to be first at the gate. Once he had left dinner, we conspired to leave 15 mins earlier than usual. His face when they eventually arrived at the gate, to see us already parked in first place, was priceless! However, being first today would unfortunately not lead to a decent sighting. I had the 7D today.


The driver heard of a leopard sighting on the bush telegraph and we were treated to our only nightmare Yala leopard sighting. By the time we arrived, there were many vehicles present, 2-3 abreast and there was lots of shouting and jostling for position.




As usual, our driver got us into a pretty decent position, for this..






I couldn't even take any shots from my side of the vehicle, due to the branches, so these are with the 5D from the OH.


We left the sighting as soon as we were physically able and afterwards, our guide admitted it was a mistake to have gone there. You live and learn.


I then managed to get a better shot of the greater coucals we had seen previously..






And soon enough, it was time to leave the park for a final time for breakfast and packing. We did cause our final piece of consternation though, when we asked them to stop for some langurs right next to the road!




And then we were off

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Day 12, birds in camp, Leopard trails, 29/1/19


We had arranged to be collected by our driver quite late, as we had not wanted to rush back from a decent sighting unnecessarily. So we had a bit of free time before we left, so I wandered around camp with my camera for a while before we left.














And then it was time to go...

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Day 12, transfer to Rainforest Eco Lodge, Sinharaja NP, 29/1/19


Again we wanted as fast a transfer as possible, so only necessary stops were made. On the map it doesn't look far, but the majority of the journey was on mountain "roads" barely the width of one car, let alone two, as usual, it took longer than advertised! Just as I was getting fed up, Google maps stated there were only 9kms to go, but this was false hope, as it was on zig-zag tea country roads and it took a further hour to get there. Our driver was ultra cautious (occupational hazard I guess), but the prius was struggling up the bends, presumably as the battery had been drained. We struggled three times to get up a particularly tight corner when we met an oncoming vehicle, who, knowing the road, insisted that we reverse, as there was a passing place just behind us and our poor driver had to coax the poor car around the corner yet again. It was therefore unsurprising that a little bit further on a warning light came on and the car refused to go any further. A quick look on Google did not give us any clues and he therefore called the lodge and asked them to send down their 4x4 to collect us. We sat on the side wall of the road (camera in hand, just in case) and waited. And then we noticed the leeches. We had been warned that leech socks would be provided for the walks, but of course, we hadn't got as far as the lodge yet. They have an incredible turn of speed when trying to attach themselves to your feet!


The final 3 km was much more comfortable and we insisted on being taken down the hill when we left in the 4x4 as well, the last thing we wanted on our final transfer was a delay for roadside rescue


There was slight confusion when we arrived in the lodge. Our incredibly detailed itinerary from our TA had listed a private bird walk the following morning and mentioned a vehicle transfer to get into the NP. This was complicated by the fact that the English spoken here was not to the same standard as the other places that we stayed. We were very confused to find that their bird excursions were a walk from the lodge and not a private activity, but we had no choice and as luck would have it, no one else signed up to the very early start, so it turned out to be private after all! It tuned out that the information in our itinerary related to different accommodation which is further away from the park, hence the confusion. 


The lodge is built on the edge of a tea plantation and directly next to the rain forest, so you can literally walk into the NP. The rooms are made from converted shipping containers on raised platforms and are very comfortable and private. The only let down was the restaurant, which served good food with large portions and friendly staff, but was light up like a school canteen, the effect amplified by a very large Chinese group who were extremely noisy. Food therefore was to satisfy basic needs, rather than a dining experience...

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Day 13, Morning bird walk, Rainforest Eco Lodge, Sinharaja Forest Reserve, 30/1/19


I have just realised that it is a reserve, not a National park, however, it is a world heritage site. We were back at altitude, albeit lower than when we had started and so the climate changed again. We started with layers, but they were quickly removed. It was quite dark as we left and even as it got later, photography was difficult under the thick canopy. I had the 7D. Our guide was very knowledgeable and we had a thoroughly enjoyable walk, collecting many new birds. We were lucky, as the previous days' walk was cancelled due to rain. In fact, it had rained overnight both the days we were there and neither of us heard a drop!














Including the National bird, the Sri Lankan blue magpie




with chicks




















Breakfast was well earned!

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What a good selection you got on that walk!

Although you had trouble with the car, a cautious driver is a blessing on such roads.

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@Tdgraves you mention that you swap between a 5D and a 7D, but what lenses are you using?  Thanks 


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3 hours ago, shazdwn said:

@Tdgraves you mention that you swap between a 5D and a 7D, but what lenses are you using?  Thanks 



@shazdwn we have two canon 100-400 mark ii lenses with a 7D mark ii and a 5D mark iii (which has now been upgraded to a mark iv)

Edited by Tdgraves
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Day 13, around camp, Rainforest Eco Lodge, Sinharaja Forest Reserve, 30/1/19


Soon after breakfast, I noticed a group of monkeys just in front of our balcony, so I crept out to take some shots. Luckily the door was already open, as they would have probably been scared off if I had opened it when they were already there. They are purple-faced leaf-eating monkeys (or langurs) endemic and rare...




The design of the camp really helped out, being raised up meant we were eye to eye!










I had a lovely sighting and they sat for quite a while eating. A local guide was (noisily) checking in to the room next door, but retreated when I waved the camera at him, giving me a few more minutes before they left




The OH had been battling with a chest infection/asthma for days and decided that he needed a rest, so later that afernoon I would have a wander around camp and into the tea plantation on my own with the 7D and then return for a very reasonably priced massage!




















The walk was successful and the massage very relaxing.

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Day 14, transfer to Colombo, 31/1/19


This was our last full day and we decided on a more leisurely wake up, safe in the knowledge that we would get down the hill in the 4x4. We even had a stretch of motorway en route - luxury indeed. It was one of our shorter journeys. We met up with one of the OH's friends who works in Colombo, who kindly let us stay in his "spare" house. It is in the suburbs and within a minute of leaving the main road, you would not realise that you were in such a densely populated place. We had an hour or so to wait for him to get back from work, so we freshened up and had a look in the garden. Would you believe it, but there were purple-faced leaf-eating monkeys in next door's palm tree? He has never seen these here before...


Common tailorbird






Red-vented bulbul




Having spent the whole morning in the car, we were not keen to go out into the traffic, but he was keen to show us his city, so we drove into the centre for a late lunch. We got stuck in the evening rush hour on the way back, which was impressive. We had a lovely (although not altogether necessary) meal with his family in the evening and then we collapsed into bed, for an earlier start than we anticipated, as the morning rush can apparently also be horrific. Our driver made the quickest progress of any of our journeys, presumably as he could then get back to his family. We had another two excellent flights on Qatar with a short lay over, where the lounge was virtually deserted in the middle of the day, having been really busy in the middle of the night!


Final impressions


Overall, I think it was a very enjoyable trip which fulfilled our expectations. The country is very beautiful and so varied. The people are very friendly and accommodating and the food is fantastic. Most of the tourists we met were doing a combination of wildlife, culture and beach, which it is ideal for.


I found it quite odd having a driver as we go on so many self-drive holidays, especially as the drives were so long, however, I would not volunteer to drive here...:blink:


In terms of game, I think I was most surprised at the lack of general game in Yala. We literally had 2 pictures of spotted deer. So we were stopping for leopard or birds and pretty much nothing else in between! But it very much delivered on leopard, mostly with close and private (-ish)  sightings and I think that the way we did it had a lot to do with that. We took 1000-2000 shots fewer than on a RSA trip, but have printed out a comparable photo book. It is clearly an excellent birding destination and we would happily return. South Africa clearly wins on its' lack of jet lag though!

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thanks for sharing the many details of the trips. A handy guide to a trip to SL if we ever finally get to go on one. 


Those leaf monkeys are stunning! 

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Excellent trip report about Sri Lanka. It was a bit more specialised, and quite more upscale to what we have done, so yes, this is a destination that will tick many boxes for many types of travellers.

Comparing it to what we have experienced in South Africa, I will say the main difference was weather (much drier in SA) ... and food (I just love to eat meat :)). I hope that this TR will nudge more of the STers to visit Sri Lanka.


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@xelas perhaps that is what you pay for when you go upscale - meat!?

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An excellent report, and it is indeed a lovely country.

Great photos and practical  details.

Thank you 

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Thanks for posting such a detailed and engaging report.  We had Sri Lanka on our radar for next year but decided to delay it until the travel warnings are lifted.  Your report will be a great to look back upon when we start the planning again in the future.

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Enjoyed reading this report @Tdgraves, love the leaf-eating monkeys at the end.

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  • 6 months later...
Dave Williams

A quick re-read to compare notes after returning from SL this week. We didn't get any rain of note while we were there but the greenery really is impressive right down to the coast. Couldn't agree more about the jet lag though, it's a killer especially if you have been doing some early starts/ early bedtimes in SL !

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Dave Williams

It was a different trip! Being our 4th to Sri Lanka I opted for the simple life aimed at a good standard of accommodation, good food and more a holiday for Claire who had put up with 28 days of wildlife watching in KNP on our last trip. Consequently I didn't put in too much time for wildlife, 3 full day trips and then relying on hotel grounds which were unfortunately disappointing. Hey ho, such is life!!


Edited by Dave Williams
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