The Great Whales are a source of wonder and fascination to most of us land-based humans, as we struggle to comprehend their alien, unfettered existence roaming the mysterious depths of the world’s oceans. Indeed, we seem to possess a seemingly insatiable desire to savour the experience of being close to these magnificent creatures and, wherever feeding or breeding imperatives bring numbers of whales to congregate in a particular area, there will invariably be local boatmen taking visitors to enjoy a few precious moments sharing the ocean with these leviathans. The largest of all the cetaceans, indeed the largest of all mammals, the Blue Whale has always been something of an enigma, a true ocean wanderer living a pelagic lifestyle which rarely brings it with any predictability close to land. Gradually, however, scientists are beginning to gain some understanding of the enormous migrations undertaken by Blue Whales and one discovery has been their regular appearances close to the south coast of Sri Lanka between November and April. It is this annual event that we will be taking advantage of during this new tour in a country that has long been a Naturetrek favourite.
Arriving in the capital, Colombo, we head south, skirting the towering escarpments of the central Hill Country before travelling through a landscape of palms, rice paddies and roadside ponds to the Indian Ocean coast where we stay for four nights at a comfortable resort hotel. Doubtless the excellent amenities of the establishment will be a welcome diversion during our spare time, but each morning we will undertake a whale-watching cruise from a nearby port. During these 4-hour excursions we will sail up to 12 kilometres offshore and, whilst seeing wild creatures can never be guaranteed, we expect to have multiple sightings of Blue Whales.
Never a gregarious creature, the sightings are usually of single animals, or perhaps a cow and calf, but it is possible to encounter as many as 10 whales during these outings and the expertise of the captain will be an important element in finding our quarry. Despite averaging 25 metres in length and reaching a weight in excess of 100 tons, Blue Whales can be surprisingly elusive, but in these calm waters the mighty 9-metre-high blow is often the first indication of their presence near the surface. Whilst concentrating each day on observing Blue Whales, other smaller cetaceans are also likely to entertain us. These may include Bryde’s and Pilot Whales, and Bottlenose, Pantropical Spotted, Striped and Spinner Dolphins, the latter regularly appearing in pods of several hundred individuals. Although the occurrences of Blue Whales in Sri Lankan waters have been known to researchers for many years it is only now that opportunities exist for visitors to see these impressive animals and, in recent years, our Naturetrek groups have been rewarded by close encounters, often of numerous individuals, in this most idyllic of settings.
After this ultimate in whale-watching experiences we return to dry land to seek another highly impressive mammal in Yala National Park. In recent years diurnal Leopards have been a regular attraction in this superb reserve and we will travel by jeep for full-day game drives, with the possibility of suddenly coming upon a Leopard adding an exciting frisson to every visit. Wildlife abounds in Yala and each drive is likely to produce sightings of Indian Elephant, Wild Boar, Spotted Deer, Sambar, mongooses, crocodiles and lizards as well as a stunning profusion of colourful birdlife. No visit to Yala ever disappoints, but it is the sight of a somnolent Leopard draped across the branches of a tree or padding along a track before disappearing into the undergrowth that creates a memory to last a lifetime. During the final three days of the tour we will be staying at a very comfortable hotel just outside the park and with no fences to constrain the inhabitants it is by no means unusual to see a Wild Boar wander through the grounds or even to find an elephant browsing in the garden!
Yala is a magical place and a perfect venue in which to complete a tour that combines the best of Sri Lankan wildlife, both marine and terrestrial, with the most comfortable of accommodation. It will be with some reluctance that we will finally depart from here and return to Colombo for a return flight back to colder climes; but, for those unwilling to leave, we offer an extension to Sinharaja Forest Reserve, the largest and most important lowland rainforest in Sri Lanka, and home to so much of the island's endemic flora and fauna.
Mr & Mrs L.
Both Upul and Saman were attentive, friendly, flexible, knowledgeable and great senses of humour which made the trip most enjoyable.
It was well organised and our two very good guides ensured that everything ran smoothly.
Fantastic wildlife plus some interesting cultural visits. Upul and Saman were both lovely, patient and knowledgeable guides.
Susanthe was amazing - so knowledgeable and also very accommodating of personal requirements. A really nice guy. Couldn't have asked for better. Fantastic holiday, from initial enquiry to return home service has been perfect.
Mr & Mrs S.
Rhondda Cynon Taff
This was my first wildlife holiday with an organised group. I cannot fault it in any way - the guides and drivers etc. in Sri Lanka were very accommodating and made us all feel like a team. I cannot imagine how this could be improved.
One of the best holidays I've had - will need to return to Sri Lanka. We were fortunate enough to see in excess of 30 blue whales, and the other wildlife (including leopards) were most obliging.
Mr & Mrs S.
Without a doubt it was absolutely the best holiday we have ever had. The group was lovely and the two leaders Nick and Dhammi were superb. I was lucky enough to see several Blue Whales on my birthday and my birthday cake wish to see leopards too was amply rewarded. I just want to say a huge thank you to everyone at Naturetrek who worked together to make it such a memorable 50th birthday holiday for me. It was a long saved-for trip of a lifetime and worth every penny.
Wildlife great - saw lots of Blue Whales and a Leopard...many birds and other animals.