Minneriya National Park is a compelling wildlife reserve near Polonnaruwa in the north-central province of Sri Lanka. With tropical monsoon climate, Minneriya spreads across an area of 8889 hectares of land with stunning floral and faunal wealth. Having been previously declared as a wildlife sanctuary in 1938, it was delegated as a national park in 1997 with an intention to preserve the catchment of the Minneriya tank. The vast antique Minneriya rainwater reservoir with much historical importance is the key attraction of the park. Known for its elephant corridor, it is one of the best national parks in Sri Lanka to see large herds of wild elephants about their natural routines.
The Minneriya tank is a historical one being built back in third century AD by King Mahasen. The sole reason for Minneriya being declared as protected was, it is the catchment area for the tank. The tank is extremely substantial as it is a dry season feeding ground for the large elephant population residing in the forests of Matale, Polonnaruwa, and Trincomalee districts. Plus it irrigates a major part of the Polonnaruwa district. Various sorts of habitats are featured here including rocky outcrops, wetlands, scrublands, chena lands, grasslands, low-canopy montane forests, and intermediate high-canopy secondary forests. Since situated in the dry zone, Minneriya is one of the places in the country to get less rainfall compared to the other areas in the country. The dry season in the area is observed from May through September while wet season happens from October through January.
The area is also part of the Minneriya-Giritale Nature Reserve. Another wildlife reserve, Kadulla, rich with faunal wealth, is positioned right adjacent to Minneriya. The UNESCO world heritage site in Polonnaruwa is located just 20 Kilometers away from here. Guess what, you shall have a lavish itinerary combining all these cultural and natural experiences.
The park is open all year. But in order to witness the much popular elephant congregation at Minneriya National Park, you have to plan your visit for the dry season when the elephants in the nearby forests escape the habitats in search of food and water and reach the plains of Minneriya and its water tank. So it is generally regarded that months from June through September are the best time to pay a visit to the park although you can watch elephants and its animals all year long.
Being part of the elephant corridor, this famous annual gathering of large herds of freely roaming elephants is the main attraction of Minneriya national park. Although there lies the opportunity to watch elephants throughout the year, the best period to see them in plenty is the period from May through October which happens to be the dry season in the region. During which, elephants from the forest come out to the Minneriya Tank and the nearby grass fields for food and water - an unavoidable congregation. The herds shall approximately consist of as many as a couple of hundreds.
Jeep safari is the main activity provided inside the jungle premises that would last for a couple of hours. After passing through the dense forest, the ride shall take you to an opened-up area where you can see the reservoir in the center with plenty of elephants nearby. You shall not be let out of the jeep by the way. The park is scenic and calm. You shall cross paths with its lovely animals as well. Better have a camera in hand.
Falling inside the cultural triangle of the country in the central plains, Minneriya National Park is positioned on A11 Highway near Polonnaruwa, around 182 Kilometers away from Colombo. No matter wherever you are heading out from, the transportation to Minneriya is available in plenty, both road and rails. The traffic is nice to boot. Heading from Polonnaruwa, the nearest city, the Minneriya is just 37 Kilometers away. From Habarana, where you would most probably be staying, it is less than 10 Kilometers away - a 10-minute car drive. Most probably, you shall be coming to Minneriya from either south, west, or north. In all ways, it is just a few meters away from where A6 and A11 Highways coverage.
Apart from the stunning presence of wild elephants, the national park of Minneriya is also home to a collection of faunal and floral varieties. There are 24 species of mammals, 160 bird species, 9 varieties of amphibians, 25 species of reptiles, 26 species of fish, and 75 species of butterflies. The major mammals here are elephants, sloth bears, spotted dears, leopards, wild buffalos, wild pigs, purple-faced langurs, and toque macaque monkeys. The colorful birdlife has kingfishers, jungle fowl, and hornbills. Many of them are skilled fish hunters too.