Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary: a comprehensive guide

The Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary (also known as the Periyar Tiger Reserve) is one of the largest national parks in India. It occupies 925 square kilometers of the Cardamom Hills region of the Western Ghats and extends around the banks of a huge artificial lake that was created by the British who dammed the Periyar River in 1895. The sanctuary has about 780 square kilometers (485 square miles) of the dense hilly forest, with 350 square kilometers (220 square miles) of this being core area. Although the park is particularly known for its elephants, one can also spot sambar, Malabar giant squirrel, gaur, stripe-necked mongoose, and wild boar in deeper areas of the park. Birdlife is also very prolific here. One of the highlights of Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary is its eco-tourism initiative. The state-run tourism department and the local Forest Department involves the local Mannan indigenous community as trekking guides and tribal wardens to protect vulnerable parts of the sanctuary. This was to stop the people to earn their livelihoods through poaching and illegal sandalwood extraction. There are various schemes such as “Border Hiking”, “Tiger Trail” and “Jungle Scout” tours that serve to promote community welfare and generate income for conservation work.

Mannan women at the Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary

The location of the Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary

The park is located about 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) from Kumily in the Idukki district of central Kerala.

How To Get There

To Kumily

Kumily, the nearest town to Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary, is easily reachable by bus or car from Kochi (6 hours), Kottayam (4 hours), and Munnar (4 hours). One has to change buses in Kottayam, if one is coming from Alleppey. Kumily can also be reached from Madurai in Tamil Nadu by bus in 5.5 hours. The closest airports are at Madurai in Tamil Nadu (130 kilometers or 80 miles away) and Kochi in Kerala (190 kilometers or 118 miles away). The nearest railway station is at Kottayam around 114 kilometers (70 miles) away.

Kumily, the plantation town of Kerala is closest to Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary

Kumily, the plantation town of Kerala is closest to Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary

To the Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary from Kumily

To enter the Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary, one has to first reach the office that sells Periyar safari tickets. This ecotourism center is located on Ambadi Junction in Kumily and you can buy bamboo rafting and boating tickets from here as well. Then you will have to buy the tickets for the bus that will take you inside the sanctuary. The bus will drop you off near the lake. Here you have the option to either go for a boat ride or trek/hike. Here you can purchase tickets for a boat ride as well. These fun rides are very popular and tickets are nearly always sold out in advance.

Best Time to visit Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary

The best time to visit the park is from October to February when the weather is cooler and drier. During the hotter months of March and April, herds of wild elephants can be easily spotted when they gather around the watering hole. Periyar, unlike most national parks in India, doesn’t close during the monsoon season although activities may be restricted due to inclement weather. The monsoon months start in June and end in July with the first two months receiving the maximum rainfall. If you intend to go trekking during this month, make sure you wear the leech-proof socks that are available at the park.

Opening Times and Entrance Fees

Periyar is open daily from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. It is possible to enter Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary only on a guided tour or activity. Avoid weekends, especially Sundays, to avoid the maddening crowd of local day-trippers. The last entry to the park is at 5 pm. There are regular shuttle bus services from the car park on the southwest outskirts of Kumily to Periyar’s main entrance. The entrance ticket of Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary is 500 rupees for adult foreigners and 180 rupees for children. The price for Indians is 45 rupees for adults and 15 rupees for children. There are additional parking fees and camera fees.

Things to do at the Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary

Jeep Safaris

Jeeps can take you to the National Park, but they are not allowed to enter inside the grounds. Jeep safaris take the tourists to a number of ‘viewpoints’ on the park boundary, with the hope of spotting animals from a distance. Around 30km of the track is on sealed roads. The jeep safaris are organized by private operators, not by the official EcoTourism office. Drivers stand around the town in Kumily and approach travelers to sell their services. The quoted price ranges between 1,500 to 2,00Rs for a 4-5 hour trip. One pays for the tour and not per person. So this is a good option for budget tourists who are traveling in a group. Most jeeps seat up to four people.

Cost: Around 1,500 – 2,000Rs per jeep

Departures, and duration: Depends from operator to operator

Visitors at the Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary

Visitors at the Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary

Boat Ride

One of the easiest ways to experience the park without using a guide is by going on a boat ride on the lake. This tour can be booked at the Ecotourism Office. Trips last 90 minutes. Due to engine noise and the presence of dozens of other people, there is not much opportunity to see wildlife. Upon arrival in the park, one can buy a boat ride ticket from the ticket office which is clearly signposted and located right next to where the bus stops. The boat rides start as early as 7.30 am to maximize the chances of sighting elephants, wild boar, or sambar grazing by the water’s edge. In winter, you need to wear warm clothing. These boat trips are run by the Forest Department and KTDC and depart at the same times (7.30 am, 9.30 am, 11.15 am, 1.45 pm, and 3.30 pm). The ticket costs 250Rs. However, since the 2009 Thekkady boat accident, only twenty people are permitted to travel on the upper decks. This is a very popular activity and tickets sell out very fast. One has to be at the lakeside at least two hours before the scheduled departure time (or 1hr 30min for the 7.30 am boat) or book online beforehand. The Forest Department issues two seats per person. One needs to fill in an indemnity form, and wear a life-jacket at all times.

Cost: 250Rs per person | Departures: 7.30 am

Walking and Trekking

The Ecotourism Office offers a number of guided walks and treks including the full-day border hikes (1800Rs per person), 2½-hour nature walks (350Rs per person), bamboo rafting (half/full day 1800/2400Rs per person), and three-hour night ‘jungle scouts’ (1200Rs per person). These tours are accompanied by trained tribal guides, as well as the overnight ‘tiger trail’ camping treks (one-night trail 6000Rs per person; minimum charge 9000Rs). Covering 20km to 30km, these tours are led by former poachers retrained as guides. Trips usually require a minimum of two or four people. It is possible for solo travelers to join other groups. Children must be 12 years or over for most hikes. Elephant rides are also offered, though many tourists avoid them due to animal-welfare issues.  It is not possible to enter the park without a guide or a guided tour.

Cost: from 350Rs to 1800Rs per person | Departures: Varied; full, half-day, and short walks

Bamboo Rafting

This is the best option for wildlife viewing from the lake. Perfectly suited for nature, adventure, and wildlife lovers, one has to sign up for one of the Forest Department’s excellent bamboo rafting trips. These tours start with a short hike from the boat jetty at 8 am, with the half-day trip returning at 2 pm and the full-day option at 5 pm. The bamboo rafts carry four or five people and being paddle-driven, can approach the lakeshore in silence. This allows one to get closer to the grazing animals and birds. Tickets cost 2000Rs per person for a full-day tour. It has to be booked in advance from the ecotourism center on Ambadi Junction.

Cost: 1800Rs pp (half day), 2400Rs pp (full day) | Departures: Half day 7:30am – 12:30pm or 9:30am – 2:30pm; Full day 8:00am – 5:00pm

The very lovely Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary

The very lovely Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary

Tiger Trail

This is an exciting guided night walk in the Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary.

Cost: 6000Rs pp (one night), 8400Rs pp (two nights) | Departures: 9am, finishes 12 noon on the final day

The best activities in Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary

  • Green Walks – These are guided nature walks that have a duration for about three hours and depart at 7.00 a.m., 7.30 a.m., 11 a.m., 11.30 a.m., 2 p.m., and 2.30 p.m. Three-hour nighttime jungle patrols leave at 7 p.m., 10 p.m. and 1 a.m.
  • Periyar Tiger Trail – Operated by Periyar Tiger Trail in conjunction with rehabilitated poachers and tree cutters, this is an adventure-lovers’ delight. The tour costs 7,500Rs for one night and 10,000Rs for 2 nights.
  • Gavi village jeep safaris – Jeep safaris are only available for the Gavi village. It is located in the park’s buffer zone. There are many organizations that offer this day trips, including Touromark Jungle Tours, Wandertrails, and Gavi Eco Tourism. The trips include a jeep safari, a walk through the lush Gavi forest, and boating on Gavi lake. However, this might seem very commercialized during the peak season.

Where to stay in Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary

Most visitors choose to stay in the closest town, Kumily.

  • Inside the park: The Ecotourism Centre arranges a number of options inside the park. These include the Jungle Camp (from 5000Rs per tent, fits two people), Jungle Inn (from 5000Rs per Watchtower, fits two people), or the Bamboo Grove Cottages, which start at 1800Rs per night (fits two people) without package or 4000Rs per night with the package.
  • In Kumily: There are plenty of homestays and guesthouses in Kumily. I stayed at the Mickey’s Guesthouse and found it to be excellent.

Things to know before visiting the Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary

RESPONSIBLE TRAVELING-BECAUSE I CARE

 

 

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