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Sri Lanka is among my favorite countries I’ve been to date. The country has so much to offer, including an abundance of incredible wildlife. It’s considered one of the top biodeversity hot spots in the world.
Going on safari in Sri Lanka is a must-do on your Sri Lanka Itinerary and there’s no shortage of incredible national parks to visit. If you are in the Southern province, you will likely have to pick from Yala and Udawalawe National Park, both famous for elephants.
Yala is closed for 6-8 weeks each year, usually at the beginning of September. This years closure happened to coincide with the month I was in Sri Lanka, so I only had the option to visit Udawalawe. I’m glad it worked out like this because I loved my experience doing a Udawalawe National Park safari.Read on for everything you need to know to plan your Udawalawe National Park safari in Sri Lanka! Click To Tweet
Why visit Udawalawe National Park
There is no better way to see an animal than in its national habitat, and Sri Lanka has the highest density of wild Asian elephants in the world. The country has done an amazing job of protecting its wildlife while still making it accessible to tourists. Udawalawe National Park Safari is a great example of the countries efforts to protect wildlife.
One benefit of doing a Udawalawe Safari vs. Yala Safari is that Udawalawe is about 1/3 the size, so your chances of seeing elephants are much higher. It is also less crowded then Yala, and cheaper. Win-win!
Getting to Udawalawe National Park
Udawalawe is a small town located on the Southern part of Sri Lanka (4-5 hours from the capital city of Colombo). The easiest way to get there is by car, but it is also possible to take a local bus to the town of Udawalawe. The train does not go there.
You can either stay in the town of Udawalawe or visit as the park as a day tour from another town on Sri Lanka’s Southern Coast. I arranged a day tour from Weligama while I was there on a surf camp, which meant we had to wake up at 5 am to drive there (it is three hours away). On the flip side, this meant I didn’t have to spend money staying in the park.
Udawalawe Safari Price
You will need to book a jeep to take you on safari through Udawalawe National Park. The price to rent a jeep is the same regardless of how many people you have in it, so it’s cost-effective to go with a larger group. On my day tour from Weligama, we were a total of six people and paid 5,500LKR/30USD each. This included our entry ticket into Udawalawe and transportation back and forth from Weligama. Like most things in Sri Lanka, always try to negotiate the price before buying a tour package.
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If you show up at the park on your own you will have to pay the entrance fee which is $15 USD. From there, you can negotiate a jeep/driver for your group. Tips for the driver are discretionary. We all tipped our driver as he was so knowledgeable about the animals and great at spotting them.
Best time to visit Udawalawe National Park
The best time of year to go on an Udawalawe Safari is the dry season, which for this region of Sri Lanka is from May-September. This is because the chances of witnessing a herd of elephants increases near rivers and the reservoirs of Udawalawe, which elephants will gather around during the dry season. However, you can see the elephants year-round, and during the wet/mating season, the chances to see baby elephants are siginificantly higher. Awww!
Udawalawe National Park is open between 6 am – 6 pm. The best time to visit the park is early in the morning or late in the afternoon as the animals are most active during this time. They tend to hide from the sun during mid-day. If you come to the park as a day tour from Weligama you won’t be there until about 8 am, butwe still saw tons of elephants on our tour. If you stay near the park overnight, you can get up early for the first tours of the day for the best chances at shopping wildlife.
There are plenty of hotel options to stay near Udawale National Park, including some pretty awesome looking tented safari camps right in the park.
How dreamy, sleeping next to the elephants! There are also some cheap guesthouses to stay at for less then $20/a night. I loved staying at guesthouses in Sri Lanka, the locals are so friendly and truly make you feel at home.
What to expect on a Udawalawe National Park Safari
The jeep is massive with open sides, so regardless of where you sit you will have a good view of the surrounding scenery and wildlife. I was in the back of the jeep and still had amazing views. You aren’t allowed to get outside of the jeeps (for safety) but they are pretty huge so there’s lots of room to move around and take photos when the jeep is stopped.
Once you get inside the park the keep will drive to the ticket office to pay the park entrance fee. If you booked a tour and paid this in advance, the driver will just get the tickets for everyone.
The jeep ride through the park is bumpy and rough, so don’t expect a comfy ride. Learn from my mistakes and don’t eat a big breakfast beforehand 😛 With the excitement of finding the elephants, you will hardly notice after a while.
A Udawalawe National Park Safari lasts about three hours long. During that time we saw a ton of wildlife including lots of elephants. As a bonus, the elephants came close to the jeep to say hello. It’s an incredible experience to just see them just hanging out being happy elephants in their natural habitat.
I was hoping to see the baby elephants on my safari but it wasn’t the right season. All of the elephants we spotted were lone soldiers. In total we saw 6 different elephants. Aside from the elephants we saw water buffalo, crocodiles, lizards, monkeys, and many types of birds including eagles and peacocks.
At the end of the tour we went to a watering hole where there were a ton of pelicans and water buffalo hanging out. It was such a beautiful and tranquil site to watch.
On top of all the incredible wildlife, the landscape of the park itself is beautiful to be in. It was completely different then anywhere else I visited in Sri Lanka, it actually felt like we were in Africa. As a bonus, the mountain ranges of Ella provide a stunning backdrop to the park.
Our guide was great at finding the wildlife and knowledgeable about the animals, giving us little facts here and there. The guides seemed to have concern for the animals and conserving them which was great to see.
What to bring on an Udawalawe National Park Safari
- A camera with zoom lens (ideally up to 300m). It’s difficult to get good shots with a phone.
- Cash for the park entrance fee (Sri Lankan Rupees).
- A reusable water bottle with lots of water (it gets hot in the park)!
- If you have long hair, a tie to put it up. The wind blows everything around and makes it tangly!
If you find yourself in Sri Lanka I definitely recommend going to see the Elephants in Udawalawe National Park. It’s an incredible opportunity to see these magnificent creatures in their natural habitat!
Wondering where to go after Udawalawe National Park? Explore the gorgeous mountain town of Ella, or head to Weligama for some of the best surfing in Sri Lanka. If you’re thinking about a trip to Sri Lanka, check out my Sri Lanka Posts for all the inspiration you need.
Have you been on an Elephant Safari before? How was it? I’d love to hear about your experience, let me know in the comments below!
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