Are you an elephant lover? Would the thought of an elephant encounter in their natural habitat excite you? If yes, then a wildlife safari at the Udawalawe National Park is a must do during your tour in Sri Lanka.
Although Sri Lanka is a small pearl in the Indian Ocean, it still possesses high levels of biodiversity and is known as one of the top biodiversity hotspots worldwide!
If the south of Sri Lanka is on your itinerary, then you are probably considering whether to visit Yala National Park or Udawalawe National Park. Both are great in their own context but Udawalawe, although smaller in size, is recommended for guaranteed elephant sightings and is much less crowded. Also, while Yala National Park is closed for about 6-8 weeks every year, Udawalawe is the best place in Sri Lanka to see wild elephants at any time of the year. There are about a few hundreds of elephants inside the park premises and there are high chances that you will see a herd of female elephants moving or bathing together in the wild.
A research report from the World Animal Protection Organization stated that the highest density of wild Asian elephants is in Sri Lanka – providing an estimate of about five to six thousand roaming in the wild while there are about 200 in captivity within National Parks. Sri Lanka has done a great job in protecting its wildlife while at the same time, making it accessible to visitors.
How to get to Udawalawe National Park
From Colombo, the best way to get to Udawalawe is in a private vehicle – it is a drive of about 4-5 hours. You can book your jeep safari ride through the hotel you
are staying at or your tour operator in Sri Lanka will do the needful for you. The safari is about 3 hours long and is possible during the early morning hours (about 6 a.m.) or in the early evening – at about 3.00 p.m. A jeep can accommodate up to six adults and so if you want the per person cost to go down, you could share your safari ride. Apart from the jeep cost, there is an entrance ticket payable at the park.
Most safari drivers are well aware about the whereabouts of the animals of the park and are always trying their level best to give you maximum sightings.
Close to the park, several accommodation options are available – offering incredible value for money and friendly employees to help you out. If you are planning just a day trip to Udawalawe, Blue Lanka Tours can arrange that for you as well. You could choose to stay at one of the exclusive coastal resorts in Hambantota, Tangalle or Weligama in the south of Sri Lanka. Be prepared for a long day ahead though because the drive to Udawalawe from there is about 1.5-2 hours long. Shangri La’s Hambantota Resort & Spa, Anantara Peace Haven – Tangalle, Amanwella Tangalle, Cape Weligama and Weligama Bay Marriott Resort and Spa are just a few lovely hotels to name.
Best time to visit Udawalawe National Park
Udawalawe is located in a hot and semi-arid environment with an average temperature of about 32 degrees Celsius. Witnessing a herd of Sri Lankan elephants is most likely near rivers and the reservoir of Udawalawe. The dry season – from May to September – increases the chances of seeing elephants gathered near bodies of water.
However, if you have not timed your holiday in Sri Lanka during any of those months, don’t be disappointed. Elephants are visible during the rainy season too! In fact you will see more baby elephants out and about because wet season is when elephants mate.
What to expect at a safari at the Udawalawe National Park?
Once you get to the entrance of the park, you will have to pay for your ticket. The office accepts cash and card payments so don’t worry if you do not have any Sri Lankan Rupees on you at the time. Most often, your driver will be the one spotting birds, elephants, crocodiles and monkeys for you. You will be amazed at his vision while he points out to something far away and you struggle to spot it even with a binoculars maybe!
The drive throughout the park is bound to be rough and bumpy, more so because the jeep driver will try to take you to the best visibility location when an animal is spotted. Drivers and tourists are not allowed to chase and harass the animals in the park – not even if it is for a photograph.
During the morning safari ride, expect to see about 30-40 elephants throughout the park. But an evening safari will show you many more as they venture out to the river for a drink or bath.
What should you carry on the Safari?
Well known for its wildlife photography, you cannot visit Udawalawe National Park without an HD camera and a zoom lens. Getting good shots on your smartphone is highly unlikely. Bottled water, and something to tie your hair behind is also advisable when on the safari ride. Sunscreen lotion is not required as most of the jeeps have a shade and you won’t really be exposed to the sun.