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Our Epic Sri Lankan Udawalawe Safari

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One of the highlights of our incredible time in Sri Lanka was the chance to take an epic Udawalawe Safari, at the Udawalawe National Park.

Welcome to the wild heart of Sri Lanka, Udawalawe National Park. Imagine a landscape where lush grasslands stretch as far as the eye can see, dotted with herds of majestic wild elephants and encircled by a backdrop of jagged mountains.

In this blog post, we’re going to embark on a thrilling journey through this remarkable reserve, exploring its diverse habitats, incredible wildlife, and unforgettable experiences.

Whether you’re planning your visit during the dry season—December to March—for optimum wildlife viewing, or opting for the rest of the year to enjoy the park’s verdant beauty, there’s always something exciting in store at Udawalawe.

Visit Udawalawe National Park during the dry season – December to March – for optimum wildlife viewing.

Our Udawalawe National Park Safari

We had arrived in Udawalawe straight from Mirissa, where we had spent time spotting whales, so the prospect of seeing Sri Lanka’s majestic wild elephants, in their natural habitat so soon after, was exciting for us.

Sri Lanka’s Udawalawe National Park is home to a great variety of animals and birds. However, the main drawcard of this amazing safari is to see the Sri Lankan elephant.

Sri Lanka has the world’s highest density of wild Asian elephants with more than 4,000 in the wild. However, these numbers are declining and elephants are on the endangered species list.

Udawalawe National Park is said to hold between 400 and 600 elephants (depending on which source you read). And given the relatively small size of the park, it is easy to see why the Sri Lankan elephant is the main drawcard for visitors.

Quick Links – Udawalawe Wild Safari Tours – check here for prices

Over looking the man-made Udawalawe Reservoir

Our Udawalawe Safari

We were staying at the Adambari Safari Resort which is located in a cluster of other accommodation about a 20-minute drive to the entrance of the national park. We had been recommended this homestay by friends of ours who we had coincidently run into in Mirissa.

The room we stayed in was clean and comfortable, with a nice view of coconut palm trees from the balcony. The hosts were very friendly and helpful and provided a delightfully tasty breakfast. All for a very good price.

Our day started at 4.30am. We were meeting our driver at the front of the homestay at 5.15am so we had time for a quick shower and coffee to wake up. We had arranged to have breakfast on our return, so packed a few snacks to see us through.

Sunrise at Udawalawe National Park

The jeep made quick time to the Udawalawe National Park home entrance. So much so we were about 5th in line to enter the park, which hadn’t opened yet. The driver lined up and paid the entrance fee (details below), and after a short wait it was time to enter the park.

I must admit that up until this point I hadn’t been paying too much attention to the build-up of safari jeeps behind us. It was when the gates opened and all the jeeps turned their engines on I realised there were far more jeeps in line than I thought. I immediately had images of dozens of jeeps jockeying for glimpses of scared wildlife and it turning into a disaster.

Of course, I needn’t have worried. As soon as we got into the park, right on sunrise, our driver took a few turns and next thing we knew we came across a large herd of female elephants including a couple of baby elephants. Our driver stopped the jeep, turned the engine off, and we sat there in awe as these majestic creatures just strolled past.

It was a breathtaking start to the safari.

A family of elephants walking by. Truly majestic creatures.

Our driver later explained that the herd we had seen was all female and that the female elephants roam together in numbers for protection whilst the male elephants remain alone. I didn’t know this before and it was good to learn something useful before the coffee wore off.

We drove through the park for a few hours with our driver always able to spot some different type of animal or bird on a regular basis. This meant we were able to stop and just enjoy watching the animals in their natural habitat without needing to rush.

The drive itself was also comfortable, notwithstanding we had all the seating to ourselves. The driving conditions were relatively smooth on the larger dirt roads and, at times, quite bumpy when heading off into the narrower off-road tracks.

However, we never felt unsafe and we were lucky that our driver refused to jockey for position with other drivers to the detriment of the animals. He was always happy to move on to another spot where we would find another animal to watch from the appropriate distance.

Motherly love

Apart from the many elephants, we saw other animals including sambar deer, buffalo, monkey, wild boar, crocodiles, snakes, mongoose, and a huge variety of birdlife including peacocks and eagles.

Eagle watching for prey

The man-made Udawalawe Reservoir, with friend.

Water Buffalo at the water’s edge

Also present in the park, although we didn’t spot any on the day we visited, are Sri Lankan jackals, sloth bears, and leopards. Our driver assured us he had seen a leopard a few times in his 15 years of spotting but it had been a few years since the last sighting.

Getting out of the jeep is not allowed other than for one spot on the banks of the lake. When we did stop, it was a good chance to take a “neck-twisting” break and to stretch the legs. Day-long safaris were setting up for lunch when we arrived.

Once we had finished our break we got back in the jeep and went for a little more wildlife spotting before heading back to the homestay.

Watching for prey

We watched these two male elephants having, I assume, a play-fight for about 10 minutes before each went their own way.

When we arrived back at the homestay, we paid (and tipped) our driver, and went inside where were able to enjoy a magnificent breakfast to top off a fantastic morning.

Would we go on another Udawalawe Safari?

Absolutely! We were extremely happy with our safari. Our driver was able to spot wildlife from seemingly a mile off, we luckily had the jeep to ourselves which made for a comfortable drive, we saw plenty of wildlife including many up close encounters with elephants, including quite a few baby elephants.

We saw many baby elephants

What is the Udawalawe Safari price?

The cost of the safari entrance ticket is split into two.

For the latest prices as of 2023, see the official link here.

Udawalawe National Park entrance fee – this fee is paid at the park entrance is a paid on a per-person basis and on a sliding scale, reducing the more people are in the vehicle.

For example, it was 4,400 rupees for one person, 7,000 for two, 9,850 for three etc. Prices are reduced for children. Note: Updated prices can be found at the link above.

The Safari Jeep fee – The price for hiring a jeep and driver that sits 6 to 8 people will start at around 3,500 rupees (if you hire at the park entrance) and up to 6,000 rupees if you are picked up and dropped back at your accommodation. We paid 5,000 rupees for our 6-person jeep and driver.

Additional costs include hiring an additional spotter, although most drivers take on this responsibility, and any tips you want to pay.

When to go on this wonderful Sri Lankan Safari?

Udawalawe National Park is open all year round and given the density of elephants any time would be good for elephant sightings. However, I have read that during the dry season (October to April) the animals will head to the water edge more often for a drink increasing the likelihood of seeing elephants in the water.

The park has many peacocks, one of many bird species

Is a Udawalawe Safari better than Yala National Park Safari?

I haven’t been to to Yala National Park so can’t comment from direct experience. However, a large majority of the comparisons I have read find that the safari at Yala National Park is more expensive, has a higher jeep-per-animal ratio, and is generally not as relaxed as Udawalawe. Howerever, spotting leopards at Yala is more likely, if that is why you are taking a safari.

Hotels near Udawalawe National Park

There are plenty of accommodation options close by the national park, where you can organise a safari, and onward travel.

We were recommended by friends to stay at the simple yet delightful Adambari Safari Resort. The rooms were neat and clean, we were able to organise our safari as well as onward travel very easily, and the breakfast served by the family was first rate.

What is the Udawalawe Elephant Orphanage The Udawalawe Elephant Orphanage, also known as the Elephant Transit Home, is a unique facility within Udawalawe National Park in Sri Lanka. Established in 1995, it serves as a sanctuary for orphaned elephant calves, providing them with care and rehabilitation until they are old enough to be released back into the wild. Located adjacent to the Udawalawe Reservoir, the orphanage offers the elephants plenty of space to roam. The facility is supported by the Born Free Foundation and has helped nurture dozens of elephants since its inception

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