This post was last updated on April 9th, 2020 at 10:35 am
If you want to spot elephants, you better skip Africa and visit the Udawalawe National Park. Stretched out over the lowlands of Sri Lanka you will find herds of elephants, wild buffaloes, deer and leopards that you can spot more easily than in an African national park. Due to the lack of dense forests, spotting these animals is particularly easy. A visit to the Udawalawe National Park is a must during your trip through Sri Lanka.
Elephant Watching in Udawalawe
Udawalawe National Park is one of the most visited and most popular national parks in the country. The park is located in the south of Sri Lanka against the mountains of the Horton Plains.
Where the Yala National Park or Bundale National Park excels in natural beauty, in Udawalawe National Park it is mainly spotting (Asian) elephants that people come here for.
At the start of the park, you can buy fruit to feed elephants. Do not do this. They are wild animals that should not become dependent on food from humans.
The largest part of the Udawalawe National Park is in the dry zone. This means that you will find many vast areas with grass and dead trees that elephants have used to scratch themselves. This gives the park a rather dull appearance in the dry season. However, when it starts to rain, the dry plains change into a magical environment with temporary lagoons and beautiful green areas.
Which Animals Can You See Here?
Around 600 elephants live here who regularly visit the park. They can “switch” between Lunugamvehera National Park and Udawalawe National Park although most elephants reside in the latter.
You will see a lot of elephants in Udawalawe and you can also get close to them. A family with a baby elephant is certainly one of the highlights of this national park. Note that they are and remain wild animals.
They are not aggressive but behave as they should. Stay calm, don’t make too much noise and don’t get out of the car.
What many people don’t know is that they also have many leopards here. It is difficult to spot them because they are often hidden and only come to life at night. Their hunting behavior also makes them difficult to spot, since they are used to hiding from their prey before heading for it.
TIP – The best time to spot leopards is early in the morning or late afternoon, with an experienced guide (with very good eyes).
There are around 700 to 1,000 leopards in Sri Lanka. About 40 live in Yala National Park and around 10 in Udawalawe. The chance that you will spot one is small, but it’s very cool if you do manage to find one.
A Visit to Udawalawe
Most travelers visiting the Uda Walawe National Park do this by booking an organized tour at their accommodation. However, you can also do it on your own. You then go into the park with a 4WD with a guide who can tell you everything about the park and the animals inside the park.
Go There Yourself
You can book an organized tour. That will cost you between US$40 and $50 per person. You will stay in one of the many guest houses or hotels outside the park. The next day you have to go early to the park entrance and “book” one of the 4×4 jeeps for a half-day or a full-day tour, including a tracker guide and driver.
TIP – It costs around 3,500 rupees (around US$19.70) per person for three hours.
Elephant Transit Home
When you are in the park it is nice to visit the Elephant Transit Home, also known as the “Elephant Orphanage”. It was founded in 1995 and there are now around 25 baby elephants who have lost their parents.
How to Get to Udawalawe
Udawalawe is fairly easy to reach. It is located next to Yala National Park and is one of the most visited sights in the country. This means that transport to and from the park is often well organized. The easiest way to get there is from Colombo or Ella.
From Colombo to Udawalawe
A bus from Colombo takes about 5 to 6 hours. It is best to take one to Monaragala and stop at Udawalawe Junction. You can ask if your hotel /guesthouse/hostel can pick you up there. You can also take a scooter taxi.
From Kandy to Udawalawe
There are no direct buses between Kandy and Udawalawe. That’s okay because it’s better to take the train between Kandy and Ella because it is really beautiful. From Ella, you can take the bus to Udawalawe Junction.
TIP – Bus times can be checked here.
Accommodation Near Udawalawe
It is possible to spend the night near the park in Udawalawe. There are many accommodations here in the vicinity of the town. There are many bungalows, lodges, glamping, and resorts in Udawalawe.
The closer you stay to the park, the more luxurious and expensive the accommodations become. Most budget stays can be found in the town itself.
The more exclusive accommodations are more on the outskirts of the city or towards the Udawalawe National Park.
TIP – View the full range of accommodations in Udawalawe here.