Everything You Need to Know About Uda Walawe National Park

by | Nov 20, 2017

When I was planning my two week trip to Sri Lanka, deciding which national park to visit was a big concern. The national park you choose depends on your itinerary, the time of year you visit, and which animals you want to see.

Three of the most popular and commonly visited national parks in Sri Lanka are Uda Walawe National Park, Yala National Park, and Minneriya National Park. After careful research I chose Uda Walawe National Park for our trip, and I couldn’t have been happier with the experience. Here’s everything you need to know about the reserve…



Uda Walawe National Park

Main Attraction: Elephants
Size: Smaller & Less Crowded than Yala and Minneriya
Location: We visited between stops at Ella in the Hill Country and Hikkaduwa beach
Cost: $30 for a safari for two, and $40 for two entrance fees paid directly to the park (prices may have changed since 2016) Finally, we added another $6 to $10 tip for the guide.
Trip Time: 2.5 to 3 hours
How to Book: The tours can only be done through licensed safari guides, and you can’t just drive through the park with your hired driver. However, it is not necessary to book online and pay inflated prices. Simply show up at the gates and negotiate a price with the guides waiting outside. Don’t forget to specify how much time you want in the park as well.

The main reason why I chose to visit Uda Walawe National Park over the other two options is because I wanted to see elephants. The park is huge (over 100 square miles) and your chances of sighting an elephant or entire herd are very high. Unlike other parks where the herds migrate, the elephants are visible year round in Uda Walawe National Park.

During our 2.5 hour trip, we saw different small herds of elephants eating and drinking. We went in the early morning at 7am to have the best chance of seeing them, but if you can’t make it then the evening safari is the second best option. Our elephant sighting included families, full grown adults, and the adorably cute baby elephants as well. In addition to the elephants, we also saw peacocks (the national bird of Sri Lanka) water buffalo, crocodiles, and many different birds.



Different Choices for Different Seasons

When choosing which National Park in Sri Lanka to visit, you need to keep in mind what time of year you are visiting. Minnireya showcases huge herds of wild elephants, but you need to schedule your visit around their migration period. If you are in Sri Lanka in the summer and fall, then Minneriya is a great choice. However, in the winter and spring months (November to May/June) the elephants migrate and your chances for seeing them in the park go down significantly. Because we visited in March, Uda Walawe was our best bet.


How to Get to Uda Walawe National Park

If you want to see elephants in the spring season this is undoubtedly the place for you. On our detailed Sri Lanka itinerary, you can see we left Ella early in the morning, drove two hours to Uda Walawe to start the three hour hour morning safari at 7am, then continued 3.5 more hours to Hikkaduwa in the same day to hit the beach by early afternoon.

This was a perfect way to avoid the more expensive safari hotels around the park. Although, if I had had more money in the budget, I would have loved to stay to do an afternoon safari too!

If you are traveling from Colombo, the total drive time to Uda Walawe National Park will be about 4.5 hours, and from Kandy it is 5.5 hours. If you are not planning to hit the beaches or southern part of Sri Lanka at all, then Minneriya National Park may be a better choice for you because it is much closer to Sigiriya and Sri Lanka’s cultural triangle. Just make sure you are visiting in the right season to spot the elephants.



Why Choose Uda Walawe National Park

We chose Uda Walawe, instead of the more popular Yala National Park, to avoid the crowds. Because it’s more off the beaten track, Uda Walawe is much less crowded with tourists and jeeps. When we were there in spring 2016, sometimes we were the only jeep watching a family of elephants. At its most crowded, there would still only be five or six other jeeps around us. The experience in Uda Walawe is therefore more relaxing, and more natural, than some of the other more popular parks.

However, one major reason to visit Yala National Park over Uda Walawe is because there are leopards in Yala. Spotting a leopard is notoriously difficult, but if it’s one of your dreams, then Yala National Park is definitely the one for you.


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  1. Diana Taylor

    I am planning a trip to Sri Lanka in 2019.I want to see the elephants in the wild and any rescue places? We go to Thailand every year and sponsor a rescue centre near where we go.We like markets,eating street food and shopping.Can you advise where to go.May is our month for visiting.Tropical rain doesn’t bother me as long as I can still see the animals?

    • Slight North by Dianne Minardi

      Hey Diana,

      In May I think Uda Walawe is the best choice to see the wild elephants. Yala and Minneriya both host migrating herds, so during the spring your chances of seeing them in those parks is not guaranteed like it is in Uda Walawe. However, the park is kind of in the middle of nowhere… no markets or major towns around to explore. If you’re an elephant lover I would suggest getting accommodation near the park and doing a couple safaris over the course of two or three days, then moving on to another destination.

      You can also research deeper into the elephant population in Yala and Minneriya and if May 2019 is a good season to spot them you can hire a personal driver and visit all three parks because a month is more than enough time to see them all. Finally, you can look into visiting the Pinnewala Elephant Sanctuary. I know it’s popular but I’m not sure how they treat the elephants there so we gave it a miss, but you can definitely research that was well.

      Enjoy your trip!


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