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When I was planning my two week trip to the country, deciding where to do our elephant safari in Sri Lanka was a big concern.
There are multiple national parks to choose from, and it all 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 for an elephant safari 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 elephant safari in Sri Lanka, and I couldn’t have been happier with the experience.
Here’s everything you need to know about the reserve…
How to take an Elephant Safari in Sri Lanka at 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 for our safari in Sri Lanka 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 elephant safari in Sri Lanka, we saw different small herds of elephants eating and drinking. We went in the early morning at 7 am 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 sightings 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.
Book Your Safari Based on the Season You Visit
When choosing which elephant safari in Sri Lanka to do, 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 a good 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 7 am, then continued 3.5 more hours to Hikkaduwa in the same day to hit the beach by early afternoon.
We chose this because we were on a budget and needed to avoid the more expensive hotels around Uda Walawe. If I went back again I would book a night in one of the gorgeous resorts or glamping hotels around the park. Honestly, I would also add in a sunset safari and do two in one day – seriously, it’s that good.
If you are traveling from Colombo, the total drive time to Uda Walawe National Park will be about 4.5 hours. 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 We Chose Uda Walawe for our Elephant Safari in Sri Lanka
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.
I hope this guide helps you plan your elephant safari in Sri Lanka and choose the park that’s right for you! Good luck, and enjoy your trip to this beautiful country.
PS still planning your trip to Sri Lanka? Use this detailed itinerary to see the best way to explore the country, then learn what to see in Sri Lanka’s Cultural Triangle and how to complete the iconic sunrise climb up Adam’s Peak.