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How to Plan an Udawalawe National Park Safari

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Planning a Udawalawe National Park Safari? Let me help! I’ve visited Udawalawe twice – it’s one of my favorite places in Sri Lanka.

There is no better way to see animals than in their natural habitat. With the highest density of wild Asian elephants in the world, Sri Lanka, and particularly Udawalawe, is one of the best places to go on safari in Asia.

However, you still need to be careful when choosing where to go on an elephant safari in Sri Lanka, as some parks and ‘orphanages’ engage in abusive and harmful practices such as elephant riding.

Despite this, Sri Lanka has done a fantastic job of protecting its wildlife while still making it accessible to tourists through the country’s national parks.

Established in 1972, Udawalawe National Park has become a sanctuary for wild elephants displaced by the construction of the Udawalawe Reservoir. It is a important habitat for Sri Lankan elephants and other wildlife.

Covering over 309 square kilometers of wilderness, Udawalawe is the perfect place to go on an ethical elephant safari in Sri Lanka. This complete guide to visiting Udawalawe National Park has everything you need to know to plan a great trip.

My experience on an Udawalawe National Park Jeep Safari

lora looking at an elephant on an udawalawe national park safari

I went on my first Udawalawe National Park safari while on a week-long surf camp in Weligama, which was a great experience. We had to wake up at 5 am for a three-hour drive to the park, but it was so worth it.

Upon arrival, the jeep heads straight to the ticket office to collect pre-paid tickets

The jeep ride through the park is bumpy and rough, so don’t expect a comfy ride. Learn from my mistakes and don’t eat a big breakfast beforehand. With the excitement of finding the elephants, you’ll hardly notice after a while.

A half-day safari lasts about three hours long. During that time we saw a ton of wildlife, including many elephants. As a bonus, many of the elephants came close to the jeep to say hello. It’s an incredible experience to see them just hanging out being happy elephants in their natural habitat.

an elephant scratching itself against a tree during an udawalawe national park safari

I was hoping to see the baby elephants on my safari, but it wasn’t the right season. All of the elephants we spotted were lone soldiers. In total, we had six different sightings but no herds of elephants.

Aside from the elephants, we saw wild water buffalo, crocodiles, lizards,  monkeys (toque macaque), and many types of birds, including eagles and peacocks.

The safari jeeps are massive with open sides, so regardless of where you sit, you will have a good view of the surrounding scenery and wildlife. I was in the back of the jeep and still had a great view.

You aren’t allowed to get outside of the vehicles (for safety), but they are huge, so there’s lots of room to move around and take photos.

At the end of the wildlife safari, we went to a watering hole where there were dozens of pelicans and water buffalo hanging out. It was such a beautiful and tranquil setting to watch.

tourists looking out a jeep at a watering hole on a Udawalawe Safari
Watching the local watering hole

On top of all the incredible wildlife, the landscape of Udawalawe is beautiful. It was completely different than anywhere else I visited in Sri Lanka, it felt like we were on a safari in Africa.  The mountain ranges of Ella provide a stunning backdrop to the park.

Our safari guide was great at spotting wildlife and knowledgeable about the animals, giving us facts throughout the safari. The guides seemed to have concern for the animals and conserving them, which was great to see.

Best Udawalawe National Park Safari Tours

Udawalawe National Park Private 4 Hours Safari Tour

⭐️ RATING: 5/5 Stars | ⏳ TOUR LENGTH:  4 Hours | ✅ Book it!

If you’re staying near the park, this private tour is a great choice for a half day safari tour. Each journey starts in a 4×4 private safari jeep, guided by a knowledgeable tour executive who provides detailed insights into the local wildlife.

“Amila my driver was brilliant. He is very knowledgeable about the wildlife and birdlife, and has an amazing eye to find birds that other driver’s drove straight past. I would 100% recommend.” – Janelle (read more reviews here).

Experience includes bird watching with binoculars and flexible scheduling with morning safari or afternoon options. The day tour offers a personal and immersive experience of the wildlife of Udawalawe at a reasonable price, promising a memorable exploration of nature.

🐘 Check prices of Udawalawe Safari Jeep Tour Here

Udawalawe National Park Safari Day Trip from the South

RATING: 5/5 Stars | ⏳ TOUR LENGTH:  9 to 11 Hours | ✅ Book it!

This trip to Udawalawe National Park is designed for those based in southern Sri Lankan areas such as Wadduwa, Kalutara, and Hikkaduwa.

It includes a captivating 3-hour jeep safari through the park, famed for its large elephant populations and varied wildlife. Additionally, the itinerary features a visit to the Elephant Transit Home, where orphaned elephants are rehabilitated.

“Once in a lifetime experience, could not believe how close we came to the animals in their natural environment, a day full of wonderful memories” – Mandy (read more reviews here).

The package covers all essentials—transportation in a private vehicle with an experienced driver-guide, entry fees, a safari jeep, lunch, and mineral water.

🐘 Check prices of Udawalawe Safari Tour from the south here

Double Safari Day Trip (Yala & Udawalawe)

a leopard in yala national park

RATING: 5/5 Stars | ⏳ TOUR LENGTH:  13-16 Hours | ✅ Book it!

Embark on an exceptional adventure with a day trip exploring two of Sri Lanka’s most famous national parks: Udawalawe and Yala. This tour offers a unique opportunity to experience diverse ecosystems and spot various wildlife, including Sri Lankan leopards, known for their high density in Yala.

“What an absolutely fantastic day out! We were collected on time by a happy Rahul who whisked us away for our 2 safaris in one day! An exhilarating tour after breakfast was followed by lunch, watching the orphan elephants at feeding time then the afternoon safari, where the animals and landscapes were breathtaking!!” – Simon (read more reviews here).

The journey includes safaris in both parks, a visit to the Elephant Transit Home in Udawalawe, and all necessary amenities like lunch and transportation. This comprehensive package provides an insightful, all-inclusive experience, allowing you to witness the natural beauty and conservation efforts of these spectacular settings without any hidden costs.

🐘 Check prices of double safari day trip

Elephant Transit Home

Elephant Transit Home

Just a short distance from Udawalawe National Park, the Elephant Transit Home serves a noble purpose, providing care for orphaned elephant calves with the ultimate goal of reintroducing them to the wild.

This initiative, established by Sri Lanka’s Department of Wildlife Conservation, showcases the country’s commitment to wildlife protection.

During my recent visit, I observed the calves being fed from a designated viewing platform. While it’s clear that the funds raised from these viewings support vital conservation work, the experience felt somewhat theatrical and could be overwhelming for the elephants due to the noise and frequency of feedings.

Many from my tour group shared these concerns, though they recognized the importance of the home’s mission. Personally, I found the tranquility of the safari in Udawalawe National Park to be more enjoyable.

Where to stay in Udawalawe National Park

Grand Udawalawe Safari Resort

I had a fantastic stay at the Grand Udawalawe Safari Resort. This premier 4-star facility is conveniently close to Udawalawe National Park and the Elephant Orphanage. Nestled on 7 acres of land, this environmentally friendly hotel offers a range of luxurious accommodations and amenities.

The resort’s delightful elephant-themed decor resonated with my love for wildlife, creating a unique and immersive experience. Spending time with friends by the large, refreshing pool was the perfect way to unwind after a dusty day of exploring.

The resort’s buffet was incredible, offering a mouthwatering selection of Sri Lankan dishes and the pasta bar was fantastic for fueling up at breakfast and dinner. We went back for seconds both nights!

Where to eat in Udawalawe: Craft Tunnel

a restaurant in sri lanka with a wall of beautiful pottery. people are sitting down eating.

Before or after your Udawalawe safari, I highly recommend visiting Craft Tunnel for a meal. Located conveniently near the park, Craft Tunnel is not just a restaurant but an artistic retreat. I had my most memorable meal of the trip there.

Despite the buffet style, each curry was bursting with flavor and made with such care that my plate was a vibrant mosaic of colors.

The owner, a skilled potter, infuses the place with his fascinating life story. I even picked up a beautifully crafted teapot as a souvenir. The restaurant’s ambiance, combined with the opportunity to engage in pottery, makes it a must-visit. For more information, visit the website.

Mountain views at Udawalawe National Park
Mountain views at Udawalawe National Park

Udawalawe Vs. Yala National Park

Elephant in sri lanka

When deciding between Udawalawe and Yala National Parks in Sri Lanka, consider a few key differences. Yala is the most visited and can be crowded, with more expensive safari options, and closes annually for several weeks. It’s renowned for leopards, boasting the highest concentration worldwide.

In contrast, Udawalawe, though less crowded and cheaper, offers superior chances to see elephants due to its high concentration in a smaller area. If your trip coincides with Yala’s closure, Udawalawe becomes an excellent alternative for wildlife viewing.

FAQ: Udawalawe National Park Safari

How much is the Jeep safari at Udawalawe?

The price varies depending on the number of people in your group. It costs $43 for one person, which includes the park entrance fees of $29. For a group of six people, the maximum allowed, the price is approximately $188. You can find the most up-to-date prices and details here.

How long does Udawalawe safari take?

A typical safari in Udawalawe National Park lasts about 3 to 4 hours.

Is Udawalawe National Park worth visiting?

Absolutely, especially if you’re interested in seeing elephants in their natural habitat, as the park offers one of the best opportunities in Sri Lanka to see these incredible wild animals.

Which safari is better, Yala or Udawalawe?

Udawalawe is better for reliable elephant sightings, while Yala is preferred for a broader range of wildlife, including the elusive leopard.

What do you wear on a Jeep safari?

Wear light, breathable clothing, preferably in neutral colors that blend with the natural environment such as the REI Sahara Line. Don’t forget a hat and sunglasses for sun protection.

What is the best time of day to visit Udawalawe?

Early morning or late afternoon are the best times for wildlife viewing, as animals are more active during the cooler parts of the day.

What to do in Udawalawe besides safari?

Besides safari, you can visit the Elephant Transit Home, which rehabilitates young elephants, or explore nearby villages, restaurants, and nature trails.

What animals are in Udawalawe safari?

Udawalawe is home to a large population of elephants, as well as water buffalo, monkeys, crocodiles, and a variety of bird species.

Can you see leopards in Udawalawe?

Leopards are present in Udawalawe, but they are much rarer and harder to spot than in Yala National Park.

How many elephants are in Udawalawe National Park?

Udawalawe National Park is known for having a significant elephant population, commonly estimated at around 600 to 700 elephants.

When is the best time to visit Udawalawe?

During the dry season, from May to September. During these months, the weather is more stable, and the reduced foliage and water levels make wildlife viewing easier, especially for spotting elephants near the water bodies.

What are the opening hours for Udawalawe National Park?

The Udawalawe National Park is open daily from 6:00 AM to 6:00 PM. Visitors can enter the park for safari tours during these hours, and it’s best to plan morning or late afternoon safaris for optimal wildlife viewing.

Final Thoughts: Udawalawe National Park Safari

Udawalawe National Park is a gem for safari lovers in Sri Lanka, offering a more intimate and less crowded experience compared to its more famous counterparts. It’s a paradise especially for those passionate about elephants, as it boasts one of the highest densities of these gentle giants.

With its affordable safaris, stunning landscapes, and rich biodiversity, Udawalawe isn’t just a visit; it’s a memorable adventure that echoes the wild heart of Sri Lanka.

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  • Lora Pope

    Lora is a full-time digital nomad on a quest to visit every country in the world and pet as many dogs as she can along the way. Over the last 15 years, she has traveled to 70+ countries and six continents solo. She currently calls Puerto Vallarta, Mexico home and enjoys ending each day with sunset and tacos on the beach. [email protected] Pope Lora

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  1. Cherryl says:

    I’d love to go on an elephant safari, seeing them roaming freely in their own environment – thanks for sharing this. 🤗