Know Before You Go: Udawalawe National Park Safari, Sri Lanka

elephant safari in sri lanka

Udawalawe National Park safari is at the top of the bucket list for many planning a trip to Sri Lanka. So, if you’re planning your Sri Lanka itinerary and looking for information on how to visit Udawalawe National Park for an elephant safari, look no further.

What to expect on a Udawalawe National Park safari

You will see plenty of elephants!

Udawalawe National Park has the largest population of Asian elephants of all of the national parks in Sri Lanka. So, if you’ve come to Sri Lanka to see elephants, Udawalawe National Park is the right place. With between 500-700 elephants living here, the chance of seeing some up close is guaranteed. They are attracted to this area because of the abundant supply of water, which attracts other animals too.

Flowing through the Udawalawe National Park, the Walawe River provides water for a multitude of animals. Furthermore, the whole park is built around a man-made dam and a very large reservoir. The reservoir was constructed in the mid-twentieth century with the goal of forming a wildlife sanctuary.

seeing elephants in wild in sri lanka

… and other animals, too.

Another animal that you could see in abundance in Udawalawe National Park is the water buffalo. And besides elephants and water buffalo, other animals that live in the Udawalawe National Park that you could encounter on your safari include crocodiles, deer, wild boars, monkeys, lizards, leopards if you are extremely lucky, and a wide variety of birds.

water buffalos in sri lanka

You’ll hardly see other people.

Okay, before going on a Udawalawe National Park safari, I found two contradictory statements online – half of the people were saying the park is getting crowded, and the other half were saying that you barely get to meet another soul.

In my experience, the latter was more true. It might have something to do with the fact that tourism in Sri Lanka is decreasing in comparison to previous years. That is mainly because of the current economic situation of the country and people being kind of afraid of visiting. Or it also might have been the case for us because we visited Udawalawe National Park on the 1st of January. We only came across 3 or 4 other jeeps on our safari experience.

Udawalawe National Park safari tours are private.

I don’t know what’s the case in Yala or other national parks in Sri Lanka but in Udawalawe all safari jeep tours are private. This means that you get a 6-seater jeep and a safari tour guide all to yourself. For solo travelers, couples, or small groups of 2 to 4 people that could be very convenient as you could move around and change seats for a better view of the elephants and the other animals as you wish.

best elephant view

Udawalawe National Park safari visitor’s information

  • Udawalawe National Park opening time: 6 am – 6 pm
  • Udawalawe National Park entry fee: $25

What’s included in a Udawalawe National Park safari tour?

Before you book any Udawalawe National Park safari tour, find out what’s included in the tour price. Most companies offer private jeep safaris. You pay for the jeep, which has up to six seats inside, and you can split the cost with others.

The safari jeep and the driver are typically included in a Udawalawe National Park safari package. Depending on the company you book with, it may also include the park’s entry fees and a safari guide.

sri lanka safari

How much does a Udawalawe National Park safari cost? 

I can not tell you a specific number as prices vary and because the total amount would also depend on your transportation to and back from the National Park, whether you’re spending the night there, etc.

We spend a lot on our Udawalawe National Park safari, $150 per person. For this price, we got picked up from our hotel in Weligama and dropped off at our hotel in Ella. The price, of course, also included the Udawalawe National Park entry fee and the safari experience.

This could be a lot for budget travelers, and I am sure you can do it for less. It was expensive for us too, but we didn’t wanted to waste an entire day just getting there from Weligama.

Our Udawalawe National Park safari experience

As mentioned above, we’ve had our entire trip organized for us, so we didn’t had to worry or deal with anything on our own. From Weligama, we arrived straight at the entrance of Udawalawe National Park where we transferred to our jeep. We quickly picked up our guide and started the safari experience.

The first thing that we saw was a leopard footprint.

Right after, we saw and heard some peacocks and started noticing the abundance of birds.

Within a couple of minutes of driving into the park, we saw a herd of water buffalo gathered at the reservoir. There were elephants around the water too. And we were also shown where to look to see a crocodile. We encountered a few, but it is so difficult to spot them really as they blend so well with their surroundings and look more like a log from a distance than an actual crocodile. That’s why binoculars would be great for the Udawalawe National Park safari.

Udawalawe National Park

We saw plenty of elephants, too. Families, lovers, and kids playing around with one another. One family even passed right through us, literally a meter from our jeep.

Our safari guide had eagle eyes and without him, we probably wouldn’t notice anything but the elephants and the water buffalo. Thanks to him, we managed to spot the crocodiles, deer, leopard footprint, and so many birds.

When is the best time to visit Udawalawe National Park?

The best time to visit Udawalawe National Park is during the dry season (the rainy months are April, May, October, and November). Elephants can be seen all year round, but migrating birds can only be seen between November and March.

What time of the day is best for the Udawalawe National Park safari?

When going on a Udawalawe National Park safari, you can choose when to do the safari – in the morning or the evening. You can also do an all-day safari adventure for a higher price, but I think that will be pretty exhausting.

The morning safari starts with the opening of the Udawalawe National Park at 6 am, and many choose to go for that option as animals are more likely to be active in the early morning. Plus, you beat the heat.

However, there could be fewer people during the evening tour, which is something also to consider. We did the evening tour and didn’t come across many other jeeps. And many animals are our drinking water or having a meal.

In any case, it’s totally up to you and your plans.

Udawalawe safari sri lanka

How long is the Udawalawe National Park safari?

Typically, a Udawalawe National Park safari lasts about 3 hours.

How to get to Udawalawe National Park?

Udawalawe National Park is located on the boundary of the Sabaragamuwa and Uva Provinces. It is easily accessible from the town of Udawalawa and can be reached in 2 to 4 hours from Sri Lanka’s famous beaches, Ella, and Colombo.

If you’re time and itinerary can allow it, you can reach Udawalawa by public bus. Please bear in mind, however, that depending on your departing destination, you might need to change multiple buses, which could take up to 10 hours.

You can also reach Udawalawa National Park by hiring a driver, renting a car, tuk-tuk, or a scooter and driving yourself, or joining a tour. The last is a very popular option. Tours are available from various destinations including Colombo, Galle, Hikkaduwa, Mirissa, Ella, and more.

Udawalawe National Park safari tips

  • Don’t forget to bring enough water.
  • Also, bring some snacks.
  • Suitable clothes or/and sunscreen.
  • Make sure to go to the bathroom before the start of your safari as there are no facilities in the park.
  • A good camera with the right lenses to capture the animals you’re going to see at a distance.
  • Binoculars would be good to have.

Which is better: the Udawalawe National Park safari or the Yala National Park safari? 

Although our first plan was to do a safari in Yala, we ended up choosing the Udawalawe National Park safari instead. For us, the main reason for that was logistical. We were in Weligama and wanted to go to Ella next. Udawalawe National Park is on the way between the two, so if we decided to visit Yala, we had to make a detour.

Another reason why we chose to do a Udawalawe National Park safari was that we knew for a fact that we are going to see elephants there. Most people typically visit Yala with the hopes of seeing leopards as well. However, we learned that you have the highest chance of seeing one of the 40 leopards roaming around Yala between May and August, so we decided that it is not worth making the detour.

With that being said, I can not really say which one is better. In my opinion, the better national park to visit of the two is the one that best fits your itinerary. Other travelers also report that Yala is also more crowded and more expensive, so that might be another reason to choose a Udawalawe National Park safari instead.

*It is also worth mentioning that according to a few locals that we spoke to, Yala is not even the best place to see leopards. They recommended visiting Wilpattu National Park which is located in the northwest of Sri Lanka.

Is Udawalawe National Park the best place for a safari in Sri Lanka?

I don’t think that there are best and not best parks for a safari in Sri Lanka. I think that it all depends on your interests in what are you interested in seeing and which park could best fit into your itinerary. Sri Lanka is home to 26 national parks, so if you’ve come to Sri Lanka for wildlife, I recommend going on more than one safari anyway.

safari in Udawalawe, sri lanka

Is visiting Udawalawe National Park worth it?

I wanted to see elephants in the wild and I achieved that at Udawalawe National Park. I heard that you are also likely to see elephants roaming the streets in the north of Sri Lanka, but since Kandy was our northernmost destination, from all the places we visited in central and south Sri Lanka, that was the only place where we saw the famous Sri Lankan elephants.

So, yes, for me the Udawalawe National Park safari was worth it.

And that’s all folks. I hope that this article gave you a good overview of what to expect on a Udawalawe National Park safari. If you have any additional questions or comments, please let me know in the comment section below, and don’t hesitate to contact me.

If you like this post, please share it with your friends and follow Owl Over The World on Facebook & Instagram for more travel tips & inspiration.