One of the main activities that can’t be missed in Sri Lanka is an elephant safari. The best known parks to do an elephant safari are either Yala or Udawalawe. Next to these places, other options are Minneriya or Kaudulla. We decided to do our safari in Udawalawe National Park.
We choose Udawalawe for a couple of reasons, after researching the internet. Firstly, the last ‘hill country’ part of our 2- week Sri Lanka itinerary ended in Ella (read here what you can do in and around Ella), while the second part of our trip would be focusing on the beaches in the south (starting with Mirissa). With regards to this, Udawalawe would be a better option location wise. Secondly, Udawalawe is far from a hidden gem, but at least it is slightly less known than Yala National Park. Lastly, we also read that it was slightly less expensive than Yala National Park. Next to that, we didn’t pick one of the other two parks, as this would be our only Elephant safari in Sri Lanka and we felt that we would be sure to have a good one in Udawalawe.
We decided to travel by car from Ella to Udawalawe, which was less than 20 / 30 euros. We arranged the transfer while waiting at the bus station in Ella. This is a tip to remember! As the drivers understand that you know about the public transport and are willing to take the cheapest option (public bus), they will offer you a cheaper price for a private transfer.
Another option is to take public busses from Ella to Udawalawe, via Wellawaya. This will cost you around 2 to 3 euros.
We stayed for one night at Kottawatta Village. I loved the place! It had a swimming pool and the tents accounted for a real glamping experience, which in my opinion suits a safari trip.
We did only stay for one night. When we arrived, we arranged the safari with the hotel. We went on a safari the next morning and after the safari we headed to Mirissa straight away.
We did book our safari at Kottawatta Village the moment we arrived. We were already in touch before our arrival, so we had a price indication during our travels, in case we would run in to something. It felt that booking last minute wouldn’t be a problem (note: we visited Sri Lanka in April, which is shoulder season), so we left it till the moment we arrived.
We decided to do a little safari which is around 3 to 4 hours, mainly because of the budget and time restrictions. I would say a half-day safari is more than enough when your main reason for the safari is to see the elephants. Changes of spotting them in this time are very great. When you are very interested in birds and other species, a full-day tour would probably allow you to see more.
We left at 5:30 in the morning, to arrive in the park around sunrise, which I could definitely recommend as it allows you to continue your journey the same day. As a monetary indication: for the full safari for 2 persons (incl. park and jeep fees) we payed around 60 euros.
First of all, this safari for me and for many others is 80% about elephants. There are some leopards in Udawalawe as well, but the chances to spot them are rather low. On top of that, there are different birds and you have to opportunity to spot for example crocodiles.
Something I didn’t have a clue about before going on this safari, were the amount of jeeps you meet on the way. All ‘tours’ are starting around the same time, so you are lining up at the entrance of the park.
When you do see an elephant, it won’t take long before many other jeeps are present at the animals as well. On the other hand, this of course also increases the opportunity to spot some elephants yourself.
Lastly, what better way there is to manage expectation than with a photo overview of the safari.