Meet Elephants in Udawalawe National Park – A Complete Guide

An unique mix of history, nature and wildlife!

Are you thirsty for a taste of Africa while visiting Sri Lanka? Udawalawe is the place for you!

The Udawalawe National Park was established in 1972 and extends to 30,821 hectares. Before becoming a National Park, the area was used for chena farming. The farmers have since moved on, because of the declaration of the importance of the national park. The Udawalawe National Park has often been compared to the savannah reserves of Africa, due to the sprawling grasslands with herds of elephants, water buffalo, leopards, and sambar deer. Udawalawe lies on the boundary of Sri Lanka’s wet and dry zones. Plains dominate the topography, though there are also some mountainous areas. Udawalawe Reservoir is located in the center of the park, and is fed by the Walawe Ganga River. Most tourists flock to the park to see the elephants herds of over 100. The elephants remain in the park because of a fence that keeps them protected inside. Many species of large water birds frequent the park, making it a popular bird watching location.

Things to Do

1. Wildlife Safari 

Udawalawe National Park is known as one of the best National Parks in Sri Lanka to see wild elephants. In the border of the southern province, it shares an elephant corridor with Lunugamwehera National Park. Also, with a few tanks inside the park, Udawalawe has a high density of birds during the migratory season. There are records of elusive leopards in this park, as well. Due to the shyness of the leopards, it is hard to find a one in the park remises. But if you have a stroke of luck, jungle cats are the best animal to see after elephants in Udawalwe National Park.

The local communities are conducting safari drives in specially designed jeeps. Morning safaris are starting by 6 AM and could stay inside the park for about three hours. As most of the animals get active during the dawn and dusk, it is a great time to visit a National Park. For evening safari, you can start around 3 PM and stay until 6 PM. The park is open only between 6-6, but if you prefer staying inside the park, they have a campsite inside the park. You can directly book a campsite by visiting the website for the department of wildlife conservation. 

2. Elephant Transit Home

Udwalawe elephant transit home is one of the best places to visit in Sri Lanka to see the rehabilitation process of wild elephants. It is a part of conservation efforts done by the Sri Lankan wildlife department. When they find injured baby elephants or lost baby elephants in the wild, they take care of them in the transit home. Since this is close to the Udawalawe National Park, most elephants being rehomed to the National Park once they could live by themselves. The transit home keeps a collar for those elephants getting back to bushes and checks on them more often in their new home. 

Those baby elephants need to have milk every three hours until they grow big enough to survive on the usual food. Since then, they allow the public to watch those feeding sessions a few times a day. The elephant transit home has hundreds of success stories with rehomed wild elephants from 1995. Also, it is known as one of the best animal welfare and rehabilitation centres in the world. You can visit this place during your visit to the Udawalawe National Park and learn about the process of rehoming the injured wild elephants. 

3. Udawalawe Reservoir 

The Udawalwe reservoir is playing an essential role in the National Park. It was built by blocking the Walawe river in 1969 as a result of a hydro plant. Now it is supporting both farmers and National Parks by supplying water for irrigation purposes as well. It has the third biggest dam in Sri Lanka, and you can drive along for four kilometres while enjoying the scenic beauty and elephants next to the road. 

Also, during the dry season, the dam of the reservoir becomes the main viewpoint for elephants in Udawalawe National Park. Mostly when there is less water, elephants spend the evenings in the banks of the lake. As there is a competition for water, it is an excellent chance to see them.  

4. Peacocks and Bird Watching

Peacocks are one of the major attractions of the park. If you visit the early in the morning, you can glimpse peacocks dancing around the banks of the reservoir. Male birds spread their beautiful feathers open to the air as a way of attracting females more often with the sunrise. Especially right after the rains, they get a new set of feathers with more contrast colours to show the prettiness to the females. Since the peacock is a sacred animal in the local communities, you can see hundreds of them even outside the park, as nobody hurts them.

Other than peacocks, Udawalawe has around 200 bird species, including the migratory birds from November to March every year. As the park has a few water bodies, you can see a lot of aquatic birds such as teals and storks on the banks. And also, several raptors such as white belied sea eagle, shikra, black-winged kite and hawk eagles are found on the treetops in Udawalawe National Park. Having a good binocular is essential to have a great birding tour in this area as you could quickly tick off more than 200 species in atrip if it a clear day. 

5. Visit Ella

 Ella is one of the must-visit destinations in Sri Lanka. It is just a two hours drive from Udawalawe, reaching the borders of the hill country. It is suitable for hiking trails, and there are two famous treks. Those are known as Ella rock and mini Adams peak, which are a great way of burning calories while on holiday. Also, next to the mini Adams peak, you can enjoy the most extensive mega zip line in Sri Lanka over the tea plantations. Flying Ravana is an adventure park with abseiling and ATV rides as well. A few tea factories are there close to Ella if you are a tea person and want to see the process of tea making. Also when you are visiting Ella, don’t forget to stop by the famous Ravan falls, which can be seen from the main road. 

The other most important place to visit is the nine arch bridge in Ella. It is built with bricks with nine arches, giving you the feeling of Hogwarts with a train runs on a bridge. Especially if you are travelling to Kandy, taking the train is the best option. This train line is known as one of the most scenic railway journeys in the world. It gives you the views of misty tea estates and waterfalls in the distance.

6. Visit Maligawila Buddha Statute

Maligawila buddha statue is a magnificent limestone carving from the 7th century. If you are visiting Ella from Udawalwe, it is a must-stop on your way to Wellawaya. You can reach this archaeological site by travelling a few kilometres from Buttala. This statue is the tallest standing Buddha statue that you can see in Sri Lanka at the height of 37 feet 10 inches. It also has a few ruins around the temple area, which was an image house around the statue. This site was discovered in 1951 as a broken statue with a few pieces around the premises. The treasure hunters destroyed it, and in 1991, the government took the necessary actions to build the statue. They could make the statue after repairs and raise back in the middle of the ruins.  The whole area was a complex of a Buddhist temple back in the 7th century. If you could walk around the temple premises, there are another few caves with statues and ruins. In the premises of Maligawila, an inscription says that most of the work was done by a prince called Aggabodhi, while the rest of the buildings are from the king Mahinda IV in the 10th century. 

Dress Code

While traveling in Sri Lanka make sure you are aware of the cultural standards. Because it is a religious and historically rich country, there are certain dress codes. It is mandatory to have your shoulders and knees covered, and you must take your hat off while entering a store or a restaurant. With only a few adjustment to your everyday clothes, you can be respectful towards the locals and the religion as well. When entering a restaurant or a shop, cover up your shoulders and make sure your bathing suit is not visible if you are coming from the beach. If you are going on a safari a light t shirt and trousers are great options. Make sure to pack a jacket or a pullower because early mornings and late nights tend to be chilly.

Getting In and Around

Udawalawe National Park is on the southern edge of the island, close to Galle and the coast. You can access it from many cities.

Colombo: Colombo is 150 km away from Udawalawe National Park on the west coast of Sri Lanka. You can travel by an hourly long distance bus to reach the national park in 6 hours. Via taxi or private car you can be there in 3 hours.

Negombo: Negombo is 165 km away from the national park, on the west coast just above Colombo. Take the bus via Colombo to reach Udawalawe National Park in 7.5 hours. Via taxi or private car you can be there in 3.5 hours.

Kandy: Kandy is 200 km away from Udawalawe National Park, in the heart of the island. Travel with the twice a daily train via Haputale to reach the park in 7 hours. You can also take a taxi or a private car to be there in less, than 4 hours.

Ella: Ella is 90 km away from the National park, so your best option is to take a taxi or a private car there. Sadly there are no direct buses or trains, so eventually you would have to go around with public transportation.

Galle: Galle is 125 km away from Udawalawe National Park on the south coast of the island.  Take the hourly bus towards Wellawaya and ask your driver to drop you off near the National Park, with a total trip time of  5 hours. Via taxi or a private car you can arrive at te National Park in 3 hours.

Dambulla: Dambulla is 240 km away from Udawalawe National Park. Travel to Kandy with a local bus, then transfer to the twice a daily train via Haputale to reach the park in 10 hours. Via taxi or a private car you can arrive to the National Park in 5.5 hours.

Sigiriya: Sigiriya is 260 km north of the National Park, close to Dambulla. Travel with a daily bus to Wellawaya then take a local bus towards Udawalawe National Park to reach it in 10 hours. Via taxi or a private car you can arrive in 6 hours.

When to Go

There are two monsoon seasons in Sri Lanka, a rainy and a dry one. This brings rain and wind from October through January and a sunnier, warmer weather between April and September. From the beginning of April, the weather is getting more hot with an average 30°C but it still tends to rain. Therefore the best time to go is between May and September if you’d like to be in a drier weather. However, if you don’t mind a bit of a rain and lower temperatures (25°C) and less tourists, you can enjoy Sri Lanka in the monsoon season as well. There is a particular time each year, when you should not visit Sri Lanka. That time is Christmas. The prices go high with the number of the tourist equally, who want to spend the holiday somewhere nice

Budget

Sri Lanka is a beautiful place to be, however, if you plan a visit, make sure to prepare yourself for some expenses. The island is relatively not expensive in everyday things, like public transportation ($1-10) and street food ($1-3), however tours and safaris can be a little pricey. Make sure to book in advance and try to go in groups, as it is cheaper for more people.

There are beautiful luxurious hotels with an unforgettable view, spas and restaurants ($90+),  mid range hotels which are more family oriented ($20-60) or budget friendly hostels ($10-15). These prices help families, luxury lovers and backpackers to enjoy their trip to the fullest Udawalawe National Park is the place for you if you are ready for nature, beauty and adventure. It has a great atmosphere which is filled by special animals, birds and sights. Make sure to hope on a Jeep Safari and explore the wild adventures of elephants, leopards and various migrating birds! Hike in the mountains or take a cooling dip. Udawalawe National Park is truly an amazing place to visit! You also have great options of restaurants to choose from, also lots of hotels to pick from. Udawalawe National Park cannot wait to have you!