One of the biggest drawcards to Sri Lanka is its wildlife. When the country’s national animal is the elegant peacock, you can guarantee that there is plenty of wildlife to see.
There are 26 national parks in Sri Lanka, which for a tiny country it impressive! The two most popular ones are Yala and Udawalawe in the southern part of Sri Lanka. Yala has been the most popular for years, being home to the elusive leopard as it’s major drawcard. However, with popularity comes people and the crowded safari park can take away from the magic of the safari.
Udawalawe National Park is not quite as big and crowded and has more elephants you can poke a stick at! While it’s harder to spot a leopard at Udawalawe, you are guaranteed herds of elephants, peacocks, monkeys and water buffalo with a fraction of the crowds. We chose to go to Udawalawe and it definitely did not disappoint!
As sunrise is the best time to visit Udawalwe, we were up at the crack of dawn dressed in our best safari wear (read: glasses, because half of us have shocking eyesight) ready to spot some animals. It was still dark out as we were loaded into the Jeep and driven about five kilometres to the entrance of the national park. Despite being 5am, the entrance was a flurry of activity. Jeeps sat parked with sleepy-eyed tourists waiting inside while drivers and guides ran back and forth with entrance fees and tickets. It seems like it was a first come, first served style at the park and each driver was adamant they were going to be first. Once tickets were secured it was a mad rush to the next gate where access to the park started.
Our driver was particularly eager and just as daylight began to fill the sky he pushed our Jeep up to the front of the line and we were one of the first into the park. There was no polite driving around here and it seemed the more you revved the engine; the more of a chance was that you’d get to the front.
At 6am the gates were opened and Jeep’s poured out one by one. It seemed like there were so many cars about but within minutes we were alone in the park on the search for animals. The search didn’t last long, five minutes in the drive and we came across a herd of elephants munching on grass in the early morning light.
Cue: excited whispers, gushing and crawling over each other to get the best view.
There’s something about seeing animals as big as elephants just roaming about freely that no zoo can replicate. The elephants didn’t even acknowledge us and went about their early morning feeding frenzy. There were a couple of babies in the herd and you can guarantee this blonde was gushing over them like a proud parent.
We continued on and spotted monkeys, water buffalo, peacocks, eagles, bee-eaters and lots more elephants. The cool early morning air made the park come alive with animals and we were barely driving more than two minutes before stopping again. Udawalawe is bird-watching paradise. I’m admittedly not that excited about birds, but even I was eagerly trying to spot the different sorts of birdlife.
We had a break at Udawalawe Dam where monkeys ran rampant before making our way back to the entrance where we passed more Jeep’s coming in. On the way back we didn’t see as many animals so I recommend going on the sunrise safari so you won’t miss out!
Udawalawe National Park is about 165 kilometres from Colombo which will take about 3 hours on Sri Lankan roads. I recommend staying at least two nights so you can go on safari and have time to relax. We stayed at two different places, Elephant Trails and Athgira River Camping and I wholly recommend both!
There is also an elephant transit home in Udawalawe that is worth a visit. Feeding times are 9am, noon, 3pm and 6pm. This elephant orphanage is not as high profile as Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage but the focus on releasing the elephants back into the wild seems more prominent. Plus, watching the baby elephants race over to their feeding stations is pretty damn adorable!
Going on safari is a must do in Sri Lanka and it’s an easy and affordable experience suitable for everyone. It’s not every day you get to witness elephants roaming around freely or see so many birds in one place. For nature and wildlife lovers, Udawalawe National Park should be top of your list!