Elephant safari at Udawalawe in Sri Lanka, a unique experience

Elephant safari at Udawalawe in Sri Lanka, a unique experience

Udawalawe National Park in south Sri Lanka is considered to be the Sri Lankan national park that best rivals the savannah reserves of Africa:

A photogenic elephant posing with a peacock
A photogenic elephant posing with a peacock at Udawalawe National Park

The National Park was established in June 1972 as a sanctuary for wild animals displaced by the construction of the Udawalawe Reservoir on the Walawe River.

It covers an area of 308 square kilometres (119 square miles) and is Sri Lanka’s 3rd largest national park (after Yala and Wilpattu). It is mainly popular for its photogenic elephants.

WHERE IS UDAWALAWE NATIONAL PARK?

Udawalawe National Park is located in the South of Sri Lanka, close to the more popular (but too crowded) Yala National Park. You can get to Udawalawe National Park pretty much from anywhere in Sri Lanka.

Map Sri Lanka: where is Udawalawe?
Map Sri Lanka: Udawalawe National Park is in the south

TOP ANIMALS TO SPOT AT UDAWALAWE

Elephants of Udawalawe

When we organised our safari in Udawalawe, we had the expectation of seeing lots of elephants, peacocks, and crocodiles. We were not disappointed:

The photogenic elephants of Udawalawe
This elephant stopped munching to pose for us

You will see elephants everywhere in Udawalawe and you can get real close to them. Being able to see a whole family with their baby elephants is certainly one of the highlights of this national park.

But we were overjoyed when we spent a whole afternoon watching a few young leopards playing around.

Leopards of Udawalawe

Spotting leopards is well known to be hard and generally down to luck because they are elusive, solitary and nocturnal mammals, hunting between sunset and sunrise. Also, their hunting behaviour makes them hard to spot as they are used to stalking their prey by being camouflaged and well hidden before pouncing.

Spotting leopards at Udawalawe National Park
“I can see you!” , said Mr Leopard…

So the best times to spot them are early in the day or late afternoon and with an experienced guide with inhuman eyesight!

There are around 700-1000 leopards in Sri Lanka with an estimated 40 at Yala and around 10 at Udawalawe, so our chances of spotting them were very slim.

Spotting these two young leopards playing
Spotting these two young leopards playing at Udawalawe National Park

This turned out not to be the case: on our first safari at Udawalawe, late afternoon, our guides spotted some movement in a small tree far away and we stopped to wait.

Waiting for the leopards at Udawalawe
The waiting game all part of the fun of a safari

The waiting is all part of ‘The Game’ we were told.

We waited a long long time with many jeeps coming and leaving our spot…with a few of us dozing off at times…

Seb taking a nap during our safari
The waiting game on our safari took its toll on Sebastien who dozed off a few times
Stefan also dozing off
Stefan also dozing off a few times during our safari

But this all paid off as these two very cute young leopards suddenly came out from behind the small trees and started to play on the rock area we had been starting at for ages.

We were told this particular family of leopards at Udawalawe had grown used to the jeeps so were not shy to make an appearance for us.

Watching the leopards interacting with each other in the wild at Udawalawe was extremely special and a highlight of our travels in Sri Lanka. From afar they looked so docile, gentle – like large cats, as opposed to the fierce killers they are.

HOW TO ORGANISE YOUR SAFARI IN UDAWALAWE

A safari at Udawalawe can be done in one of two ways:

#1 Be independant and do it yourself

Spend a night in one of the many guest houses or hotels outside the park, check our accommodation recommendations below.

The next day, arrive early at the park entrance and take one of the 4×4 jeeps waiting outside the gate for a half or a full day tour (some Jeeps can fit up to 8 people), which includes tracker guide and driver.

This costs around 3,500 Sri Lankan rupees (around £18 / $26) per person for three hours. You can also organise the half day safari with your guest house who will probably organise the pickup from the guesthouse for a small fee.

If like us, you prefer organising everything ahead, you can book a full day safari online at Udawalawe National Park.

Seb with Master Campers jeep
Seb with Master Campers jeep who took us for an excellent 3 days safari

#2 Splurge on an experienced safari company

The alternative option, which is what we did, is to pay a bit more money and spend a night or two (or three!) near the park in a luxury camping site with an experienced safari company such as Master Campers. We found them through TripAdvisor and after reading the excellent reviews, we had to go with them. And we were not disappointed: we organised our Safari to Udawalale and Yala National Park with them, and had an unforgettable experience. It was well worth the price.

MASTER CAMPERS HIGHLIGHTS

  • We had a spacious private tent with en-suite bathroom (see photos below).
  • A big comfy bed (you will need it)
  • Our private guide and driver from Master Campers were both excellent and it was down to their inhuman eyesight that we were able to spend an entire afternoon watching young leopards playing around.
  • Prices start from $390 / £270 for an All-inclusive overnight safari.

Since we've published this article, we've had many readers asking us to introduce them to Master Campers. Since we love you, we've negociated an exclusive 10% discount for all our readers organising their safari with Master Campers:

Get 10% off on your next safari to Udawalawe
Safari in Sri Lanka

* Required

We learnt that to make the most of a safari in Sri Lanka, it pays to invest in an experienced company. This is because everyone has to have one of the park's volunteer ‘tracker guide” in their jeep. We found these tracker guides to be completely underwhelming, didn't speak any English and it was our guides from Master Campers who spotted the animals not the tracker guides.

We would have been disappointed if we were reliant solely on the tracker guides and now understand the value of doing a safari with a highly rated and experienced company like Master Campers.

…and it was also a welcomed change from our day to day budget backpacking (!)

Our tent at Master Campers
Sebastien having his tea at our tent at Master Campers

We were spoilt rotten during our 3 days safari and for us, meal times were almost as exciting as the actual safaris!

A delicious, hearty breakfast at Master Campers
A delicious, hearty breakfast for these two greedy boys at Master Campers

HOTELS NEAR UDAWALAWE NATIONAL PARK

There are a variety of places to stay nearby, the ones that stood out for us the most are:

GRAND UDAWALAWE SAFARI RESORT   Book online

  • Great pool, big rooms, delicous buffer dinner and breakfast.
  • They can organise a safari and arrange a visit to the elephant orphanage nearby.
  • Prices start from $110 / £76 a night with breakfast included.

MANSALA SAFARI RESORT   Book online

  • Great budget option, very comfortable with excellent breakfast and dinner.
  • The friendly owner will arrange a safari to Udawalawe at a very good price.
  • Prices start from $22 / £15 a night.
Two cute birds by our car window at Yala
“Do you like my new hairstyle” asks one bird to the other…

Watch our travel video diary of our adventures through Sri Lanka as we ate our way through this tropical island, took some beautiful train journeys and enjoyed excellent safaris at Yala and Udawalawe, and spotting blue whales at Mirissa.

OUR FAVORITE TRAVEL RECOMMENDATIONS

⭐️ TRAVEL INSURANCE — We recommend you always take out travel insurance before your next vacation. What happens if you suffer from illness, injury, theft or a cancellation? With travel insurance, you can have peace of mind and not worry. We love World Nomads travel insurance and have been using it for years. Their comprehensive coverage is second to none and their online claims process is very user friendly.

⭐️ SAFETY & SECURITY — All travelers can sometimes encounter danger when traveling. CloseCircle is your “virtual body guard” mobile app which provides security alerts and support wherever you are in the world. They have a 24/7 emergency response team monitoring their users who will contact you immediately if the SOS swipe button is activated. Support can include anything from practical advice, to free evacuation from areas with extreme weather or security risks. You can read more about CloseCircle in our article about how to stay safe whilst traveling.

⭐️ ONLINE ANONYMITY — A VPN (Virtual Private Network) is a must in many countries: it allows you to surf anonymously and maintain your privacy whilst traveling. You'll particularly need it in countries where dating apps are blocked by the government. We recommend ExpressVPN, a reliable and cost effective service which we used and loved during our travels.

⭐️ HOTELS or APARTMENTS — When we plan a trip, we always look for the best hotel deals. We love Booking.com because not only do they have a comprehensive listing of accommodation options, they also offer the best prices. Added bonus: they provide 24/7 support and free cancellation for most listings.

⭐️ SIGHTSEEING and ADVENTURES — When we travel somewhere, we like to seek out the best experiences, whether it is cooking with locals in Bangkok, hiking on a glacier in Patagonia, or going on a wildlife safari in Sri Lanka. Our favorite place to look is GetYourGuide because they have over 30,000 highly rated activities, a user-friendly booking process with free cancellation and a 24 hour customer support.

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16 Comments

  1. Nice post, I love your pictures! We have also just been there and had a wonderful time! Your post really makes us want to go back!

    Reply
    • Thanks 🙂

      Reply
  2. Hi Nomadic Boys,

    Nice reading your detailed blog post! Just wondering if you would recommend any particular taxi company? We’re trying to find a taxi driver from Udawalawe to Galle.

    Reply
    • Hi Sharon, and thank you! They change all the time so best is to check with a reputable tour agency like Master Campers – there’s a form on our page you can complete to contact them directly and find out the latest up to date info 🙂

      Reply
  3. Hey! I discoverd master campers through your blog and we are looking into doing the Master Campers safari. Upon talking more with them more we heard the payment is by money transfer. Just wondering if that was how you paid. We are a little confused as we have never had to do a money transfer.

    Reply
    • Hi Maddie yes that is very common so no worries.

      Reply
  4. Hi, thanks for the great article, can I check how do we get from Ella/Nuwara Eliya to Udawalawe? Also, will you recommend full day or half day adventure in the park?

    Reply
    • Hi Cindy, the safari company we used took care of everything. With safaris it’s all a game of luck to maximise your chances so the longer you stay there, the higher your chances of seeing more wildlife.

      Reply
  5. Hi!
    Does the 3500 rupees cover the jeep fee too or that a separate fee?

    Thank you!
    PS so amazing you saw leopards!!

    Reply
    • I believe it does but best to double check with the safari company to be on the safe side 🙂

      Reply
  6. hey,

    i wish i had stumbled across your website before my travels to the 47 other countries i have been so luck to visit. I am so excited i will be in Sri Lanka Sept 2016, its a country that wasnt on my radar aas much as other ones, but since i will be in Southern india it really is a hop skip and bounce over to what is starting to sound like a wonderful and beautiful country. Truthfully ive never met a country i didnt like! thanks for sharing.. 🙂 now to read ur India blogs for southern india if youve been…

    Reply
  7. I’m loving your blog – you greedy boys! What fun you’re having – these Sri Lanka posts have been great – I’m adding Sri Lanka to my list of destinations. I think my travels might have us crossing paths in SE Asia – if so – I’ll plan my own safari and go hunting for 2 greedy nomadic boys. See if I can get a sighting 😉

    Safe travels and Keep up the good work –

    Reply
    • Hi Tim

      Thanks for your comment and for reading 🙂

      What’s your itinerary like for the next few months in SE Asia? Would love to meet up.

      Regards,

      Stefan.

      Reply

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