Skip to Content

Don't miss our latest posts. Subscribe now to our gay travel newsletter

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:

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 kilometers (119 square miles) and is Sri Lanka’s 3rd largest national park (after Yala and Wilpattu). It is mainly popular for its photogenic elephants. This is our guide to getting the most out of your elephant safari at Udawalawe.

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

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

This is a list of just a few of the big animal “celebs” to look out for during your safari in the awesome Udawalawe National Park:


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

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.

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


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:

Do it yourself independently

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

Explore Udawalawe with 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.


  • 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:


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.

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:


  • 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.


  • 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.
Travel advice for LGTBQ community

Advice for LGBTQ travellers to Sri Lanka

Sadly being gay is illegal in Sri Lanka. The proudly retains its colonial-era anti-gay laws and doesn't seem to be repealing them any time soon. This makes life hard for the Sri Lankan LGBTQ community. However, for gay travellers, a different standard is applied – no policeman will want to get mixed up with Embassy issues, so because of this alone, Sri Lanka is safe for LGBTQ travellers! We certainly felt this way and never had a problem getting a double bed in the guesthouses and hotels we stayed at. We would, however, advise you to avoid public displays of affection in Sri Lanka and of course, any activism. Find out more in our interview with Kaluu from Colombo about what gay life in Sri Lanka is like.

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.

Happy travels are safe travels

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.

This post may contain affiliate links which means if you make a purchase through one of these links, we will receive a small commission. Read our disclosure for more info.
Gay Nepal interview with Tilak from Kathmandu
Gay Nepalese boy Tilak tells us about gay life in Nepal
← Read Last Post
Nomadic Boys gay Malaga
A whirlwind visit around gay Malaga, Torremolinos, Granada and Madrid
Read Next Post →
Sebastien Chaneac

Sebastien is the co-founder, editor and author of He is a tech geek, a total travel nerd and a food enthusiast. He spends most of his time planning Nomadic Boys' travels meticulously right down to the minute details and if not, he'll probably be cooking. Sebastien has travelled to over 80 countries with his partner in crime and the love of his life, Stefan. He regularly shares his expertise of what it’s like travelling as a gay couple both on Nomadic Boys and on prominent publications ranging from Pink News, Matador, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Guardian and many more. Originally from France, Sebastien moved to London in the early 2000s where he pursued a career as a computer programmer for Thompson Reuters and Bloomberg. He subsequently left it all to explore his passion for travelling around the world with Stefan to hand, and thus Nomadic Boys was born. Find out more about Nomadic Boys.


Sunday 28th of January 2018

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!

Nomadic boys

Monday 29th of January 2018

Thanks :)


Friday 12th of January 2018

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.

Nomadic boys

Friday 12th of January 2018

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 :)


Wednesday 29th of November 2017

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.

Nomadic boys

Wednesday 29th of November 2017

Hi Maddie yes that is very common so no worries.


Monday 26th of June 2017

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?

Nomadic boys

Monday 26th of June 2017

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.


Friday 7th of April 2017

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

Thank you! PS so amazing you saw leopards!!

Nomadic boys

Friday 7th of April 2017

I believe it does but best to double check with the safari company to be on the safe side :)