Observing elephants Udawalawe national park Sri Lanka
When a friend of mine was staying with me in Weligama, we decided to go on elephant safari on his last day. Seeing elephants in their real habitat was one of the things we both wanted to do while in Sri Lanka. After talking to other bloggers who have visited some safari parks in Sri Lanka, I decided to go to Udawalawe national park.
Although being the 3rd most visited park in the country, I’ve heard it’s not overcrowded yet and safari jeeps and guides are trying to keep the interference to minimum. Observing elephants Udawalawe national park Sri Lanka was one of the nicest things I did in the country.
Observing elephants Udawalawe national park Sri Lanka
After breakfast at 22 Binaweli hotel in Weligama we were picked up by a guy from Scenic Grand Tours that was going to take us to Udawalawe. As it was just the two of us, we went there by a car instead of a bigger van. The road trip passed faster than expected and we talked along the way.
There’s a river and a reservoir in the Udawalawe national park.
Already by the lake close to the Walawe river there was a bunch of water buffaloes munching on grass. Once we reached Udawalawe, we could use the free bathroom at the entrance while our guide waited for a jeep with its driver.
To go on safari in Udawalawe national park you have to go on a jeep. It’s not possible to take your own vehicle. There’s many jeeps with drivers who are at the same time park guides waiting just outside of the entrance. It’s necessary to book them directly or via a travel agency as we did.
We hopped on a jeep with my friend and then our driver with Scenic Grand Tours guide took us around the national park. The roads were a bit muddy but everything around was so green! I loved the fresh air and birds chirping. It was quite a nice change after all the days on the beach.
Udawalawe national park is mostly famous for Sri Lankan elephants and water birds.The best time for safari in Udawalawe is January to March when you can see the most animals. Unfortunately, we visited in November but it was still fine to observe some animals.
Just a few minutes into the park we spotted a group of elephants hanging out on our left. We spent quite a while observing them in awe. It was such a magical moment to see wild elephants in their natural habitat. Even after visiting 59 countries it was my first time to see wild elephants roaming freely in nature.
I learned a few things about elephants there:
- We saw Sri Lankan elephants which are easier to spot in Udawalawe national park compared to other parts of the country because they are attracted to the Udawalawe reservoir.
- Sri Lankan elephants are 1 of 3 subspecies of Asian elephants living on the Asian continent. Asian elephants are smaller than African elephants.
- I’ve heard that Sri Lanka has the largest density of elephants out of all the Asian countries.
- All the adult elephants we could see were female. They were accompanied by baby elephants (both female and male).
- Adult male elephants without tusks usually stay on their own, live separately and not in a group.
- Female elephants stick together with babies making a group.
- Once they reach 8 years, male elephants leave the group to live on their own.
- Interesting fact: only approx. 7% of old male elephants bear tusks.
- Tusker male elephants stay with the group once they reach adulthood. Interesting to see they do stick with the group, unlikely to other male elephants without tusks. More than 50 tuskers live in the Udawalawe jungle but when it’s hot they don’t come out.
- Elephants take siesta :) They sleep in the afternoon for 4 hours. The rest of the day they spend eating.
- During the day elephants hide in the shade under the trees and sleep there.
I have to say that our jeep guide had a good eye. He would always pull over to show us a small bird or a lizard sitting on a branch. I would have never seen them on my own so having a guide like him was much appreciated.
The birds we spotted:
- blue-tailed bee-eater
- little green bee-eater
- hoopoe (sitting in the middle of the road and not wanting to let jeeps to pass) :D
- white bellied sea eagle
- quite a lot of peacocks roaming around
- I learned that in winter, many bee-eaters migrate to Sri Lanka from India. As we visited before winter, we only saw those who are permanent residents in Sri Lanka.
We also stopped by a lake which is the only place where you can get off the jeep to rest but as it was raining, we stayed inside the jeep and continued the journey in search of more elephants. Our guide told us that in February the lake water level is very low so there’s a lot of elephants playing in there. Unfortunately now we did not spot any by the lake.
The weather was unpredictable during our visit and it went from sunny, hot and humid, to raining, to even more humid and cloudy, again rain, and sunny when we were leaving. That’s why you can see photos with sun and also some with rain drops in this article.
Frankly, spending almost 3 hours exploring Udawalawe national park was one of the highlights of my Sri Lankan trip. As an animal and nature lover, I could have honestly gone around for an entire day, or even more days without getting bored. Preferably with no camera, no phone, no internet and no words. That would be the best :)
Once again, I have to give thanks to our jeep guide for having pointed smaller animals to us, and also for not interfering with animals at all. He drove very carefully and was keeping silence when close to animals. However, there was a guide in another jeep that shouted at an elephant and passed by it by jeep too close in my opinion, which disturbed the whole group of elephants and made them run. The whole situation made me really sad.
Please remember, Udawalawe national park is a protected area which is home to elephants, other mammals, birds and reptiles. It is THEIR home, and us people are just visitors there so bear that in mind and show your respect to animals and plants in there.
TIP 1: To see more, check my other photos from Udawalawe and the rest of Southern Sri Lanka.
TIP 2: Here’s my article about top 10 beaches in Southern Sri Lanka. Relaxing on the beach after visiting national park is definitely a good idea ;)
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Have you ever seen elephants in their habitat? Where? If not yet, would you like to?