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Visiting Udawalawe National Park: A Sri Lanka Safari

Visiting Udawalawe National Park: A Sri Lanka Safari

When we were travelling in Sri Lanka I knew I wanted to visit Udawalawe National Park. Udawalawe offers a Sri Lanka Safari to see one of my favourite animals – elephants. In this guide we round up all of our tips and tricks for visiting Udawalawe National Park in Sri Lanka. 

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Why Visit Udawalawe National Park for a Sri Lanka Safari

Visiting Udawalawe National Park for a Sri Lanka Safari

The attractions of Sri Lanka are almost endless from the beautiful tea plantations, fortified cities such as Galle, beautiful stretches of beaches and amazing food so why visit Udawalawe National Park for a Sri Lanka Safari? 

Udawalawe National Park might actually be the best place to see wild Asian elephants in the whole of Sri Lanka. What I loved about visiting Udawalawe is that you get to see Asian elephants in their natural habitat and protected from poachers. This isn’t a sanctuary but a national park that protects the elephants in their natural space which to me makes this the best type of elephant experience. 

How to Get to Udewalawe National Park 

Udewalawe National Park is easiest to visit if you are in the South of the Country. We were staying at the luxurious Buckingham Place Hotel just outside of Tangalle and our trip took less than one and a half hours. This is literally my favourite hotel in the world (you can read our review here) and can check rates and availability online here. Other great hotels in this region include the Anantara Tangalle and Shangri La Hambantota which is only an hour away from the park entrance. 

Where should I stay when visiting Udawalawe National Park?

Where to Stay for visiting Udawalawe National Park

While there are plenty of places to stay around Udawalawe National Park, we decided that as we were only spending a day in the park that we would stay in Tangalle at our favourite hotel – Buckingham Place – which was only about an hour and a half drive. 

However if you want to do more than one day in the park or want to get in for 6am for better bird watching then you should consider one of these properties as they are much closer and can get you into the park much earlier. 

What is the best time to visit Udawalawe National Park?

Visiting Udawalawe National Park for a Sri Lanka Safari

The great thing about Udawalawe National Park in comparison to say Yala National Park where you can also do a Sri Lanka Safari is that you can visit all year round. (Yala is usually closed for 6 weeks iso from September). There are however depending on what you want to see will dictate what the best time to visit Udawalawe National Park is. 

The best time for seeing birds at Udawalawe is in the mornings or at dusk. This is the same for birdwatching anywhere in the world as this is when birds are most easily spotted. If you want to see the migrant birds that pass through Udawalawe on their migrations then you should look at the November to March period. 

If you are looking for the best time to see elephants you are better traveling during the dry season which runs from May – September in Sri Lanka. We went in September and had the perfect conditions for seeing elephants. And while elephants can be seen during anytime of day in Sri Lanka they say late afternoon into early evening can bring more elephants out to the water. 

How much does it cost to visit Udawalawe National Park?

As we were only doing a day trip to Udawalawe National Park, our hotel arranged for a driver to take us and pick us up from the park but he waited outside of the park. Once we were at the park we hired a driver and spotter who would actually take us on our Sri Lanka safari. On top fo the cost of the driver and spotter you pay for park entrance separately. 

It is possible to get your skip the line entrance to Udawalawe online in advance – click here for purchasing information. It is also possible to book your private Sri Lanka safari tour in advance here! 

What will you see on an Udawalawe Safari?

What wildlife can you see on an Udawalawe Safari - Sri Lanka Safari

On an Udalwalwe Safari you are almost guaranteed to see elephants and this was the main reason we went to Udawalawe. However there are plenty of other wildlife to spot in the park including: 

  • Leopards – this is not guaranteed and harder to spot that in Yala but there are leopards in this national park. 
  • Water Buffalo
  • Sri Lanka Axis Deer
  • Crocodiles 
  • Birds (depending on the time of year depends on the variety of birds you will i.e. endemic vs migratory). 

Our experience at Udawalawe National Park

Visiting Udawalawe National Park for a Sri Lanka Safari

So off we went. We had literally been in the park for four minutes when we came across our first elephant. He was more than happy to put on a show, showering himself with water right next to our car. If I had been worried about not seeing elephants, ten minutes inside the park had dispelled any concerns. We must have seen about 50 elephants during our 4 hours in the park. My personal favourite was watching a family of elephants heading into a pool of water to cool off in the midday sun. I couldn’t have asked for a better shot!

On our trip around Udewalawe – we never saw another car and felt like we were really alone with nature. A big shout out has to go to our guides whose eagle eyes caught things we never would have. Other than elephant we saw numerous birds, and I am sure if we had got there earlier in the morning we would have seen even more.

Unfortunately we didn’t see any leopards which are notoriously difficult to spot – but I will certainly be returning for another shot!

What to Wear to Udawalawe National Park / What to Pack

As with any safari neutral colours are definitely the best for a safari. I opted to wear my hiking trousers which have a zip to convert them into shorts depending on the heat of the day and persistence of the bugs.

On that note, definitely take your bug spray with you as there can be a lot in the park. We also packed sun cream even though the jeep had a roof and were glad we did. 

Hiking boots aren’t necessary for visiting Udawalawe National Park as there isn’t really anywhere you can get out of your car but I would still recommend closed toe shoes. 

Of course you won’t want to be forgetting your camera as you will have it out constantly. 

FAQ About Visiting Udawalawe National Park for a Sri Lanka Safari

Udawalawe or Yala – why we chose to do our Sri Lanka safari at Udawalawe?

When were looking at possible trips to see elephants in Sri Lanka we were looking at visiting either Udawalawe or Yala National Park. We eventually decided on Udewalawe for a number of reasons. Firstly we had heard that Yala, was the more popular in terms of number of tourists and sometimes you could be fighting with a number of other jeeps to get close to wildlife. Also the main reason we wanted to do a Sri Lanka safari was to see elephants and elephants are easier to see at Udawalawe versus Yala. However if leopards are what you are trying to spot then Yala might be a better choice however a leopard spotting is never guaranteed. 

Also please note that Yala normally closers for around 6 weeks a year (normally around September) so if Yala is where you are wanting to go be sure it is open before booking. 

Are there leopards in Udawalawe?

Yes there are leopards in Udawalawe however they are extremely difficult to spot and a sighting can not be guaranteed. 

Can you Visit Udawalawe National Park with Kids

We visit Udawalawe National Park before we had kids however I think Udawalawe National Park with kids would be a great experience. The park isn’t the largest in Sri Lanka and many safaris are only half days (around 3 hours) perfect for children with short attention spans making this a great place to visit in Sri Lanka with kids

Children under five enter the park for free which is an added bonus. 

Looking for more Sri Lanka inspiration? Then why not check out our guide to Galle or check out the best place to stay


Wednesday 18th of October 2017

This looks wonderful. Elephants are just so beautiful. definitely adding this to our list

Erin Gustafson

Tuesday 25th of October 2016

I love this! Have always been a HUGE elephant fan and I love the idea of getting up close and personal without a million tourists (ok, slight dramatics). But this sounds so cool and I want to see Sri Lanka - so thank you for sharing! Can't wait to see where you take us this week for #FarawayFiles, cheers from Croatia right now! Erin

Wandermust Mummy

Wednesday 26th of October 2016

It was fabulous I can't offer enough praise for Sri Lanka

Corey with fifi + hop

Tuesday 25th of October 2016

Who knew there was Elephant day?! But I guess there's a day for everything. Your trip looks incredible and I would love to go to Sri Lanka some day. I've heard nothing but amazing things about it. #farawayfiles

Wandermust Mummy

Tuesday 25th of October 2016

There does seem to be a day for everything lol! Sri Lanka is an amazing country

Clare (Suitcases and Sandcastles)

Friday 21st of October 2016

I'm very keen to do an elephant safari in Sri Lanka so great to read this! How wonderful that you didn't meet any other vehicles - but saw plenty of elephants! Sounds like the perfect wildlife experience. Thanks so much for linking up to #FarawayFiles

Wandermust Mummy

Friday 21st of October 2016

It was amazing. Elephants are my favourite animal so it was such a special experience for me

Katy Clarke

Thursday 20th of October 2016

We did the Yala safari pre babies. I absolutely loved Sri Lanka and watching all the wildlife in the park. Elephants are my favourite animal so I would have been desperately disappointed if we didn't see any. We only saw a few but got very close up to some which was amazing. We also saw a leopard so maybe you need to go back to Sri Lanka and try Yala too! Thanks for the memories on #FarawayFiles

Wandermust Mummy

Friday 21st of October 2016

I don't think udewalawe has many leapards and we didn't see any. Would love to return to Sri Lanka one day