Spot herds of majestic Asian elephants, wild cats and myriad birdlife at this sprawling wildlife reserve on the edge of the Hill Country.
Udawalawe National Park is a sprawling lowland park that covers an area of 76,160 acres (30,821 hectares). Come here for one of the best places in Sri Lanka to observe Asian elephants in their natural habitat. Look for deer, wild cats and water buffalo as well. Udawalawe National Park was established to protect the wildlife that depends on the water from the Udawalawe Reservoir. It consists of lightly vegetated vast grasslands located in the shadow of the Hill Country’s tea plantations and escarpment.
The park’s undisputed main attractions are the more than 400 elephants that roam freely between the stark landscapes and reservoir. The high density makes sighting practically guaranteed throughout the year. Other mammals include buffalo, macaque, sambar deer, Sri Lankan leopard and wild boar. Sightings of crocodile and sloth bear are also common. See babblers, eagles, hornbills and pelicans, among other birds.
Access to the reserve is via organized half-day and full-day jeep safaris only. Tours include sharp-eyed guides who possess uncanny abilities to spot animals and provide valuable information about them. The absence of thick vegetation also makes game-watching an effortless task from an open-top jeep. Have your camera poised to snap memorable photos as you get close to the park’s inhabitants.
Located in the park’s southwestern corner is the Elephant Transit Home. It protects, rears and bottle feeds orphaned elephants before releasing them back into the wild. Come here for the daily feeding sessions to learn about their protection and development.
The park straddles the border of the Uva and Sabaragamuwa provinces in south-central Sri Lanka. It’s about a 4-hour drive from Colombo and a 3-hour drive from the popular beach town of Mirissa. Many jeep tours offer a pick-up and drop-off service from hotels in Ambilipitya, Avitiya and Udawalawe.
Udawalawe National Park is a year-round destination. There is a fee for entrance. Visit after dawn or just before dusk for the best chance of spotting large amounts of animals. Arrive from January to April and July to September to avoid the rainy season.