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Udawalawe Safari: The Best Elephant Safari in Sri Lanka


If tea fields, beaches and amazing railway tracks still haven’t convinced you to visit Sri Lanka, then I am certain a trip to the Udawalawe safari will. Udawalawe, a park covering almost 120 square miles (30,800 hectares) of land, has a lot of elephants and is typically less crowded than Yala, its main ‘competitor’. Besides that, it is also conveniently located only 2 hours from Ella in south-central Sri Lanka and the way they treat animals in Udawalawe is (according to the locals) much friendlier than Yala. In this article, you’ll be able to learn everything you need to know before visiting and how to make the most of your Udawalawe safari.

Our Udawalawe Safari afternoon experience

We arrived at our hotel in Udawalawe just in time for check-in. We spoke to the hotel manager who arranged a safari ride for us at 3 pm on the same day.  We dropped our bags, took a shower and changed our clothes – just in time to go back to the reception area and get up on our white safari jeep. We were both really excited as Udawalawe Safari is near the top of most tourist’s Sri Lanka bucket list.

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We then made our way from the hotel towards the National Park, where we waited in the jeep while the driver gets entrance tickets. After he got the tickets, we could begin our drive in the park.

It only took us about 10 minutes when we saw the first small herd of elephants. Such amazing creatures to see in their natural habitat.

After the elephants in this location scattered off into the deeper jungle, we continued driving towards a lake. We saw quite little there, but the best thing was the elephant below who had an itch to scratch – so he used the rock and scratched for about a minute straight. It was hilarious!

After the trip around the lake, we drove for quite a while without seeing any elephants. Our driver did have a good eye for various birds and lizards though! We started feeling a little sad that we might not see any more elephants.

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And just as we were about to turn by this small pond, I saw a big elephant coming towards it. I told the driver to wait a bit more and I am so happy I did! After the big elephant, many more followed and we ended up seeing a huge herd of elephants, all about to drink and play in the water just next to us. I almost forgot to take pictures, it was such an amazing experience to see them from so close and so free.

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After watching the elephants at this location for a good half an hour, we (and the elephants) continued our road. We drove slowly towards the exit and they walked off into the jungle.

We were then graced by a very beautiful sunset on our way back to the hotel. After we were done with showering and getting ready, we went to a nearby restaurant to eat some dinner and sleep. We absolutely loved our time at Udawalawe and would recommend you to visit as well, if you find yourself or are planning to go to Sri Lanka.

Udawalawe Safari prices

Here are the packages for safari drives to Udawalawe national park that we received from our hotel.

Safari sessions:

Morning 6.00-9.45PM
Evening 2.15-6.00PM

Private safari (only you):
Jeep service for 2 pax = 4000 LKR
Entry tickets for 2 pax = 7200 LKR
Total cost for safari = 11200 LKR

Shared safari (Share the jeep with others – max 4 pax):
Total cost for shared safari = 8750 LKR FOR 2 PAX (56 USD)
(saving for sharing 2400 LKR)

You will be picked up from the hotel and dropped off back, after the safari. So no additional transport is needed to go National park gate.

When to visit Udawalawe National Park

Udawalawe National Park is open year-round, and you will have a great experience any time of the year. However, if you are a true animal enthusiast you will see the most elephants and migratory birds from October to April. The amount of animal sights is random, there is no guarantee in how many and which animals you’ll see, and that’s exactly how a safari is and should be. Remember, it’s not a zoo and animal sighting isn’t guaranteed!

Regardless of when you visit, you’ll have an option to do a half-day safari or a full day safari. The half-day Udawalawe safari trips are in the morning, starting at around 6 am, while the afternoon safaris will begin around 3 pm, and both last about 3-4 hours. Typically the morning safaris will give you more time in the safari, but the afternoon safaris are rewarded with a sunset from the Udawalawe Reservoir, which is why we went for the afternoon option and definitely recommend it!

I think half a day is more than enough, but if you really love safaris, then opt for a full day.

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Which safari company to choose

We arranged our afternoon safari trip directly with the hotel and were really happy with them. I think this is the easiest and most convenient way to book the safari. We booked this the morning before arriving and decided to go fo the afternoon Udawalawe safari because we wanted a nice sunset trip to the safari.

We also really appreciated that our driver didn’t approach the animals and kept us away from other vehicles. This is how we managed to experience the safari in the best possible and unobtrusive way.

What to bring to the elephant safari

  • Camera and a zoom lens
  • Stabilizer if you’re filming, the roads are hella bumpy
  • Binoculars
  • Sandals as you’ll be in the jeep the entire time so no need for fancy shoes
  • Wear lightweight, neutral-coloured clothing
  • Sunglasses
  • Water
  • Sweater if you take the morning safari

Everything you need to know before visiting

How to get to Udawalawe

From Unawatuna to Udawalawe

We went from Udawalawe from Dalawella, which is just next to Unawatuna, with our driver Disa (you can reach him on WhatsApp +94 77 114 0727) who was taking us around almost all of Sri Lanka for two weeks. Contact him for the best price, but in general, you’ll be paying around 6000 rupees. It’s about a 2-3 hour ride with a minivan.

From Mirissa to Udawalawe

Mirissa and Unawatuna are about an hour apart. We did all our Mirissa activities from Dalawella, but if you are starting your trip from Mirissa and don’t want to hire a driver, you will have to take 3 buses:

Mirissa to Tangalle bus station. (60 Rupees per person, 1 hour 30-minute ride)
Tangelle bus station to Embilipitiya. (60 Rupees per person, 1 hour 30-minute ride)
Embilipitiya bus station to Udawalawe. (40 Rupees per person, 30-minute ride)

From Colombo to Udawalawe

It takes about 4-5 hours from Colombo to Udawalawe and the best way to do this trip is by hiring a driver or taxi for the trip is the best way to get here. Many safari companies will also help you arrange transport from anywhere you stay in Sri Lanka, but it will be a little pricier.

From Ella to Udawalawe

The easiest way again is by hiring a driver. But if you decide to take a bus, you will need to hop on three different lines to get from Ella to Udawalawe.

Ella to Wellawaya bus station. (75 Rupees per person, 45-minute ride)
Wellawaya bus station to Thanamalwila. (80 Rupees per person, 40-minute ride)
Thanamalwila to Udawalawe. (80 Rupees per person, 45-minute ride)

Where to stay

We chose to stay at The Countryside Udawalawe. From our experience, it didn’t matter very much where you stay in terms of location. The majority of people come here to go to the Udawalawe National Park and the hotels generally provide transport (safari jeep) to the safari, in the safari and back to the hotel.

We only stayed here for one night and were very positively surprised by the room, surroundings as well as breakfast.

Where to eat

Since Udawalawe is mostly a one-day destination, see if your hotel provides lunch and dinner and opt for eating in. We decided to wander to a different place but really regretted it. There are barely any public lights and the traffic on the main road is crazy, so walking around in darkness is anything but a good decision!

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Friday 25th of September 2020

Wow your photos look AMAZING! I am defiantly convinced to visit


Thursday 24th of September 2020

What an absolutely beautiful experience, and a gorgeous sunset to top it off! I think this is a really great way of seeing the elephants in Sri Lanka when compared to one of the unethical parks. When I was 15 I visited Sri Lanka and went on a safari ride but there was so many jeeps - it couldn't have been good for the elephants. I am so glad to see that it looks like you were the only jeep out there and that you were giving them there space. The place you stayed at in terms of accommodation looked great too, will defo be saving that for when I get to go back!


Thursday 24th of September 2020

Ah makes me sad to read this! We always try to be responsible as tourists and we were happy to discover Udawalawe, I really hope they continue staying ethical! Do let me know if you do return and how you found the experience! :)


Thursday 24th of September 2020

Oh my goodness that would be SO cool to see an elephant in real life...and not at a zoo!


Thursday 24th of September 2020

Exactly - it was amazing!!

Julia Bocchese

Thursday 24th of September 2020

I didn't know Sri Lanka had safari tours like this, but I really want to go on one now! It must have been amazing to see the elephants in their natural habitat like that!


Thursday 24th of September 2020

Sri Lanka is so diverse and beautiful! You'll love it if you visit :)


Thursday 24th of September 2020

Wow what an amazing adventure. I would love to do this trip someday. Great pictures. How interestingly you've described everything in details. Will save this for my reference.


Thursday 24th of September 2020

Thank you! I'm glad you found it helpful and definitely let me know if you went there!