Seeing an elephant in the wild is always a memorable experience, and Sri Lanka has several national parks where you can watch these gentle giants roaming free. Sri Lanka’s wild elephant population move around the island along what is known as the ‘Elephant Corridor’ an age-old migratory route that leads them to best sources for water and food during the wet and dry seasons. The corridor passes through most of the national parks, allowing the elephants to move freely, from park to park. From small herds to large gatherings numbering over the hundreds, here are the best place to see wild elephants in Sri Lanka.
Udawalawe National Park
A former teak plantations, Udawalawe national park covers over 30,800 hectares of wild grasslands and jungles that are home to an estimated 500 elephants, as well as other mammals, reptiles and birds species. The elephants roam in scattered herds, feeding on the tall grass and dry scrubs found among the ancient teak trees. Converging daily near the large Udawalawe Reservoir to drink from the cool waters.
Located roughly 180km south-east from Colombo, the park is famous for its high rate of elephant sightings, with the best time to visit being either early morning or dusk, when the elephants are grazing out in the open or merely interacting with each other near waters edge.
Entry tickets have to be purchased near the entrance gates – LKR 60 for a Sri Lankan and US$ 15 for a foreign adult. Do note that on top of this, there are additional service chargers and taxes, plus the cost of the tour jeep.
Most visitors can ask their hotels to help with organising safaris, but there are also 4WDs near the park’s entrance that cost around LKR 3,500 for a half-day tour around the park for up to 8 people. However, this does not include the entry fees. In addition to this, you can check out the Udawalawe national park elephant orphanage where sick or injured elephants are treated, and then released back into the park.
Minneriya National Park
Minneriya National Park is often sighted as one of the best places to see large numbers of elephants throughout the year, and is also the location of the natural phenomenon known as ‘the gathering’ – the largest recorded gathering of wild Asian elephants, with large herds of up to 300 individuals converging near the Minneriya Reservoir.
Located near the city of Habarana, about a 4-hour drive from Colombo, the best time to visit is between the months of April and October, when the dry season is as its worse. The elephants from the neighboring areas and other parks wander into Minneriya in search of food and water. Eventually, they all make their way to the green banks of the Minneriya Reservoir. Watching the gathering take place is a surreal experience, and one you’re not likely to forget any time soon. The Minneriya National Park entrance fee and jeep safari cost is the same as those found at Udawalawe.
Because of its fame, the park can get quite crowded with safari jeeps during the gathering season, and even hotel prices can go up. However there are a few affordable places nearby, like Yoho Liyon Post Road, so do try to book your room ahead if you’re planning to visit.
These are just two out of several national park’s in the country where elephants are known to live, but Udawalawe and Minneriya are the best places to see a large numbers of wild elephants at once.
*Admission fees to National Park’s vary on the amount of Hours/Days spent inside. Ticket prices quoted here are for Day Visit passes.
Image by Malki Perera.