Before we’d even thought about travelling Sri Lanka we’d always associated the country with tropical beaches and supreme wildlife. So when we arrived and heard there were so many national parks and different safaris to chose from, it was always going to be a difficult decision…
Which Safari To Choose?
Ok, so we’re not going to list every national park in Sri Lanka but here are the top picks that tend to come up in conversation…
Yala – The most popular National Park in Sri Lanka. Yala has many entrance points as well as many species of animals, most popular for its wild leopards. It is said to have almost one cat per square km. We heard mixed reviews on Yala…bad points being – having too many jeeps crammed into the park due to the huge amount of tourists that flock here.
Udawalawe – Originally created to protect the Udawalawe Reservoir, it’s since become one of the leading parks in Asia to see wild Asian elephants. Home to mostly the same wildlife as Yala (minus the leopards) but a little less busy, we opted for this safari after researching a few reviews/videos online.
Kumana – Also known as Yala East, not such a big player in the safari world but if you travel out to Arugam Bay, as most tourists do, then you’ll hear of it for sure. There are jeep safaris that head from Arugam Bay to the most eastern part of Yala daily, and if you’re stuck for time it could be a great option.
Like everything in Sri Lanka all of the tour companies have ‘negotiable’ prices, depending on how many people are in your tour.
Most companies you book through will include your entrance ticket to the park in the package of renting their vehicle and it will come out somewhere between 10,000-20,000 rupees with the maximum of 6 passengers.
We ended going with a small company named Niluka Safari in Udawalawe that we can’t recommend enough. We paid them 3000 rupees to hire the jeep and a driver for the afternoon, and then paid our own entrance to Udawalawe National Park at the gate which was 7000 rupees for 2 people. So overall a total of 10,000 for a 4 hour safari and private jeep (around £50).
We were staying in Mirissa and took the long journey up to Udawalawe via public bus, so decided to opt for the afternoon safari. Afternoon safaris start around 2.30pm with morning safaris running between 7-10am.
Among the travellers you meet and reviews you hear, you’ll never know exactly when the best time is to take a safari. Although we were advised by a lot of people that more elephants are usually visible in the PM, as they make their way to their watering holes.
So after arriving and meeting at our collection point and topping up with water, our guide helped us up into the 4×4 and we were all set for an afternoon of animal spotting.
We paid our fees at the gate and after heading through the entrance it was only minutes before we were greeted by a family of 4 beautiful elephants!
Our guide was full of information about the size, age and origin of these amazing mammals and every other animal we saw in fact. He was constantly on the look out and so enthusiastic to find some of the rare breeds that used Udawalawe as their habitat.
Throughout the tour we spotted everything from water buffalo to crocodiles and monkeys to eagles. Plus every colour and breed of bird you can imagine.
As the evening set in and the excitement died down, it was nice to just sit back and take in everything that had happened that day. As we headed towards the end of our trail we found ourselves reflecting…
Usually we take for granted what’s right in front of us, but at Udawalawe we were fully aware of what we were experiencing and how special the safari had been. It truly made us appreciate the power of now!
As we exited the park our tour guide drove us back to our agreed drop-off point. Cruising up the highway, looking out into the planes and watching sun set over the park made us pinch ourselves. We ended the safari feeling unbelievably happy and full of gratitude. It was a perfect end to a beautiful day!