Wild Sri Lanka: Minneriya, Uda Walawe & Yala

Wild Sri Lanka: Minneriya, Uda Walawe & Yala

Backpacking Sri Lanka: A travel guide to Sri Lanka's Wildlife parks in Uda Walawe, Minneriya and Yala for the independent budget traveller

What are the best wildlife parks in Sri Lanka? One of the main reasons why I choose Sri Lanka was because of its parks that are easy to reach. Still I did not expect to see the variety and amount of wildlife I ended up seeing during the three weeks I was in Sri Lanka.

Compared to Africa going on a safari in Sri Lanka is relatively cheap and therefore I was able to include all three major parks: Yala, Uda Walawe & Minneriya. However, if you don’t have the time to visit all three I hope this guide will help you to choose which one to visit among the best wildlife parks in Sri Lanka

The best wildlife parks in Sri Lanka

Uda Walawa: Valentine’s day in the park

We had to get up early for our safari in Uda Walawe. It was still dark and cold when we were on our way to the park entrance. We entered the park as the sun was rising and all the birds came to life. The scenery was beautiful and soon we also saw our first female elephant.

The elephant slowly walked towards us and stood still in front of our jeep quietly watching us. After 10 minutes our driver decided to move on but as soon as we started our jeep the elephant got angry. We could do nothing else, but wait till the elephant moved.

The elephant did not move, instead another male elephant came to show his interest in her. Slowly touching her with his trunk they stood together for quite a while. The female clearly enjoyed all this attention, both from the male elephant and from us. When the male finally left, it seemed she made some goodbye picture poses for us before leaving in the direction of the male elephant.

It was in fact Valentine’s day today and it wasn’t the last courtship ritual we saw. We also encountered a peacock displaying its beautiful feathers trying to impress a female peacock. Later we encountered another group of elephant with baby’s, but nothing could beat the early morning tender courtship experience.

Yala
Yala
Yala

Logistics
  • Base town: Uda walawe or Ambilipitiya.
  • Logistics: I took a bus from Ella to Wellawaya and got out at Thanmalwila junction. From there you can either take a tuk tuk or another bus to Embilipitiya (90 minutes)
  • Time to visit: November to March
  • Wildlife peak times: early morning (5-8 AM) or late afternoon (5-7 PM)
  • Animals seen: Elephants, peacock, hornbills, eagles, wild buffalo, wild foxes, monitor lizard, deer
  • Pro’s and cons: This park has a variety of wildlife and good scenery. It is also quiet and you will not encounter a lot of other jeeps.
  • Entrance fees:  3300 per person, 250 rupees per vehicle.

Train Kandy Ella

 Yala National Park: Spotting Leopards

And all of a sudden there it was. A leopard crossed the road right in front of our jeep. It looked at us and disappeared in the bushes again. I couldn’t believe that I saw a leopard at that moment. We had just entered the park and we were still waiting in a long line of jeeps on a dirt road when this leopard showed up.

Before the leopard I was slightly discouraged about our safari. We woke up at 3 am to reach as early as possible at the entrance of the park. Once we arrived, there must have been at least 100 jeeps waiting in line. For more than half an hour we were waiting in the dark before we could finally proceed just as the sun started to rise. We were very lucky with the leopard crossing the road only a meter in front of us. It was the only leopard we saw, but we did see many other animals.

Yala
Yala
Yala

The jeeps dispersed throughout the park trying to avoid each other as much as possible, but at the same time informing each other about the whereabouts of the animals. As soon as one jeep spotted some elephants other jeeps followed. We joined a group of jeeps that had surrounded a mother elephant with her child.

The child was very curious and approached one of the jeeps. It went with his trunk inside the jeep looking for food and when it didn’t find any the elephant broke one of the side mirrors. Not sure what to do with the mirror, the elephant threw it on the floor and started kicking around with it as if it was a football.

It was a joy to see this elephant playing around, but I am sure the jeep owner was less pleased. I also had mixed feelings about this situation. Even tough the elephants didn’t seem to mind us coming so close to them, we were clearly disturbing their natural behaviours.

Yala

Logistics
  • Base town: Tissamaharama.
  • Logistics: There are frequent buses to Tissamaharama from Galle (5 hours), Ella (4 hours) or Tangalle (3 hours)
  • AccomodationTissamaharama Golden Park (I met the owner on the road when he gave me a free ride from the park back to Tissamaharama. He convinced me to stay in his place which was lovely. Clean, good wifi and even AC. Do negotiate about the price and you can get a very good deal here.)
  • Time to visit: November to March
  • Wildlife peak times: early morning (5-8 AM) or late afternoon (5-7 PM)
  • Animals seen: Elephants, peacock, eagles, wild buffalo, mongoose, monitor lizard, deer, crocodile, langur monkeys, macaque monkeys
  • Pro’s and cons: This park is the best place to spot leopards and bears, had the most beautiful scenery and the biggest variety in wildlife I saw, but the park is crowded. Expect to see more other jeeps than animals.
  • Entrance fees:  3300 per person, 250 rupees per vehicle.

 Minneriya National Park: Getting up close with elephants

Nothing feels like the excitement and thrill of seeing a wild elephant up close. Our jeep driver points out the dark back of an elephant behind the tall grass. He drives closer and soon we see it is not just one elephant, but a herd with several baby elephants. Minneriya National Park has one of the largest populations of elephants in Sri Lanka.

Every year in august they gather all together in Minneriya National Park. The rest of the year they actually wander around into neighbouring parks unaware about the manmade borders. They are wild elephants, but quite used to visitors in their habitat.

Due to conservation efforts the elephants are well protected and are not scared of people. With the jeeps you can get pretty close to them and the elephants will simply continue with whatever they are doing.

Yala
Yala

Logistics
  • Base town: Habarana, arrange safari’s through your hotel or independently by arranging your own jeep (slightly cheaper, expect 3000 rupees for a jeep).
  • Logistics: Habarana is 30 minutes from Dambulla by bus, or 5-6 hours from Colombo
  • Time to visit: August for the gathering, May to September
  • Wildlife peak times: late afternoon is when the elephants come out and are most active. During the day they are hiding in the shadow.
  • Animals seen: Elephants, peacock and birds
  • Pro’s and cons: This park is easily accessible if you visit the cultural triangle. The biggest draw are the elephants, but due to the high grass chances of seeing other wildlife are rather small
  • Note: Be aware that there are actually 3 different parks in this area. Minneriya, Kaudulla and Hurullu. There is just one herd of elephants tough and they do not know anything about park borders. The jeep drivers are quite aware of where the elephants are and will bring you to the right park. If for some reason you specifically want to visit Minneriya, because of other wildlife you want to see be clear about this.
  • Entrance fees:
    • Minneriya: 3300 per person, 250 rupees per vehicle.
    • Hurullu Eco park: 1000 per person, 750 per vehicle
    • Kaudulla: 1500 per person, 125 per vehicle

Yala

The best wildlife parks in Sri Lanka: Minneriya, Uda Walawe or Yala

For those we do not have the time or money to visit all three parks I will try to make a recommendation about what park to visit.

If you have to skip one park I would suggest Minneriya, except when you do happen to be there in August. Watching the largest elephant gathering in Asia is of course something you should not miss. Minneriya is mostly about elephants tough. Because of the high grass it is hard to spot other wildlife and the scenery is less beautiful than in Uda Walawe or Yala.

So the question remains whether to visit Uda Walawe or Yala. Both parks offer a beautiful scenery almost resembling the African savannah and both offer a variety of wildlife to spot. In my opinion Yala is slightly more beautiful and there is a better chance to spot the leopard or a bear. But Yala is also very crowded, making the overall experience in Uda Walawe more pleasant. Tough choice and I am happy I was able to visit both.

There are 9 comments for this article
  1. Pingback: Top 10 things to do in Sri Lanka | Backpack Adventures
  2. Travellingdany at 10:52 am

    Wow it’s so easy to spot wildlife in Sri Lanka, I had no idea! I would love a safari there, thank you for all the useful info!

  3. Felicia Broccolo at 11:57 am

    Thank you for all of this info!! Sri Lanka is so high on my must visit list!! Your pictures are amazing too! 🙂

  4. Birthe (from Wandering the World) at 1:39 pm

    Awesome! I didn’t know Sri Lanka had so much wildlife! I’d love seeing elephants in the wild one day. We did visit an elephant sanctuary in Chiang Mai, Thailand, but that’s not the same as spotting them in the wild. So cool you saw a peacock spreading its feathers as well 😀 Pinned for when we make it to Sri Lanka one day. 😉

  5. Eulanda Shead at 12:09 pm

    Thank you for this post! We love Sri Lanka and can’t wait to return! We had no clue you could go on safaris there, otherwise we definitely would’ve gone on our last trip! Great tips!

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