There’s something incredibly humbling about getting up close to a wild animal. I always feel quite simply, awestruck. I felt it when we went whale watching in Sydney Harbour and saw a lone humpback lazily diving in the water and I felt it again when we sat and watched herds of elephants grazing in a national park in Sri Lanka.
We’re not big on activities when we travel. We prefer to come to grips with the energy of a place by wandering the streets, eating and people watching, but if we were going to do one activity in Sri Lanka it would be an elephant safari. Seeing elephants in the wild was one experience we couldn’t miss. We decided to head to Udawalawe National Park where the Udawalawe reservoir attracts about 250 herds of these magnificent giants.
The journey from Arugam Bay to Udawalawe can take up to 6 hours by local bus (with two changes) but we lucked out when a tuk tuk driver offered to take us to Monaragala for 1000 LKR (about $8USD), after which we caught the bus. The driver needed to get back to Monaragala hence the bargain price. This cut our travelling time to about 4 hours.
We’d pre-booked a room at Hotel Gayan’s (more details below) which is located 5 minutes from the entrance to the park. This is seriously the place to stay if you’re visiting Udawalawe. The guesthouse has only two rooms both which are generously sized and clean. And oh man the food we ate there was some of the best we had during our 3 weeks in the country. The devilled chicken and the chicken biryani for dinner was jam packed with flavour and I often still think wistfully about the crepes we had for breakfast drizzled with kithul treacle. Unfortunately we were too excited by all this elephant business to get any shots of Gayan’s guesthouse but you can check out some photographs here…
Sri Lanka is like many other Asian countries we’ve travelled to in that stuff just seems to work out with minimal fuss. After we’d booked the room online Gayan messaged to say he could organise the safari for us on arrival so we decided to just leave it to him. There was no drama about what time we’d arrive nor the need to pre-book and pay for the safari. We simply showed up in the afternoon and Gayan said that if we were keen he’d take us on safari in an hour or so. We put in our dinner orders for that evening, unpacked a bit and wandered out to get some water at a roadside stall. We’d barely left the Gayan’s driveway when we saw AN ELEPHANT- just happily grazing by the side of the road! A slew of obligatory selfies later we hopped into Gayan’s safari truck and drove down to the park. Excitement levels were sky high.
Admission to the park costs around $50USD (they take credit cards) plus you’ll find a guide will jump into your truck at the entrance and he’ll expect a tip at the end of it. We didn’t mind too much as our bloke was quite helpful- he communicated with Gayan about which direction to take and when to stop, took photos of us and also imparted a bit of his knowledge about the animals over the 3 hour safari.
We were extraordinarily lucky to see about 30 groups of elephants- females and babies, young bulls having a tussle and one granddaddy who we sat and watched for about 45 minutes as he gurgled up water and mud in his trunk to throw over his body to keep the bugs off. The elephants are used to the trucks although when one drove too close to three babies the adult females started trumpeting and immediately formed a huddle around their young. It was captivating to watch.
What have we got planned for our next wildlife encounter? It’s gotta be swimming with whale sharks in the Philippines right?! The GoPro will be at the ready!
Good to know:
Hotel Gayan’s cost around $37 USD per night. Dinner was roughly $5-8 USD per main and breakfast was about $4 USD per head. This included eggs, fruit, coffee, juice and pancakes!
In addition to the entrance fee for the National Park, it costs roughly $30 USD to hire a jeep to take you around the park.
Got more questions? Comment below and we’ll get back to you pronto!
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