Adventure trips in Sri Lanka

Elephant safari Sri Lanka

Eco-park is located in the cultural triangle of Sri Lanka, therefore traveller, who visit ancient monument can have easy access to wild elephants at eco-park. If you stay in eastern Sri Lanka choose Gal Oya national park for Elephant safari in Sri Lanka. If you spend your holiday in the west and southern coast you can make elephant safari at Udawalawe national park, which is very close to most beach resorts on the west coast, south coast as well as mountains.

Elephant safari Sri Lanka

Stunning beaches, mouth-watering cuisines, rich culture, crumbling historical monuments and breathtaking scenery, as well as fascinating wildlife collection, are the main ingredients of Sri Lankan holiday packages. Even though Sri Lanka is not a top-notch wildlife holiday destination, the tiny island offers some fantastic opportunities for wildlife enthusiast with its few dozens of wildlife reserves and national parks.

Despite the small size of the island, the country possesses an extremely high degree of biodiversity. Nature reserves such as Sinharaja rainforest, Horton plains national park are rank among the top biodiversity hotspots in the world. Visiting Yala national park to see leopards and Going on an elephant safari in Sri Lanka are two best things to add to your Sri Lanka tour package.

Based on the report of World Animal Protection Organization’s Research Report on the conditions for elephants used in tourism in Asia, the island has the highest density of wild elephants in the world: According to the census carried out by the wildlife conservation department of Sri Lanka, the number of wild elephants is standing at 5800 and 120 to 200 in captivity. With staggering 5800 wild jumbos in the jungle, there is no surprise that Sri Lanka is the best spot to see wild elephants if you like to see an elephant in their natural habitat. The conservation effort of Sri Lanka is commendable and the number of wild elephants is constantly on the rise over the last few decades thanks to the collective effort of the government and the people of Sri Lanka.

What is the best place for elephant safari in Sri Lanka?” is a very common question for us, because of a large number of foreign travellers wish to see the gathering of elephants. In this post, we are discussing a few places that are coming under the best place for elephant safari in Sri Lanka. Most importantly all these places are with easy reach from most popular tourist hideouts such as beaches, mountains, and cultural triangle.

Opportunities to spot wild elephants in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka is the best spot for you if you love elephants because Sri Lankan jungles are teeming with wild elephants, some of the wildlife reserves such as Gal Oya national park, Ecopark Habarana, Udalawale national park and Minneriya national park are particularly popular for a large gathering of Wild elephants. The chances are plenty to spot large gathering (up to 100 animals) of wild elephants at a time.

Sri Lanka has proved to be one of the best wildlife holiday destinations to spot elephants in Asia with the completion recent elephant census. It is discovered that the elephant population on the island is more than 5800, which is a very healthy population compared to the size of the country. The national parks are visited by a large number of tourists every day and it is an important income generator for the country. The elephant is the most occurring wild animal in most national parks of Sri Lanka such as Yala, Udawalawe and Wilpattu as such elephant can be described as the most important fauna attraction of Sri Lanka.

Elephant spotting is 100 per cent guaranteed and fairly easy at the Elephant orphanage, however, I feel that there is other better place than their natural habitat to see elephants and I would highly recommend one of the 3 national parks that we discuss in this article over elephant orphanage (with the exception of the Elephant Transit Home which returns elephants to the wild). However, if you ate a lack of time to visit national parks and not in a position to do a jeep safari, then head on to the elephant orphanage, it is the most viable option for you.

Udawalawe Safari Tours, best place to see elephants in sri lanka

What are the best national parks for Elephant safari in Sri Lanka?

  • Udawalawe national park
  • Minneriya national park
  • Yala national park
  • Eco-park Habarana
  • Gal Oya national park
  • Wilpattu national park

In this article, we discuss on 3 National parks, namely Galoya national park, Udawalwe national park and eco-park, these 3 national parks are most popular for wild elephant sightings. These national parks are located in 3 provinces of Sri Lanka (Gal Oya national park- Eastern province, Udawlawe national park-western province and Ecopark -north-central province), allowing the travellers to make elephant safaris from different parts of the country. E.g eco-park is located in the cultural triangle of Sri Lanka, therefore traveller, who visit ancient monument can have easy access to wild elephants at eco-park. If you stay in eastern Sri Lanka choose Gal Oya national park for safari. If you spend your holiday in the west and southern coast you can make elephant safari at Udawalawe national park, which is very close to most beach resorts on the west coast as well as mountains.

This Sri Lanka map showcases 3 national parks (Udawalawe national park, Eco park and Gal oya national parks) that are popular for elephant safari in Sri Lanka
This Sri Lanka map showcases 3 national parks (Udawalawe national park, Eco-park and Gal Oya national parks) that are popular for elephant safari in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka wildlife reserves for elephant safari

At the moment there are more than 15 sanctuaries in Sri Lanka which comes around 10% of the total land area in Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka is a country with a long history with regards to designating safe places for wildlife. The first sanctuary of the island was declared in 2nd century B.C by King Devanampiyatissa. Being a tropical country Sri Lanka has an extremely favourable climate for natural vegetation. Most of the sanctuaries are located in the dry zone forests such as Wilpattu, Yala national park, Udawalawa national park etc. In this blog post, I’m talking about Gal Oya national park, Ecopark and Udawalawe national with all the tips and trick you need to plan the best elephant safari in Sri Lanka.

The elephant population in Sri Lanka

The only count available was dated back a century when an estimated 10,000 to 15,000 elephants roamed wild in Sri Lanka. But poaching and depletion of forests are largely blamed for the shrinking elephant population in the country and number of wild elephants has been halved by now. According to the wildlife census conducted in 2011 the number of wild elephants in the island recorded as 5879 making Sri Lanka the country with the highest number of the Wild elephant in the world.  According to the census, the number of babies recorded as 1107 and number of tuskers recorded as 122.

Elephants were counted as they come to drink water from water holes, reservoirs and tanks. The national parks and reserves in the country were closed to the public during the survey. It allowed the officials to conduct the survey without any outside interferences. This survey helped to find out the minimum number of elephants, distribution of the population and the composition of herds, including males, females, babies and tuskers.

udawalawe safari

The Wild Life Department said the country was divided into seven wildlife zones managed by a wildlife director and the zones covered the national parks, nature reserves, strict nature reserves and sanctuaries in the country.

The highest number of elephant concentration recorded in Mahaweli region in, which is 1751, 47 elephants recorded in the central zone, 1,573 in the Eastern, 1,189 in Wayamba, 1,086 in the South and 223 in the Northern zones.

Wildlife Department of Sri Lanka revealed that elephants were in a good health condition and that Sri Lanka still recorded the highest elephant population in South Asia.

Wild elephant conservation in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka is a tiny island in Asia, which is one of the popular destinations for wildlife holiday destinations in the world. This tropical island is bestowed with a large number of animal species.

Wildlife authorities of Sri Lanka are planning to establish the first-ever wild elephant conservation centre in the island. The move is taken in the wake of an increasing number of wild elephant attacks in the country. The conservation centre will mainly focus on the protection of wild elephants and reduce the number of cases related to wild-elephant attacks.

There are several numbers of incidents recorded every year in the country related to human-elephant conflict incurring losses for both sides. There are several elephant deaths as well as human deaths recorded in the country due to the human-elephant conflict. The government of Sri Lanka has initiated many programs to minimize the damage caused by human-elephant conflict, making electrified fences, elephant insurance program are some of the noteworthy steps. Elephant conservation centre will enable the strong conservation need of the wild elephants.

The Elephant conservation centre will be established in Horowapathana, which is 220 km from the commercial capital (Colombo) of the country. Horowpathana is identified as an area with high wild elephant population, in the elephant census conducted in 2011. It is revealed that Sri Lanka is inhabited by more than 5800 wild elephants making the island with the most number of wild elephants in Asia.  The conservation centre will be built at a cost of 185 million rupees.

Eco-park: one of the best places for Elephant safari Sri Lanka

Eco park Sigiriya is an unpopular wildlife reserve for safari tours in the central province of Sri Lanka, which is located near Habarana junction as you drive in the direction of Trincomalee. One can reach Habarana easily along the A6 (Colombo-Trincomalee) main road. It takes nearly four hours for the journey from Colombo and the distance to cover is about 180 km.

Where is eco-park located?

Eco park Sigiriya is categorized as a dry zone forest similar to Minneriya and Kaudulla national parks. All 3 national parks (Kaudulla, Minneriya and Eco park Sigiriya) are located within the easy reach of Sigiriya and Habarana. Therefore these national parks are most visited by travellers, who come visit the cultural triangle of Sri Lanka.

sri lanka safari jeep, Eco park sigiriya

Eco park Sigiriya is a good alternative for Minneriya and Kaudulla national parks. Especially during the rainy season, a large portion of Minneriya national park is flooded and visitors have to find some other alternatives, due to the unsuitable muddy surface to travel in the park. Eco park is the best alternative national park in a situation like this. Eco park is located in between the national parks of Minneriya and Kaudulla, therefore elephants and other animals also migrate to Eco park, which rarely comes underwater, when other nearby two national parks are heavily flooded.

Characteristic of Eco-park

Unlike most national parks in the country, at Eco park, travellers can’t see the water resources such as lakes and tanks, where the animals gather most. Maybe that is the reason, why the visitors have a very meagre chance of seeing animals other than elephants here.

In national parks such as Yala has a large number of lakes and waterholes within its borders and those water holes are the best spots for witnessing the animals, as animals gather into those places in search of water. At Eco park, there is no water accumulating places other than the stream that flows through the national park. The most valuable reward for the visitors of Eco park is the large herds of wild elephants and beautiful vegetation.

One needs to have a four-wheel-drive cab with plenty of ground clearance in order to travel in the park. Unlike Minneriya and Kaudulla, Eco-park has a very rugged terrain and difficult to travel. The muddy surface in some areas must be dealt with care due to the slippery condition.

Eco park is most popular to spot wild elephants. It is possible to witness more than several hundred wild elephants in a 2 hours safari at the park. The vegetation at Eco park Sigiriya can be described as very suitable for elephants. It mainly consists of various types of grass and bushes providing ample amount of food for hungry jumbos. Due to a very suitable living habitat for elephants, it is inhabited by a large number of big elephant herds. The vegetation at eco-park can be described as dry-zone forest vegetation.

Eco park is relatively smaller than the other nearby national parks of Kaudulla and Minneriya. Eco-park is 25800 hectares in extent.  Leopard, bear, various species of deer, crocodile, monkey, and several species of birds are the other most seeing animals here.

Galoya National Park for Sri Lanka elephant Safari

This wildlife reserve is so unpopular, even the most Sri Lankan scratching their heads and think of where about this national park is if someone asks the direction for this national park. Even though it has a large number of animals occurring throughout the year, especially the will elephants the park is one of the least visited national parks in Sri Lanka. This national park is situated in the remote area of Ampara in the Monaragala district. Ampara is not a popular tourist gathering area in Sri Lanka and therefore it is not included as a place of visit in most Sri Lanka road trips, therefore most tourists are making on their way to Ampara. And also tourists do not tend to make a special visit to Amapara due to the Galoya national park because there are a large number of alternative places such as Yala national park, Udawalawe national park, Wilpattu that are more convenient to reach during their Sri Lanka tour.

Gal Oya national park is originated as a result of one of the biggest development projects (Galoya development project) of the post-independent Sri Lanka. The national park was established in the early 1950s as a patch of forest in the developed area, which exceeds 100,000 hectares, to accommodate the wild animals that lost their living habitats.

Gal Oya national park covers more than 25,000 hectares of land in the dry zone of Sri Lanka. Another important function of the national park is the protection of the catchment area of Senanayake Samudra. Senanayake Samudra is a massive reservoir built after damming Gal Oya River. Water collected at Senanayake Samudra was utilized to convert large tracts of forested area to farmland. 162,000 hectares of new farmlands came to being as a result of Senanayake Samudra. Today the reservoir is functioning as a separate sanctuary in parallel to nearby Gal Oya national park.

Visitors to Gal Oya national park have the opportunity to see some stunning scenic pictures while enjoying the wildlife at Gal Oya national park. The main contributor to the beautiful surrounding of Gal Oya national park is Senanayake Samudra; it is surrounded by rugged terrain dominated by mountains and evergreen dry-zone forest.

The road that leads to the national park is flanked by Senanayake Samudra and trees and bushes of the dry-zone forest. This remote national park is nestled among some beautiful countryside, reservoirs, mountains and villages.

Other than the jeep ride through the national park, a boat ride in the Senanayake Samudra is also very useful to spot wild animals in the area. The boaters have plenty of opportunities to see a large array of animals and birds in the surrounding area of the reservoir. The sight of big herds of elephants at the edge of the reservoir is a very common sight here, especially in the evening hours. Gal Oya national park and the surrounding area of Senanayake Samudra is a heaven for bird lovers. It is one of the best places to see a large number of aquatic avian fauna species. Senanayake Samudra was the venue for a documentary film on the white-bellied-sea eagle (Haliaeetus leucogaster), done by world-renowned German filmmaker Dieter Plage.

Gal Oya national park is most popular for Elephant safari in Sri Lanka, however, it accommodate many other animals and bird species. Several most common bird species at Galoya national park are spot-billed pelicans (Pelicanus philippensis), grey headed eagle (Lchthyophaga ichthyaetus),  brahmuny kites (Haliaster indus indus), osprey (Pandion hadiatus ). Malabar hornbill and grey horn bill are also frequent visitors of Senanayake Samudra, but they are residing deeper in the woods. This is the last remaining breeding ground of a rare bird species known as brown-capped babbler (Pellorneum fuscocapillum). It lays 2-3 eggs at a time in a nest built on the ground or small hole.  Among the endemic bird species red-faced malkoha (pahaenicophaeus pyrhocephalus) and Sri Lanka spurfowl (Galloperdix biclcarata) are the most occurring here. Both species are living in the thick jungle and heard more often than seen.

Other than the wide choice for observing different species of birds, it allows you to see many species of other animals. Gal Oya national park is one of the best places to spot sloth bear (Melurus ursulis) due to the undisturbed environment. This animal loves to have a peaceful and tranquil environment. Sri Lankan leopards (Panthera pardus kotiya), Axis deer (Axis axis), sambhur (Cervus unicolour), barking deer (Muntiacus muntjak) and elephant are the most common animals in Gal Oya national park.

Sri Lanka elephant safari at Udawalawe National park

he Udawalawe park is one of the popular wildlife reserves in Sri Lanka and included in many Sri Lanka beach and wildlife exploration tour packages. Udawalawe park is most popular due to the Udawalawe safari tours, which enables the travellers to see a large gathering of wild elephants. The Udawalawe park can be easily reached from any beach hotel located in west and southern sea border, therefore Udawalawe safari tours are a very popular short program that can be booked from western and southern Sri Lankan beach resorts.

Due to its convenient location in the Sabaragamuwa province, Udawalawe safari tours are the best wildlife activity for travellers stay in Nuwara Eliya, Bandarawela and other mountain resorts. Undoubtedly the most popular safari tour on the island is Yala safari while Udawalawe safari tours rank the second for best wildlife exploration. The national park is located in the dry zone of Sri Lanka, and it has a picturesque majestic mountain range in the background.

Where is Udawalawe National Park?

Udawalawe park nestled in the cradle of the Ruhuna Rata and epic Sabaragamuwa Province filled with abundance of antiquity from relics of Dagobas, stone anicuts (sluice), carved motifs on pillars and Brahmi inscriptions, ancient rock cave hermitage (like those in Madunagala, Karambagala, Bambaragala, Sankapala) and finally interlaced with nature’s bounty of scenic mountain frontiers. The ancient concept of the Dagoba, weva (Tabk), keth yaya (rice field) has been well portrayed in this historic region.

Udawalawe reservoir is another important part of the national park. It provides water for wild animals throughout the year.  The combination of Udawalawe reservoir, national park and the mountain range in the background makes an awe-inspiring sight that you will not find anywhere else in Sri Lanka. You encounter the huge Udawalawe reservoir even before you step in into the national park. Today reservoir is the lifeblood of the region since it is the main source of water for agriculture. There is a good chance of spotting many species of aquatic birds around the reservoir.

When should I visit Udawalawe park?

The best period to visit the national park is from November to April in parallel to the peak holiday season on the west coast. During this time the national park is relatively dry and has a good chance of spotting animals. During the raining, the terrain is very difficult to drive due to the muddy and slippery surface. During the peak-season be prepared to encounter a considerable number of foreign travellers, who spend their winter holiday in Sri Lanka. During the off-peak, the park is visited a very limited number of travellers.

Minneriya or Udawalawe

Where should we do the elephant safari? Minneriya or Udawalawe? A very popular question among the travellers that are looking for a place to do the Sri Lanka elephant safari. However, the answer is simple. Because both places are optimized for wild elephant spotting. Then what makes the difference? The difference is the location of the parks.

Minneriya is located on north-central Sri Lanka near Sigiriya (in the cultural triangle) while Udawalawe national park is located on the west coast. Therefore the Udawalawe national park visited by travellers from the beach areas and Ella while Minneriya is visited by travellers who visit the cultural triangle of Sri Lanka.

Both national parks are suitable for spotting large gathering of wild elephants.

Click here to learn about Sri Lanka elephants


Sanjeewa Padmal (Seerendipity)

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