Top 6 Best National Parks to See Elephants in Sri Lanka

Top 6 National Park to See Elephants in Sri Lanka

Are you ready to embark on an unforgettable wildlife adventure in Sri Lanka? Join us as we explore the best national parks renowned for their thriving elephant populations. From the dense jungles of Udawalawe to the scenic plains of Minneriya, these parks offer unparalleled opportunities to witness these majestic creatures up close in their natural habitat. Discover the beauty of Sri Lanka’s diverse landscapes and wildlife as we guide you through the top national parks to see elephants in Sri Lanka.

1. Udawalawe National Park

Udawalawe National Park
Photo by Nilu Gunaratne on Unsplash

Udawalawe National Park, nestled between Sabaragamuwa and Uva Provinces in Sri Lanka, was established on June 30, 1972. Encompassing 30,821 hectares, this sanctuary provides refuge for wildlife displaced by the construction of the Udawalawe Reservoir on the Walawe River, while also safeguarding the reservoir’s catchment. Before its designation as a national park, the area was utilized for shifting cultivation, known as chena farming. However, once declared a national park, the farmers were gradually relocated. Located 165 kilometers from Colombo, Udawalawe serves as a crucial habitat for water birds and the iconic elephants in Sri Lanka. It has emerged as a popular tourist destination, ranking as the third-most visited park in the country.

The Udawalawe National Park safari offers a remarkable experience for those eager to witness a large number of elephants. As a vital habitat for elephants in Sri Lanka, Udawalawe is renowned for providing a unique opportunity to observe these majestic creatures in their natural open habitats. Many elephants are drawn to the park due to the presence of the Udawalawe reservoir, with an estimated herd of about 250 elephants believed to be permanently residing within the park’s boundaries.

During the safari, visitors are transported by jeep along the park’s pathways, allowing them to explore its natural habitats freely. Each jeep can comfortably accommodate up to six people, ensuring a personalized and protected experience. Visitors have the flexibility to choose from various safari durations, including 3, 4 hours, half-day, or full-day options. The safari can be enjoyed throughout the day, with the morning and afternoon periods offering the best chances to spot wildlife, including herds of elephants, deer, crocodiles, peacocks, buffalos, jackals, and numerous bird species. Udawalawe National Park is one of the best national park to see elephants in Sri lanka.

2. Yala National Park

Yala National Park stands out as Sri Lanka’s most visited and second-largest national park, bordering the Indian Ocean. Comprising five blocks, three of which are open to the public, it also shares boundaries with Kumana National Park (or ‘Yala East’) and Lunugamvehera National Park. Located in the southeastern region, spanning the Southern and Uva Provinces, Yala covers an impressive 979 square kilometers and lies approximately 300 kilometers from Colombo, accessible within a journey of 3 hours and 50 minutes.

Established as a wildlife sanctuary in 1900, alongside Wilpattu, Yala showcases a rich diversity of wildlife, with a notable focus on conservation efforts for elephants in Sri Lanka, leopards, and aquatic birds. Renowned as one of the 70 Important Bird Areas (IBAs) in Sri Lanka, Yala boasts a total of 215 bird species, including seven endemic to the country. Additionally, the park is home to 44 species of mammals, including the iconic Sri Lankan elephant, and boasts one of the highest leopard densities globally. The reptile fauna is equally impressive, with 47 recorded species, six of which are endemic to the region.

For the best wildlife sightings, the recommended time to visit Yala is between February and July when low water levels draw animals out into the open. However, other months also offer rewarding experiences. Keep in mind that Yala’s popularity attracts a significant influx of both local and international tourists. Safari experiences often involve navigating bumpy, dusty roads, with tour guides communicating via mobile phones to share sightings. This can sometimes lead to congested areas with queues of jeeps vying for the best views.

For a more tranquil and secluded wildlife encounter, consider exploring Udawalawe National Park. With fewer visitors and a reputation for its vast herds of elephants, Udawalawe offers a serene alternative to the bustling atmosphere of Yala.

3. Wilpattu National Park

Wilpattu National Park
Photo by Anupa Uthsara on Unsplash

Wilpattu National Park, situated in the northwest coast lowland dry zone of Sri Lanka, boasts a distinctive feature – the presence of “Willus,” natural lakes that fill with rainwater, creating sand-rimmed water basins or depressions. Located 30 km west of Anuradhapura, 26 km north of Puttalam, and approximately 180 km (4 hours) north of Colombo, the park covers an extensive area of 1,317 km2, ranging from 0–152 m above sea level. Nearly 106 lakes and tanks are scattered throughout Wilpattu, making it the largest and one of the oldest national parks in Sri Lanka.

Renowned for its leopard population, Wilpattu is a haven for wildlife enthusiasts. A remote camera survey conducted from July to October 2015 captured photographs of forty-nine individual leopards, showcasing the park’s significant leopard density. In addition to leopards, Wilpattu is home to 31 species of mammals, including threatened species such as elephants, sloth bears, leopards, and water buffalo. Other residents include sambar, spotted deer, mongoose, and various small mammals.

Wilpattu National Park offers year-round wildlife safaris, with the most popular time to visit being during the dry season from May to September. Visitors can choose from three safari options: morning, afternoon, or full-day safaris. Not only renowned for one of the best park to see elephants in Sri Lanka, Wilpattu also offers one of the most beautiful safari experiences, making it a must-visit destination for nature lovers and wildlife enthusiasts alike.

4. Minneriya National Park

Minneriya National Park
Photo by Udara Karunarathna on Unsplash

Minneriya National Park, initially declared a wildlife sanctuary in 1938, achieved national park status on August 12, 1997. The park’s primary objective is to safeguard both the catchment area of the Minneriya tank and the diverse wildlife inhabiting the surrounding region. Constructed during the third century AD by King Mahasen, the tank bears significant historical importance. Serving as a crucial feeding ground during the dry season, the park attracts elephants from the forests of Matale, Polonnaruwa, and Trincomalee districts. Alongside Kaudulla and Girithale, Minneriya is recognized as one of Sri Lanka’s 70 Important Bird Areas (IBAs), conveniently located 182 kilometers( 4 hours ) away from Colombo.

Moreover, Minneriya National Park is renowned for ‘The Gathering,’ a spectacle where hundreds of elephants in Sri Lanka congregate along the lakeshores during the dry season. This remarkable event, occurring from July to November, offers visitors an unparalleled opportunity to witness the largest gathering of Asian elephants in the world. During the day, these magnificent creatures can be easily spotted as they graze along the dense treelines, providing an unforgettable wildlife viewing experience. Additionally, the park is home to a diverse array of fauna, including spotted deer, mongoose, sloth bears, leopards, and various primate species. For those seeking adventure, safaris accommodating up to six individuals at a time are available, with convenient pickup and drop-off services provided within 5 kilometers of the park gate.

5. Kaudulla National Park

Kaudulla National Park
Photo by Taif Rahaman on Unsplash

Kaudulla National Park, located 197 kilometers ( 4 hours ) from Colombo, was declared a national park on April 1, 2002, making it the 15th such area on the island. Alongside Minneriya and Girithale, it has been identified by BirdLife International as an Important Bird Area. The park boasts a diverse array of fauna, with 24 mammal species, 25 reptile species, 26 fish species, and 160 bird species recorded within its boundaries. During the dry season, elephants from neighboring areas, such as Minneriya, migrate to Kaudulla in search of water and food. By October, the park can host up to 250 elephants, as well as leopards, fishing cats, sambar deer, rusty spotted cats, and sloth bears. The best time to visit Kaudulla National Park is between August and December, particularly in September and October when the elephant population peaks after the famous gathering at Minneriya National Park. However, elephants can be observed in either park throughout the year.

Visitors to Kaudulla National Park have three safari options available: Morning Safari (6:00 am), Afternoon Safari (2:30 pm), and Full-Day Safari. These safaris offer an immersive experience, guiding visitors through the park’s diverse landscapes, including wetlands, grasslands, and forest patches. During the tours, longer stops are made at specific watering holes, providing unique opportunities for photography enthusiasts to capture memorable moments amidst the park’s stunning natural scenery.

6. Wasgamuwa National Park

Wasgamuwa National Park, nestled in Sri Lanka’s Matale and Polonnaruwa Districts, was established in 1984 as a refuge for wildlife displaced by the Mahaweli Development Project. Initially, a nature reserve since 1938, it was later upgraded to a strict nature reserve in the early 1970s. Known for its vast herds of Sri Lankan Elephants and designated as an Important Bird Area, the park is located 225 kilometers from Colombo.

Within its bounds, Wasgamuwa National Park boasts a diverse ecosystem, characterized by dry and primary riverine forests, as well as grasslands. The park is particularly renowned for the sighting of large herds of elephants, with numbers sometimes exceeding 150 in each herd. For optimal elephant sightings, the period between November and May is recommended, as elephants tend to migrate to nearby national parks during the dry seasons. Additionally, visitors can expect to encounter other fascinating wildlife species such as Purple-faced langur monkeys, wild boar, sambar and spotted deer, buffalo, and occasionally leopards and sloth bears. The park is also home to a variety of reptiles, including the water monitor, mugger crocodile, estuarine crocodile, and python.

In conclusion, exploring the top 6 national parks to see elephants in Sri Lanka promises unforgettable wildlife encounters amidst breathtaking natural landscapes. With its diverse array of habitats and thriving elephant populations, Sri Lanka offers a unique opportunity to witness these majestic creatures in their natural habitat. Whether marveling at the spectacle of “The Gathering” in Minneriya National Park or embarking on a jeep safari in Udawalawe National Park, each park provides a glimpse into the fascinating world of Elephants in Sri Lanka. So, plan your safari adventure today and immerse yourself in the wonder of Sri Lanka’s iconic wildlife.

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