An elephant on one of the Udawalawe safaris

Udawalawe Safaris: How To Pick The Best Trip in 2024!

Sri Lanka has some incredible national parks, with lots of opportunities to spot incredible wild animals! Here are my top recommendations for the best Udawalawe safaris to get the best sightings.

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3 Hour Udawalawe Private Safari

The very best out of all of the Udawalawe safaris has got to be the Udawalawe National Park Private Safari including Jeep Tickets. You really do get the greatest experience by having your own driver, who can cater to your every whim during the tour! We do not recommend getting a full-day tour as it is a relatively small park and you will save money and have a great time on the 3-hour version.

Udawalawe Safari: Almost GUARANTEED Elephant Sightings! │ Sri Lanka Travel Vlog

Udawalawe Safari National Park

Udawalawe is truly a special place, especially if you’re an elephant lover. We saw over FORTY ELEPHANTS on our trip!! You can see from the video that there are so many about, and they often come quite close to your jeep once you’re silent and still because they’re interested in what you’re doing.

The jeep drivers know how to keep both you and the elephants safe though, and never get too close themselves, sometimes revering away if an elephant looks a little too friendly!

You really can’t visit Sri Lanka and not experience one of the Udawalawe safaris on offer, so reserve your spots quickly before they sell out and pay just 2 days before your trip!

Read More: The Best Place To See Elephants On Safari in Sri Lanka

Where is Udawalawe National Park?

Udawalawe National Park is in the south of Sri Lanka, around 1 hour – 1 hour 30 minutes away from the coast.

The park is spread over about 300 km2 of land, so it’s a pretty big place!

What Should All Udawalawe Safaris Provide?

On all Udawalawe safaris, the absolute minimum you should be given is a bottle of water per person! On the longer tours, you’ll be given breakfast and even lunch, depending on how long it lasts.

Some companies offer free binoculars as well which are very helpful whilst driving along in the national park.

Man and woman taking a selfie in a jeep on an Udawalawe safari in Sri Lanka

When you book, double-check to see if the actual entrance fee to the national park is included. Sometimes it isn’t (so the price you are paying reflects that) but it’s better to be prepared so that a) you bring enough cash and b) you aren’t tricked into thinking you’re getting a great deal when in fact you have to pay extra on the day.

Read More: The 23 Best Wildlife Tours In Sri Lanka

The driver should also be knowledgeable about the animals – this adds huge value to your trip because you’ll find out lots of random facts about the nature you’re seeing from someone who knows what they’re talking about! On our Yala safari, our guide had a book about all of the different animals you could see in the park, and showed us whenever he saw something cool!

Jeep on dusty road at Udawalawe

Most Udawalawe safaris will include hotel pick-up in the price too. If you’re within 5km of the park, then you’ll be picked up. However, if you’re further than that, or in a completely different town, then check with the company to see if they offer hotel pick up for a fee. Some of the safaris are specifically sold to customers who are elsewhere in Sri Lanka, so they already know that you’ll be some distance away.

Check out the links below for safaris that will pick you up if you are staying in the following towns:

A Typical Itinerary Of All Udawalawe Safaris

Most of the Udawalawe safaris follow a similar itinerary, so you don’t have to worry about missing out on something depending on the company you choose!

When booking your safari, you’ll get the choice of a 3, 6 or 9 hour tour. These each come with tickets paid for in advance, or you can book an option where you pay the entrance fee for the national park when you arrive.

I would highly recommend a 3 hour safari trip like this one. The main animals you’ll want to see here are elephants, and there so many which means you’ll find some quickly! We spotted our first elephant around 5 minutes into the drive!

Single elephant walking on road

I think 3 hours is enough because you’re almost guaranteed elephant sightings, so after the three hours has passed, you’ll likely be ready to leave the bumpy jeep! Obviously this is up to you – if you are elephant obsessed, then spending nine hours watching them might be a dream!

For some safaris, like in Yala, I’d recommend a full 12-hour day tour, but at Udawalawe, 3 hours is definitely enough.

Read More: How To Choose An Epic Safari In Sri Lanka & How Do Make The Most Out Of A Single Week In Sri Lanka

Pick Up

The time that you’ll be picked up from your hotel will depend on if you’ve chosen a morning or afternoon drive, as well as your location. If you’re coming from the south coast, be ready to greet your guide at least an hour before the safari is meant to start. You’ll organise specific times once you’ve booked.

Entrance Gate

You’ll have to stop at the entrance gate so that your driver can pay for entry, the service charge, the vehicle fee and the tax. This is where you’ll need your cash IF the fees aren’t included in your tour price. The prices are quoted in dollars, so if you are paying in rupees then you’ll just be charged the equivalent on the day.

Here are the fees as of 2022:

Adult$15 (or equivalent in Sri Lankan rupees)
Child (6 – 12)$8 (or equivalent in Sri Lankan rupees)
Service charge$8 (or equivalent in Sri Lankan rupees)
Vehicle fee250 rupees

Find The Animals!

Here’s the fun bit! You’ll drive around the park, keeping a keen eye out for any animals on the road or hidden in the trees.

If you see something, shout out to your driver to stop – they are also on the lookout but they’re driving too so they might miss something.

Group of elephants in Udawalawe National Park

All of the tour companies usually communicate whilst on the drive so if one jeep spots a group of elephants, they’ll send out a message to everyone else. This is good because it means that more people are looking out for the animals (here they focus on the elephants) so you’re sighting chances are much higher.

The only downside to this is that if YOUR jeep finds a group of elephants and you’re enjoying the peace while watching them, shortly afterwards there might be five more jeeps on their way. It’s give and take, but I think the take is definitely worth it!

Lots of jeeps on their Udawalawe safaris queuing up to see elephants

Lunch – Depending On Your Tour

Some of the longer tours include breakfast or lunch – if you’re on a safari for 9 hours then you’ll need to eat! You can also usually pay extra to have a meal even if it isn’t included.

You can also bring your own snacks to have throughout the trip if you’re on a budget – many hotels offer a little picnic breakfast or lunch!

Drop Off

The park closes at 6 pm, so you’ll leave before then and be driven back to your hotel.

What Animals To Expect On An Udawalawe Safari

Sri Lanka is home to some beautiful animals, from whales in the deep Indian Ocean, to leopards sunbathing in the mountains. There are plenty of animals to spot on your safari, especially if you are lucky enough to get some binoculars! Here are the main different types and what you can expect to see.


This national park is an important place for many mammals, and it’s great to see that they all have enough space to share with each other.


Elephants are a big deal in Sri Lanka – there are plenty of government and private conservation efforts going on in order to keep them as safe as possible.

Single elephant walking through grass

The main reason you’re going to try out one of these Udawalawe safaris is to see elephants! There are huge numbers of these beautiful creatures in the park, from males roaming solo to grandmothers leading their families and protecting the babies.


There are a few different types of monkey that you might see in Udawalawe – the toque macaque which is only found in Sri Lanka, and the tufted grey langur. We saw a few groups of monkeys playing around and eating leaves which was cute!


Just like the monkeys, there are a few different species of deer scattered around Udawalawe National Park. They like to stay in groups, so if you manage to see one, then keep an eye out for their family. You might get lucky and meet a baby too!

Water Buffalo

These like to laze around in and around the watering holes, so if you’re near water, there are probably a few water buffalo nearby!

Watering hole at Udawalawe


These stunning animals are very famous in Sri Lanka, but they’re usually spotted down in Yala. There have been sightings of leopards on some people’s Udawalawe safaris, but it is very unlikely and if that’s what you’re coming to see, you’re better off staying down south and visiting Yala National Park.


There are almost 200 species of bird that have been recorded at the park, so you’re almost guaranteed to see a variety.

Small green bird sitting in a tree
Can you spot the green bird?


This is another endemic animal to watch out for as you won’t find it in the wild anywhere else in the world!


Peacocks are a common sight in Sri Lanka, so you’re likely to see at least one of these majestic birds at the park. One of the great things about spotting animals on a safari rather than just on the side of the road is that they’re more likely to display natural behaviour – so you might get to see the beautiful mating call of a male peacock on your tour!

Peacock at watering hole

Malabar Pied Hornbill

Listen out for these ones – they’re a noisy bunch! They’re also really unique to look at so don’t forget to grab a picture or two.


There are a surprising amount of reptiles that are often spotted on Udawalawe safaris – here are the most interesting.

Water Monitor/Bengal Monitor

Both of these types of lizards can be found in Udawalawe National Park. Usually, they’ll be sitting silently, but if your jeep drives past they’ll probably run into the bushes. They’re so prehistoric and exciting to see!


Yep – these magnificent beasts can be found in Sri Lanka! They are partly the reason you should never leave your vehicle, especially as they camouflage so well. Look out for them in the water and the surrounding land.


There are plenty of species of snake hiding under the grassland, but keep a particular eye out for the Pipe snake. It’s endemic to Sri Lanka and is not poisonous so don’t be too afraid if you see one!

The Best Time To Experience These Udawalawe Safaris

Luckily, there is no real bad time to visit Sri Lanka, or Udawalawe specifically.

There are wet and dry seasons, and usually in this part of the country is dry early in the year. Any time between January and March is generally considered the best time to visit Udawalawe for your safari.

Elephant eating long grass

There are also choices of morning or afternoon safaris. There are positives and negatives about choosing both, so in the end, it just depends on your preference.

You are HIGHLY likely to elephants on this tour – we went on an afternoon safari and saw elephants within 5 minutes of entering the park! Other people have said that they experienced the same thing but in the morning – so if you’d rather have a lie-in, choose an afternoon safari and if you’d rather make the most of the sunny afternoons or getting to your next destination, then go in the morning.

Going on one of the Udawalawe safaris is definitely an experience of a lifetime – you’ll encounter so many beautiful elephants in their natural habitat, which is just an incredible thing to see. Males are roaming around solo trying to find females to mate with, grandmothers are leading their herds and the rest are looking after the babies (yep, there are plenty of young elephants to spot on your safari too!)

Woman in yellow dress poking out of a jeep with elephant in the background

Click on the button below to reserve your seat on a private jeep safari (and remember that you can book now and pay later to secure your spot!)

Where To Stay In Udawalawe

We stayed at Green View Safari Resort for two nights and had the perfect stay. Click on the button below for pictures of the property and to read hundreds of reviews so you can see for yourself why we loved it so much!

There are plenty of guesthouses and hotels in the town centre, as well as close to the national park. Some of these offer their own Udawalawe safaris, but I would recommend booking with an official guide so that your money is safe.

Before finding Green View Safari Resort, we had the unfortunate experience of turning up at our original hotel and being refused a room because we didn’t book one of their Udawalawe safaris. We complained to, who then contacted the hotel. The hotel lied and said that we didn’t turn up – imagine how frustrated we were! Luckily, we found Green View Safari Resort who immediately came to pick us up and gave us a voucher for the trouble.

Check Out The Reviews Of Green View Safari Resort Here

The new hotel we stayed in was fantastic and I couldn’t recommend them enough.

The customer service was excellent – I’ve never met a friendlier couple! The room was large, had A/C and even a little sandwich toaster! Breakfast was included and at dinner time, the owners cooked a delicious buffet rice and curry meal for $6.

They even offered a free tuk-tuk journey to the nearby spa where you could choose from a variety of cheap massages.

It only took around 10 minutes to reach the national park too which is great if you’re waking up early and don’t want to waste time travelling.

I’d stay there again in a heartbeat, and I’d 100% recommend to you that you choose Green View Safari Resort when finding somewhere to stay near Udawalawe National Park!

What To Pack For A Safari Trip

In addition to anything you’d need for a trip to Sri Lanka, here are the things we recommend that you take on the safari itself!

Nikon Aculon A211 Binoculars

These light and ergonomic binoculars are the perfect travel accessory. They're easy to hold and have a non-slip grip, and the rubber eyecups are comfortable even after long periods.

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Ranger Ready Picaridin Insect Repellent Spray

Do not let a brilliant experience be ruined by pesky insects biting you all over your body. Insect repellant is not expensive but not having it can affect much more expensive activities. Pick up a bottle of this Picaridin bug spray and enjoy your travel.

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Portable Selfie Stick Tripod

This will probably be the last selfie stick you ever buy! It has a sturdy aluminum telescopic 40" range, a tripod for propping your phone up in better locations, a detachable wireless shutter button so you can control when all pictures are taken, and extends down to a brilliantly compact size making it perfect for any type of travel.

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Antibacterial Hand Sanitizer Spray

We all know the benefits of antibacterial hand spray, even before the pandemic. These are especially important for backpackers as you will find yourself in situations where soap and water might not be at hand. These small spray bottles have been specifically designed for travel and can easily fit into luggage and day packs.

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FDA Cleared Relieve Nausea Electrode Stimulator

If you don't like the side effects many nausea-reducing medications create then you could try one of these electrode stimulator wristbands. This particular one is FDA-approved, is waterproof, and has up to 30 hours of battery life.

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Rechargeable Handheld Fan

This is a true blessing on hot days, stuffy plane journeys and humid hikes. It has 3 speeds and only takes 3 hours to fully charge. You can hold it in front of your face, clip it to objects like umbrella handles and bus seats or just rest it on a table.

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Frequently Asked Questions

How long are the Udawalawe safaris?

You can choose from 3, 6 or 9-hour long safari tours. We would recommend a 3-hour tour to Udawalawe.

How do I book one of the Udawalawe safaris?

You can click on any of the green buttons in this post to book one of our top recommended Udawalawe safaris.

What is the best time to visit Udawalawe National Park?

The best time to visit is between December and January to minimise chances of rain, but the weather here is quite unpredictable sometimes!

Which is better: Yala or Udawalawe?

This depends on what you want to see! Both parks have lots of similar animals, but if you want a higher chance of seeing a leopard, then go to Yala. If you want to be pretty much guaranteed to see elephants then go to Udawalawe.

How many elephants are there in Udawalawe National Park?

This is a difficult number to pinpoint, but the Udawalawe Elephant Research Project estimates that there are about 400 elephants in the park.

How do I get to Udawalawe National Park?

You can hire a driver (ask your hotel) or you can choose a tour with hotel pick up included in the price.

Are there leopards in Udawalawe?

There are some incredibly rare stories of leopard sightings in Udawalawe but don’t hold your breath. Go to Yala for the best chance of seeing leopards.

Have we helped you to choose your Udawalawe safari yet? Let us know if you have any questions in the comments!

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