This post may contain some affiliate links which means we can earn commission at no extra cost to you.
Sri Lanka is one of the best places to see packs of wild elephants. But you already know that. Let us show you the best elephant safaris in Sri Lanka right now.
Udawela National Park – Probably the best place to see elephants in the whole of Sri Lanka and the most affordable. Check out the safari right here.
Wilpattu National Park – Wilpattu is one of the largest and most beautiful elephant safaris in Sri Lanka. You get a very good chance of seeing the elephants but usually at a distance. Check out the most peaceful safari in Sri Lanka here.
Yala National Park – Yala is by far the most famous of safaris in Sri Lanka. It’s not the easiest to see the elephants but you also have a very good chance to see leopards. Check out the best Yala safari here.
Minneriya National Park – A fantastic place to watch the unique elephant herd migration in August and September. You can also combine a visit to Kaudulla National Park and Hurulu Eco Park. Check out a great safari option here.
The above tours are the best of the best so rest easy knowing you’re going to get an amazing experience. However, not all elephant safaris in Sri Lanka are equal.
Below, we will go into detail on each of the places you can see wild elephants in Sri Lanka. This will help you make an informed decision and make the most out of your elephant safari in Sri Lanka.
Udawalawe National Park
Udawalawe National Park is one of the best Elephant Safaris in Sri Lanka for one simple reason. You’re going to see elephants. This is because it is one of the smallest safaris in Sri Lanka and has one of the densest populations of elephants as well.
But don’t worry, this doesn’t mean that they are crammed in like sardines, they have plenty of space. It just means that it is the easiest place to see elephants in Sri Lanka by far.
Yala National Park in comparison is much larger with much less density of elephants (we only saw 2 in our 12-hour safari). So, if you only want to see elephants then this Udawalawe is one of your best options.
I would say that the only downside is that there are a LOT of other jeeps around you at all times. This is similar to all of Sri Lanka but due to the small size of the safari, this is slightly worse in Udawalawe. They can also get competitive with each other but are usually completely respectful towards the elephants.
There are a number of other animals at Udawalawe but the main show is the elephants. However, if you are hoping to also see the Sri Lankan leopard then you may be disappointed; they are few and far between. However, if that is not an issue then this is the elephant safari for you.
I recommend only getting the half-day tour as this is all you need at Udawalawe.
- Half-Day Tour $18 (Jeep Only) – See up to date prices and book here
Where To Stay
Budget Accommodation – Elephant Paradise Safari Bungalow
Fancy Accommodation – Kottawatta RiverBank Resort
- Large Herds Of Elephants
- Extremely Likely To See Them
- Extremely Affordable
- Easy To Get To
- Small park = many tourists around you.
Wilpattu National Park
Wilpattu National Park is in the north of Sri Lanka and is considered by many to be the most beautiful safari in all of Sri Lanka. This is due to the incredible topography of lakes and lush vegetation.
However, does this make it one of the best elephant safaris in Sri Lanka? Yes and no.
Due to the wide-open plains, it is one of the easiest places to spot wildlife in Sri Lanka and that includes the elephants. However, Wilpattu is very big so the density of elephants here is actually quite low.
You’ll probably see elephants at a distance but you probably won’t get the up close and personal experience of Udawalawe or Minneriya.
This, however, comes with a fantastic benefit for Wilpattu. It is one of the most peaceful safari parks in all of Sri Lanka and you will probably be the only jeep you will ever see. Couple that with good opportunities to see the elusive Sri Lankan leopard and you get a great overall experience.
This quiet approach is also very good for the wildlife in the park. It feels much more of a safari than some of the other more packed out parks.
The roads at Wilpattu are the best out of all of the Elephant Safaris in Yala so you only need a half-day to get around the whole place.
- Half Day Tour – $80 – See up to date prices and availability here.
Where To Stay
Budget Accommodation – Ceylon Resort
Safari Accommodation – Leopard Trails – This accommodation is absolutely incredible and comes with TWO safari drives per day you stay there. This is the ultimate Wilpattu experience. Check them out here.
- Most Beautiful Safari
- Best Roads
- Good Chance Of Spotting Elephants
- Quietest By Far
- Elephants May Be Far Away
- Not Guarenteed To See Them
Read More: Backpacking Sri Lanka On A Budget
Minneriya National Park and Kaudulla National Park
These two parks are super close together, which means the animals often walk between them. They also might visit the nearby Hurulu Eco Park
They are located in the famous ‘cultural triangle’, which is an area of incredible history and nature.
This area is one of the best places to experience elephant safaris in Sri Lanka. The reason for this is that in the dry season, there is a HUGE migration of Asian elephants to Minneriya, as they search for water.
The dry season runs from around June to September in this part of Sri Lanka, so book your trip around towards the end of this time to have the best chance of experiencing a herd of elephants marching together.
The elephants move to Minneriya from Kaudulla and Wasgamuwa National Park in August and September.
So, I recommend Minneriya after this time and Kaudulla before this time. Don’t worry about this too much as you’ll see elephants all year round at either.
Monkeys and deer live in the park, but you *might* also get a rare sighting of a leopard. There are nowhere near as many here, so don’t count on it but it has happened!
Where To Stay
Budget – Lathika Homes
Mid-Range – Royal Rock
Luxury – Ekho Lake House
Due to the short distance between the two parks, your driver will either combine a visit to both or choose to spend your time in one, depending on what they have heard about the location of the elephants.
- A half-day safari in Minneriya will cost around $50 with entrance fees included
- A half-day safari in Kaudulla will cost around $60 with entrance fees included
- High chance of elephant sightings
- Close to other parks
- Inside the ‘cultural triangle’
- Affordable tour options
- Lower chance of elephant sightings in wet season
Read More: The Best Things To Do In Mirissa
Yala National Park
Although it’s most famous for its leopard population, you are in with a chance of spotting elephants at Yala National Park too.
The herd that live in Yala is estimated to contain over 300 elephants! If you decide to take one of the 12-hour elephant safaris in Sri Lanka here, you can be pretty hopeful about spotting these incredible animals.
The best places to hang around are the reservoirs. Elephants love to swim, drink and play in the water so if that’s what you want to see, ask your driver to head to a waterhole.
There are of course other animals who live in Yala. Leopards are the most famous – but you can’t be guaranteed to spot one as they’re pretty elusive and solitary animals! However, having such a wide range of animals adds to your chances of seeing any one of them!
As Yala sits along the south coast, you are treated to a sublime stretch of untouched beach. Ask your safari driver to get there for lunchtime, and enjoy an hour wandering along the soft sand, with barely anyone else around.
I highly recommend taking a 12-hour safari at Yala National Park. It’s so big that it will take a while to fully explore, and it means that you get the highest chance of seeing the animals that you want to see.
- A 5 hour safari will cost approximately $70
- A 12 hour safari will cost approximately $100
Where To Stay
Budget Accommodation – Hotel Bird’s View
- Close to Mirissa so easy to get to
- Large park to fewer jeeps nearby
- Chance of seeing a leopard
- Great accommodation options
- No guaranteee of elephant sightings
Read More: Check Out The Secret Beach In Mirissa
Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage
This elephant orphanage is situated in central Sri Lanka and not too far from Kandy. Whilst it is not counted among the many elephant safaris in Sri Lanka it is still a way to see them and get close to them. But should you?
Before you go to an institution, like this one, it is very important to do your research; and that is what I have done in this case. I, unfortunately, cannot recommend Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage as a place to see elephants in Sri Lanka.
The premise is great; to rehome abandoned or lost baby elephants found roaming in the wilds of Sri Lanka and it appears that this is what is done. However, with a bit of digging, you can see that they use bullhooks and chains.
This has been justified by the organisation themselves as necessary to protect the public from particularly aggressive males. With the number of elephants they have at the orphanage, they could simply keep these males separate from the public. Like many other sanctuaries that we have been to.
It is a commendable venture and I am sure they do fantastic work but until these things are addressed and changed I would avoid them.
Elephant Conservation in Sri Lanka
There are approximately 4000-6000 elephants in Sri Lanka, and most of these are wild. It is highly illegal to kill an elephant – doing so carries the death penalty – but still, numbers have dwindled massively in the past one hundred years.
There are some cases of captive elephants, but this is usually for a reason e.g. to nurse elephants back to health or to look after orphaned elephants. That’s not always the case though, but there are plenty of organisations trying to make Sri Lanka a better place for ALL elephants.
There is some human-elephant conflict across the island, and this leads to both human and elephant deaths. Every year, approximately 80 people and 250 elephants die because of the conflict.
The Sri Lanka Wildlife Conservation Society do hugely important work to combat this – both for the sake of the people and the elephants. Electric fencing is being erected to keep the people safe – which in turn will reduce the chances of an elephant being killed in revenge for destroying someone’s home. They’re also educating local communities on the best way to deal with an elephant if they meet one in the wild.
The Sri Lankan Department of Wildlife Conservation is also on hand to create opportunities for elephants to be treated better, such as creating elephant corridors. These corridors are a popular way of allowing elephants to travel safely between National Park areas, like in Minneriya and Kaudulla.
The last hurdle for these elephants is the large plastic landfill sites on wildlife zones all over the country. This is causing plastic ingestion in scavenging elephants and causing death in some cases. Hopefully, this will also be addressed before causing more damage.
Read More: All The Safaris In Sri Lanka In Detail
What To Bring On Your Elephant Safaris In Sri Lanka
Sun Cream – this is an obvious one, the sun in Sri Lanka can be dauntingly intense at times and you don’t want to ruin one of your elephant safaris in Sri Lanka with sunburn!
Hat – This is similar to the above. Make sure you take a hat so you can protect your face but also so you can see the animals better without having to put your hand to your forehead to block out the sun.
Decent Zoom Camera – We constantly update this camera to make sure you get brilliant shots as well as have a great zoom range in order to capture everything far away as well as close by. This is a must! It happens to currently be the Panasonic LUMIX ZS70K which is a fantastic all-around camera that will fit into small spaces and do you well throughout all your travels.
Comfortable Shoes – You might be thinking that you need sturdy boots for your safari, we certainly did. However, you don’t actually do any walking so make sure you take comfortable shoes. Do not take flip flops or sandals though as these may not be allowed.
Sunglasses – there may be large portions of your day where there are no animals. Make sure to rest your eyes behind a decent pair of sunglasses during this time.
Water – All elephant safaris in Sri Lanka should come with water throughout the trip but it never hurts to take your own!
Snacks – Similar to above, they should come with snacks for the journey but what if you don’t like the snacks?! Always better to take something small along for the ride.
Shawl/Long Sleeve T-shirt – Just in case the sun gets a little too unbearable, you can always take a shawl or long sleeve top to protect your skin and cool down a little.
Facts About The Sri Lankan Elephant
The Sri Lankan elephant is actually a subspecies of the Asian elephant with much darker skin. This subspecies is, unfortunately, only found in Sri Lanka which makes it very vulnerable from the outset.
Frequently Asked Questions
What Are The Best Elephant Safaris In Sri Lanka?
I think the best elephant safari in Sri Lanka is the Udawalawe safari as this is guaranteed for you to see an elephant.
How Much Are Elephant Safaris In Sri Lanka?
They range from $20 to $100 depending on the park you go to and the duration of your safari.
What Should I Take On Elephant Safaris In Sri Lanka?
The most important thing to take is suncream as these safaris can be ruined by the daunting Sri Lankan sun.
How Long Are Elephant Safaris In Sri Lanka?
They range from 3 hours to 12 hours depending on if you get a half-day or full-day safari.
When Should I Go On Elephant Safaris In Sri Lanka?
The safaris can be done throughout the year but the best time to come to Sri Lanka is December – March so why not come then!
I hope this guide on elephant safaris in Sri Lanka has been helpful! Please let me know in the comments section below if it has or if there is any way I can improve this guide. Also, let me know about your own experiences seeing these incredible creatures!