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Get Up Close To Walking Giants

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Get Up Close To Walking Giants

This is the sixth time that I have been to Sri Lanka. In this December trip, I easily relaxed into the laid-back tropical atmosphere. My most memorable moments are visiting the tea plantation, watching the fishermen on the poles along the shore and the best of all elephant safari.

Can you imagine anything more incredible than seeing families of wild elephants with babies grazing and playing in their natural habitat? Not to mention that a Sri Lanka jeep safari and meeting elephants in the wild costs just a fraction of what it would cost in South Africa or East Africa.

Like most international travelers, I use Bandaranaike International Airport in the capital city of Colombo as my gateway into Sri Lanka. There are 26 national parks in Sri Lanka. I have 5 recommendations for the best chance of elephants, leopards and other wildlife sightings. This map of Sri Lanka gives a bird’s eye view of many points of interests on the island.



1. Minneriya National Park

Minneriya is about 120 miles northeast from Colombo and conveniently located within the “Cultural Triangle” of the three Sinhalese capitals of Kandy, Polonnaruwa and Anuradhapura. The scenic Minneriya usually has 200 elephants in the park. Around August and September every year near the end of dry season, the population goes up to 300-400 as elephants make their way to the water reservoir at the center of the park. This is where they socialize, bathe and even find mates. This unique phenomenon is called GATERHING and recently listed as the Top Number 6 in the Lonely Planet’’ guide to wildlife spectacles of the world.

Minneriya is a popular national park all year round with herds of elephants and many tourists filled jeeps.

2. Kaudulla National Park

Kaudulla National Park is about 120 miles northeast from Colombo and 10 miles beyond Minneriya. There are usually 200 elephants in this park.

Our Kaudulla National Park jeep safari was awesome! It’s truly an unbelievable experience to be surrounded by elephants in all directions and see these magnificent creatures roaming this wide-open park complete with grassy plains surrounding huge lakes.

We spotted several large lone male elephants and also elephant families with tiny infants. That’s not all! Kaudulla is also known for birdwatching and other wildlife. There were peacocks, herds of wild buffalo, monkeys, sloth bears, deer and Sri Lankan leopards around the reservoir.

Kaudulla is less crowded with tourists and we are able to feel closer to nature.

Jeep Safari at Kaudulla National Park, Sri Lanka

3. Udawalawe National Park

Travel down south of this large island, you will reach Udawalawe National Park that covers 119 square miles (a bit smaller than the Hawaiian island of Lanai). It has a higher density of animals than the very famous Yala National Park, particularly with Sri Lankan elephants. Game-watching is easier with more enjoyable safari experiences as there is less traffic than Yala and the vegetation is less dense.

4. Yala National Park

Yala National Park is the most famous national park in Sri Lanka. In addition to 350 elephants, it also has around 40 leopards which roam the park. This is one of the highest leopard densities in the world. Located on the south-east coast, it covers 378 square miles (half the size of the Hawaiian island of  Maui) and about 3 times the size of Udawalawe. There is high chance of seeing elephants, deer, crocodiles, jackals, monkeys, mongooses, water and land monitor lizards, buffalo, wild boar, sloth bears, and more than 220 bird species. However, you have to be lucky to catch a sight of the elusive leopard.

5. Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage

My last suggestion is not a wildlife park. Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage is halfway between Colombo and Dambulla, making it a convenient elephant viewing stop. It is a government institute run by the Department of National Zoological Gardens of Sri Lanka. The orphanage is in a coconut plantation by the river. There are about 96 Asian elephants here. I was able to observe and feed them. Due to lack of time, I did not participate in bathing them.

Elephants at Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage, Sri lanka

Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage

Wildlife Safari With Children

Safaris in Sri Lanka are very child-friendly and the children get to see the animals close up, especially with the elephants. You are pretty much guaranteed to see some animals on a three-hour safari. Bouncing around in an open jeep also adds to the adventure! It’s likely you’ll also spot crocodiles, buffalo, plenty of colorful peacocks, and if you’re extremely lucky and look very very hard, an elusive leopard.

However, go with a private game drive, bring snacks, binoculars, cameras and an identification booklet and may be a travel potty for a memorable children’s adventure.

Planning Your Safari

We make planning your Sri Lanka safari easy.

  • We offer a private jeep for your party during safaris
  • Each national park is different, going safari in 2 different parks gives you different experiences. We can include one or more national parks in one trip and customize your schedule
  • Sri Lanka has several treasured UNESCO World Heritage Sites, golden beaches and many beautiful scenic spots that you should not miss
  • Land transport and hotels can be customized to your preferences


An important note about leopard sightings. A safari trip is an unscripted adventure and actually sighting the elusive leopard cannot be guaranteed. And even if you do manage to spot leopards, they might be quite far away so binoculars are a necessity. You should only go with the mindset that among all the amazing wildlife you will see, spotting the elusive leopard is just icing on the cake.

Recommended Journeys To Sri Lanka

We make it easy to find your dream vacation! Save time by choosing one of our great Sri Lanka tours, and embark on a magical journey with your own private tour guide and driver.

Heritage of Sri Lanka
7 Days $1,095 $2,390 per person
Visit five UNESCO world Heritage Sites all in one week!
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Paradise of Sri Lanka
12 Days $2,210 $3,465 per person
Stunning scenic train ride, golden beaches with heritage & ocean activities.
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Sri Lanka Adventure
12 Days $2,200 $3,465 per person
Asian-safari experience with golden beaches & historical wonders.
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