The Udawalawe National Park is situated in southern Sri Lanka, roughly half-way between Nuwara Eliya and the coast, and covers an area of more than 300 square kilometres. It was established in 1972.
We first visited the park in late 2015 on a day-trip from our hotel in Ahungalla. I remember well that we arrived around noon and that we decided to have a leisurely pot of tea and a bite to eat before setting off on our safari. That turned out to be a big mistake – as the skies darkened dramatically during our tea-break and the heavens opened as soon as we got into the jeep. Despite the covers on the vehicle, we were soon soaked through to our underwear and the photos we took were largely spoiled by raindrops on the lens and the curtain of rain between us and the objects of our interest. Most of the animals had fled to take cover somewhere, anyway, although we did see some elephants – who actually appeared to enjoy the torrential downpour.
We returned for a second visit last December, but this time we had booked accommodation in Udawalawe for two nights to minimize the chances of the weather once again spoiling things. As it happened, there was quite a bit of rain, but it held off until the early evenings (on all three days).
The photo below shows the typical scenery you encounter as you drive through the park.
However, not all of the park is scrub and grassland. On one side is a huge reservoir and there are smaller lakes and ponds within the park's boundaries as well.
There are patches of forest, too, and some of the area around the river that feeds the reservoir consists of quite dense jungle.
The varied landscapes provide habitats for a wide variety of wildlife. Udawalawe's chief attraction are its elephants. You are quite likely to come across some within the first half hour of entering the park.
During our three-day stay here we went for two morning and two afternoon drives and on all four occasions we encountered elephants very early on – and quite close to the roadside.
The elephant photos below do not require any additional commentary.
The other animals you are virtually guaranteed to come across are peacocks. I have to admit that after a while we told the driver that we had enough shots of peacocks. They are a magnificent sight nevertheless.
Buffaloes do not appear to be as abundant, but we did see quite a few on one of our drives.
It was not until the third drive that we caught a glimpse of some spotted dear and we only saw one single monkey – although we were not particularly disappointed about that, as there are plenty to be found all over Sri Lanka.
As a rule, where there was water there were crocodiles. They are very good at concealing themselves. Our driver was a lot better at spotting them than we were, but after a while we learned what to look for and where they were likely to be.
There are also has many other (less dangerous) representatives of the reptile family at Udawalawe.
If you are interested in birds, you will not be disappointed by the park. Not only are there all kinds of waterbirds, but you will also find many birds of prey, including eagles, and lots of other colourful varieties, such as hornbills and parrots. The photos below will give you an impression. Again, I present them simply as a gallery.
In order to visit Udawalawe you need to hire a safari jeep and driver. There are many different providers. The hotels/guesthouses in the area can put you in touch with one, or you can rent a vehicle at the entrance gate to the park (– there always seemed to be a few available). Guides also offer their services at the entrance. We did not feel the need for one.
Expect to pay something in the region of 3500 to 5000 rupees for a three-hour drive. The entrance fee for the park will set you back a fair bit more, unless you are a Sri Lankan citizen – currently just over 7000 rupees per couple (per drive). The charging structure is not very transparent. The price per head appears to go down if there are more people in the vehicle, but there is only a small discount if you opt for both a morning and an afternoon drive on the same day.
So, the overall cost is not insignificant – but, in my opinion, it is an amount worth paying for the experience and views like this: