My alarm goes off at 5.50 on a misty morning. Normally I would groan loudly, cover my head with a blanket and just try to hide from that annoying little thing that is trying to interrupt my sleep. But not this morning. This morning I jump up the second the alarm goes off, rush to my clothes and shout “Yay, Elephants!” I instantly feel pretty childish but I can’t hide my excitement – today is one of the most anticipated days on our trip. Today, I’m going on a safari in Udawalawe National Park to see some elephants! And I could not be any more excited.
The main reason we chose Udawalawe as our destination was because the park is famous for guaranteed sight of elephants. Despite Yala – the biggest and most popular national park in Sri Lanka has a wider range of flora and fauna to be seen, Udawalawe has more elephants. And to be honest, I really do not care if I do not see that many birds just as long as I get a good look at those gentle giants.
And oh boy did I see them. I saw tens of elephants. Actually the first one we saw already before the safari even started, on the way to our hotel the night before. As we were driving along the road net to the park borders, we spotted a lonely elephant right next to the road – this brave little swimmer had swam all the way across the lake, hundreds of meters away from the other side, just for a little evening snack of delicious fresh grass. Our driver stopped the car for a few minutes right next to the elephant so that we could have a good look from the window before continuing to the hotel. I was already super excited and the safari had not even started yet!
On the morning of the safari we hopped on to our 4WD safari car that was waiting for us just outside our hotel. We had pre-arranged the safari already while in Koggala and included it in the package of transportation from Koggala to Udawalawe and then onwards to Ella. In total we paid 20 000 rupees for the transportation and the safari – not too bad, but still too much if you ask me, when bearing in mind the overall price level of Sri Lanka. But that was the best we could get. It is also possible to find a driver for the safari just outside the park gates, so pre-arrangement is not necessary, although we thought it made life much easier when you did not have to start the day early and haggling.
We took off early and made it to the inside of the park as the sun was rising. After just a few hundred meters from the gates we noticed movement in the bushes – the first elephant of the day! Our driver took us closer to the elephant and we sat there watching this amazing fellow slowly moving around the bushes for many minutes. After a while more cars appeared and we continued our way leaving other cars behind. After only some minutes we encounter a road block. And not just any kind of a block but a block created by three elephants standing on the road. Our driver turned off the engine when the elephants still were at a distance and we rolled silently closer, stopping just meters away from them. I must admit that I absolutely hate to sit in a car when the road is blocked, but this – this I could experience every day! We just sit there in silence, looking at the group of elephants on the road. After just a short moment we hear noises in the bushes. An elephant pops out from the bushes right next to our car. And another one! And a third one! Elephant after another just keeps appearing and before I even notice, we are surrounded by a dozen elephants – one of them just a small baby no older than few months. I was so thrilled I was having a hard time sitting still – this just had to be the coolest thing ever!
After that we circle around the park for almost three hours, encountering elephants many times, some are seen from a distance, some so close you could easily touch them if you wanted (Note: you really should not!), individuals, groups, big and small – there are elephants everywhere and I just loved every single second of our safari. Of course we also saw several water buffalos, wild boar, peacocks and all sorts of different birds, but no other animal was really even close to being as exciting and interesting as the elephants were.
I really had some high expectations over the safari in Udawalawe and I’m happy to say I did not have to be disappointed – it was even better than I dared to hope for and I can highly recommend anyone travelling to Sri Lanka to visit Udawalawe. Of course, if you are not that obsessed with the elephants, Yala might also be a place to consider visiting as the range of flora and fauna is greater than in Udawalawe. For me, as a huge elephant-freak, Udawalawe was the lace to go and I could not be happier that I managed to visit the park.
Best. Thing. Ever.