Everything else.. Elephant Watching Spots in Sri Lanka

Elephant Watching Spots in Sri Lanka

2020 Aug 6

Sri Lanka is known to be one of the few remaining spots in the world where you can witness hundreds of wild elephants roam free. Today, the Sri Lankan elephant population is mostly limited to the dry zone in the north, east and southeast of Sri Lanka, where they can be spotted throughout the year, and occasionally, even outside of the national parks when they cross what is known as “elephant corridors”. Our country offers a remarkable variety of wildlife and biodiversity for its size, and the opportunity to witness elephants in their natural habitat is not to be missed! Here are some elephant watching spots in Sri Lanka to keep in mind!

1. Minneriya National Park

Minneriya National Park is roughly a ten-minute drive towards the east, from Habarana, in the North Central Province of Sri Lanka. This park is renowned for elephants, although it has a wide range of other wildlife as well, living in its many habitats. This particular park is most famous for its annual Minneriya Elephant Gathering, which is one of Asia’s finest wildlife experiences. The elephants congregate in the Minneriya National Park, around the ancient Minneriya water tank, in large herds, ranging from 300 to 400! Due to the dry season, starting from June to September, the wildlife, from many of the surrounding areas, is left with no option but to come together to the Minneriya reservoir (which never dries up), as they search for water and fresh grass.

If you wish to experience the complete splendour of these giants living their lives in the open, be ready before dusk. The Minneriya Gathering is a truly rare, eventful and must-see spectacle.

2. Udawalawe National Park

In the opposite direction from Minneriya is Udawalawe, about 180 kilometres southeast from Colombo, and is one of the most popular destinations for wildlife safaris. This National Park was established as a sanctuary for wild animals displaced by the construction of the Udawalawe Reservoir on the Walawe River. It is likely to be one of the finest places to observe elephants in Sri Lanka! The Udawalawe National Park offers us the opportunity to witness these magnificent animals throughout the year as there are more than a few hundred elephants within the park!  You’ll be able to watch herds of females moving or bathing together quite frequently. Being able to witness an entire family, with baby elephants, is definitely one of the highlights of this national park and is certainly a spectacular sight.

3. Yala National Park

A massive part of the Sri Lankan southeast corner is the Yala National Park. It is the most visited and second largest national park in Sri Lanka, and is approximately 80 kilometres away from Udawalawe. The park is divided into five blocks, of which only blocks one and five are open to the public, in order to preserve the natural habitat as much as possible. Many wild elephants are able to be frequently spotted in the vast jungle. The park is worth visiting at all times of the year, however, it generally closes for the month of September and the first half of October and the exact dates tend to shift each year.  Planning your visit during the peak season which is from February to June during the dry season is recommended.

4. Wilpattu National Park

Wilpattu National Park is located northwest of Colombo, approximately 190 kilometres away. Elephants are a main source of wildlife that resides here along with other fauna & flora like leopards, bears, deer, crocodiles and other reptiles and many varieties of birds. The park opens at 6:00 am and you will want to be one of the first people there! Although this National Park can be visited throughout the year, February to October is the prime time. Due to the sheer size of the park and dense jungle, and the fact that the animals may not be accustomed to crowds, spotting wildlife cannot be guaranteed.  Therefore, anyone visiting Sri Lanka for its incredible wildlife needs to adopt the right mindset from the get-go! However, it is certainly a unique experience.

5. Gal Oya National Park

Gal Oya National Park is one of the smaller parks located on the east coast of Sri Lanka, which is about 370 kilometres northeast from Colombo in the Badulla District with part of it stretching into the Ampara District. The park is ideal to catch sightings of elephants and leopards, and the perfect time to visit would be from March to July. Gal Oya National Park offers visitors the opportunity to enjoy its beauty and wildlife by boat as well as by jeep safaris. During the peak time, the boat safaris bring the spectacle of herds of elephants swimming from one island to another island in the great Senanayaka Samaudra Reservoir.

Gal Oya is one of the more remote and lesser-visited parks in Sri Lanka, which means you are almost guaranteed a peaceful wildlife experience!

6. The Elephant Transit Home

The Elephant Transit Home is probably the best elephant sanctuary in Sri Lanka to visit! At this elephant orphanage, in Udawalawe, you are provided with the opportunity to observe and get a close view of elephants and mainly, their calves! In this home, elephant calves are taken in, nurtured and cared for back to health. They try to keep human contact to a minimum; however, you are able to witness the beauty of these magnificent animals up close! Although it is an orphanage, the elephants are given ample freedom to roam around and are not chained or restricted in any sort of cruel way, and are returned to the wild. This is definitely a place to visit if you wish to observe and enjoy the sight of baby elephants.

7. Kaudulla National Park

Kaudulla National Park is situated right next to Minneriya, 197 kilometres away from Colombo, and is a much smaller version in comparison. However, it is still one of the best national parks to spot Elephants in Sri Lanka as it is the habitat to over 200 elephants. The prime time to visit Kaudulla is between July and December but, this is a year-round destination as well. September and October are the best times to visit Kaudulla to enjoy the sight of a large herd of elephants. In order to witness the Minneriya Gathering, it is ideal to visit during the dry season (July to October) as mentioned before. The park almost always never disappoints!

8. Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage

Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage is an orphanage for wild Asian elephants located at Pinnawala, just a little off the town of Kegalle. The orphanage is known to have the largest herd of captive elephants in the world and has become a very popular tourist attraction. The basic principle of the orphanage has been to grant a lifeline to orphaned baby elephants and adult elephants lost or injured in the wilderness. Here, you are given the opportunity to observe elephants bathing, which is quite a display! It is open to the public from 8:30 am to 6:00 pm and follows a specific schedule.  So, a quick check before is highly recommended.

9. Ridiyagama Safari Park

This is the first-ever safari park in Sri Lanka! The park consists of a variety of wildlife species including elephants, lions, and leopards as well! Out of the 500 acres of land in the park, there is a separate 54-acre Sri Lankan Elephant Zone, which offers you the opportunity to observe elephants! 

There are countless spots to witness the beauty of nature and wildlife in Sri Lanka. On your next elephant watching adventure or trip into the jungle, don’t forget to do the best you can to preserve its environment and protect its beauty!