Wildlife abounds in southern Sri Lanka’s Udawalawe National Park. Here, open-top jeep safaris bring visitors within close range of members of the park’s resident elephant population — some say it’s the country’s largest, with as many as 400 individuals. The park is centered around a massive man-made reservoir, which displaced hundreds of hectares when it was created in the 1970s but now draws wild buffaloes, sambar deer, crocodiles, jackals, macaques, leopards and flocks of water birds. Udawalawe’s dry weather and short, grassy vegetation provides an ideal setting for viewing these creatures.
Most park visitors arrive via an organized tour; only official vehicles and those with park-licensed guides are allowed to explore the park. For an extended stay and a greater chance of seeing some of the park’s rarer critters, visitors can also opt to stay in onsite accommodations, which include four campsites and bungalows ranging from plain rustic to rustic chic.
Just outside the park, the ETH, or Elephant Transit Home, is a popular stop often combined with a trip to Udawalawe — there, baby elephants, orphaned by the ivory trade, are rehabilitated and released to join the park’s population.
The park is located 125 miles south of the capital city of Colombo; its entrance is near the seven-mile (11-kilometer) post between Timbolketiya and Thanamalwila on Pelmadulla-Timbolketiya A18 road. The best time to visit is just after dawn and before dusk, when the animals are most active. The last park tickets are sold around 5 p.m.