Sri Lanka - Getting to know Uda Walawe

High in Sri Lanka’s secluded, mountainous interior, a breathtaking range of wildlife awaits, undisturbed. It’s a wonderful privilege to observe Asian elephants in their natural habitat, and at Uda Walawe you’ll experience none of the creeping doubt that can sometimes accompany activities sold under the banner of ‘eco-tourism’ – either concerns for the animals’ ultimate wellbeing, or the uncertainty that you’ll see anything at all.

Sri Lanka Uda Walawe Travel Guide

Because there are around 500 elephants living in the 310 square kilometres of the National Park, you have an excellent chance of an unforgettable encounter. Usually, it will only take a single jeep safari. Herds of up to 100 animals spread across three generations – from bumbling babies via powerful parents to proud elders – regularly roam through the Park, which is a fantastic, strangely primordial sight. 

The Asian elephants thrive at Uda Walawe, one of sadly few locations on the subcontinent where they’re free from the attentions of hunters. The environment is ideal, the whole ecosystem balanced to perfection. It’s clear to see the elephants enjoy the terrain of lush grassland, thorny-shrub scrub jungle, disused teak plantation, and a plentiful water supply.

Elephants aside, there’s a breathtaking range of other wildlife to enjoy. Crocodiles are visible near the elephants and water buffalo at the water’s edge; there are monkeys, wild boar, sambar, jackals... And the skies above Uda Walawe are one of Sri Lanka's best places to see raptors such as the Changeable Hawk Eagle, Serpent Eagle, and Grey-Headed Fish Eagle, amongst many other exotic wonders.

Getting off the trail

  • To the east of Uda Walawe lies Yala National Park, famous for containing the densest leopard population anywhere in the world. The leopards here are the distinct Sri Lankan subspecies, and there are two per square mile, roaming free from the jungles and grasslands to the sandy beaches which all lie within this sprawling National Park.
  • Sri Lanka’s South Coast beaches are a must for your itinerary. While the stilt fishermen of Weligama Bay are undoubtedly iconic, they can prove uncomfortably popular. For swimming and surfing further from the crowds, the virgin coves around Nilwala come especially recommended. More advanced surfers will enjoy the reef breaks off Mirissa, a few kilometres south of Weligama.
  • A visit to the fortified city of Galle is hardly an insider tip – it’s one of Sri Lanka’s prime destinations and a UNESCO World Heritage Site – but there’s no denying its timewarp Dutch Colonial magic. As if to underline the rich cosmopolitan culture of Galle, the renowned international Literary Festival is held in January.

Weather and when to visit

Uda Walawe is a year-round possibility, as there is next to no seasonal variation in the population of elephants – although it’s probably best to avoid the monsoon season, between May and September. The park has an average day and night temperature of 29 and 24 degrees centigrade respectively. It’s hot! Annual rainfall is about 1520mm.

What to do in Uda Walawe

  • It’s important to get up early and travel from your accommodation to Uda Walawe, having prebooked a jeep safari. This way you will avoid the relative rush of visitors that comes later in the day. Avoid unofficial and ad hoc guides, who will often do their best to rip you off. 
  • Visit the Park’s Elephant Transfer Home, an elephant orphanage established in 1995 by Sri Lanka’s Department of Wildlife Conservation. Home to over 40 orphaned elephants, the home cares and rehabilitates the mammals with the aim of finally releasing them back into their natural habitat.

To catch sight of exotic flocks of migrant birds, the best time to visit Uda Walawe is between October and March