You can hardly go wrong if you do a Safari in Sri Lanka, but if you can only choose one should you go to Yala or Udawalawe?
If you are traveling to Sri Lanka one thing you absolutely must do is visit one of the National Parks for a Safari! It is a must-do for your Sri Lanka trip. A great advantage of a Safari in Sri Lanka is that the prices for a private are really very affordable depending on how you execute it. The first question you probably have is "Which national park should I go to? Should I go to Yala or Udawalawe for a Sri Lankan Safari?"
Sri Lanka Safari - Yala or Udawalawe National Park?
The two most popular national parks to have a safari in Sri Lanka are definitely Yala and Udawalawe. Travelers and locals alike have had wonderful experiences at both of them. It really depends on what you are most interested in seeing and what you want your experience to be like.
Facts About Yala National Park | Sri Lanka Travel Guide
Yala National Park is located 260 km South East of Colombo and has an area of 378 square miles. Typical hours are 6am to 6pm and your best time to visit is between June and September. Yala is said to have the highest concentration of leopards (Panthera padres kotiya - endemic to Sri Lanka) of any of the national parks. That being said, there is, of course, no guarantee of seeing one.
What animals may you see at Yala National Park? | Sri Lanka Travel Guide
What animals may you see at Yala National Park?
There are over 215 species of bird and 44 species of mammals. Mammals like the Sri Lankan Leopard, Sri Lankan Elephant (~300-350), Sri Lankan Sloth Bear, Water Buffalo, Toque Macaque, Red Slender Loris, Fishing Cat, and Golden Palm Civet are a few. There are also a number of other reptiles and amphibian species including crocodiles.
Facts About Udawalawe National Park | Sri Lanka Travel Guide
On the other hand, Udawalawe National Park is located about 160 km South East of Colombo and has an area of 119 square miles, making it quite a bit smaller than Yala. Still, within that small surface area there are over 500 elephants in Udawalawe National Park, according to some records. Some of these are resident elephants whereas others are migratory. Either way, if you love elephants Udawalawe will not disappoint.
What animals May You See At Udawalawe National Park? | Sri Lanka Travel Guide
What animals may you see at Udawalawe National Park?
Of course you will see the Sri Lankan Elephants and you may see some of the following animals: Sri Lankan Leopard, Sri Lankan Sambar Deer and Axis Deer, Rusty-spotted Cat, Wild Board, Water Buffalo, Fishing Cat, Asian Palm Civet, Golden Jackal, Toque Macaque, Tufted Grey Langur, Indian Hare, Mongoose, Oriental Garden Lizards, Painted-lip Lizards, Water Monitors, Snakes, Mugger Crocodiles, Bengal Monitors, and countless interesting birds. This is a birdwatcher's paradise with over 183 bird species in Udawalawe National Park.
What About Crowds? | Sri Lanka Travel Guide
What about crowds at Yala National Park and Udawalawe National Park?
From the research we did in advance we heard that Yala is much more crowded than Udawalawe.
Which National Park Did We Choose and why? | Sri Lanka Travel Guide
Bearing all this in mind, Which national park did we choose and why?
We chose Udawalawe National Park!
While we really would have loved to see a leopard (spoiler altert - we didn't!) we honestly evaluated the chances we would see one in Yala. Yes, you may see one, but there is no guarantee of it. We had a smaller chance of seeing a leopard in Udawalawe and did not see one this time -- Maybe next time?! ;) So to us, the biggest perk of Yala was seeing a leopard, but there was no guarantee and it was notoriously crowded. On the other hand, Udawalawe had a really high concentration of elephants to see, a less crowded experience, and still a great variety of landscape and animals to spot. We don't regret our decision! Our Sri Lanka Safari at Udawalawe National Park was an absolute highlight of our trip!
Why didn't we do a safari at both Udawalawe and Yala National Parks? | Sri Lanka Travel Guide
Why didn't we do 2 safaris?
To put it simply, time is the only reason we didn't. If we had more time we could have and would have done both!
Where to stay for an Udawalawe Safari? | Sri Lanka Travel Guide
I can't recommend enough the place we stayed at: The Countryside Udawalawe (around $40/night) . You can find them on booking.com and I hope to do a more detailed review of this accommodation soon. The owners were gracious, food was delicious, rooms were beautiful, location was ideal and they can help you set up your safari if you want! (I recommend that!)
What Other Attractions Are Near Udawalawe? | Sri Lanka Travel Guide
We literally had just about 24 hours in Udawalawe. We arranged a transfer through The Countryside Udawalawe which collected us in Ella. We drove straight to Udawalawe, checked in, and in a short time we were picked up for an afternoon safari. We spent the night there and then visited the Elephant Transit Home (walking distance) the next morning before transferring down to start our beach hopping in Sri Lanka at Tangalle Beach. The Elephant Transit home is a place for orphaned elephants and those who need rehabilitated. Stay tuned for a post on that as well.
How Much Does A Safari At Udawalawe National Park Cost? | Sri Lanka Travel Guide
Oops, I almost forgot the most important question -- How much does it cost?!
The cost of our safari was broken down like this:
Jeep Service for 2 people - 4000 LKR
Entry Tickets to Udawalwe for 2 people - 7150 LKR
Total Cost for a *PRIVATE SAFARI* for 2 people - 11150 LKR ($70 USD)
Another option to share the safari cost with another couple wold have lowered the price to 8750 LKR for 2 people ($56 USD)
We arranged this through Lahiru of The Countryside Udawalawe and it all went perfectly!
Where to Stay:
The Countryside Udawalawe - If you want a convenient location, great food, friendly people, and convenience of setting up transfers and safaris through your accommodation at a reasonable price
Other Accommodation in Udawalawe, Sri Lanka
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