Udawalawe National Park Safari Tours – Everything You Need to Know

After Adam’s Peak hike, ar Siripada, we made our way to experience Udawalawe National Park Safari Tours to get out of the crowd and unwind in the untouched wilderness.

Udawalawe Jeep Safari Tours are the only reason why people come to the park. We took public buses all the way from Sripada to Udawalawe and there was literally no other tourists to be seen in any of the buses we took. And we were getting out of the Tamil speaking communities and it was getting harder for me to communicate with locals to figure out the buses and transportations.

Udawalawe National Park Safari

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Udawalawe National Park Safari

Follow along with me, it was 4AM in the morning when the wake up call from front desk woke us up. Usually I am not a morning person. But, this day is special. My first ever safari trip into the wilderness and I was thrilled to wake up early. Even better after we got ready, hot coffee and some bread and jam were waiting for us at the cafeteria. That fresh smell of Sri Lankan coffee…made my day already.

How to Get to Udawalawe National Park ?

Probably the first question to be address is how to get to udawalawe national park from wherever you are. Most people stay at a eco lodge or glamping options available at Udawalawe. However, it is entirely possible to directly arrive from where you are and hop on the Udawalawe safri jeep waiting outside the park.

There are two main options available.

  • Take a taxi
  • Public buses + Tuk-tuk combination

I will be discussing the bus routes here.

Always double check the bus number. It might have changed from the time I visited.

Colombo to Udawalawe

It takes approximately 5 hours by public transportation from Colombo to Udawalawe. Last time I checked bus no 122 will drop you directly at the entrance of Udawalawe National Park. So, if you catch an early morning bus from Colombo, you can still catch elephant safari at Udawalawe in the afternoon.

Hatton to Udawalawe

We were in Sri Pada after Adam’s peak hike. From Sri Pada there are buses to get to Hatton, but we chose to take auto(tuk-tuk) to get to Hatton, because the bus we wanted to catch was only an hour or so away. Plus, I loved the idea of taking tuk-tuk through the mountains and around the lake because we stopped as we wished. If I remember correctly we paid Rs. 1500 for the tuk-tuk from Siripada to Hatton.

We were told that from Hatton there is a direct bus to Embilipitiya. So we hoped to catch the bus at 12:30. The booking office at Hatton bus stop gave us that info the day before. Apparently they gave the timing wrong. When we reached Hatton and asked around, they said the bus left an hour ago.

Next option was to break down the journey and take two different buses. Hatton to Balangoda and then take the bus to Embilipitiya.

When we got dropped at Balangoda and I asked the bus conductor about Embilipitiya, he waved down a bus that went via Rathnapura, which takes longer to get to Embilipitiya. We didn’t realize that. We were a bit frustrated initially. So, we decided to get down at Pelmadulla and took a tuk-tuk to our eco lodge near Udawalawe.

By the time we reached the room, we had been on the buses for 10-hours to cover a mere 120km. However, most the route was through mountains and windy roads. So, the buses had to go slow. Nevertheless, the journey through the mountains, forests and villages was fantastic. If I ever had to do it again, I would still chose the public buses.

Udawalawe National Park Safari

Tangalle to Udawalawe

Give yourself 2 hours to reach from Tangalle to Udawalawe. This route is probably the easiest to navigate. From Tangalle bus terminus take a direct bus to Embilipitiya that runs frequently. After you reach Embilipitiya, you would have to catch another bus to Uda Walawe.

Depending on whether you are going directly to the National Park or to the lodge where you will be staying, you either get down at the town of Uda Walawe or the park entrance. Just ask the driver or conductor about it. We have always found one or two english speakers in the bus always willing to help.

Mirissa to Udawalawe National Park

This journey is certainly a bit longer but doable.

Here are the buses to look for:

  • Mirissa to Matara
  • Matara to Embilipitiya
  • Embilipitiya to Udawalawe

As I mentioned earlier, if you are going straight to your accommodation in Udawalawe National Park, you would get down at the town of Uda Walawe and take a tuk-tuk to get to the place where you are staying.

Be ready to be approached by tons of tuk-tuk drivers, and those who are selling hotel rooms.

Nuwara Eliya to Udawalawe

Although it is possible to take bus all the way from Nuwara Eliya to Udawalawe, I do recommend splitting up the journey into train + bus route to get the most out of it.

If you can’t get train ticket for the day you are looking for, here is the bus journey breakdown.

From Nuwara Eliya, you might have to hop on few different buses before reaching Uda Walawe.

  • Nuwara Eliya to Bandarawela
  • Bandarawela to Wellawaya (it’s possible to get direct bus to Wellawaya from Nuwara Eliya)
  • Welawaya to Thanamalwila
  • Thanamalwila to Udawalawe

Udawalawe National Park Safari

Train + Bus Scenic Route:

Take a train from Nuwara Eliya to Ella. This is one of the most scenic mountain trains you will ever get on. It takes a good three hours and absolutely worth every minute of being on this train.

Once you reach Ella, follow the route discussed below at the Ella to Udawalawe section.

Ella to Udawalawe

  • Ella to Wellawaya
  • Wellawaya to Thanamalwila
  • Thanamalwila to Udawalawe

It’s easy to navigate through buses in this route. You will see boards written in English. Just ask anyone in the bus stops, they will guide you. People are very friendly and helpful in Sri Lanka.

Udawalawe Elephant Safari

Best Time to Visit Udawalawe National Park

Although Udawalawe National Park Safari can be done pretty much any month of the year, mind it, Sri Lanka gets really hot during the summer months.

I have visited Sri Lanka twice and both the times, I went in December time frame where the hot south of Sri Lanka was it’s mildest possible weather. Read it HOT.

So, my recommendation is November to March.

Udawalawe National Park Entrance Fee

According to the government website, the entrance fee for foreign adult is $15 USD. The website doesn’t talk about SAARC nationals and their fee. Generally SAARC country passport holders do get a discount. But, when we visited paid Rs. 3500 per person.

Udawalawe Safari Jeep Cost

We were charged Rs. 4500 for the jeep by the hotel. But we got the jeep to ourselves. However, we later learned we could have negotiated it down to Rs. 3500 as well. Another way to do this is by going directly to the National Park entrance and negotiate jeeps there.

Udawalawe Safari Timing

They usually run two trips to the National Park.

  • Early morning at 6AM to 9AM
  • Afternoon 3PM to 6PM

Elephants head into the jungle after their morning ritual and to keep cool from the day’s heat. They start wandering around in the afternoon.

Although both times are perfectly good to go, what animals you will see is your luck that day.

However, mornings in the jungle is magical. The sounds of peacocks and birds waking up and stretching out was absolutely mesmerizing.

Udawalawe National Park Map

Udawalawe National Park Map
(Source: Lanka.com)

How Many Days to Visit Udawalawe National Park ?

Usually a day trip to Udawalawe National Park is the most popular option. Even on a day trip to Udawalawe, most people do either early morning or afternoon safari.

How Long is the Udawalawe Safari Tours ?

The Udawalawe safari tours are mainly to see elephants in the park and takes between 3- 5 hours. Our trip took us around 5 hours, including to and fro from the hotel.

Udawalawe National Park Safari

Where to Stay Near Udawalawe National Park ?

There are plenty of options starting from Pitched tents in the National Park area to eco resorts. Check out the possible list of places you can stay at.

We stayed at Kottawatta village udawalawe and we really enjoyed our stay there. The eco hut was so pleasant and service was great. We had no complaints.

Tips for Visiting Udawalawe National Park with Kids

The park is filled with gorgeous looking peacocks/hens, elephants, monkeys, spotty-deers, and variety of other birds.

It is surreal to be in the forest so early in the morning, listening to the birds chirping and simply watching animals go about their way of life.

  • Educate the kids ahead of time on what to expect and how to spot animals
  • There is nothing to buy/eat at the park. Take whatever you want with you.
  • There is no toilet facility in the park.
  • Once you are in the jungle there is only one open campground to take a quick break.
  • Take Binocular with you to get the kids excited.

Here is my favorite Binocular that I got for my niece that she dearly holds on to on every trip she takes.

Aurosports 10×25 Folding High Powered Binoculars With Weak Light Night Vision Clear Bird Watching Great for Outdoor Sports Games and Concerts


Are you convinced to visit Udawalawe National Park and take a safari on your next trip to Sri Lanka ?

Udawalawe National Park Safari Tours


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Udawalawe Safari Tour