If you’re visiting Sri Lanka, then make sure you visit a national park to see wild elephants. – Said everyone I knew, even those who did not visit Sri Lanka.
Thank god I listened because it was one of the best things we did in Sri Lanka. [Even though we did a lot because we spent a month in this country]. Visiting a national park to see elephants in the wild is one of things that everyone needs to do when they visit Sri Lanka, just the way one would walk along the canals if they visit Amsterdam; or visit Taj Mahal while in India.
If you’re anything like us, then you probably love forests too. If yes, you’re going to love Sri Lanka. This little island country has more than 20 national parks dotted all over and as a result, the entire Sri Lanka feels like one big national park.
While planning a trip to Sri Lanka, we saw pictures of the famous lion rock Sigiriya, the tea estates of the hill country, train ride that goes through this hill country (Kandy to Ella), the sandy beaches of Arugam Bay and of course, the elephants. These things are included in pretty much every decent itinerary for Sri Lanka.
One thing that stood out in Sri Lanka’s elephant pictures was that there wasn’t one or two or even 5 – but hundreds of elephants all together. This, my friends, is called an elephant gathering and you can see it in Sri Lanka. It has been compared to the great migration in Serengeti. I will explain more in the next section.
Watching Elephant Gathering in Sri Lanka
The elephant gathering in Sri Lanka is an extraordinary event. It’s the largest gathering of wild Asian elephants in the world at any given time. It takes place almost every day during Sri Lanka’s dry season, from July to November.
As the water levels decrease, the elephants head to certain areas in the country where they know they will find water. These areas are mainly located in two of Sri Lanka’s National Parks: Kaudulla National Park, and the nearby Minneriya National Park, which is 17 miles (27 kilometres) from Kaudulla National Park.
The large fields of water nurture the perfect environment for the animals to socialise, feed, and even breed. It’s one of the most incredible wildlife experiences to behold. You’ll see elephants of all sizes, from small babies to full-grown adults, drinking and frolicking in the water.
I have visited Sr Lanka twice and in my opinion, one of the best places to see a gathering of wild elephants is Kaudulla National Park. This incredible sprawling landscape is famed for containing high numbers of Asian elephants. Being able to see these magnificent creatures up close and all around you is a truly extraordinary experience.
It feels as if the time stands still as you sit on your safari jeep and watch an insanely large number of elephants all around. As so, taking a trip to Kaudulla National Park makes for one of the best wildlife holidays in the world.
Many people talk about the bigger Yala and Udawalawa National Parks but in my experience Kaudulla’s plus point is that it is smaller, and at times you can see a larger concentration of the number of elephants per square meter.
If you’re planning to visit Kaudulla National Park, here is a helpful guide that will supply you with everything you need to know for your visit.
Where’s Kaudulla National Park?
Kaudulla National Park is in the heart of Sri Lanka, just 45 kilometers from the super famous Sigiriya. It is about 130 miles (207 kilometres) from the country’s largest city, Colombo.
Sigiriya to Kaudulla National Park
As previously mentioned, many of the jeep safari tours of Kaudulla National Park offer hotel pick-up and drop-off services. However, if you’re driving from Sigiriya to Kaudulla National Park, it should only take you about an hour.
If you’re staying in Dambulla, there is a route between the town and the park that crosses right through Sigiriya. Touring this site is an opportunity you don’t want to miss when visiting the area.
Kaudulla National Park Ticket Price
The entry fee for Kaudulla National Park is 2700 Sri Lankan rupees, which is £12.00 GBP. When booking a jeep safari tour, the entrance fee into the park is usually included in the tour price.
How Much Does a Jeep Safari Cost in Kaudulla National Park?
Most jeep safari tours offered inside Kaudulla National Park cost between £42.00 GBP and £46.00 GBP per person.
This fee includes the entrance fee into the park. Pick-up and drop-off from hotels around Sigiriya, Habarana, and Dambulla is also usually included in the jeep safari price. We were picked up from our hotel in Sigiriya for this.
The tour lasts for 4-5 hours. However, note that the 4-5 hour duration also includes your hotel pick-up and drop-off. So, your time in the park will be less than 4-5 hours, and as per us it was more than enough.
What Else is there in Kaudulla National Park?
I get it – the main reason why anyone would visit Kaudulla would be to look at elephants but there’s a lot more to experience in this amazing national park.
Firstly, the joy of riding in a jeep in the middle of a dense forest is like none other. It wasn’t my first safari experience, I did one in India’s Kanha National Park too, but I found Sri Lanka’s forests to be more beautiful because they’re greener.
Secondly, I have a thing for wide open spaces and there were many to find inside Kaudulla National Park. The entire area of the park isn’t a dense forest but there are lots of open areas. The main part is the water reservoir – which looks really amazing like most of the water bodies in the nature. There are white rocks around the reservoir and they add to the scenic beauty. You can also see pelicans near the water!
Thirdly, there are many other animals and birds that one can see in Kaudulla National Park. We saw a crocodile, a few lizards, deers and some beautiful birds that were super tiny. Sadly I didn’t have a zoom lens but only had a GoPro camera at the time of my visit. The above picture is highly cropped, and the white dots are actually pelicans that are sitting on the rocks next to the reservoir.
In addition to elephants and pelicans, you’ll get the chance to see some other animals in their natural habitat. These can include sambar deer, axis deer, monkeys, peacocks, wild boar, and various bird species.
Minneriya or Kaudulla National Park?
If you want to see a gathering of wild elephants, you can not just pick one out of Minneriya or Kaudulla, but you have to find out where the elephants are. Both these parks have water supply but when one dries up, the elephants move to the other due to the close proximity.
The elephants usually move from Minneriya to Kaudulla from September to February. During other months, they move to Minneriya tank to drink water during the dry season. Ask your hotel or one of the local tour guides to find out for you and they will tell you where you can see the elephant gathering on that particular day. This way, you’re practically guaranteed to see at least a few herds of Sri Lankan elephants during your trip.
Minneriya National Park is nearby and is comparatively more famous than Kaudulla for elephant spotting in Sri Lanka. It’s located 17 miles (27 kilometres) from Kaudulla National Park. I have visited both, they’re similar but there is a difference in size – Minneriya is bigger. Also, Kaudulla tends to be less busy.
There are fewer jeeps that drive around inside Kaudulla as compared to Minneriya, it means you’ll have a better view of the animals. I visited Kaudulla in the month of February and there were not more than 2 jeeps around us when we spotted an elephant herd. On the other hand, I visited Minneriya National Park in the month of July and we were at least 10 jeeps together next to a large elephant gathering.
Why Stay at Sigiriya to visit Kaudulla?
Sigiriya is a small town located 28 miles (45 kilometres) from the park. It’s famous for containing an ancient stone fortress that rises up nearly 200 metres. The inside is decorated with well-preserved frescoes that have lasted hundreds of years. It’s a very popular tourist spot in Sri Lanka.
Even though it is touristy, I highly enjoyed my time in Sigiriya town on two different occasions. The Sigiriya village is beautiful and you will love walking around here and seeing little monkeys and maybe even a few peacocks. Yes, the Sigiriya Rock is famous but you can avoid crowds by not climbing it. It is spectacular but you can admire the beautiful shape of the rock from top of the lesser known Pidurangala rock.
If you stay at Sigiriya, then you can check off many of your typical “Sri Lankan” travel experience items off your list. You can climb the famous lion rock, sleep in a tree house, see elephants in wild, see the nearby Dambulla cave temple, rent a bicycle to enjoy Sri Lanka’s little villages, and of course eat a lot of amazing food. Be sure to read my post about Sigiriya with a detailed comparison of Pidurangala.
You’ll find a nice range of options for places to stay in Sigiriya, from basic budget hotels to resorts. We personally stayed in 4 guest houses, one tree house resort and another high end resort in Sigiriya and they all offered a different experience. In my opinion Sigiriya is the best place to stay to be near Kaudulla National Park.
Hotels near Kaudulla and Sigirya
Kaudulla does not offer any accommodation within the park itself. However, there are a few towns you’ll be able to stay in for easy access to the park’s entrance.
If you want to take your Sri Lankan wildlife experience to the next level, then consider staying in a tree house in Back of Beyond. This place is in the middle of Dehigaha Ela’s deep forest but still not far from Sigiriya and Kaudulla. You can sleep in an actual treehouse and listen to the sounds of the forest all night. San and I loved this place so much that we even published a post about our tree house stay in Sri Lanka. You can read more about this place on TripAdvisor or just click here to check the best deals and book a tree house for yourself.
Our tree house was 20 minutes away from Sigirya but if you want to be closer to the city, you can check out Back of Beyond – Pidurangala, which is as beautiful but is not in the middle of deep forest.
We also recommend a place called Nethmini Homestay in the main Sigiriya town (check deals on Booking.com for Nethmini Homestay). It is a short tuk tuk drive away from Sigiriya Fortess and Pidurangala Rock. While here, we rented bicycles and explored the most of Sigiriya on our own.
Where Else to Stay near Kaudulla National Park
Dambulla is a town located 31 miles (50 kilometres) from the park. It contains restaurants, hotels, markets, historic temples, and other attractions. I stayed in a place called Jetwing Lake Dambulla and it was a stunning location.
Trincomalee is a city located 50 miles (80 kilometres) from Kaudulla National Park. Although it’s a bit further, it’s a popular choice because of its seaside location. It lies on the northeast coast of Sri Lanka and is a major resort port city.
Other National Parks near Sigiriya
Other than Kaudulla National Park, there are two other main National Parks in the area around Sigiriya. These are Minneriya National Park and Angammedilla National Park.
Minneriya National Park is a 30 minutes drive, or 12 miles (20 kilometres) from Sigiriya. This park was declared a wildlife sanctuary in 1938, and designated as a national park in 1997. It offers morning and afternoon jeep safari tours similar to Kaudulla National Park.
Angammedilla National Park is about an hours’ drive, or 30 miles (48 kilometres) from Sigiriya. It’s one of the newer Sri Lankan National Parks, having only been designated a national park in 2006. It offers safari jeep tours, and guests are also able to walk around through the trails in the park.
Best Time to Visit Kaudulla National Park
The best time to visit Kaudulla National Park to see elephants is during Sri Lanka’s dry season. This is when the elephants will make their way to find water at Kaudulla National Park. Within those months, August to October is considered peak elephant viewing. Usually, 150 to 300 wild elephants gather during these months.
However, with that being said, Kaudulla National Park is a year-round destination. You’re practically guaranteed to see elephants during any month you visit but maybe not an “elephant gathering” everyday.
Jeep safari tours in the park are offered in the morning and the afternoon. The best time of day to take a tour is during the afternoon. This is when the elephants are typically out and about, and you’ll have a much higher chance of seeing them. The morning safari makes more sense for those who want to look at birds. Just make sure to wear proper safari attire to help shield yourself from the afternoon sun.
Final Thoughts about Kaudulla National Park, Sri Lanka
Kaudulla National Park is one of the best places on the planet to see wild elephants in their natural habitat. Being able to see hundreds of these magnificent creatures up close is a truly extraordinary experience. Visiting the park is a must during any trip to Sri Lanka.
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