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Udawalawe and Yala

Posted on the 18 March 2019 by Cheekymeeky

Yala and Udawalawe are two national parks in the south-western area of Sri Lanka. When we road-tripped in Sri Lanka last December, these were two of our must-visit spots on our to-see list.

Yala is the more famous national park, but Udawalawe is known for its large hordes of elephants, and since Piglet is an elephant lover, we decided to hedge our bets and do safaris in both the parks, to avoid disappointment. We needn't have worried at all. Elephants were aplenty in both the national parks!

Safaris in general

I was generally a bit nervous about doing safaris with kids in tow (particularly worried that Piglet would get tired and restless in the heat). The safaris are about 4-5 hours long, and I was worried he would get tired and cranky. However in both places there were enough animals to keep kids interested all through the safari. That said, if you have kids younger than 5, Yala might be a better option since the roads are better, and there are abundant animal sightings.

Udawalawe National Park

Udawalawe was the first place in Sri Lanka on our itinerary. We landed late at night in Colombo airport, and spent the night in nearby Negombo. We planned to get up early morning, get into our pre-booked cab, and reach Udawalawe in time for an evening safari.

Unfortunately, things went awry when our cab driver didn't show up till noon. We ended up reaching Udawalawe late in the night, and had to instead go for the early morning safari on the next day. This turned out to be the best thing to happen to us. Considering that even December in Sri Lanka is sweltering, a morning safari is always the better option.

Anyway, we were up bright and early to start our safari. It was pretty early (around 6am), but it was so bright, it felt like noon-day.

We were staying outside the national park, and driving towards the entrance when we spotted our first elephant. Piglet and Snubnose immediately hopped out of the jeep to take a quick photo with the animal.

In general, we saw plenty of elephants. We also saw a lot of buffalo, crocodiles, lots of birds (very pretty birds), and a monitor lizard. I couldn't take too many photos though as most animals were at a distance and the ride was pretty rough. I was clutching Piglet with one hand and the jeep's handles with another throughout.

Also, we saw so many elephants that we got quickly saturated. The first one hour was fun, but later it was just too hot, and we kept seeing the same animals over and over. That's not a bad thing, mind. We shifted our focus from the elephants to some of the very pretty birds around.

I have to also say that our guide seemed a bit clueless. Most guides are generally aware when and where an animal was spotted last, and know the spots to wait. Our guide pretty much just drove all the time, and didn't even notice some of the animals until we pointed it out to him.

So yeah, make sure you get a good guide in Udawalawe. What we learnt after our Yala experience is that it is good to stay in a good hotel and book the safari through the hotel instead of heading to the park gates and booking.

Yala National Park

I don't have the words to tell you what a magnificent experience Yala was. Yala is overcrowded and a bit touristy, but on the flip side, there are so many animals. Also, Yala is just superbly, unbelievably scenic. If you have the time to do only one safari in Sri Lanka, Yala is the place to choose hands-down.

Our hotel in Udawalawe was a no-name teeny weeny lodge, but we splurged in Yala and stayed at the Wild Trails tented safari camp, and it was worth every rupee. Our glamp was superb, so was the food and service.

We reached our glamp around 4ish. This place is situated in a forested area just beyond the borders of Yala. After a little light freshening up, we went along with the naturalists there for a bit of a walk and explore.

  • Udawalawe and Yala
    Squinting against the sunset
  • Udawalawe and Yala
    Enjoying our evening stroll through the extensive property

The kids loved the evening walk, they loved the night bonfire even more. I don't have pics to share with you, but the night skies over Yala are big. There were no lights from anywhere, and I don't think I have seen so many stars at one time ever!

The next morning bright and early, our safari jeep arrived to pick us up, and we were off. Watch out, there's a barrage of photos coming up. Everything in Yala was so amazing and photo-worthy.

We saw plenty of animals in Yala - elephants, peacocks, wild boars, sloth bears, crocodiles, and more. But it wasn't just the animals. The park itself was just so beautiful and varied - with a combination of open spaces, and thickly forested areas, and even a beach where we could get down, stretch our legs, and enjoy our first glimpse of the Indian Ocean.

  • Udawalawe and Yala
    Beauty all around us
  • Udawalawe and Yala
    An elephant in the distance
  • Udawalawe and Yala
    Peacock strutting right by us
  • Udawalawe and Yala
    Wild boars aplenty in the park

I just fell in love with all the rich colors of Yala. True, I have added a little saturation to these pics, but only a wee bit. Most of these photos are just pure Yala!

Forgive me if this post is becoming too much of a photo overdose.

I've seen crocodiles and peacocks before several times, but this was the first time I saw them in such close quarters. Also, I've only seen crocodiles in captivity before, so seeing them wild in Yala was such an experience! I also saw crocodiles in the wild during our boating trip in Madu river later during our Sri Lanka trip (but that's a tale for another blog post).

Elephant Rock was such a gorgeous place. My photos don't do any justice to its beauty. I really wish we had reached this spot a little earlier in the day, so I could have taken a photo when the light was a little less harsh. As it is, it was almost noon by the time we reached here.

Our safari in Yala was all that we could have wished and more! It's probably the best safari I've ever been to (ranking up there with my experience in Kaziranga).

Some tips for safari with kids

  • Book a safari at the same time you book your hotel, preferably through the hotel. It's much easier to co-ordinate.
  • If you are traveling with small kids, get your own jeep, just for your family. This gives you the flexibility to stop and start when you like and head back early if the kids are tired. Some hotels will automatically assign shared cars but it is worth paying a little extra for your own vehicle.
  • Layer up. It's chilly in the mornings, but within an hour, you"ll want to discard all your layers.
  • Bring snacks to keep kids (and you) from getting hangry.
  • Also, make sure you have plenty of sunscreen on. The sun is scorching.
  • Do not book your hotels through Expedia. Only book through This is actually a general tip and not specific to safaris. Basically, there is some issue with Expedia in Sri Lanka, and most hotels do not honor bookings made through Expedia. More information coming in an upcoming post. But take my word for it, even if the rates are cheaper, do not book through Expedia. Our experience was beyond horrendous.

Last thoughts

I normally never think of revisiting places. I'm usually a one and done kind of person. But Sri Lanka, especially Yala is on my must-visit list again. Next time, I hope to spend more time in this gorgeous place, and hopefully spot a leopard or two. Yala is famous for its leopards, but they are notoriously shy and we could only manage to see pug marks this time.

Hell! Forget about Yala! I wouldn't mind redoing our entire trip again this coming December hols. Our holiday was such a blast!

Hope you liked this longish post about our safaris in Udawalawe and Yala. If you have specific questions on our itinerary, or dos and don'ts, leave a comment in the comment pod, or email me at [email protected]. I will get back as soon as possible!

Udawalawe and Yala


Voracious reader, vegetarian foodie, mostly armchair traveler, and frequent online shopper. I love to talk about all these passions (and other things happening in my life) in this blog.

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