Interested on going on an Udawalawe safari jeep tour in Sri Lanka? Packed with wild elephants, water buffalo, boars, and more, there’s no shortage of wildlife to see here! Here’s my experience, tips, and things to know before going on a safari in Udawalawe National Park.
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Sri Lanka is one country I never really considered traveling to until about a month and a half ago… and I definitely never expected it would become one of my favorite countries I’ve ever visited.
Featuring a beautiful blend of beaches, mountains, jungles, and cities, Sri Lanka — though it may be a small country — has no shortage of things to do and places to see.
Holy moly. No wonder it has a booming wildlife!
And hands down one of the best places to see this mesmerizing wildlife ofinSri Lanka is Udawalawe National Park, which is located in the southern half of the country.
Visiting Udawalawe National Park
While many choose between visiting Udawalawe or Yala National Park, after speaking to numerous people who’d visited Yala said it was overcrowded and much more expensive, we chose Udawalawe instead.
And, personally, I think we made the right choice…
Throughout our Udawalawe Jeep Safari, here’s a few things we experienced:
✓ Hardly seeing another soul. Other than about 15 jeeps being lined up outside the park entrance right before it opened, we hardly saw another tourist while actually in the park! (This could have been due to us visiting right after the 2019 Easter bombings but still, Udawalawe is known for being less visited than other national parks!)
✓ Each safari tour is private. While I’m not sure what the tour case is in Yala, all Udawalawe safari jeep tours are private. Meaning you get a 6-seater jeep and tour guide all to yourself! Heck yeah.
✓ Our private tour guide had eagle eyes. Wowza! This guy could spot a needle in a haystack. He pointed out a crocodile nestled in the bushes, two turtles resting on a long nearly a quarter a mile away, a tiny little lizard perched on a branch, and a jackal running along in the brush (so cool!).
✓ Wildlife is abundant. In addition to the wildlife mentioned above, we spotted loads of wild Asian elephant, water buffalo, massive birds (like eagles), peacocks everywhere, wild boars (with babies!), deer, monkeys, and more. It was incredible!
No doubt, heading out at 5 in the morning to Udawalawe for a safari tour is something I’ll never forget! And if you go on one too, you won’t either.
So, if you’re traveling Sri Lanka and thinking of doing a safari tour in Udawalawe National Park, here’s a few tips and things you need to know beforehand.
Everything You Need to Know Before Doing a Udawalawe Safari Jeep Tour
Before you head out or book any Udawalawe safari tour, make sure to ask and clarify what’s included in the tour price.
For our tour, the jeep, tour guide, and national park entrance fee for the two of us was included. Any food, drinks, or whatever weren’t a part of the deal.
Some tours do included a breakfast basket filled with things like bottled water, bread, and Sri Lanka local snacks.
While we were at one of the stops on the tour where we could get out and walk around, I noticed another couple were snacking on some foods from a hefty basket (and yes, I was more than a bit jealous, as my stomach grumbled with longing).
So, with that said, always always always make sure to ask what’s included in the tour price. And if food isn’t included, bring snacks!
For reference, our Udawalawe safari price in 2019 was 13,000 LKR (roughly $75) for a 5 hour tour. This included the driver, jeep, and park entrance fees.
Suitable Udawalawe Safari Clothing
While you don’t need to go on your safari tour looking like your heading out on a 5-day African safari adventure, you shouldn’t go out looking like Tarzan either (no matter how good a makeshift sarong looks on you).
Appropriate clothing for a safari in Udawalawe includes:
- Long pants (especially if you do a morning tour, it’s pretty cold in the early hours)
- T-shirt that’ll cover your shoulders (or long sleeves)
- And something to cover your face and head
- Additionally, choose light colored clothing, as you don’t want something bright (like a crimson red shirt) to piss off any of the male animals
Personally, I wish I would have worn a hat, as our driver careened down the roads leading to the national park at breakneck speed. Keep in mind the jeep is totally open and the back seating area is lifted, so any wind is coming right at ya!
My hair got whipped around my face and totally tangled! It was a bitch to brush out when we got back to the guesthouse.
Thus, if you have longer hair, make sure to tie it up real good or wear something to cover your head.
On a Budget? Split the Cost.
The best part about booking an Udawalawe safari jeep tour is that it’s completely private. Which means that if you want to have the entire jeep to yourself, you can.
Or, if you’re on a budget, find a group to split the cost with! You pay for the entire jeep, Udawalawe guide, and park entrance in your tour price and that price doesn’t change whether you have one person or six.
**This was the case for our safari jeep tour — it might be different for other tour operators but from what I’ve heard, 10,000 LKR to 15,000 LKR is the standard price for the jeep, guide, and entrance fees. Don’t take my word as gospel though, as this is likely to change!
Morning or Evening Tour
When planning your Udawalawe safari jeep tour, you have the option to go on a morning or evening tour — or an all-day safari adventure for a higher price (but honestly, you’d probably get bored! Your call though).
We decided to do a morning tour and it was awesome. We arrived at the park entrance about 25 minutes before it opened and had the opportunity to see wildlife waking up with the sun.
Although, while I loved our Udawalawe morning safari, I feel as though there might be less people during the evening tour — which could work out in your favor!
In any case, it’s totally up to you. If you’re not a morning person, do an evening tour. If you like watching the sunrise and prefer to nap later in the day after a full morning, do a sunrise tour.
Driver OR Experienced Tour Guide
As mentioned earlier, our guide had eagle eyes and could spot anything from a deer in the thick brush to a little lizard perched on a branch.
But while he could point out wildlife like a seasoned pro, he couldn’t speak the best english — which was a huge bummer. He tried to tell us tidbits of information about the national park and whatnot but it didn’t translate across very well!
Thus, I recommend you pay a bit extra to hire an experienced safari guide.
In most tour cases, you’ll either have the opportunity to pay for just the driver or pay for a full-on experienced tour guide. (Hint: go with the latter! Worth every penny).
Ready to book now? Check out these Udawalawe Safari Tours!
Staying Near the Park or…?
To simplify things, we stayed pretty close to Udawalawe National Park. In the morning, we only had to drive about 15 minutes to get to the park entrance — which was nice, as we didn’t have to wake up too early.
If you do stay near the park in the neighboring town of Udawalawe, there are some really awesome places to put yourself up for the night!
Do keep in mind one thing if you stay in one of the Udawalawe National Park hotels…
Udawalawe Hotels Require You Book Their Safari
One thing we noticed when searching for hotels near Udawalawe was that most, if not all, were super duper cheap. Like I’m talking as cheap as $2-4 for a private, air-conditioned room — which is unheard of, even in Sri Lanka.
Although, after reading the reviews and experiencing this ourselves, most hotels that boast cheap rooms require you to book their safari tour to make up for the cheap room price.
In fact, many reviewers mentioned they were kicked out of said hotels when they turned up and already had another jeep safari booking!
Thus, make sure to check whether or not you can stay at a certain place without booking their safari tour. Or you can do what we did and book through your hotel anyways — it worked out for us!
Make it Ethical
One of the great things about choosing Udawalawe over Yala National Park is that there’s less people, which means less overcrowding — which is awesome for the animals!
After reading numerous Yala safari reviews, so many travelers mentioned how the jeeps would crowd animals for the tourists sake, which means unnecessary stress for the wildlife.
Since Udawalawe is less visited than its neighboring national parks, you have the opportunity to have a more ethical and sustainable experience.
Here’s my tips to have an ethical animal experience in Udawalawe:
- Ask your driver or guide to head to a lesser known area of the national park.
- Clarify you don’t want to crowd any animals or drive to close to wildlife. Only view from a respectable distance.
- Leave no trace. Don’t litter — ever! Especially in a national park where garbage can get eaten by animals (which can kill them).
To read more about ethical animal experiences, take a look at this post on animal encounters no “animal lover” would participate in!
Don’t Forget these Essentials
- Travel Insurance. As I said, the jeep is entirely open. Thus, it’s not the safest! That’s why I always recommend travel insurance if you’re considering a safari in Sri Lanka. (BTW, you should have travel insurance anyhow if you’re traveling Sri Lanka! You never know what could happen.) Get a quote for World Nomads or SafetyWing. (Both are great.)
- Fabulous camera. To capture all those memories, and I suppose the incredible wildlife too, you need to have an exceptional camera. An iPhone won’t cut it here! My favorite is this one, or if you want something a bit more schnazy, this one is awesome, too.
- Refillable, filtering water bottle. My savior traveling throughout Asia! The amounts of plastic water bottles I didn’t buy that’ll just fill up the ocean is countless. And heck, you know you’re gonna get thirsty on a safari! Get your own Grayl filtering water bottle here.
- Positive attitude. As with any traveling, things might not always go as planned. Your driver might be late, you might not see the notorious leopard (like we didn’t), or whatever else. But just remember… you’re in Sri Lanka! The land of delicious food, marvelous landscapes, and incredible locals.
With those helpful tips in mind, you can go forth booking an Udawalawe jeep safari tour that you’ll never forget! Hands down, this was one of the most memorable experiences I had while traveling Sri Lanka.
Are you thinking of going on a safari in Udawalawe National Park? Have any questions or concerns? Head down to the comments and ask away!
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