About 300 elephants live in the Kaudulla National Park area as well as 23 other mammal species and 435 bird species, most of which, endemic to Sri Lanka. Seeing a herd of elephants in the wild is an incredible experience, and you should definitely join a safari during your trip to Sri Lanka.
Elephants don’t live in Kaudulla National Park year long. They regularly migrate to other nearby protected areas. The elephants are free and, because the area is exclusively for animals, they don’t bother anyone and are safe. The park is not fenced, so they are free to go wherever they want. Hence the elephants you might find in your hotel’s garden if you stay nearby.
Beware, even if they look like quiet and peaceful animals, if you meet one in the wild keep away. The mothers can be really protective, and accidents often happen. If you talk a bit about it with locals, you’ll see how scared they are of elephants. But don’t worry, it’s rare to meet with wild elephants outside of the park, and it won’t be near any main roads.
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The creation of protected areas has become a priority for the Sri Lankan Government as the number of elephants wandering into inhabited areas has increased. The land is more and more occupied by fields, reducing the space for wild habitats. Losing jungle means losing food sources for elephants, resulting in elephants devastating fields. The locals saw them as a nuisance who was destroying their crop, many elephants were killed. Now, with the national parks and protected areas, the elephants can be safe, and the locals are not losing their harvests anymore.
The elephants in Kaudulla National Park live freely and, except for the hordes of tourists in jeeps, they have a pretty quiet life compared to what they can experience in the sanctuaries.
I visited one elephant orphanage in Sri Lanka, near Kandy. It was truly heartbreaking, they are all chained with only about 10 meters to move around, some are even chained in the river all day so tourists can bathe them. They also offer elephant riding and use sticks to control them. The orphanage position themselves as the elephants’ rescuers, they “rent” it to their owner, who put them in the orphanage instead of making them work. Because these orphanages need money to feed and care for the elephants (1000 USD a month just for food, per elephants), they opened up to tourists. If they have visitors coming, they have to chain them for safety reasons, and bathing and riding are just a way to make more money. The elephants who had been domesticated are probably better off at these types of places, but they surely would be better off without tourists.
If you want to help the elephants, it may be better just to make a donation and avoid this kind of place, even if they sound ethical. Elephants are wild animals. They don’t need to be petted or bathed 20 times a day.
There are two other parks near Kaudulla: Hurulu Eco Park and Minneriya National Park. The elephants migrate between these three parks, depending on the season. Ask when you book the jeep, which one is better to see elephants at the time you’re there. You can’t enter the park on foot; you need to organize a safari. You can do so from Habarana or directly at the park entrance. They charge per trip, so you’ll need to find people to join to reduce the cost.
Elephants are not the only animal you might come by in Kaudulla National Park, there are also a lot of wild buffaloes as well as many different bird species. The jeep drivers usually have a good eye to spot them, but they often don’t speak English, so it gets harder if you want to know their name.
The landscape is impressive, and all these animals are amazing to watch. The park is really vast, the only thing you’ll see here is endless nature. Even if there are a lot of jeeps at the same time (about 30 when I was there), the place is still peaceful. Most of the time you won’t be driving, the jeep will just park near the herd and let you watch the elephants. They don’t seem bothered by all these cars, they just keep on with their lives and don’t even look at you.
How to organize your trip to Kaudulla National Park:
You’ll need to hire a jeep to enter the park, try to group with other people to share the cost. The best place to stay at if you want to visit the park is Habarana, it’s a 1-hour drive to Kaudulla, and you can find many jeeps to hire there. It’s also easy to move on from there to your next destination. Count half a day for transportation to and from and the ride through the park.
I stayed in Sigiriya City Hostel. It’s more of a homestay than a hostel, the owner is super nice and cooks delicious rice and curry. It’s not in the city, but a lot of buses pass by in front of the house and can drop you off in Habarana.
Best time to visit Kaudulla National Park
Elephants are usually located inside the park from July to December. Otherwise, they will be in one of the two other parks. Jeep drivers and guides always know where to find them.
Cost of visiting Kaudulla National Park
The safari’s price will depend on the number of people and on your haggling skills. Count around 40 USD per person.
Related articles to help you plan your trip to Sri Lanka:
- Going off-the-beaten-path in Jaffna and Delft Island
- Top places to visit in Sri Lanka
- Everything you need to know before your trip to Sri Lanka
- How to pack less and save space
Check out some of the tours you can take if you want to book in advance:
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