During my journey across Sri Lanka, I got the fantastic opportunity to experience elephants in the wild. We visited Minneriya National Park, one of the best safaris in Sri Lanka, famous for gathering the vast herds of elephants. I spend a full afternoon observing elephants in their natural habitat, enjoying the sunshine and amazing nature.
Sri Lanka maybe is a small island by size; however, it is massive in terms of wildlife. The variety is pretty amazing: we are talking here about 92 species of mammals, 242 kinds of butterflies, and 107 kinds of fishes. Some say that Sri Lanka is one of the best countries in South East Asia to experience the animals in the wild.
No matter whether you choose Minneriya or of many other national parks, I encourage you to add elephant experience to your Sri Lanka itinerary.
Why experience Safari in Sri Lanka
Uncovering the lush, green landscapes and explore depths of the verdant jungles and grasslands is simply a thrilling experience. Why should YOU join Sri Lanka wildlife safari?
- You can so safari all year round. All the 26 state-owned national parks are covering an area of 5,734 square kilometers (2,214 square miles), much of which is protected by the Sri Lankan Department of Wildlife Conservation. Out of that, as many as 14 parks mainly specialized on the elephant safari. No matter what season you choose to come to Sri Lanka, you will always find a place where to experience the safari.
- Sri Lanka has its very own ‘big five’: elephants, leopards, sloth bears, blue whales, and sperm whales. It is also one of the few places where people can combine whale watching with a land safari on the same day.
- Jeep safari is pretty comfortable. Specialized raised jeeps with comfy seating (usually for up to eight people) are designed to take you along bumpy jungle roads in search of wildlife in one of many national parks in Sri Lanka.
What is the best safari in Sri Lanka?
What is the best safari in Sri Lanka? It is a hard question: the most popular one Yala, the second largest national park in Sri Lanka. It is bordering the Indian Ocean and features a habitat comparable to the one in East Africa. If you, however, don’t like the crowds, the Minneriya National park is a great alternative: The park is known for an event referred to as The Gathering, during which in which hundreds of elephants make the trip during the dry season (July to early November) to an ancient reservoir.
In this post, I will share with you detailed information about my visit of Minneriya National park so that you can plan your own trip. To have more choices, I have also included useful information about national parks Kadulla, Udawalawe and Yala. I hope it will be useful for you and that you enjoy experiencing safari on your trip in Sri Lanka.
Minneriya National park
Minneriya National park is situated in the North Central Province of Sri Lanka. The 180 kilometers takes about five and a half hours to drive from Colombo. If you want to spend some time in Sri Lanka Capital before getting to the wild, check out my other post One Day in Colombo.
It is good to know that there is a neighboring national park called Kadulla. The elephants tend to move in herds between the two parks, so it is worth checking with the local guides what is the best place to go at the moment. The area of Minneriya National park is 88, 9 square kilometers, and are of Kadulla park is 66km square kilometers.
Best time to visit Minneriya National park
May to October is the best period to visit Minneriya National Park given the famous Gathering of the wild elephant. The best time to start your jeep safari is at 5:30 am to 8:30 am. If you are for some reason unable to wake this early (I am not), the other excellent time slot is from 3 pm to 6 pm.
Entry fees to Minneriya National park
The entrance fee to the park is 15 USD or its equivalent in Sri Lanka rupees. However, you will still have to organize a jeep to get around: it is not difficult at all. You have two choices: either to make your way to the park entrance of the park and arrange a jeep there or book a tour, including a pickup.
Most people are staying in a city called Habarana, just a ten-minute drive from Minneriya. Many local travel agencies are offering the tour: usually, it includes a pickup and drop off at your hotel in Habarana and then 3-4 hours of a jeep safari. The price varies; you can expect a rate of around 75 USD per person.
The national park’s faunal species include 24 species of mammals, 160 species of birds, 9 species of amphibians, 25 species of reptiles, 26 species of fish, and 75 species of butterflies. The mammals include Elephants, Leopards, Sloth Bear, Spotted Deer, Wild Buffalo, Wild Pig, and two main kinds of monkeys (purple-faced langur and toque macaque).
My impressions of Minneriya National park Jeep Safari
The area of Minneriya is pretty scenic: the first half an hour we were passing through the forest, then it all opened up. There is a water reservoir at the center of the park where the elephants like to meet. I have seen many of them, more than I could count.
-Traveling by jeep is a thrilling experience. The roof is open, so you get to see a lot. It is not allowed to escape the jeeps, so you got to stay in the vehicle. And yep – the ride is sometimes pretty bumpy!
– Although you see wildlife, you can’t expect to be all left alone – all jeeps are trying to stay near the elephants, so all visitors’ kind of stay concentrated in one area. However, this park is much calmer that the crowded Yala, the largest park of Sri Lanka.
– Although one gets pretty close to the animals, it is good to bring decent camera equipment. The mobile phone is not enough to make a great close up, so pack DSLR or mirrorless camera and especially a zoom lens.
Where to stay near Minneriya National Park
To explore Minneriya National Park, it’s best for you to book accommodation in Habarana or it’s vicinity. Below you find the selection of the most relaxed and most comfortable hotels in the area.
Mutu Village. Located in Habarana, Mutu Village offers excellent accommodation situated just 15 minutes’ drive from Minneriya National Park. There is a large garden with barbecue facilities, and many other restaurants and shops nearby you can visit.
Vaana Resort. Situated in Habarana, Vaana Resort is a 3-star hotel feature rooms with air-conditioning and stunning lake views. You can also spend some more time outdoors either in the garden or on the terrace. It’s a great place to stay with kids, as there are a playground and bike and car rentals are also possible.
Asnara Village. Set just 9.6km from Minneriya National Park, Asnara Village features an outdoor pool and an onsite restaurant. Each room comes with a balcony with a view of the garden and pool. There are a couple of billiard tables and car rentals, or bicycle rentals to explore surroundings are also possible.
Jays Holiday Resort. If you would like to stay in the bungalows, Jays Holiday Resort is the right place for you. It’s situated Just 2km away from the Habarana Railway Station and 10km from Minneriya National Park. You can expect wooden interiors and comes equipped with air conditioning, mosquito nets, and an en suite bathroom.
Now that I shared my experience on Minneriya let’s lake a look for other options that you have to experience a safari in Sri Lanka.
As mentioned before, Kadulla is located right next to Minnerya, so they both provide back up options for each other. Kaudulla National Park Jeep Safari is an experience in which you stand a chance to cross paths with many wildlife species, including 24 mammals, 435 species of birds and 26 species of fishes. Still, it’s numerous elephant population that makes Kadulla one of the best safari in Sri Lanka: there are at least 200 of these majestic animals.
Best time to visit Kaudulla
The population peaks between August and December. But the best time is in August and September. Kaudulla Reservoir, located in the park, attracts the elephants during the dry season. It is known as The Gathering. As they make their pilgrimage to Minneriya. But, you can see the elephants the entire year.
Where to stay near Kaudulla
Chaaya Village Habarana is the perfect place to stay if you want to explore Kaudulla, and it is just 22km away. The comfortable rooms feature air-conditioning and a private terrace. The 5-star hotel offers an outdoor pool, tennis, volleyball, and badminton facilities.
Udawalawe National Park
Less crowded with safari Jeeps than Yala, Udawalawe is situated 180km south-east from Colombo. With as many as 400 elephants calling it home, Udawalawe certainly belongs to the best places to experience a safari in Sri Lanka. It also hosts the Elephant Transit, where abandoned or orphaned elephant calves are cared for and treated before being released back into the wild.
Best time to visit Udawalawe
The best time to visit Udawalawe is during the dry season from May to September. Then you have the best chances of witnessing a herd of Sri Lankan elephants, as they usually appear near rivers and the reservoir of Udawalawe.
Where to stay near Udawalawe
Kuma Safari Lodge Located just 1.4km from the Udawalawe National Park, it’s one of the nearest hotels from the park, so you won’t have to waste much travel time when getting to your safari. All rooms have a beautiful garden view, and the breakfast buffet is pretty rich.
Yala National Park
A six-hour drive southeast of Colombo, this is the country’s most famous national park, sitting along a long stretch of coastline and spanning across 130,000 hectares. Sri Lanka can compete with some of the best wildlife destinations, and Yala National Park is the best place in Sri Lanka to see wildlife, especially the Sri Lankan leopards. There are 30 to 40 of them calling this park home, and so you get a good chance of witnessing when in Yala.
Best time to visit Yala
For the most reliable wildlife sightings, it’s best to visit Yala in the dry season from February to June. With the water levels lower, it’s easier to spot animals coming out to the lagoons to drink. The park closes typically each year for the month of September for maintenance. So if you are visiting southern Sri Lanka during this time, you should head to Udawalawe National Park instead.
Where to stay near Yala
Spread across 38 acres of land, Jetwing Yala is situated at the border of Yala national park and is, therefore, the perfect place to stay for anyone who is about to experience the wildlife of Sri Lank. It features an outdoor pool, a business center, and flawless Wi-Fi.
Thanks for reading!
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The trip was in partnership with Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority. Pictures are taken with Olympus PEN E-PL9 and Safari lens, which was especially useful to get amazing images of the elephants.
- Difficulty - 95% 95%
- Scenery - 95% 95%
- Fun factor - 75% 75%
Sri Lanka features stunning wildlife and a Minneriya National Park is one of the best places for spotting elephants, thanks to the so called gathering the vast herds of elephants. Joining a jeep safari, you get to spend half a day outdoor, enjoying sunshine and observing elephants in their natural habitat. Jeep tours are comfortable and with the open roof so you get to see a lot. It’s recommended to bring a camera equipment, as mobile phones due to insufficient zoom.