As we had intended to visit Yala park first it was to our great disappointment that we found it was shut due to the drought season, so we ended up here at Udawalawe. We used a local tour company based in Unawatuna who organised a car/driver and our entry fees, plus the all important guide and our park transport for around $100. Which takes the stress out of having to find the right people when you arrive, as there are so many rip off merchants hanging around outside the park awaiting the gullible and the unwary. The drive up from Unawatuna took around an hour and a half taking in some sights along the way, and not having any fellow passengers was a real pleasure in it's self as I've met them all in my travels..
Upon entering the park we picked up our young guide and a safari truck which we had to ourselves brilliant..! As we set off and around five minutes later we came across a herd of around thirty elephants complete with babies in tow, talk about luck here.? This was a real bonus straight away and they were right in front of us feeding, and unlike that "Concentration camp orphanage" up at Pinnawela where the poor sods are chained 24/7, they looked really good and well contented, a great start I thought.?
Unfortunately this was the first and last highlight of our visit, as the park was starting it's dry season and there wasn't a lot of animals to be seen. I didn't expect to see any leopards either as they're pretty reclusive here, in fact our guide told us he's only seen two in all his time here of twelve years.! So we ended up bouncing along looking at eagles, deer, a small crocodile, many birds, lizards etc. There was also one big gathering of water buffalo in a water hole cooling off which reminded me of the safaris we did in Kenya and around Africa, where you see so many animals it's mind boggling. But, back here there was a serious lack of wildlife due to the intense heat and lack of water. What surprised me more was, when we stopped for a break and we were allowed off to wander about in the middle of nowhere, and it does give you a chance to disappear behind a bush for a wee if needs must. Just make sure you check what's behind the bush first .?
Was this worth the money to come all the way up here.? Absolutely, as this was things as it should be especially for the much maligned elephants who always seem to get a bad press in Sri Lanka. But, if it's herds of big game your after then I'm afraid you'll be disappointed and I'd recommend you visit Africa instead, as this is where I saw many wild leopards. But, for a first timer then this will suffice and is a great introduction to a safari, just remember to bring water/snacks/binoculars/hat etc, and don't forget to tip your guide around 500 Rupees if your happy with him, they don't get paid that much here. Would I recommend this park.? Of course I would as it beats sitting around a beach turning into a vegetable and listening to some boring fellow tourist yapping on their phone..! Plus you get the chance to see elephants as they should be, in their natural state minus the chains..