By Darren Griffiths

Kaudulla National Park - take the best elephant Safari in Sri Lanka [2023]

18th February 2023

Last updated on April 23rd, 2023 at 07:39 am

Kaudulla National Park in Sri Lanka was only opened in 2002 and is less known and so not overcrowded with conga lines of jeeps on safari. This means you can see real elephant herd behaviors on your jeep safari, especially in September and October.

Follow our awesome jeep safari and travel tips to spot enormous numbers of incredible Sri Lankan elephants at the best elephant park in Sri Lanka and read our pros and cons of Kaulla National Park versus popular Minneriya and Yala National Parks.

Intro

One of the main reasons for visiting the beautiful country of Sri Lanka was to see as many wild elephants as possible! We’d be pretty stupid to travel all that way and not catch a glimpse of the big eared tubby giants.

Well luckily for us, Sri Lanka has 22 National Parks, many of them offering a high chance to spot elephants.

When arriving in Sri Lanka, we planned to visit Minneriya National Park (info) but then we were told about the little known Kaudulla National Park Safari (info).

Kaudulla National Park Safaris – Quick Need to Know

  • Kaudulla National Park offers an early morning safari (6.30 am) and an afternoon safari (starting at 3 pm). There’s also an all-day safari beginning at 6.30 am.
  • Morning and afternoon safari’s take 3 hours and start from $85 which includes the park entrance fee of $18.
  • Kaudulla National Park Map
  • Best time of day for spotting elephants in Sri Lanka: You’ll see more elephants on the afternoon safaris.
  • You can pay a little more and have a private jeep.
  • Kaudulla National Park is a year round destination. And although you can visit Kaudulla in any month, July-December are great months to visit, October is the best one.

Which Park is Better for Spotting the Sri Lankan Elephant?

In fact, our very original plan was to visit Yala National Park and it was only after arriving in the country that we realise dhow much better Kaudulla National Park is for spotting.

Situated in the south-east, Yala National Park is probably the country’s most popular. It’s not too far from the developed south coast beaches which make it pretty accessible for tourists.

Yala also has great Sri Lankan elephant spotting potential and the countries highest concentration of leopards! Although, even with the highest concentration it’s apparently still hard to see the spotted cats.

Our plans changed on our London to Colombo Sri Lankan Airlines flight.

We Read an Article in our Inflight Magazine about Minneriya National Park in Sri Lanka

The title of the article read “The Elephant Gathering“, accompanied by an amazing photo of dozens of Sri Lankan elephants.

We excitedly read that in August and September a huge number of elephants gather at Minneriya National Park. This time of year is the area’s dry season so the elephants regularly gather around the Minneriya tank. 

If you’re lucky you can spot up to 200 at one time! We were visiting Sri Lanka from mid-August to mid-September so were very happy to read the article. Especially Shelley!

Which is the best national park to see the Sri Lankan elephant? Most would say Minneriya but let us tell you why Kaudulla National Park is better.

The Cultural Triangle

Minneriya National Park is 180KM Northeast from Colombo and conveniently located within the Cultural Triangle.

The Cultural Triangle is an area popular with most tourists due to its many cultural sights of interest. These include the Polonnaruwa ruins, Sigiriya and Kandy city.

Minneriya is famed for The Gathering but you can easily see the Sri Lankan elephant at any time of year. Usually in high numbers.

The recent popularity of Minneriya National Park and it’s large Sri Lankan elephant gathering has increased tourist numbers dramatically. Yes, you can see many elephants but with that comes too many herds of tourist filled jeeps!

Which is the best national park to see the Sri Lankan elephant? Most would say Minneriya but let us tell you why Kaudulla National Park is better.

That’s why we were told about the Kaudulla National Park Safari

We were speaking to our guesthouse owner about arranging a Minneriya safari for us.

The owner was a very friendly and kind man who genuinely wanted us to be happy while staying at his guesthouse. He has lived in the area all his life so knew both the Minneriya and Kaudulla National Park very well.

He strongly recommended that we visit Kaudulla National Park instead of Minneriya or Yala.

Kaudulla National Park is part of the elephant corridor between Minneriya and Wasgomuwa National Parks and connects Somawathiya National Park to the east.

Kaudulla and Minneriya are in close proximity and the elephants move between the Minneriya tank and the Kaudulla tank in September.

Which is the best national park to see the Sri Lankan elephant? Most would say Minneriya but let us tell you why Kaudulla National Park is better.

There is just as much of a chance to spot the large Sri Lankan elephant numbers as there is in neighbouring Mineeriya. Kaudulla also has its own dry season Gathering at the Kaudulla Reservoir, as they make their pilgrimage to Minneriya.

Too many jeeps at Minneriya” our guesthouse owner kept telling us, “Kaudulla is better for you“. We had been told this about Minneriya by a handful of other tourists.

They had all enjoyed seeing the elephants but the large number of tourists and jeeps made it feel like a theme park. That’s the last thing we wanted from our much awaited Sri Lankan elephant safari.

However, nobody had mentioned about Kaudulla National Park which wa sonce a water tank built by King Mahasen . We trusted our accommodation owner and were intrigued by this National Park that we had never heard of.

Why our Kaudulla National Park jeep safari was awesome!

We spotted at least 70 elephants over the two hours driving around the park. Large lone male elephants, families with tiny infants and groups of 20 or so.

It was mesmerising to see so many in just a few hours. They were active too. Playing, eating and even a couple of fighting males.

Which is the best national park to see the Sri Lankan elephant? Most would say Minneriya but let us tell you why Kaudulla National Park is better.

A big Kaudulla safari pleaser is the minimal jeep numbers. Including our own, there were just 5 jeeps in total.

There was so much space, that at times we would have our own patch of the park. Something that would simply not be possible at the other two parks.

We didn’t see the famous Gathering that we’d read about but then neither did our many fellow travellers who visited Minneriya at that same time.

Our safari guide told us that we were a couple of weeks too early for that.

It’s not just elephants we spotted either. There were herds of wild buffalo, many monkeys, peacocks and heaps of large water birds and other mammals. 

Other great wildlife to spot in Kaudulla National Park

We were a bit fixated on the large herd of elephants in the National Park, but here’s a list of the other wild animals including mammals, fish, and birds that live around the Kaudulla reservoirs.

See how any of these you can spot:

  • Sri Lankan sambar deer,
  • Sri Lankan axis deer (and albino axis deer),
  • chevrotain,
  • wild boar,
  • Sri Lankan leopard,
  • Bears – the sloth bear and small black bears)
  • gray slender loris,
  • spot-billed pelican,
  • black-headed ibis,
  • Asian spoonbill,
  • Storks – the painted stork and open bill stork
  • Turtles – Freshwater turtles, Indian flap-shelled and Indian black turtles,
  • grey headed fish eagle

Where to Stay to easily reach Kaudulla National Park

You can base yourself pretty much anywhere within the Cultural Triangle. If using private guides or taxis then it’s just a few hours or less between the many sights.

However if like us, you are getting around via public transport, then we recommend staying closer to Minneriya and Kaudulla National Parks.

Where to Stay for both Minneriya and Kaudulla National Park

You can base yourself pretty much anywhere within the Cultural Triangle. If using private guides or taxis then it’s just a few hours or less between the many sights. However if like us, you are getting around via public transport, then we recommend staying closer to Minneriya and Kaudulla National Parks.

Which is the best national park to see the Sri Lankan elephant? Most would say Minneriya but let us tell you why Kaudulla National Park is better.

The closest option would be Habarana (10KM from Minneriya and 20KM from Kaudulla). Other options could be Sigiriya or Polonnaruwa.

From any of these towns, a jeep safari with accommodation pick up can be arranged. We stayed in Polonnaruwa at the Nature Park Guest House.

It offers basic accommodation but sandwiched between a small patch of jungle and a lovely canal/lake.

The nearby jungle and water provide lots of birdlife and other wildlife like mongoose, monitor lizards and deer. And of course, it’s owned by the kind man and his family who thankfully recommended Kaudulla National Park.

For awesome accommodation options in all the mentioned locations click these links – HabaranaSigiriya and Polonnaruwa.

Which is the best national park to see the Sri Lankan elephant? Most would say Minneriya but let us tell you why Kaudulla National Park is better.

We can’t tell you first hand what it’s like to visit Minneriya National Park. However, we can tell you what many people warned us about its overcrowding.

This would have spoilt our great adventure, so if you feel the same then do consider Kaudulla National Park. It’s a wonderful Sri Lankan elephant world which at the moment is not visited by large tourist numbers.

Make time to visit Kaudulla National Park before everyone finds out about it!