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For an island roughly the size of Portugal, Sri Lanka boasts an impressive 22 national parks. Uda Walawe is to the south of Horton Plains, whose great rock escarpment provides a backdrop to the park’s open plains, scrubland and wetlands. With its large, central reservoir, the park has become known for its herd of about 250 elephants, which are relatively easy to spot as they graze on the surrounding grasslands.

The park was established in 1972, after the damming of the Walawe River to create a reservoir. The surrounding marsh and wetlands attract endemic and migratory birds, from wading ibis and egrets to dainty green bee-eaters and an occasional kingfisher, which attracts your eye in a neon flash. You’ll often see serpent eagles hovering overhead, swooping into the tall grass to catch their quarry.

Game drives into the park usually run in the early morning or afternoon, avoiding the midday heat when the animals (and most humans here) are resting.

The park’s resident elephants are a common sight and you might even see a calf guarded by its mother or a solitary bull elephant. The muscular shoulders of wild buffalo poke up from the water as they bathe, and sambar and axis deer often dart across the scrublands.

The Sri Lankan leopard and sloth bear live in the park’s dense teak forest, making them a rarity to spot. But, your 4x4 driver might be able to show you gashes in the trees where they sharpen their claws or climb.

Around the forest edges, you might see wild boars or packs of golden jackal as well as the country’s national bird, the Sri Lankan junglefowl (which looks like a particularly bright chicken).

Mother and baby elephants in the wildJust outside the park at the Elephant Transit Home, orphaned or sick elephants are cared for until they’re strong enough to return to the wild. Run in association with the Born Free Foundation, the sanctuary doesn’t run as a tourist attraction, but you can visit at feeding times.

From behind a barrier, you can watch as the elephants gambol eagerly toward piles of vegetation and bananas in the feeding compound. The babies are fed milk through plastic hoses, often stamping and trumpeting impatiently for their turn.

There are a small selection of hotels near the park, but you can stay in a tented safari camp for a more immersive experience. Set just beyond the park boundary in a secluded patch of forest, you easily forget you’re not in the park itself when a wild boar snuffles past or a white wagtail calls from a nearby branch.

With full-size beds, soft linens and en suite bathrooms, the canvas tents are better than some hotel rooms. Dinner is served under the stars to the accompaniment of the odd swooping bat. In the afternoons, you can take guided nature walks through the surrounding woodland.

Best time to visit Uda Walawe National Park

Sri Lankan weather patterns are notoriously complex, so we recommend discussing when to go to Uda Walawe National Park in more detail with our Sri Lanka specialists. In general, the best time to travel to Uda Walawe is from January to March, when rainfall is at its lowest and daytime temperatures average a comfortable 26°C (79°F).

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who's been there
Alison, an Audley Travel specialist

Start planning your tailor-made trip to Uda Walawe National Park by calling one of our Sri Lanka specialists on 01993 838 335

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