Uda Walawe National Park

sights / Parks & gardens

Uda Walawe National Park information

admission Rs 1945, service charge per group Rs 1038, vehicle charge per group Rs 250, plus overall tax VAT 12%
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With herds of elephants, wild buffalo, sambar deer and leopards, this Sri Lankan national park rivals the savannah reserves of Africa. In fact, for elephant-watching, Uda Walawe often surpasses many of the most famous East African national parks. The park, which centres on the 308.2-sq-km Uda Walawe Reservoir, is lightly vegetated but it has a stark beauty and the lack of dense vegetation makes game-watching easy. It’s the one park in Sri Lanka not to miss.

The entrance to the park is 12km from the Ratnapura–Hambantota road turn-off and 21km from Embilipitiya. Visitors buy tickets in a building a further 2km on. Most people take a tour organised by their guesthouse or hotel, but a trip with one of the 4WDs waiting outside the gate should be around Rs 3500 for a half-day for up to eight people with driver. Last tickets are usually sold at 5pm. A park guide is included in the cost of admission and these guys, who all seem to have hawk-like wildlife-spotting eyes, are normally very knowledgeable about the park and its animals. A tip is expected.

Besides elephants, sambar deer and wild buffalo (although most buffalo you'll see in the park are domesticated), there are also mongooses, jackals, water monitor lizards, lots of crocodiles, sloth bears and the occasional leopard. There are 30 varieties of snakes and a wealth of birdlife – 210 species at last count; northern migrants join the residents between November and April.