Kaudulla National Park: Best Place to See Elephants in Sri Lanka

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Kaudulla National Park is one of Sri Lanka’s youngest national parks, having only been designated a protected area in 2002.

It’s certainly not the largest national park to be found in the country either, or the most visited, but it is one of the most spectacular and diverse.

If you are looking for a quieter outdoor safari experience than you would get by visiting the busier parks in the south, then Kaudulla is the place to go.

This beautiful area is centered around an old water tank that was constructed by a Sri Lankan king in the 3rd century AD. It’s an ancient structure that has long watered the region’s people and wildlife.

These days, the water tank supports the huge ecosystem that’s found here, from lush, green forests to drier grasslands.

This is a bird watcher’s paradise, and it’s one of the best locations in the country to see a huge number of different species in one place.

Kaudulla National Park is also renowned for the number of elephants found here, as well as other unique animals such as crocodile, deer, wild boar, and the rare Sri Lankan sloth bear and the Sri Lankan leopard.

To help you to plan your safari, here’s our guide to visiting Kaudulla National Park.

Don’t leave home without: Lonely Planet Sri Lanka (Travel Guide)

Elephants in Sri Lanka - Kaudulla National Park

How to Travel to Kaudulla National Park

Kaudulla National Park is an off the beaten track safari destination in Sri Lanka, but that doesn’t mean that it’s ever too difficult to actually travel to.

The park is located in North Central Province, around 150 miles away from the capital Colombo, which is most visitors gateway into the country.

The nearest town is Polonnaruwa which is just 15 miles away, and there are regular buses here from Colombo, a journey time of around 5 hours depending on traffic.

From Polonnaruwa, you can catch a tuk-tuk to the park’s main entrance or join a tour. You can also travel to Dambulla, which is nearby and then hire a tuk-tuk in as well or likewise join a tour.

You can easily combine a trip to Kaudulla National Park with a visit to the famous Sirigiya Fortress and to the ancient capital at Polonnaruwa, as well as to the much more visited Minneriya National Park as well.

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Elephant in Sri Lanka

Best Time of Year to Visit

Kaudulla is one of the quietest national parks in Sri Lanka. The region experiences wet and dry seasons that are dictated by the coming of the monsoons.

The driest time of year here is between April and October, and this is also high season. This is really the best time to visit, as the animals and wildlife are much easier to spot in the wilderness.

They tend to congregate around the watering holes and the large reservoir as water becomes scarcer across the park, allowing you to easily find the more elusive creatures.

The forests are less green, but this makes it easier too to spot animals in the bush. The rainy season can also be a rewarding time to visit, as the landscapes are at their most beautiful, however animals are harder to spot and you can experience travel disruptions during very heavy monsoons.

Elephant Safari in Kaudulla

Wildlife You Can See in Kaudulla

With a huge water tank as its centerpiece, Kaudulla National Park can support a huge array of animals and birds throughout the year.

It’s thought that as many as 160 species of bird pass through the park at some point throughout the year, with many species being permanent fixtures and others being migratory.

The central reservoir makes it easy to find wildlife, particularly the elephants which are likely to head here when they need water.

The park is well-known for viewing Elephants, as there is a resident population that calls this park home and between September and October, you can find over 200 Elephants around or near the watering holes.

This park is one of the best places to see elephants in Sri Lanka. 

Some of Sri Lanka’s rarest creatures can be found within the park. The most intriguing being the Sri Lankan Sloth bear and the Sri Lankan leopard.

Other animals that are commonly found across Kaudulla National Park include multiple species of deer, wild boar and of course, crocodiles and monkeys.

There’s a huge wealth of wildlife and you may find yourself returning day after day to try and spot more.

Photographer in Kaudulla, Sri Lanka

Going on Safari in Kaudulla National Park

Arranging a safari to Kaudulla National Park is an easy task to accomplish these days. Although there are fewer tour operators in comparison to other national parks in Sri Lanka, you will find the operators to be reputable and easy to work with.

The best way to see explore is on an organized group or private tour, with a local guide who knows the area and who knows the animals.

This will maximize your chance of spotting the wildlife that you are looking for, and certainly if you are interested in seeing any particular creatures.

Most people will visit on a day trip from either Dambulla, Polonnaruwa or Trincomalee, as all these locations are within easy reach of the park’s entrance.

There are usually two safaris a day, one in the early morning and one in the afternoon. If you have time you may want to consider taking on both morning and afternoon options during your stay in Central Sir Lanka, as you are likely to see different animals around the park at different times of the day.

Safaris are undertaken in open-topped jeeps that can easily traverse the rough roads and potentially boggy conditions.

Be prepared with water, snacks, and sunscreen though as it is going to be hot any time of the year. Visitors will have to pay for the cost of the safari, plus the cost of entrance to the park itself.

Tour companies will generally pick you up and drop you at your hotel in the nearby towns and cities, making a safari a very convenient way to experience Kaudulla National Park.

Our top recommended tours of Kaudulla National Park:

Sri Lanka Elephant

Health and Safety Considerations

If you join an organized safari then you shouldn’t have to worry about health and safety too much within the park, as your guides will have strict rules and regulations to follow that are designed to keep visitors like you safe in this wild and unfamiliar environment.

Of course, always remember though that animals can be unpredictable and protective, so ensure you follow those rules laid down by the park authorities.

Although generally calm animals, elephants can be easily startled and when they are, they are likely to charge, and even a jeep won’t put much in the way of you and the elephant.

Perhaps the most dangerous creature though, is the crocodile, as these fearsome animals cause several deaths around Sri Lanka each and every year.

Ensure that you stay well clear of watering holes, rivers and canals, as the crocodiles are incredibly stealthy, quick and deadly.

That being said, attacks by animals on humans in the park are incredibly rare, so don’t let any potential dangers put you off enjoying a safari to Kaudulla.  

Habarana Village by Cinnamon, Sri Lanka

Where to Stay to Visit Kaudulla

Unfortunately, there are no accommodation located within the national park itself, not even rustic camping options, however, the park’s location between several central tourist destinations makes it easy to base yourself nearby to enjoy a day trip here.

Most visitors will opt to stay in Dambulla, as this town offers you the chance to visit many other nearby attractions at the same time, such as Sigiriya Rock, Polonnaruwa and other national parks.

There is a great range of accommodation found here and great transport links too. Polonnaruwa is a good option as well, with good accommodation and the chance to see the ancient Sri Lankan capital city that was built here centuries ago before falling into ruin.

We stayed for 4 days at the luxurious Habarana Village by Cinnamon. (In the photo above) It’s location allowed us to explore all of the different sites and also allowed for some relaxation. Amazing culture in the mooring exploring, safari drives in the afternoon and romantic private dinners at night. 

Another fantastic place to base yourself if Trincomalee in the north, as this big city is a bustling and vibrant place. You can easily day trip to Kaudulla and you can enjoy the sights and attractions of Trincomalee too. Trincomalee, being a large urban center, has excellent transport links across the country.

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About Lina Stock

Lina is an award-winning photographer and writer that has been exploring the world since 2001. She has traveled to 100 countries on all 7 continents. Member: SATW, NATJA, ATTA, ITWA

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