Udawalawe NP with young kids: meeting elephants in the Sri Lankan wilderness

  • September 13, 2017

We were only twenty minutes into our first safari with kids, when a Mummy elephant and her calf appeared from behind a bush and stood just a few metres away from us. Watching such a majestic and powerful creature in their natural setting was incredible and her peaceful nature created a serene atmosphere in the early morning light. Even our two boys (aged two and three years old) instinctively knew to whisper, so as not to disturb the magical moment.

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Sri Lanka is one of the best destinations in the world to see elephants in the wild, and all at a fraction of what it would cost in Southern or East Africa. We loved our visit to Udawalawe National Park where you are pretty much guaranteed to see them. If you ask my three year old for the highlight of his Sri Lanka travels, he answers straight away: Mummy Elephant.

The details of our Sri Lanka safari with kids

The safari was just three hours long, the perfect length of time for little ones.  We were provided with our own private jeep (including driver/guide). Half the fun of the safari was actually bouncing along in the open jeep through the bush with the wind rushing past.  And it didn’t feel busy; much of the time, there wasn’t another jeep in sight!

Kids under 5 are free, so the total price for entrance fee, private jeep and safari driver/guide was LKR7500 for our family of four. We booked through our accommodation (see below) and we had a choice of a 5:30am or 2:30pm safari. We went for the early morning to embrace the morning light and avoid the daytime heat. Our accommodation provided snacks of banana, biscuits and chocolate bar each.

Udawalawe with kids - jeep

Other animals to see

There are plenty of peacocks and colourful birds to see. Your safari guide will point them out to you. There are also monkeys, water buffalo, crocodiles, and if you’re extremely lucky and look very very hard, a leopard. Unfortunately, it just wasn’t our day to meet a leopard but you may have more luck.

Udawalawe with kids - bird
Udawalawe with kids - crocodile

Where we stayed

We stayed in glamping tents at Kottawatta Village just outside the National Park. The tents (£19 per night at the time of writing, including breakfast) come with a double bed (which the four of us shared – cosy!), mosquito net, a large industrial fan (there’s electricity!) and an ensuite bathroom with hot shower. There’s a veranda overlooking the rainforest and expect to see a lot of monkeys. If camping really isn’t your thing and you need sturdier walls, you can pay a little more to stay in a bungalow.

Udawalawe with kids - Kottawatta Village

We opted to stay for two nights as the resort is a lovely place to relax. There’s an onsite restaurant serving Western, Chinese and Sri Lankan dishes, a swimming pool with separate kids’ area, and some comfy hammocks for chilling.

Udawalawe with kids - Kottawatta Village swimming pool
Udawalawe with kids - Kottawatta Village hammocks

How to get there

Udawalawe isn’t on the train network. We chose to get a tuk-tuk from our accommodation in Mirissa. The 3 hour journey cost LKR5000. Otherwise you could take a car, which would take 2 hours and cost a little more. You can easily organise a tuk-tuk or car through the accommodation you stay at prior to arriving at Udawalawe. We then organised a tuk-tuk to Arugam Bay through Kottawatta Village (4.5hrs, LRK7500, 3hrs by car). We always opt for a tuk-tuk over a car as we love the sense of freedom they provide; open sides, air rushing past as you drive through the countryside.

Where else can you see elephants?

You can also hang out with the elephants at Minneriya National Park, Yala National Park, Kumana National Park and the lagoons around Pottuvil. However, Udawalawe fitted in nicely with our Sri Lanka itinerary, breaking up the journey between the Southern beaches of Mirissa and the Eastern beaches of Arugam Bay. Also, research advised us that Udawalawe provides the best chance of seeing the elephants. However, Minneriya is famous for ‘The Gathering’ which takes place during the dry season (July to November), when hundreds of elephants gather around the shores of an ancient reservoir – although expect there to be A LOT of tourists.

Udawalawe with kids. Pin for later.
Pin for later

You may also wish to read:
Why Sri Lanka is fantastic for young kids
Sri Lanka Itinerary with young kids
Arugam Bay SRI LANKA with kids

Blog Comments

Great photos!!!!! I love elephants so this definitely made me smile ?

Pleased we made you smile ? Thanks for reading!

Oh my word! That looks like such an incredible experience! #familytraveltips

It was indeed! We want to do it all over again ?


Jules ( shadesofcourage.com)

this looks amazing. The closest I got to an elephant was feeding one apples in a local zoo. #familytraveltips

Well that’s pretty cool! Although nothing beats seeing them in the wild ?

What a wonderful experience! I love that your two tiny boys enjoyed it so much too, makes me think about booking similar with our toddler one day! 🙂 #familytraveltips

They had the best time! Sri Lanka is such a wonderful destination for young kids ?. Thanks for reading x

Oh my goodness. What an incredible memory for your three year old to have! For you all to have, in fact. I love the image of you all in one bed, with the animals outside….. Familytraveltips

One of those very special travel memories that will last a lifetime. Thanks for reading ?

Sounds like an incredible experience! I’m sure your boys were blown away by seeing the elephants, I know my girls would be. Hope to do a safari some day. #familytraveltips

It was one of those perfect family travel moments we’ll treasure for a lifetime ?. Thanks for reading!

Oh my word- you had me at the first paragraph and photo! Such a precious moment and I bet one you guys will always remember! Hopefully we will get to Sri Lanka as a family soon, as this is on the MUST do list! ‪#familytraveltips‬

Aw, thank you so much Carrie. It really was a wonderful highlight of our time in Sri Lanka. Have so many happy memories to treasure 🙂

What a wonderful experience! I absolutely love the idea of staying in a safari tent and heading off into the wild to find animals. I think I’m with you on the open jeep and tuk-tuks. How fabulous to feel part of the landscape with the wind in your hair and the smells in your nostrils! #MondayEscapes

Riding along in that jeep was such a thrilling feeling! The safari tent was a huge hit with the boys too. But the elephants – oh my – so magical seeing them roaming their natural habitat ?

What a fantastic experience for your kids. So many exciting creatures for them to spot, I can’t imagine how my boys would react to such an experience. #Mondayescapes

Our best family holiday by far and the elephants the highlight. Just amazing! Thanks for reading ?

Oh my gosh that looks incredibly special, and I love that the elephant was his most special thing. Thanks for linking up to #MondayEscapes

I think seeing the elephants was the highlight for everyone. Just amazing ?

If i wasn’t convinced after seeing your Instagram, now I am triply convinced!!! Really want to do this!!! Coming from #MondayEscapes

Ha! Pleased to hear we have convinced you. It was SERIOUSLY amazing 🙂

Oh wow it looks so incredible it must have been surreal seeing the Elephants thanks so much for linking up #MondayEscapes x

A most incredible experience. Highlight of our Sri Lanka travels ?

Wow, this is just incredible! What an amazing experience for you all. I love elephants, they are such beautiful animals and it would be incredible to see them in the wild like this. The resort looks fabulous too, so relaxing! Thanks for linking up to #familytraveltips

The best TraveLynn Family trip so far! We fell head over heals in love with Sri Lanka. And the elephants were a definite highlight ?. Thanks for reading!

This looks incredible! You have completely sold it to me!

Yay! My job is done. ?

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