Udawalawa National Park, Sri Lanka
With herds of elephants, wild buffalo, sambar and spotted deer, and giant squirrel, this Sri Lankan national park is one of the nation’s finest. For elephant-watching, Udawalawa often surpasses many of the most famous East African national parks. The park is lightly vegetated, but it has a stark beauty and the lack of dense vegetation makes game-watching easy.
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 organized by their guesthouse or hotel, but a trip with one of the 4-wheel drivers waiting outside the gate should be around Rs 3800 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.