A tusker walking along a dusty road at Udawalawa National Park
A tusker at Udawalawa National Park

Sri Lanka is a country rich in diversity, and indeed, that includes the diverseness among the Sri Lankan wildlife species as well. Thus, Sri Lanka is undoubtedly one of the most wonderful paradises for wildlife enthusiasts. However, if you are awaiting to arrive in Sri Lanka, and more eager to witness the thrill and excitement of the wonderful Sri Lankan wildlife, you might be surely searching for the best places to visit. If so, this read is surely important for you! Yes, today we are ready to share with you a number of amazing facts about a place as such. And it is none other than the green wealth of Sri Lanka, the Udawalawe National park.

In brief, Udawalawe National Park is one of the mainstream national parks in Sri Lanka, which is home to an extensive range of wild creatures. Also, the main attraction of this wonderful site is the large groups of majestic Asian elephants. Apart from that, sambar spotted and barking deer, wild boar, water buffalo, and exotic birds, are never any less on this wonderful land. All these mighty creatures, together with the surroundings of the park, create awe-inspiring scenes. Hence, Udawalawe National Park happens to be a major tourist attraction, especially famous among wildlife lovers who long for safari rides.

Besides, this is just a glimpse of this wonderful paradise. There is a lot more to get to know. So, why not? Let us have a look at them, starting with its history!

The History of Udawalawe National Park

The National Department of Wildlife Conservation in Sri Lanka designated Udawalawe as a national park on the 30th of June 1972. It was under the Fauna And Flora Protection Ordinance. The key intention of developing Udawalawe as a National Park was to provide a sanctuary for animals displaced due to the construction of the Udawalawe reservoir on the bank of the Walawe river. Udawalawe park, thus became the 6th national park in Sri Lanka, after Yala National Park in 1938, Wilpattu National Park in 1938, Gal Oya National Park in 1954, and Kumana National Park in 1970.

However, before 1972, farmers used this land for shifting cultivation (Chena farming). Yet, the government removed them and rehabilitated them in nearby villages after the declaration of Udawalawe as a national park.

The Location of Udawalawe National Park

Udawalawe National Park rests on the boundary of Sabaragamuwa and Uva provinces. To be specific, it lies between the Southern part of the Rathnapura and Monaragala districts. The distance from Colombo to the park is around 165 km. Moreover, the entrance to the park is only 11km from the Udawalawe junction, which can be accessed via Thanamalwila- Udawalawe road.

The Geographical Features and Climate of Udawalawe National Park

The Udawalawe National Park spreads between the wet zone and the dry zone of Sri Lanka. As a result, it is enriched with both heavy rains and harsh droughts. The annual rainfall at Udawalawe averages at 1500 mm. To be specific, the Northeast monsoon brings it rain from October to January. Further, it experiences rain from the inter-monsoonal rains from March to May. A short dry period runs from February to March which occasionally continues from May to September.

The park stretches over an area of 30,821 hectares (119.00 square miles). While plains dominate most of the land, rivers, mountainous areas, and falls increase the diversity in topography. Scattered grasslands and thorny shrubs are abundant in the plains. Kalthota Duwili Ella Waterfalls, Diyawani Waterfall lies to the northern region of the park, and the Walawe River flows through the park. These provide the fauna in the sanctuary with water.

The Unique Ecosystem of the Park

The habitat is surrounded by the Udawalawe dam and consists of wetlands, river valleys of the Walawe River and its branches. In addition, open grasslands are common inside the park, because this area was once used for shifting cultivation. The reservoir is rich in aquatic beings such as algae and fish. 

Moreover, Udawalawe National Park is famous for sighting elephants in their natural habitats and flock of water birds. According to data from Sri Lanka Wetland information and database, 94 species of plants, 21 species of fish (out of which 4 species are endemic to Sri Lanka), 12 species of amphibians, 33 species of reptiles, 44 species of mammals, and 184 species of birds (out of which 33 are migratory) are most commonly available at this greeny paradise.

Flora Species

When considering the timber in the premises of this park, the below species happen to be the most common.

  • Arjun Tree (“Kumbuk”)
  • Ceylon Ebony (“Kaluwara”)
  • Ceylon Satinwood (Burutha)
  • Vitex Pinnata or “Milla”

Moreover, the following species tops the list of noteworthy flora at Udawalawe National Park.

  • Hopea cordifolia
  • Memecylon petiolatum
  • Erythroxylon zeylanicum (“Batakirilla”)
  • Jasminum angustifolium (Wild jasmine)

Hopea cordifolia found here, is endemic to Sri Lanka and is classified as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Its wood is heavy and durable, and at the same time rare.

Fauna Species

Udawalawe national park is a haven for wild animals. And the specialty is, it is a place where they can be observed in their natural habitats. Mammals, reptiles, birds, fish, and amphibians enrich the ecosystem of the sanctuary.

Elephants of Udawalawe National Park

Udawalawe National Park is popular for sighting Sri Lankan elephants in their natural surroundings. It is not an uncommon sight in the sanctuary, to see an elephant, or sometimes a herd of elephants crossing the gravel roads made by safari jeeps to reach the nearby reservoir to quench their thirst. And yes, you guessed it right! The main reason for the attraction of elephants is the Udawalawe reservoir that lies near the park. Besides, it is best to visit Udawalawe in the months of May to September, because the dry season will enhance your chances of enjoying a good number of elephants in this park.

However, about 250 Sri Lankan elephants reside in the park itself. Further, the elephant transit home was built in 1995 to take care of the elephant calves abandoned in the park.

Other Mammals in Udawalawe National Park

Among the other mammals, Sri Lankan Sleuth Bears who reside here are noteworthy. Of course, they are extremely dangerous to humans and are rarely spotted owing to their scarcity.

Apart from that, the following mammals are also common in the Udawalawe National Park.

  • Sri Lankan Sambar Deer
  • Axis Deer
  • Indian Muntjac
  • Sri Lankan Spotted Chevrotain
  • Wild Buffaloes
  • Water Buffaloes
  • Thick-tailed Pangolin
  • Grizzled Giant Squirrels
  • Toque Monkey (“rilawa”)

The Toque monkey is an endangered species according to IUCN, while Axis Deer, Sri Lankan Leopard, and sleuth bear are classified as vulnerable species as per the IUCN.

Reptiles Species

Bengali Monitors, Mugger Crocodiles, Oriented Garden Lizards, Sri Lankan Pipe Snakes, and Sri Lankan Vipers are common in the sanctuary while Water Monitors dwell near river banks and closer to the reservoir.

Fish Species

Since the Walawe River flows through the Udawalawe National Park, spotting a number of fish species would never be a tedious task. Besides, you can find below some of the rare fish species that are common out there.

  • Catla
  • Ceylon Stone Sucker
  • Giant Gourami
  • Rohu

Indeed, these are just a few. A visit there, will surely create you opportunities to observe many more fish species beyond a doubt.

Birds Species

The park is a home for a number of endemic birds. Among them, the below species are highlights.

  • Ceylon Jungle Fowl
  • Ceylon Grey Hornbill
  • Sirkeer
  • Ceylon Woodshrike
  • Ceylon Spurfowl
  • Blue-faced Malkoha
  • Ceylon Swallow
  • Black-capped Kingfisher
  • Pied Cuckoo
  • White-bellied Sea Eagle
  • Crested Serpent Eagle
  • Peafowl
  • Asian Openbill

However, these are only a few of the birds nested in the woods of Udawalawe national park. Even though the park is abundant with varieties of birds, it is not popular for bird sighting owing to tall trees and high-rise bushes and shrubs.

Tourist Hotspots in Udawalawe

If you are planning to choose Udawalawe as your destination during the next vacation you will have opportunities to experience a great time in a splendid environment. In addition to the primary attraction, Udawalawe contains many other attractions such as reservoirs, hydroelectric power plants, ancient ruins, rivers, waterfalls, natural hot water springs, colonial elephant ranch, limestone caves, and bungalows. These places stand as landmarks and support to protect the uncommon cultural values in them.

So, excited to know more about them? We are sure you are! Keep calm, let us get to know about the rest of the attractions in Udawalawe, one after another. Let us start with Duwili Ella!

Duwili Ella

The meaning of ‘Duwili Ella’ is ‘Dusty Waterfall’. The reason for naming it as Duwili Ella is due to the captivating way by which the water of the waterfall hits the river on its way down. The location of it is about 25km away from Balangoda, where the most primitive man in the island lived. It is possible to reach Duwili Ella via the Pitadeniya Entrance.

The Elephant Transit Home

If you are visiting the Elephant Transit Home, you can reach it from Colombo as follows. First, you have to travel along the Ratnapura Road and reach The Thibolketiya Junction. Thibolketiya Junction is located near Embilipitiya. Next, you have to turn left from the junction and travel about 2km towards the Thanamalwila Town. Finally, you will be able to find the Elephant Transit Home easily on the left side.

In Elephant Transit Home, elephant babies get all the needed facilities and other requirements. Similarly, the authorities there fulfill their food, water and safety requirements as well. And the speciality is, the elephants live in a natural environment in it. So that they can roam around freely and find out their own food by grazing. In addition, there is a feeding program scheduled in intervals of three hours. It starts at 6.00 am daily. However, these elephants are given a specially formulated milk, in order to improve various developments in them.

Maduwanwela Bungalow

Maduwanwela Bungalow is located near the Udawalawe Wildlife Sanctuary and National Park. You can reach it by passing Thibolketiya Junction and arriving at Udagama Junction. Then you have to turn at Udagama Junction and travel 14 miles down the Kolonna Road.

The history of Maduwanwela Bunglow goes back over 300 years. The intricate archway and stone gates improves the ancient look of the bunglow. It is surprising to say that the bungalow had over 120 rooms in it. However, it is home to only 20 rooms at present. In addition, the presence of Maduwanwela Bunglow near the Udawalawe National Park helps to enhance the aura of importance to the encircled area.

Sankapala Temple

If you are able to visit Sankapala Temple, you will have the chance to experience a consortium of apprehension and amazement due to the brilliance of its ruins and rocky landscape. Sankapala Temple is located in Pallebedda in the Ratnapura District. You can easily reach there along the Ratnapura – Hambantota main road.

Caves of Sankapala Temple

Natural caves that include a number of amazing various artefacts multiplies the allures and attractions of Sankapala Temple. Some professional researches of the Department of Archeology of Sri Lanka have found fourteen disparate caves at Sankapala Temple. The amazing thing is that one of these fourteen caves includes an ancient shrine room for Lord Buddha while another includes a shrine room for God of Kataragama. The dimensions of these caves are different to each other in which the longest cave captures a length of nearly 60 feet.

Hydroelectric Power Plant

The Udawalawe Hydroelectric Plant, one of Sri Lanka’s prominent hydroelectric plants that provides nearly 6 MW of power to its region. The Udawalawe Water Reservoir provides water in order to power and generate electricity in this plant. Similarly, the Udawalawe Dam paved the way for the Udawalawe Water Reservoir and the splendid surrounding in it. If you visit it, you will be able to experience the way in which a hydroelectric power plant operates. In addition, you will get the chance to learn all the mechanisms and equipment used in the plant.

Suriyakanda Morning Sites

This is the most eastern region of the Sinharaja Forest Reserve. The location is near Balangoda in the Ratnapura District. You have to come over nearly 160km from Colombo, which takes about three to four hours to reach Suriyakanda Morning Site.

Suriyakanda Morning Site is a safe home for a large number of endemic flora and fauna. The Jungle Fowl, Spurfowl, Grey Hornbill and the Ceylon Wood Pigeon are birds that you are able to see commonly in Suriyakanda Morning Site. In addition, you will get the chance to see some rare wildlife like Sambar Deer and Sri Lankan Leopard on this site.

Waulpane Caves

You can reach the Waulpane Cave via Baluthota Road which is several kilometers away from Pallebedda Junction. The location is nearly 900 feet above the sea level. It consists of a single main cave and other several tiny cave structures. In addition, it has an amazing internal waterfall known as “Waulpane Ella” in it. However, botanists were able to identify more than 100s of endemic flora species around Waulpane Ella.

The Walawe River

The Walawe River initiates from the peak of Samanala Mountains which is well-known as Adam’s Peak. It covers over 1000 square miles of area and nurtures the Southern region of Sri Lanka. Finally, it meets the sea at Ambalantota in the Hambantota District. The Walawe River flows down gently across the Udawalawe National Park and a number of fauna species, deer species, bird species, fish species and herbivores flock to fulfill their necessary things from the river. In addition, you will be able to see some groups of buffalos, and elephants frequently near the river.

Panamure Elephant Ranch

Panamure is located in the southern central part of Sri Lanka in the area of Kollonna in Ratnapura District. The Maduwanwela family were the initial owners of Panamure Elephant Ranch for a long period of time. They were given this land as a “Nindagama” from the king. Later, Sir Alfred Francis Molamure, who was a prominent politician of Sri Lanka became the officer-in-charge of this ranch. He used to capture the elephants and sell them to external parties.

In addition, Panamura had a wide range of rare flora including Burutha, Milla, Atamba, Madhan and Kolong. Similarly, Panamura Stood as a home for around 2,300 elephants by 1912 A.D. including the majestic tuskers.

Significance of Udawalawe National Park

To be specific, Udawalawe National Park is an ideal place for observing the Sri Lankan elephants. Let it be the morning hours, or let it be the eve. Whatever it is, you have nothing to worry about! You will always be lucky enough to spot a few elephants, any day, any time, at this wonderful wildlife sanctuary. Simply, Sri Lankan Elephants are special, and Udawalawe National Park is a synonym for Sri Lankan elephants. Yes, that sums up it all. Udawalawe National Park is that special, owing to the large concentration of the tuckers that it shelters.

Going beyond, you are well aware by now, that this park is home to many more wild creatures as well. Their activeness coupled with the soothing atmosphere and the verdant surroundings of this park, make Udawalawe National Park second to none on this splendid island. And how can we forget the incredible selection of flora and fauna that it houses? Of course, all these together, make Udawalawe National Park, more special, and significant.

The Bottom Line

These nature’s gallant glories enhance the brilliance of Udawalawe as one of the prominent tourist hotspots in Sri Lanka. And why not? The opportunities it creates to capture a good number of mind blowing photographs, certainly takes the delight of this wildlife paradise to the world more and more.

So, if you ever visit this charming island, we are sure that you would visit Udawalawe National Park, the amazing paradise of Sri Lankan wildlife. Although the journey to Udawalawe seems a little bit long from Colombo, it will never be too tiresome. The picturesque surroundings, the other attractive destinations that lie along the way, and the enthusiasm you have to witness the best of the Sri Lankan wildlife, will surely keep you delighted, and curious to explore more!

Finally, let us remind you again that visiting Udawalawe National Park is something that you should never miss. So, visit it, and feel the delight. Happy and Safe Travelling!