Take me to never, never land..

READ this before you book an Udawalawe Jeep Safari

There are different reasons why people travel. Some people travel for food, some people travel to explore different places and do the must things to do. The latter part is the exact reason why we ended up in Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka, other than being an affordable country to travelers, it also offers wide variety of activities in different places— depending on what you like! One thing we always wanted to do is a safari adventure, and Udawalawe was the place we’ve chosen to tick this off from our bucket list.

Udawalawe is more or less 3 hrs bus ride from Ella. We started taking the first bus from Ella’s junction road located at the center. As what I’ve read in one blog, a bus from Ella to Thanamalwila only runs three times a day— 8:45 am as the earliest. I don’t know if we were just lucky but we were able to take a Thanamalwila bus at 10 in the morning, which made it easier for us. It stopped first in Wellawaya bus terminal for around 15-20 minutes, then continued to Thanamalwila bus station. We arrived in the station and the driver asked us to cross the road and waited for the bus that is going to Colombo. We took the BUS 98 Moneragala – Colombo for our second bus, and finally arrived in Udawalawe at quarter past one in the afternoon.

Things to remember:

    Another bus option from Ella is, Ella to Wellawaya, Wellawaya to Thanamalwila, Thanamalwila to Udawalawe
    Bus prices: Ella to Thanamalwila (150 LKR= $ 0.85) Thanamalwila to Udawalawe (80 LKR= $0.45)
    Do not hesitate to ask the bus driver to drop you off in Udawalawe as there is no bus station, makes it hard to recognize
    Tuktuk drivers will try to trick you and inform you that the next bus will be in the next 2 hours— stay focused and do not listen.

It was raining when we arrived in Udawalawe bus stop, so we impulsively took a jeep safari that offered us a lift to our accommodation for 800 LKR (2pax). It is quite expensive for a one way trip compare to Colombo, but we didn’t have time for haggling, and at least we looked cool with the jeep! I mean, isn’t it a win-win situation?!

Once we arrived in Sunwin, we booked for our jeep safari the next day. Prices depends on how many hours. So the shorter the trip, the cheaper it gets:

  • for a 3 to 4 hours jeep safari it costs 4,000 to 5,000 LKR ($23 to $28).
  • If you plan to go on a longer jeep safari, 6 to 7 hours will cost 8,000 to 9,000 LKR ($45 to $51).

Please note that these prices EXCLUDES the entrance fee in Udawalawe National Park.

Entrance fee prices:

⁃ 5,100 LKR for 1 pax ($29)

⁃ 8,150 LKR for 2 pax ($46)

⁃ 11,200 LKR for 3 pax ($64)

In total, it will cost you more or less 10,000 LKR ($57) for a safari adventure.

Things to remember:

⁃ The usual safari time is 6 AM

⁃ It took us more than 30 minutes in the queue to enter the park

⁃ and another 20 minutes to half an hour of waiting to pay for the entrance fee.

Is it worth it?

To be honest, as someone who used to work in a National Park, I quite expected a lot. I was really looking forward to see the abundant wildlife in UNP, and also because it is the third most visited park in Sri Lanka.

After almost an hour of waiting to do the proper safari, we had to go around for about another half an hour to see an animal— birds. Fifteen minutes of driving to get where the crocodiles are living, only to see 1/4 of their heads. We were parked about 30 meters from the lake, and visitors were not allowed to get off from the jeep. Loads of water buffalo, took us another half an hour to see two quite unhealthy elephants.

(us, just trying to have fun by taking pictures of the epic jeep)

The park itself was not even properly maintained despite of its entrance fee which supposed to help maintain the place. By 9 am, we felt the need to go back home and escape the abandoned forest we were trapped in. I am sorry, but wildlife conservation is badly needed.

This is only my two cents based on our experience, and if you would ask me, I will not recommend it. In case you still wanna do it for the sake of experience, do not settle for a short trip as queues are already time consuming.

Where did we stay?

Sunwin River Cabana

It is about 3-4 kilometers from Udawalawe bus stop. We recently discovered the most of the hotels drops their price at least 40-50 % off their normal price when you do a last minute reservation. We booked it right away costing us $30 for a deluxe cabana, good for 2 nights. On top of that, I also get a $15 off while my friend get 10% credit back. Book yours using this link!

Sunwin River Cabana is definitely by the river. Staff is extremely helpful and friendly. They served us a Sri Lankan breakfast, the guy who served breakfast was very nice, I asked for the Sri Lankan pancake with coconut and honey filling and they made it especially for me! He even made a Sri Lankan tea to cap off our breakfast with a boom.

(Jack & Rose river version)

Note: If you are not a big fan of Sri Lankan food (like us), I suggest you stay close to the center so you can have different options for your food. It was quite a struggle for us to look for good restaurants that serves western cuisine. It costs so much for a roundtrip tuktuk ride just to get food. Some rides cost us 800 LKR roundtrip, worst was almost 2,000 LKR for a roundtrip fare. What we did to lessen this cost is, we went out for late lunch, ordered food for dine in, while we ordered for take away that we can save for dinner. A great savings from another tuktuk ride!

After all, Udawalawe is a dreamy place for travelers who aims to be relaxed in a countryside. Udawalawe gives you the satisfying feeling of a summer holiday.

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