Coming to Sri Lanka, high up on my list of must-dos is to see wild elephants on a safari. Sri Lanka is one of the very few places that you can do so.
We went with Minneriya National Park at the suggestion of our guide. We had two options: Minneriya or Yala. We opted for Minneriya since it guarantees elephant sightings.
Yala is a renowned national park too, with a more diverse range of wildlife including bears and leopards – however those were extremely rare sightings. You can see elephants at Yala too, but apparently not as big a herd as you would in Minneriya.
Arrival into Minneriya
There are two timings that are ideal for the safari: early morning from 6 to 9am, or in the afternoon from 3 to 6 pm. We did the afternoon safari.
Our safari ended up being the first activity on our Sri Lankan trip. Having just arrived into Sri Lanka the night before, we drove from Negombo all the way to Sigiriya, where we’re staying the night. From Sigiriya, it was an easy half hour ride to get to a town close to Minneriya National Park. There, we transferred into our jeep with our guide, and it was another perhaps 20 minutes to get to the national park.
We paid an equivalent of USD$130 for the entire safari for the three of us. This is inclusive of park entrance fees, permits and a driver/guide. We also paid a little extra as tip for the jeep guide. It was an effortless transaction for us since our guide arranged the entire safari for us.
After a quick toilet break at the entrance of the park, we drove in – along with many other jeeps. There were lots of jeeps around. Our jeep occasionally made stops to point out some other animals, such as the crocodile and jungle fowl. We would respond with some fake enthusiasm, stare for a while to be polite, and then we’d move. Our goal was just elephants.
The jeep rumbled along a rocky path along the forest before opening up to a plain. It wasn’t long until we saw a few jeeps stopped in a line up ahead. Curious heads popped up above the jeeps and lots of pointing were involved. Our jeep swerved out in line and parked beside one of the other jeeps.
“Elephant,” said our guide. He didn’t need to say it though, we were all already up on our seats, ooh-ing and aa-ing at the herd of elephants in front of us! We couldn’t believe we could see them so soon already. This was a small herd of about 6 to 7 elephants. They were all munching on foliage, minding their own business while we marveled nearby.
Hiding underneath the shade behind a larger elephant, we spotted a baby elephant! A cute little baby. It was the cutest little thing ever.
We took lots of photos – LOTS – while cooing at the adorable little elephants.
A few more jeeps came up behind us, and that was our cue to get moving.
It wasn’t long before we came across yet another herd… with even more baby elephants! This time round we were extremely close to the elephants.
There were lots of jeeps around. I don’t know how “healthy” this is to the elephants, but they seemed blasé to the jeeps. Our guide told us that the elephants will attack if they feel threatened – and they have attacked jeeps before.
The closest encounter we had was a shy little baby elephant that was too scared to cross our jeep by herself. She ran back to her mom, who then led the way calmly, and little baby Ellie tumbled along behind her. It was the cutest and the most… human thing I’ve ever seen.
It was truly an experience to just watch the elephants from our jeep.
Same as before, we moved along the moment other jeeps came along. We drove out into the huge plains, close to where the water hole was.
We came across even more herds of elephants. We even managed to spot two lone male elephants.
It was unbelievable how many herds of elephants we came across.
Towards the end of the safari, we drove closer to the watering hole. There were a herd of elephants there, spraying themselves with water. At this point, I half-wished they would spray the water our way because it was so hot out!
Make sure to bring extra bottles of water than you think you need. We had a bottle for each of us, and it still wasn’t enough. I’ve never craved for a cold can of Coke more than that time.
My Final Thoughts
All in all, one of my top highlights on my Sri Lankan trip. If not, the top highlight. Seeing elephants in the wild has always been a dream of mine and I got to see HERDS of elephants with their adorable little babies!
I read that there are full day safaris as well, but I thought the 2-3 hours that we had was sufficient. Unless you’re after spotting some of the more rare species such as leopards and bears. Our guide said they’re incredibly rare though.
As mentioned, you’re sharing the experience with so many other jeeps. The park was huge, and the jeeps were dispersed, so it never felt too crowded. BUT apparently this was off-season. Our guide told us that usually there’s more jeeps.
What to Wear
If you’re doing it right, your jeep would have unfurled its top cover so you can poke your head out the roof for an epic view. This would mean you’re exposed to harsh sunlight for some 2-3 hours of the safari.
Sun protection gear is essential – a hat and sunglasses would do wonders for comfort throughout the safari.
Although we were exposed to sun, I didn’t sweat that much surprisingly. There was always a nice breeze cooling us down. Light, breezy outfits are best. But I mean, if you really want to get into the whole safari vibes, khaki and beige linens would be good. I stuck to my all-black gym gear.
It doesn’t really matter what footwear you have on, since you’re going to be in the jeep the whole time. I would say probably something easy to slip on and off. I alternated between stepping on top of the benches to see the elephants and sitting down.
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