Sri Lanka is one of the best places in the world to see wild elephants in their natural habitats. The island country off of the coast of India is filled with national parks where you can see all sorts of animals. Of course, the fan-favorite is the gentle and majestic elephant, of which Sri Lanka has around 3,000.
There are quite a few places across the country where you might be able to spot the wild elephants. Sometimes, you might not even have to go to a national park at all. They might just be roaming around. However, if you want to have a good chance of spotting these lovable creatures, you definitely want to go to Minneriya National Park. It is close to the popular tourist destination of Sigiriya, making it one of the most accessible national parks in the country. There are plenty of people offering the safaris in their Jeeps, which seems to be the standard vehicle.
With how well-connected everyone is to one another in Sri Lanka, all you have to do is just ask around. Your accommodation will most likely have someone readily available to take you on a safari. The entrance fee to Minneriya National Park is $15 but you also have to arrange someone to drive you through the park. In total, my group of six paid $28 USD each for an incredible safari that lasted nearly five hours.
However, the price may vary depending on the size of your group. It seems that most drivers have a standard price to hire them and their Jeep, which means the more people you have, the cheaper it will be. I did a quick Google search to read about other people’s experiences and one person even said to expect to pay around $75. I am pretty sure she got ripped off. Do a bit of haggling, corral a group together, and ask around to make sure that you are getting a fair price.
Minneriya National Park has an area of nearly 90 square kilometers, meaning that the herds of elephants might be spread out and scattered throughout the park. However, with the park centered around Lake Minneriya, there is more than a good possibility of spotting elephants in or around the lake. The safari vehicles will circle around the usual spots where elephant sightings are common but there is no guarantee that you will see a ton of elephants. A pair of high quality binoculars would definitely help you out here.
It also does take a bit of time to get from the park entrance to the main elephant hangouts so have a bit of patience. My group was very giddy and eager right from the get-go and it was about another thirty minutes from the park entrance before we even got a glimpse of an elephant in the distance. However, once you see those elephants, all of it becomes worth it.
The scenery at Minneriya is beautiful, with mountains in the distance and the glistening lake reaching far and wide. The environment feels savannah-like in some parts, while others more resemble marshlands or jungles. It is a stunning region of the country, untouched by development or humanity (aside from the safari Jeeps).
What To Bring To Minneriya National Park
You will be out in the sun for an extended amount of time. I’ve only ever had one sunburn in my life but even I was feeling a bit crispy after the safari. You are in an open-topped vehicle so there is no mercy from that grueling Sri Lankan sun. Bring sunscreen. Bring a hat also just for even the slightest bit of shade.
Also, bring water. Although you won’t be doing any actual walking, you will still be sweating with how hot it gets. Make sure to stay hydrated.
Binoculars are a good thing to bring. This is a safari and these are wild animals. Although the elephants might get close on their own accord, the drivers and guides are meant to kept a safe distance with the jeeps. You might feel like a dork for having binoculars and being under the age of 50, but it will be worth it to get a closer look at the elephants, birds, buffaloes, monkeys and other creatures that might be roaming around the national park.
And of course, a camera to snap pictures with. If you’ve got a zoom lens, perfect. If not, it’s all about the experience, hey?
How To Be A Responsible and Respectful Tourist
Stay in your frickin’ jeep. Don’t do anything to disrupt the animals. No yelling, playing music, throwing things, etc. Don’t litter. Don’t bribe your driver to get closer to the animals. I don’t know if this actually happened but some drivers definitely seemed to get a little too close. Although the drivers have their own Jeeps, for the most part, I believe most of them aren’t truly qualified to be leading game drives. Most of them are perfectly fine and respectful, though.
However, in peak season, there can be an overwhelming amount of Jeeps and tourists. When we encountered a herd of elephants early on in the park’s route, almost all of the jeeps stopped to observe the family of elephants. All of the jeeps kept their distance and stayed on the roads, but still, there must have been thirty jeeps all piled together. The elephants seemed apathetic to the presence of people but it still can’t be a good thing. I don’t really know how you would avoid this, but potentially you can ask your guide to go on after a short while so that there isn’t too much disruption of nature with the presence of dozens of jeeps in the same place.
Elephants at Minneriya National Park Photo Gallery
And without further ado, the good stuff. Here are some of my favorite pictures from my trip to see the elephants at Minneriya National Park.
Quick break to give a shoutout to birds. You rock, birds of Minneriya National Park.
Back to your regularly-scheduled program.
Seeing the elephants at Minneriya is one of the best things you can do in Sri Lanka. It’s only my fifth day in this country and I feel like I have done so much already! But I know that the first time seeing these incredibly beautiful, gentle, and majestic creatures will forever be a highlight of my travels.
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first time seeing elephants in the wild and wow what a flippin’ dream. the day started off slow seeing only around half a dozen or so for the first couple of hours but right as we were about to leave, literally about fifty elephants came by for a sunset dip. What a day y’all. Sri Lanka is full of surprises 🐘🐘