A fabulous itinerary taking in elephants in Udawalawe National Park, leopards in Yala National Park, and blue whales off Sri Lanka's south coast.
Starting at Udawalawe, this national park attracts herds of up to 250 elephants and in addition has a diversity of mammals that includes rusty-spotted cat, golden jackal, toque macaque, fishing cat, wild boar, and water buffalo. Next is the highlight for big cat lovers - Yala - home to some of the world’s largest leopards. And finally, the trip culminates off the coast of Mirissa, where the charismatic and elusive blue whale can be seen (from late November to March) in the warm waters of the Indian Ocean.
The pace of the itinerary is relaxed, giving you just enough time to truly explore fully the best each location has to offer.
Day1: Depart UK
Day2: Arrive Colombo and transfer to Udawalawe
On arrival in Colombo, you will be met and transferred to Udawalawe, a drive of approximately four hours.
Day3: Full day jeep safari in Udawalawe National Park
Today you will explore Udawalawe National Park on a wildlife jeep safari. The park is home to many elephants, and it’s not uncommon to see herds of 50 to 60 at one time. It also has sizeable populations of sambar, chital and wild boar, and abundant birdlife including grey-headed fish eagles and black-shouldered kite.
Days4-4: Transfer to Tissamaharama
After breakfast, check-out of your hotel and start your transfer to Tissamaharama, stopping en route at the Elephant Transit Rehabilitation Home. Backed by the ‘Born Free’ Foundation, this centre has rehabilitated over 100 elephants back to the wild and the visit will allow you to observe this conservation in action.
Afterwards, continue to Tissamaharama and check in to your accommodation. The afternoon is free, however there is an opportunity for some birding in the local area where there is a diverse range of species.
Day5: Full-day safari in Lunugamvehera National Park, transfer to Yala
This morning you will head out on a full-day jeep safari in the Lunugamvehera National Park which is a sector of the larger Yala National Park. Lunugamvehera is a quieter area of the park and it acts as part of the corridor for elephants to move between Udawalawe and Yala National Parks. There is a chance of spotting several species here, including elephant, water buffalo, mugger crocodile and even leopard. After spending the day in the Lunugamvehera National Park, proceed to Yala which will take around an hour and a half to reach.
Today, you explore Sri Lanka’s oldest wildlife reserve - Yala National Park - which is famous for its leopards, some of the largest and most visible individuals. On your full-day jeep safari you may also see elephant, sloth bear, sambar, chital, wild boar, ruddy mongoose, black-naped hare, marsh mugger crocodile and several civet species.
Day7: Transfer to Mirissa
Transfer by road from Yala to Mirissa and check in to your resort. The rest of the day is at leisure.
Today you head out on a morning whale watching excursion looking particularly for the elusive blue whale. Trips last between three and four hours – depending on sightings and sea conditions. Although sightings are not guaranteed, the success rate is very high at around 90% at the peak time of year.
The world’s largest mammal - the blue whale - grows to around 33 metres in length and weighs up to 150-180 tonnes. Its blow rises several metres high and is easily observed at a distance. Frequent sightings of resident and migratory whales (crossing from the Bay of Bengal to the Arabian Sea) off the south coast around Mirissa, and to a lesser extent off Kalpitiya, have made whale watching here extremely popular.
The afternoon is at leisure.
Day9: Morning whale watch; transfer to Katunayaka
This afternon you will transfer to Katunayaka, near the airport, for your final night in Sri Lanka.
Day10: Fly back to the UK
Our trip ideas are offered to inspire you and can be tailored to suit your requirements.
Duration and price including flights from/to UK: 10 daysfrom £2,795 pp
Duration and price excluding international flights: 9 daysfrom £2,095 pp
Single supplement: From £615
When to go: Nov-Apr
Though Mirissa has a beautiful stretch of sandy beach, it is not a relaxing lounge on its golden sands the we recommend, for Mirissa is one of the foremost places in the world to see blue and sperm whales. Between December and April, when the sea is relatively calm, they arrive off the coast to feed in the rich waters.
Where: Southern Province
Ideal for viewing: blue whale, sperm whale, humpback whale, spinner dolphin, bottlenose dolphin
Excellent for: Whale watching
Walawe Reservoir and Udawalawe National Park comprise an area of open plains and hills at the foot of the Kaltota Escarpment. The park is good for elephants with herds of 50 to 60 individuals regularly seen and game drives are in open-top jeeps, accompanied by local wildlife guides.
Where: Sabaragamuwa & Uva Provinces
Ideal for viewing: chital, Asian elephant, sambar, wild boar, rusty-spotted cat
Excellent for: Birdwatching
Yala National Park is Sri Lanka’s oldest wildlife reserve and famous for one of the world’s highest densities of leopard. It has a variety of ecosystems including moist monsoon forests, dry monsoon forests, semi deciduous forests, thorn forests, grasslands, fresh water and marine wetlands, and sandy beaches.
Where: Eastern Province
Ideal for viewing: Asian elephant, leopard, marsh mugger crocodile, sambar, sloth bear
Excellent for: Vehicle safaris
Suggested accommodation options are shown below.
for further recommendations.
This resort-style hotel borders Yala National Park, and has approximately 70 spacious jungle and beach chalets. There is a pool and observation deck with panoramic vistas, and naturalist guides lead excursions into the park to search for Yala’s famous leopards and its 200+ bird species.
This modern hotel is just 10 minutes away from Udawalawe National Park’s entrance, and is set in lush tropical gardens, which attract numerous birds. Rooms all have a garden view, with private terrace or balcony overlooking the garden; facilities include a swimming pool and spacious restaurant.
This beautifully designed boutique hotel is nestled on the south west coast of Sri Lanka, along Mirissa’s palm beach, and is the perfect base for excursions to see blue whales and dolphins. With just 20 rooms, the property offers a personal feel while delivering a high standard of service and comfort.
Located in Tissamaharama, the Rain Tree Hotel lies between two ancient reservoirs to the west of Yala National Park. This pleasant hotel is also within easy reach of Bundala and Udawalawe National Parks, making it perfectly situated for access to some of Sri Lanka’s most iconic wildlife locations.