Safari Country, Sri Lanka


Peacock at dawn!
Peacock at dawn!

From Nuwara Eliya we were heading through the central highlands and down on to the coastal plains of southern Sri Lanka, safari country. We broke the journey to the coast for one night at Uda Walawe National Park, famous for its elephants. Because of the delay getting the car repaired our afternoon safari in Uda Walawe was rescheduled for the following morning with a 5.45 start to catch the animals at sunrise; so we headed straight to the hotel for an early night. The Grand Uda Walawe Safari Resort was the first hotel on our trip that we weren’t happy with, not a bad hit rate! Although it is a relatively new hotel all the public areas were very dark making it difficult to use the stairs or read any of the signage, even in daylight! We were shown to our room which on arrival reeked of petrol (who knows why!), we were advised to turn up the air conditioning and it would clear in 10 minutes, over an hour later, after a walk around the hotel to explore it still smelled the same so we asked to be moved, the next room was much better but there was still a whiff of eau de gasoline. Dinner in the restaurant was distinctly average and it was hard to see what you were eating. We were really glad we were only there for one night.

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Next morning we were up early to meet Odi and our safari guide and headed out to the park. During our drive we saw lots of animals, elephants, water buffalo, spotted deer, iguana and a particularly large snake. We also saw lots of birds, brightly coloured bee eaters, several species of kingfisher and all 5 species of eagle that live in Uda Walawe National Park. One thing we weren’t expecting was wild peacocks, there was no mistaking their call and the sight of them roosting in trees silhouetted against the sun rise was impressive. I will let the pictures fill in the details of our drive…

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Back to the hotel for breakfast and a shower then we hit the road again heading for Yala National Park right down on the coast. Our hotel, Jetwing Yala was a different story, we had a lovely room and the hotel walkways, reception and bar looked out to sea where the waves of the Indian Ocean were crashing on the beach. We had a quick turnaround and left for the first of three safari drives in Yala National Park. Yala is recognised as having the greatest concentration of wild leopards in the world, nobody can guarantee a sighting but we were hopeful, we had three drives booked, surely one of them would give us a glimpse.

Kim's candid moment
Kim’s candid moment

We really enjoyed all our safari drives, bouncing through the jungle and across the plains in an open topped 4×4 with seats in the back looking out for animals and birds, and trying to take in the diverse scenery. Even without the animals it would have been a great adventure but our luck stayed with us and we got to see the elusive leopard. On our first drive in Yala we saw two, one sleeping in a tree which, to be quite honest was hard to recognise as a leopard but we did see it, A bit later our driver got a text message to say another one had been spotted and we joined a mad rush of jeeps dashing to the spot and then jostling for position to get their passengers the best view – it was a bit of a scrum. Our driver had an ability to get us into the right place at the right time, after waiting for what seemed like ages, and worrying that by the time we got a line of sight the animal would have gone we finally edged around a bush and got our chance. The Leopard was in a tree and after lots of pointing and directions from the driver we saw its tail twitch, it was lovely to see but it was still only a glimpse. As we sat there, wondering when the driver was going to move on and let another jeep have a look his patience was rewarded, the leopard stretched, stood up and then walked down the trunk of the tree and disappeared into the jungle. Fantastic, but hard to photograph. For the rest of that afternoon drive we enjoyed spotting elephants, including one having a dust bath; water buffalo, several mongoose (mongooses? Mongeese?), deer and more gloriously colourful birds.

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Next morning we left at 5.45 (again) for a morning drive in Yala, it was lovely being in the park as the sun rose; the mist lifted and the air warmed and gradually the birds began to leave their roosts and start to call. Not long after we had entered the park word came through that a leopard had been spotted and the off-road race began again. Once we joined the vehicle log jam near the clearing we waited while our driver pushed and shoved and jockeyed for position, once again we got a glimpse of a leopard lying under a bush incredibly well camouflaged – still exciting. Exhibiting some strange sixth sense our driver pulled forward and parked in a spot where we had no view of the leopard at all; then, to our amazement the huge cat stood up and walked through the bush straight towards us passing maybe 10ft from us through the bushes and emerged into a clearing a bit further ahead. We were in the perfect position to see it in all its glory, I don’t think any of the other jeeps had such a clear or extended sighting. We were all thrilled. After that it wouldn’t have mattered if we didn’t see another animal but that morning drive was rich with sightings of deer and crocodiles and several groups of elephants. We were amazed when we got back to the hotel and discovered that some guests had been in the park at the same time and hadn’t seen any animals at all. I think we owe credit to Odi for knowing which driver to book for us.

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After breakfast (yep, all that happened before breakfast) we headed back to our room to rest and absorb all we had seen. We had one more game drive booked that afternoon/evening, we considered cancelling it, wondering what else we could see but I enjoyed the whole experience so much Mark agreed to do it one more time. When we got to the park the driver decided not to pursue the wildlife anymore and instead took us to some of the more remote parts of the park to see more of the amazing landscape. We spent about 25 minutes parked next to a beautiful shallow lake with mountains in the background and a carpet of lilies on the shore. Just across from where we were parked a single bull elephant grazed quietly in the shallows picking all the newest, sweetest shoots. There were no other jeeps there and it was silent except for the sounds of nature, it was truly idyllic. From there we drove up on to the top of a rock escarpment overlooking the forest canopy and again stopped and just drank in the sights and sounds of Yala National Park. It was such a luxury to have time to just sit and appreciate the landscape and to reflect on our good fortune that morning watching the beautiful leopard pass in front of us.

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2 thoughts on “Safari Country, Sri Lanka”

  1. We’re definitely going with you next time! All we saw in Yala was a bear and a toucan. Terry is surprised you didn’t see an aurora. Xo


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