A must-do Elephant Safari in Minneriya National Park, Sri Lanka
If you are travelling to Sri Lanka, an elephant safari in Minneriya National Park is a must-visit in North Central province.
Sri Lanka has 26 National Parks all around the country; most of them have elephants.
However, due to the more massive herds of elephants, Minneriya National Park is known as the best place to see them in the wild.
Minneriya National Park was declared as a wildlife sanctuary in 1938, gradually increased the security as a National Park in 1997.
It has a large human-made water tank in the middle of the park called Minneriya tank. So along the banks, extensive spread grasslands are an excellent place for waders and elephants.
How to get to Minneriya National Park?
As I mentioned earlier, it is located in North Central province, bordering two other National Parks.
The closest town to this national park is called Habarana.
As Habarana is 182 kilometres away from Colombo, it takes around 5 hours to reach by public transport.
If you are a budget traveller, exploring the country like a local, it is always easy and cheap to get a bus to Habarana. From Colombo fort, you can get a bus that is going to Polonnaruwa/Trincomalee.
Also, a few trains are going through Habarana daily from Colombo Fort.
So if you are only planning to visit the National Park, getting the morning train is the best option for a less tiring ride than going on a bus.
From Habarana town, you can easily find a local jeep for a safari in Minneriya National Park. Evenings are the best time to explore the wilderness as most animals are active with the dusk.
If you are visiting Habarana by your vehicle, get a turn to your right side road from the Habarana Junction for the park entrance.
What are the animals that you can see in this National Park?
Well, elephants, elephants, and again elephants! But don’t forget it has a large water tank in the middle of the park with hundreds of waterbird species.
That makes sense why Minneriya National Park is known as an Important Bird Area. While it is a home for around 160 bird species, a great place to raptors such as eagles and kites, other than elephants, it has 48 mammals, including axis deer, Sri Lankan leopards, and Sri Lankan sloth bears, which are rare to see.
So for an enthusiastic wildlife traveller, Minneriya National Park is an excellent place for birding and watching elephants in the same area. Also, it is just an area of 90 square kilometres with a high density of biodiversity in the country.
Mainly it is grassland around the tank, but some dense forest also can be seen.
When is the best time to visit the Park?
During the dry season of August to September each year is known as the best time to visit this amazing National Park. As the Minneriya tank is the only place the elephants could find water, large herds of elephants visit the reservoir.
Since then, there is an elephant corridor along with Kaudulla and Wasgomuwa national parks. This season is known as the “Elephant gathering,” where you see around 600 elephants in one sight.
As elephants need water to control the body heat, they tend to dip in the water during hot days.
Also, the lush grass remaining in the tanks is an excellent source of food. So why not spending time near a tank is an excellent idea for them? You can start the safari around 1 PM to avoid the crowd and get a better spot in the grassland to see elephants.
Where to stay in Minneriya Park & how to find a jeep for a safari?
As Minneriya is located in the cultural triangle, there are lots of hotels and other accommodation options are available. If you are visiting the area for a safari in Minneriya National Park, find a place close to Habarana town.
Most of the hotels in the area could arrange a safari in Minneriya National Park with a naturalist. But in case you can’t find a place like that, no worries you can surely find one from the town.
Safari operators are available in the town that you could go and hire a jeep for the safari.
The prices vary depending on the vehicle type and the time of the year.
They usually start at 3500LKR per jeep, and you will have to pay the tickets separately.
For a foreign adult, the price is 15$ or equivalent in LKR ( around 2800LKR). Other than that, there is a vehicle charge of 250LKR and a Service charge of 8$. As the final ticket price has a value-added tax of 15%, it is always better to share a jeep with other visitors.
You can check the park entrance fee from the website of the department of wildlife conservation.
What to pack
Seeing large herds of elephants in the wild is a lifetime experience.
So Don’t forget to pack your cameras and binoculars, especially if you love to see birds. And since the jeeps are open from the top, a hat or a cap will be very helpful for a sunny day.
Also, don’t forget to pack your sunblock and a shawl or a mask to cover your face while driving in dusty roads.
When considering the clothes, always wear something comfortable, but avoid bright colours.
Minneriya National Park is located in a dry zone of the country, so it can be very uncomfortable if you wear bulky clothes with sweating. Why I mentioned not to wear bright colours is, there is a chance of scaring animals away.
So stick into earth colours as much as possible to have a good time in the wilderness.
Some tips for a great safari in Minneriya National Park
Going to a National Park is an excellent way of enjoying the wilderness. Yet we all have to respect the environment where ever we go.
Since then, it is essential to obey the park rules when exploring the wilderness in any national park.
As Minneriya National Park is an excellent spot for elephants, all the jeeps are open from the top.
So you can easily stand up and see the elephants over the roof. However, it is always good to keep a safe distance with wild animals.
So if your driver advises you to sit and wait, it is better to listen to him. And it is illegal to get down from the vehicle in the park; there are a few designated areas to get down and stretch a leg.
In some areas, the road is bumpy, so if you have any difficulties travelling in uncomfortable roads, you can discuss with your jeep driver and sit in the passenger seat next to him.
Also, if you are visiting the Minneriya National Park during the dry season, you might see the elephants are losing weight due to limited food sources. But it doesn’t make any sense that you have to feed them.
This is a common mistake visitors do in National parks in Sri Lanka. Also, be quite as much as possible during a sighting as the animals can get away due to the noises.
I hope that you have had a good look at this article, don’t forget to tick off the A must-do elephant safari in Minneriya National Park, Sri Lanka in your next vacation