So I kept looking. The second place that popped up was the Yala National Park. Now, this is a national park. Elephants are probably not the only animals you would see here, but you would definitely spot some. And if you are lucky you could spot a leopard too! Well, I am all for wildlife, so kept this option open and decided to search a little more.
It is then that Minneriya National Park came to my notice. The pictures, with its beautiful large lake and herds of elephants happily munching on the green grass and some drinking water from the lake, instantly stole my heart. And although having to visit this place meant taking a slight detour from the central and southern part of Sri Lanka (which is the popular route most tourists would take) and 2 additional days into our itinerary, I just could not give this place up. Because who knows when I will get a chance to visit this country again!
About the Park
So the park is centered around a huge lake, which also happens to be the primary water source for animals inside – primarily some birds, monitor lizards, cranes, wild buffaloes, and of course some magnificent elephants! These come out into the lake in the mornings and the evenings, probably to just chill? And eat and drink. And that is the best way to spot them!
Where to Stay
Well, if you want to visit Minneriya National Park, you could stay in a homestay or a hotel in the Sigiriya area or Habarana. The number of homestays are enormous, but the number of hotels aren’t too many. Per night stay should cost you LKR 2000-4000 for homestays and LKR 10,000 – 15,000 for hotels. There is a Cinnamon lodge, a very poplar hotel chain in Habarana as well.
Other nearby places to visit
Well, if you come to this place, you should make good use of this time to visit a few of the nearby places as well. The first and most important being the Sigiriya Lion Rock. It is actually a Unesco declared World Heritage Site and has a lot of history associated with it. It looks like the sets of Bahubali to me :P So historic and ancient!
There are also the Dambulla cave temples and the Habarana lake, which is not as commercialized. The ancient ruins of Pollonaruwa is about 60 Km from here and is a day trip away from here. So if you have some time, keep a day aside to check the ruin out here.
Price to enter per person is about LKR 3,100. You cannot go inside without a jeep, so be prepared to pay LKR 4,000 for a jeep safari as well. Yeah, this place is not for the frugal. The good news though is that the jeeps are charged per vehicle and not per person, letting you achieve some economies of scale. If you are not in a group, reach the place early and you will be able to partner with another couple to split the costs of the jeep!
Best time of Day to visit
Well, they have jeep safari s running one in the morning 7:00 AM and other in the afternoon 3:30 PM. I personally visited in the afternoon, and absolutely loved the sunset colors and the weather. Plus, I feel there are more elephants in the afternoon. Although, if you are a morning person, you could go for the morning tour as well. I am definitely not, and hence, morning was not even an option for me!
All About the Tour
The park can be explored in Jeep Safaris and the tour takes about 2-2.5 hours. Usually the jeep would take you through a bumpy road deep into the forest where all of a sudden it opens up into a large open space. By now you will start to notice a huge water body and dots of animals, which, upon driving closer would make you realize are herds of elephants. You cannot get down from the jeep but sit in and soak in the peace and serenity of the place, click loads of pictures. Good thing is the jeeps are open. So you can stand up and get an unobstructed view.
May be after 30-40 mins of elephant watching, the jeep will take you even further, to spot some more animals, and then on the way back, make a stop at the Watch Tower. The view from here is notmuch different from what you would have already witnessed, so you can totally give the Watch Tower a miss, especially if you don’t like climbing.