We had no plan as we left our homestay in Ella, but when we got down to the road a man approached us to offer a shared taxi to drop us at the door of our next accommodation. As the alternative had looked like three public buses, connecting at various major crossroads, we didn’t think twice about it. It took a couple of hours, which I’m guessing is a lot faster than the buses, giving us the afternoon free.
Udawalawe elephant orphanage
We had seen a sign on the road pointing toward an elephant orphanage, so off we went to get there by the next feeding time. There was one at noon and one at 3 pm, but probably one in the morning as well. Between feeding times visitors aren’t allowed, and even when they are, they will look at the elephants from a distance so that they don’t get disturbed.
We watched the orphaned baby elephants eat and play, and also got to see an injured elephant with a prosthetic leg! The orphans are raised in the orphanage right next to Udawalawe National Park and released into the park once they’re old enough to take care of themselves.
Safari: the main attraction
We spent the night in Udawalawe to be able to go on a very early safari. We got up before 5 am the following morning and were picked up by a driver who worked for our homestay. It was a pickup truck with covered seats in the back, and we didn’t share with anyone else. I think you probably can arrange a shared tour through a tour agency to save money, but most people we saw were alone in their truck.
We drove to the park in darkness and entered at 6 am when they opened and the sun started to rise. The first elephant we met was still half asleep, standing in the middle of the road!
We drove around the park for several hours, and the park is big enough that we were alone most of the time. The drivers talked to each other whenever they met another truck to exchange information on where to find animals.
We saw a lot of elephants up close, water buffalos, jackals, monkeys and lots of pretty birds that I don’t know the names of. We returned to the guest house after four hours, tired and happy and ready for a late breakfast before checkout!
Where we stayed
I would highly recommend our accommodation in Udawalawe, Mansala Safari Resort. It sounds fancy, but it’s really a homestay run by some lovely people. The room looked new and was very clean, and a steal at $20. This did not include meals, but they were happy to serve a delicious dinner and a huge local breakfast with eg hoppers and all you could wish for. We also arranged the safari with them on our arrival, which was very convenient.