Wildlife Safari with Kids: Uda Walawe National Park, Sri Lanka

Taking young kids on safari isn’t really the done thing! Sitting in a jeep for hours, getting covered in dust and being quiet, are not the most compatible set of circumstances for children under 3 years…… So you might think us a little crazy choosing to go on a wildlife safari! However we were adamant we wanted our kids to see wild elephants in their natural habitat, we knew it was either going to be a huge success or massive fail!

We opted for a short morning safari in Uda Walawe National Park with Ayu in the Wild.  We choose Uda Walawe national park due to the guaranteed sightings of elephants plus we had heard it was less dusty than nearby Yala. We were travelling with our two daughters Isabella 2 years, Maya 7 months, as well as our good friends Lucy and James and their one year old son Tommy.


Before officially even entering the National park, we were treated to a sighting of huge bull elephant that was standing at the perimeter fence, this really ramped everyones excitement levels.

As soon a we entered the park we saw an array of birds, one of the most impressive was huge white-breasted sea eagle. It was lovely to see host of migrant birds like cormorants that we often see in England in the summer months. Our guide mentioned that many of the migrant birds were nesting here in Sri Lanka which is sadly the affects of global warming and less defined seasons.

Our knowledgeable guide Dhanu was an expert at spotting birds even from a huge distance he could identify the species from their silhouette alone. Peacocks were in abundance, every corner we turned get glimpses of their impressive blue and turquoise  feathers. 


Isabella our eldest daughter was chief animal spotter and was so excited to see a herd of elephants including a baby, which the entire heard seemed to be protecting vigilantly. 


One of the highlights of the safari was coming across an eagle sat on a low branch as we drove through a dip in the road. It was totally calm and at ease, we were at the same eye level as it was quietly watched us with a mesmerising stare.


Dhanu’s knowledge of birds and animals was amazing his passion for the wildlife was infectious.He told us he kept a diary called ‘The Jungle Book’ of all his exciting sightings and experiences. He recounted one of the most exciting and unusual experiences was in Yala national park. The river that runs through the park links to the sea and sharks sometimes can be seen swimming in the river and one day while out guiding he was saw large crocodile catch and eat a shark! How amazing, and what a fantastic story to tell.

We ended the safari at a beautiful elevated viewpoint overlooking the lake where we were able to get down from jeep and walk around, from a distance we were able to watch water buffalo bathing in the lake and huge elephants on the shore. 


After the Safari we visited the nearby Elephant Transit home which is centre linked to the national park which helps to rehabilitate injured or orphaned elephants and then releases them back into the national park. If you go at 9.00 am or midday you can see them being fed milk by the handlers. Just seeing our 7 month old daughter giggling in excitement while watching the young elephants at milking time was worth the trip alone. Taking young children on trips like this will always raise the debate whether they will enjoy or appreciate the experience, and of course whether they will remember it? Well I can’t be certain little Maya will remember the experience,  but I can say with absolute certainty she enjoyed it! Check out the video below. 

It was wonderful too see the elephants from a viewing platform and comforting to see that only handlers had contact with them. We had heard about the many elephant orphanages in Sri Lanka that offer a more circus like experience where you see tamed elephants up close and children are able to ride them. After doing  a little more research we discovered that many of the elephants that end up in these orphanages are “broken in spirit” to be tamed enough to ride and do tricks.

So we can unanimously say that it was a huge success and we would definitely do it again, it turned out to be one of the highlights of our trip to Sri Lanka and we achieved our goal of showing our children elephants in the wild.

Top Tips for Wild life Safaris with young Children.

  1. Choose a short morning safari and ask you guide to be flexible with the timings if you may need to finish early.
  2. If traveling with children under 1 year old use a sling or child carrier in the jeep as it can get quite bumpy so eases the holding them tightly on your lap.
  3. The safari jeeps are not allowed to go off the dirt tracks, so make sure your cameras have good zoom lens to ensure getting some good close ups.
  4. Take snacks and water for the children.
  5. Make sure everyone has mosquito repellent on and preferably a long sleeve shirt and trousers.
  6. Make sure the children don’t put the arms and legs outside the jeep, as some tracks were very overgrown with brambles and branches brushing and coming inside the open sides of the jeep.

Our Jeep safari was provided free of charge for purpose of reviewing Ayu in the wild safaris who offer complete bespoke experiential tours and personally crafted immersive travel experiences in Sri Lanka. I would highly recommend Ayu in the Wild for booking your safari tours in Sri Lanka, they were extremely attentive to the children’s needs and made numerous suggestions to ensure the trip went smoothly. 

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