In case I haven’t made it obvious enough by now, I have a thing for animals. After chasing wildlife in Borneo and Thailand, I couldn’t resist squeezing in one last chance to see some more of these beauties in the wild.
After leaving Ella, we took a taxi a couple of hours south, to Uda Walawe National Park. Sri Lanka is home to quite a few wildlife National Parks, with Yala National Park being the most popular. We chose Uda Walawe over Yala for a few reasons, but the main one being the amount of tourism. We read that Yala gets so crowded, you often have dozens of jeeps crammed together, fighting for a spot as close as possible to the wildlife. We imagined this as being something that would be stressful for the animals and for us, so we opted out.
Another reason we chose Uda Walawe, is because it is home to a population of over 400 wild elephants, almost guaranteeing a glimpse of them. The park is 119 square miles, with a huge water reservoir spanning the interior of the park (and a favorite spot for elephant hangouts).
We went on two excursions at Uda Walawe: An evening and morning safari. Once we arrived and booked our safari, Al and I were beyond thrilled to walk out of our hotel room to see an open-air jeep waiting for us, completely empty. The lack of other visitors meant we had the jeep all to ourselves, our very own private safari.
The park itself had a magical, earthy feel to it. We entered in on a long bumpy red dirt road, with miles and miles of open grassland rolled out before us. With the sun burning a bright orange and hanging low in the sky, it almost felt like I was back in Africa again.
We were lucky enough to see dozens of wild elephants, water buffalo, jackals, crocodiles, and what felt like hundreds of different species of bird. We spent the entire four hours in silence, only speaking to point out a new sighting, or to pass the camera back and forth. We both left with a strong craving to go home and watch The Lion King (does anyone know when this comes out of the Disney vault?!)
After our time in Uda Walawe, we headed to Mirissa, a beach town at the very southern tip of Sri Lanka. Mirissia is well known in the Sri Lanka backpacking circle for its surf culture, but we were there for one reason: the whales.
The Indian ocean is warm, and apparently ideally located for whale migration. We read that you can see almost every type of whale from the shores of Mirissa. We chose Raja and the Whales as our tour company, because they are the most reputable and conservation focused whale-watching company in Sri Lanka.
We set out at 6:30am, coffee in hand and ready to see some whales. About 90 minutes in, things started getting rough. Really rough. We were warned about the rockiness of the Indian ocean by the crew and company several times prior to leaving (as well as when we booked our ticket). They strongly suggested sea sickness pills, but it seemed that nobody (myself included) chose to take them seriously.
Without being too graphic, I will just say that at this point in the journey, about half of the boat was unable to hold down the colorful fruit plate that was so generously given to us that morning, leading the second half of the boat to try as hard as possible to ignore what was happening all around us.
Sea sickness aside, all of it ceased to matter as soon as we saw the first explosive spout shooting out from the ocean. That day we saw 8 blue whales, the largest animal to ever live on the planet (as far as we know).
Pictures will do a much better job of illustrating our experience seeing these amazing animals, so we picked out our favorite shots from both the safari and the whale watching trip.
Also, a heads up that these are much easier viewed on a computer!