Chasing Elephants at Minneriya National Park

six elephants grazing in Minneriya National Park

Le hubby has not seen elephants outside of a zoo before so I wanted to make sure we could see these majestic creatures without having to support the places or establishments where elephants are chained and kept for tourists’ entertainment (I wasn’t so aware about this abuse on our first elephant encounter in Thailand in 2008). When I read that the Sri Lankan National Parks had elephant safaris, I checked first if they were humane because I had read about mishandling about these animals even in so-called elephant orphanages. Sri Lanka is actually far better than the Philippines when it comes to wildlife and environmental protection. There are 26 national parks in Sri Lanka covering 573,200 hectares, many of which are dedicated to wild animals like elephants.

herd of elephants walk across the open fields of Minneriya Park
Elephants roam free in Minneriya Park
elephant mother and baby grazing in Minneriya Park
An elephant and its baby (and a lovely peacock in the background)

Our hotel, Ekho Lake House, organized our afternoon at Minneriya National Park. But before we made a mad dash for the elephants, our guide and driver took us on a bird safari on the outskirts of the park. This was actually one of my favorite parts of our trip since we got to see the beauty of wild Sri Lanka – we got a glimpse of the locals doing about their business and observe birds in the wild (our guide was so good at spotting them). Of course, I wanted to see the wild crocodiles most of all, but perhaps that will be for another trip.

Couple in an open jeep on a safari in Minneriya Park
Excited to head out to the park
asphalt road in the middle of the jungle
Into the jungle
collage of swans in the water and a falcon on a branch in the jungles of Sri Lanka
Swans and falcons in the jungle
a collage of creatures in the jungle: monitor lizards and birds in the forests
Random creatures in the jungle
local Sri Lankans take a bath in the river heading towards Minneriya Park
Locals bathing in the river

Minneriya National Park is located in the north central province of Sri Lanka, near Polonnaruwa. The park encompasses a reservoir which was built in the third century AD. We went through a forest first before we arrived to a vast open field. Then we spotted the herds in the distance.

woman looking out of an open jeep headed into the heart of Minneriya Park
It was dusty and hot but I was totally excited
tourists head out to the open fields in Minneriya to look for elephants
Looking for elephants
herd of elephants gather around a drinking hole in Minneriya Park
A herd by the park’s water source
a family of elephants grazing in Minneriya Park
A family of elephants
an elephant with tusks walk across the fields of Minneriya Park
An elephant walks the fields in Minneriya Park
A couple of elephants fight in the fields of Minneriya Park.
Elephants fighting over grazing space
an elephant eating grass in Minneriya Park
A grazing elephant

There were hundreds (or perhaps thousands) of tourists in jeeps but the drivers were still careful about going close to the herds, especially when there were baby elephants. However, I think at some point we had gotten too close to the animals and it was a bit scary to see them run towards the crowd. Elephants are extremely large and powerful animals and since they were wild, there was no way to control their behavior, especially if the vehicles got too close.

tourists in open jeeps get their cameras out to take photos of elephants
Get your cameras ready, peeps!
tourists in open jeepneys look for elephants in the fields of Minneriya Park
Tons of tourists in jeeps
elephants and tourists get too close to each other
Tourists getting too close to the elephants
Herd of elephants roam across the park with tourists around them
Elephants walk past tourists in the park
a male elephant starts to the approach the tourists in the park
A bull approaches the jeep
herd of elephants passes between the line of tourists
Tourists give way too the herd
Man looks at the elephants from a distance
Best to view the creatures from a distance

The best part about the whole of Sri Lanka is that they really do let the elephants roam free. On our way back to our hotel from our safari, we saw an elephant on the edge of the lake. And the next day, we saw an elephant cross the highway on our way back to Colombo!

an elephant walks the banks of the Samudra Parakrama at sunset
We saw something in the distance driving back to our hotel.
an elephant wanders free by the ancient  reservoir in Polonnaruwa
An elephant wandering free in Polonnaruwa
collage of an elephant crossing the road in Polonnaruwa
Why did the elephant cross the road?

It was an amazing and fun experience to end our stay in beautiful Polonnaruwa. But before heading down to surf in Weligama, we had a quick pitstop at the Dambulla Cave Temple.

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