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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.