This was by far my longest day in Sri Lanka! I was keen to leave Ella and was headed for Galle but I ended up meeting James from California on the bus, went with him to do an elephant safari at Uda Walawe national park, spent longer than expected on 5 different buses to get to Unawatuna to then find we couldn’t yet check in. We were pretty far from the tourist strip but we were STARVING and so we headed out at 10pm with zero bearings to fill up at this unfriendly place that offered a Sri Lankan curry and rice for 350 rupees, PLUS we paid for a very overpriced papaya juice! It had been quite an eventful day with some wins, some losses. But I guess I enjoyed it for the most part and I’m grateful to have had some company on the road for a day at least.
Uda Walawe National Park
The elephant safaris and national parks in Sri lanka are one of the key tourist attractions but I wasn’t so much into it in the first place. But when James jumped on board the same bus as me and we hit it off, I decided to join him on his venture to Uda Walawe National park. It was on the way from Ella to Galle and I was spending the next 4 days doing nothing at the beaches anyway, so I thought why not fill my day with something if I can?
We had to change buses since the national park is off the main highway/road and we were immediately greeted by Vishwa, one of the Jeep Safari business owners, as soon as we hopped off the bus. He seemed like a good guy and owned his business, been doing Safaris for 6 years, so James negotiated a deal with him – 9200 rupees for two people including the Jeep and entrance fee for 2.5 hours. More than I would like to spend on an attraction but I was there and didn’t just want to sit out for two hours so I went with it.
Uda Walawe was located by what seemed to be a small inviting town and I quite liked the vibe. We had a bite to eat at a local place, just 250 rupees for rice and curry, and James humoured the man next store for his ‘very, very, very good papaya-mango juice’. It was cute how he waited to see James’ reaction to drinking the juice and then went to tell his wife the compliment he received ha-ha.
So we were off to the safari at 2pm. It was great to have the 8-person Jeep all to ourselves so we chucked all our luggage in the back and enjoyed the front two seats. We actually had to drive about 5 mins to the entry of the park but I didn’t mind at all! It was fun to sit on the back of an open truck, and nice to see views of the plains and mountains in the far distance.
I wasn’t expecting much of the Safari but also came out of it somewhat disappointed. We didn’t see much besides some birds, 20-30 elephants who all looked really skinny, and some water buffalos. The majority of the time involved the Jeep stopping for 5-10mins to observe wildlife but I got pretty bored since there wasn’t much action. The park was quite large and seemed to be dry bushland, open dirty plains and lacking water since it’s been a dry season. At one point we did get VERY close to a herd of elephants so that was a highlight.
Getting to Unawatuna
Man, we had been on our butts all days on the Jeep and buses but I was feeling EXHAUSTED. We had to change buses 2 times to get to Unawatuna and flag down a Tuk tuk to take us to Peritos hostel which was also a bit of a puzzle late at night. The owner, Josh, was actually out but thankfully two English girls were there to let us in and were so lovely to help us settle in. It was almost 10pm and we hadn’t eaten since 2pm so we were just keen to find some food.
Using a bit of night-time navigation, we wandered through a short cut the girls told us about and eventually found our way to the main road where we flagged down a tuk tuk to take us to the nearest restaurant. Everything was dark, and a lot of places were closed so the main tourist strip didn’t look like much at night time. I wasn’t keen to browse so many restaurants so we went with a buffet rice and curry place. I just had some rice with pumpkin and papadums since I couldn’t have the curries. They weren’t very friendly and the papaya shake turned out to be an expensive 250 rupees, two and a half times more expensive than what you’d normally pay! They had a wall in their restaurants that tourists signed, I just couldn’t agree with any of the comments screaming how awesome the food, staff and place was. But I guess it was the end of the day, maybe they were all just grumpy bums!