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Safari Tour at Minneriya National Park in Sri Lanka - Full Guide with Photos

Join us on an unforgettable safari adventure at Minneriya National Park, Sri Lanka. Get insider tips and recommendations which will help you to plan your own trip and see photos from our experience in this complete guide to Minneriya National Park.



Minneriya National Park is located in the northern part of Sri Lanka. It's well-known for its incredible wildlife spectacle, where during the dry months hundreds of elephants gather around the ancient water tank. Minneriya National Park is not only a place to witness large herds of elephants but also a prime location to observe their special natural behaviours. These behaviours are not only rare but also highly valued by researchers, wildlife enthusiasts, and photographers alike.


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How to get to Minneriya National Park

The closest international airport is Bandaranaike International Airport in Colombo. You can reach Minneriya National Park by taking a bus heading to Polonnaruwa / Batticaloa / Medirigiriya & Dehiaththakandiya, and then getting off at Minneriya National Park. This journey usually lasts around 5 hours. Alternatively, if you prefer to travel by train, you need to disembark at 'Habarana or Minneriya Train Station' and then take a taxi directly to the park.


The most convenient way to reach Minneriya National Park from Colombo is definitely with a private driver. This was the option we chose due to our limited time and heavy luggage. The drive can take between 4 to 5 hours, depending on traffic. Our driver was arranged by the safari tour operator, and it cost us $140 for the round trip from Colombo to Minneriya.



When's the best time to visit Minneriya National Park

The best time to visit Minneriya National Park is between July and October, coinciding with the dry season in the North Central & Eastern regions of Sri Lanka. This is especially true in August when, due to the drought, the elephants migrate to the main water tank in search of water and fresh grass, resulting in gatherings of even 300 to 400 elephants in one place.


Minneriya National Park The Largest Asian Elephant Gathering

Each year, during the dry season, large numbers of elephants gather on the grasslands of the lake at Minneriya, reaching as many as 400 (in 2017) at its peak, from August to September. This special event attracts millions of local and foreign tourists to the Park each year to witness this unique spectacle.


Since 2018, due to water releases from the Moragahakanda Reservoir, Minneriya has experienced fluctuating water levels. These changes have led to a decrease in elephant populations at 'The Gathering'. Previously, this event would attract 400 or more elephants, but now, it's reduced to scattered groups of barely 200, losing its former spectacle. This transformation is no longer unique to Sri Lanka; similar observations can be made in other Asian countries.



How to book Safari Tour at Minneriya National Park in Sri Lanka

Tour operators at Minneriya operate on a freelance basis. You can book a tour based on recommendations or online reviews from Google or TripAdvisor. We selected our tour from TripAdvisor with one of the most reputable operators, considering customer feedback. Safari vehicles are booked as a single reservation, meaning if you book with friends, the cost per person will be lower compared to booking as a couple or solo traveler. A reasonable price for a half-day tour is around $100. After negotiation, this is the amount we paid for a private car and driver for ourselves.



Our driver and guide, Kalum, has been organising tours to Minneriya National Park for over 15 years and possesses a great understanding of the behaviour and routines of the elephants in the national park. He suggested that we would have a better experience by having our tour in the morning when there are fewer cars and more private encounters with the elephants, rather than opting for the afternoon tour, which might have allow us to see more elephants but also a lot more cars, clearly spoiling our experience. We were skeptical about making this decision, but we chose to trust Kalum's expertise and experience. Right from the start, our guide took a different direction than all the other safari vehicles, resulting in us having private, close encounters with the elephants. Kalum did his best to position his vehicle in a way that allowed us to capture the best photo compositions throughout the whole tour, enabling us to take close-up photographs of Minneriya elephants.




Our Experience on Safari Tour at Minneriya National Park in Sri Lanka

Seeing wild animals in their natural environment is one of our favorite activities, and the safari trip in Minneriya National Park was no exception. During our 5-hour ride, we encountered many elephants, some alone and others in groups. We even had a few private moments when the elephants approached our car closely and there was no one else around. Moments like these always feel special. In addition to the elephants, we also spotted a few monkey species and eagles. Taking the safari tour at Minneriya National Park in Sri Lanka was definitely one of the highlights of our trip to Sri Lanka.


See our other articles about Sri Lanka

In April 2024, we spent a full month exploring all the natural and cultural sights of Sri Lanka. Staying for such a long time enabled us to gain a deeper understanding of local life and discover many popular as well as overlooked places that Sri Lanka has to offer. Check out our other articles about Sri Lanka and plan your own trip using all the tips and recommendations we've gathered on our blog.



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