If there is one thing aside tea people think of when talking about Sri Lanka, it’s definitely elephants. Ever since, Sri always wanted to see elephants up close. While we were living in the Maldives, we made a few trips to Sri Lanka and had the pleasure to see Sri Lankan elephant in their natural habitat. It was phenomenal!

Sri Lankan elephants are among the three recognized subspecies of elephants in Asia and can reach a height of 2m-3m with a weight of 3000-5000kg. About 4500-5000 elephants can be found all over Sri Lanka and are mainly spread in the lowlands of the south, northwest and north-central plateaus of the country. The elephants have no direct predators, but it has been witnessed that tigers tend to hunt smaller elephants. Sri Lanka is also known to have the largest density of elephants in Asia.

1. The Gathering

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Photo by Michael Shehan Obeysekera

The Gathering is a magnificent event where each year literally hundreds of elephants gather around the shores of a reservoir at the Minneriya National Park, an amazing jungle stretch in north central Sri Lanka. During the dry months from July to October, 300+ elephants arrive in different herds to drink water from the man-made reservoir when it has dried up in other places and thus, keeps the elephants always returning back. The water brings also other benefits for the elephants along: the irrigation causes plants and grass to be greener and therefore fresher and tastier than in other places. The spectacle comes to life when the sun sets with the elephants starting to drink, eat and play. It’s by far the largest meeting of elephants anywhere in Asia and watching the Gathering is probably one of the most spectacular yet beautiful natural phenomena you will ever come across. Olanka Travels is one of the leading tour experts in Sri Lanka and offers various trips where you can also experience elephants up close. Tour packages range from 3-days to 12-days and cover the best sites of Sri Lanka; from the tea plantations of Kandy over the scenic beaches on the east coast to the colonial city of Galle. They also offer further services including flight ticket arrangements and visa assistance.

Where: north central Sri Lanka.  When: August – September

2. Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage

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The Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage is among Sri Lanka’s most popular places to watch these gentle beasts. With almost 80 elephants, Pinnawala is having currently the largest herd of captured elephants anywhere in the world. It opened in 1975 as a refuge for orphaned young elephants and later as well for injured and sick individuals of all sizes. The sanctuary conducts also successful captive breeding with a number of elephants. Unlike other places, the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage does not provide the option to ride or feed the elephants as most will return to the wild with the exception of a handful very sick ones. A team of around 50 caretakers helps to feed, bathe and assist the elephants in any possible way. Numerous restaurants and cafes are situated along the spot where the elephants bathe.

Where: about 90km from Colombo, towards Kandy When: year-round

-> Need more reasons to travel to Sri Lanka? Check these stunning photos!

3. Kandy Esala Perahera – The Spectacular Elephant Parade

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Photo by StretchyBill

The Esala Perahera is one of the oldest and most celebrated Buddhist festivals in Sri Lanka and commemorates Buddha’s first teaching after he attained enlightened. Imagine dancers, acrobats, jugglers, fire-breathers and dozens of beautiful decorated elephants parading through the streets of Kandy for 10 consecutive nights. The event is held to honour the Sacred Tooth Relic, which is carried on the largest elephant, the ”Maligawa Tusker”, around the streets of Kandy. This particular elephant is very easy to spot as it’s not only the largest but has as well long white tusks and is lavishly decorated. The relic is usually housed at the Sri Dalada Maligawa or ‘Temple of the Tooth’ and is one of the few remaining relics of Lord Buddha.

Where: Kandy When: every July or August, according to the lunar calendar

4. Elephant Safari at Kaudulla National Park

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Photo by Shankar S.

If you can’t make it to the Gathering then paying a visit to Kaudulla National Park will be your answer! The park opened in 2002 and lies between the national parks of Minneriya and Wasgomuwa where it serves as another corridor for elephants walking towards Minneriya for the Gathering. The Kaudulla National Park is one of Sri Lanka’s best places to spot elephants in their natural habitat with numbers peaking over 200 from August to September. You’ll be driving with a jeep as close as possible to the elephants where you have the chance to watch them eating, bathing and playing. Furthermore, the park is home to a number of other wildlife species such as wild deer, monkeys, occasional leopards and Stickney bears.

Where: north central Sri Lanka When: year-round, recommendable from August to December.

5. Uda Walawe National Park

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With 250-500 elephants, the population of elephants at the Uda Walawe National Park is one of the highest at a single place in the country and also one of the best spots to watch wild elephants. The park is located in south Sri Lanka and lies on the boundary of the country’s wet and dry zones. Elephants here are especially attracted by the huge Uda Walawe Reservoir which serves as a place to drink and bathe for them. In addition, the national park is home to the Uda Walawe Elephant Transit Home, a place which looks after injured and orphaned elephants.

Where: Uva Province, south Sri Lanka

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