Minneriya National Park: The Place to See Sri Lanka Elephants

Complete Travel Guide to Minneriya National Park

To put it simply, Minneriya National Park is one of the top places to safari in Sri Lanka, and was certainly a glowing highlight of my time across this amazing island.

Although I’ve travelled in Africa a lot, and enjoyed many a safari there, this was my first experience of an Asian safari and, to be honest, I was little worried it just might not compare!

I was also a little worried I might fall asleep!

Because, being only my second day in Sri Lanka, after flying straight from the UK direct with Sri Lanka Air, and coming off the back of 2 other work trips, let’s just say I was more than a little jet-lagged!

But thankfully I can firmly attest to the fact I neither fell asleep or felt remotely disappointed at Minneriya National Park!

Because what I vividly recalled, pretty much as soon as I got into the safari vehicle, was that seeing animals in the wild on a safari is just about one of the best travel experiences you can have… anywhere in the world!

And even though I’ve seen elephants in multiple countries already – from South Africa to Kenya, Botswana to Namibia, Uganda to Tanzania – seeing these incredible grey giants up close is still one of the most amazing sights on earth as far as I’m concerned!

Yes, if you want to immediately reduce me to the state of “excited shrieking child”, then one sure-fire way to achieve this is get me out on an elephant safari…especially if there’s some babies kicking around!

And thankfully (if you’re buying into my perspective rather than that of the unfortunate souls I had to share the safari vehicle with) my time on Minneriya National Park was no exception.

So if you want to experience of the best safari experiences in Asia and get to see a huge number of Sri Lanka elephants up close and personal in the wild, this guide is for you…

Sri Lanka, Minneriya, Elephant


Related Posts

This page contains affiliate links meaning Big World Small Pockets may receive a small commission on any purchases at no extra cost to you.


Why Visit Minneriya National Park?

Sri Lanka, Minneriya National Park, Elephant Drinking

Minneriya National Park is undoubtedly one of the top safari destinations in Sri Lanka.

Most famous for its massive elephant population, huge numbers of these grey, gentle giants gather near the park’s central lake in a magnificent wildlife spectacle known, very fittingly, as the Elephant Gathering.

Actually voted one of the world’s top natural phenomena by National Geographic, if you’ve never seen elephants before, then this has to be the most amazing way to get up close and personal with them for the first time.

And even if you have seen elephants before comme-moi, you’ll still won’t want to miss this incredible sight in Sri Lanka rumoured, as it is, to be the largest gathering of wild elephants in the world.


But the wildlife doesn’t just stop with elephants in Minneriya.

This park also boasts large populations of monkeys (think bear monkeys, macak monkeys and greylander monkeys), tropical birds (including storks, eagles and pelicans), as well as an inordinate number of butterfly and reptiles species, like crocodile and monitor lizards.

Add to this the fact that I also saw water buffalo, mongoose and jackals during my time here and you’ve got yourself a veritable safari party!

So if you’re looking for a great Sri Lanka safari that boasts excellent wildlife spotting opps, is easily accessible, has good infrastructure and a large number other top attractions nearby, then Minneriya National Park has to be on your Sri Lanka itinerary.


Where is Minneriya National Park?

Sri Lanka, Minneriya, National Park, Trees

But first things first, if you want to add Minneriya to your Sri Lanka itinerary, you first need to know where it is!

As I’ve just alluded to above, one of the great things about visiting Minneriya is how accessible it is.

Located very near to the Cultural Triangle in Sri Lanka’s northern central area, there’s good road connections to the park and lots of accommodation and services around too.

The nearest city is Habarana, which is small, but has everything you need. It’s about 180km from Colombo, so takes around 3-4 hours to drive to.

Minneriya National Park is also very near to some other key attractions in Sri Lanka including Sigiriya (also known as the Lion’s Rock) and Dambulla Golden Cave Temple.

This means a safari here is great activity that can easily be combined with some of Sri Lanka’s other top sights, providing a delightfully diverse few days.


Best Time to Visit Minneriya?

Sri Lanka, Minneriya, National Park, Elephant Herd

Located in the central northern region of Sri Lanka, the wet season usually comes to Minneriya National Park between October and January.

I’d suggest avoid these months for your Sri Lanka elephant safari here, because the vegetation grows very high making wildlife difficult to spot.

Instead, the best months to visit Minneriya are between June and September, when the weather is drier, the vegetation lower and the number of elephants more plentiful!

I visited Minneriya National Park in late May and it was dry, with lovely blue sky days and good visibility.

I also saw a great number of elephants, including a 3-4 week baby!

I’ve heard you can see even more elephants during the months of July and August, so would suggest these as the best overall months to visit this national park if you can.

For more info about when to visit Sri Lanka more generally, check out this article I wrote.


Who Should Visit Minneriya National Park?

Sri Lanka, Minneriya Safari, Elephants

  • Elephant Fans!
  • Families
  • Safari newbies!
  • Cultural Travellers (because there’s so many top Sri Lankan cultural attractions in the surrounding area, it makes sense to tie a Minneriya safari in!)




6 Useful Things to Know About Minneriya National Park

Sri Lanka, Minneriya National Park, Entrance

#1 Minneriya National Park is open 6am – 6:30pm, 7 days a week.

#2 Tickets cost around $13 USD per adult and can be paid using cash or card at the entrance gate.

#3 You need to rent a jeep with a driver / guide to enter the park – unaccompanied visits or self-drives are not possible here.

#4 Most Minneriya safaris are half day excursions lasting around 3 hours, either in the early morning or late afternoon.

#5 Minneriya National Park became a wildlife sanctuary in 1938 thanks to its large elephants and monkeys populations, as well as its impressive number of butterfly, reptile and bird species. It was finally declared a national park in 1997 and remains one of Sri Lanka’s most significant bird areas.

#6 The elephants in Minneriya move across a wildlife corridor that stretches to Kaudulla National Park. At certain times, there may be more elephants in Kaudulla, so do check with your safari tour provider. Most operators can take visitors to either park and often Kaudalla National Park can be a nice alternative safari, providing a quieter experience.


How to Get to Minneriya National Park?

Sri Lanka, Minneriya, National Park, Jeep Safari

If you’re coming from Colombo, then the drive to Minneriya is under 200km, so can usually be made in around 3-4 hours.

This explains why I was so jet-lagged when I took a safari here – I’d basically flown into Sri Lanka, spent 1 night in Negombo and the next day driven to Minneriya in the morning and then begun the safari in the afternoon!

Alternatively, if you want to save yourself some time, you can fly to Sigiriya Airport, which is just 24km from the park.

Once you’re in the area, safari tours usually begin either from your accommodation (because they include a pick-up service), form another hotel or tour company office or from the park’s entrance itself.

You can get a tuk-tuk or taxi to either of these second options from your hotel if required.

Just remember to clarify your meeting point with your safari guide.




How to Plan a Great Safari in Minneriya

Sri Lanka, Yala National Park, Me

So yes, planning your meeting point with your safari guide is definitely one of the basics you need to establish before your tours begins!

You also need to decide what time of day you’d like to safari, whether you’d like a group or private tour, and how long you’d like your safari to last for.

Of course, you can decide on any of these parameters as you wish, but I’d highly recommend an afternoon safari in Minneriya, as I believe you are likely to see more elephants during this time.

I also think a 3 hour safari here is enough and I wouldn’t recommend anything longer than that.

3 hours will give you plenty of time to drive in the park, spot wildlife and see the elephant gathering.

(And quite frankly, given the humidity, you’re likely to just want a beer and swim by this point!)

Whether you opt for a group or private safari tour, will depend on your budget but honestly, I think sharing safari vehicles with more people is really fun, because you get to experience the joys of it with others.

Sharing a safari tour is also likely to be cheaper and, if all tour-takers are staying in the same place, then you can probably swing a free hotel pick up too!

Usually safari vehicles for Minneriya take around 6-8 people.

If you can’t get a free hotel pick up – especially likely if you’re hotel is quite far away from Minneriya (such as near Sigiriya, rather than Habarana), then the best idea is to take a tuk-tuk or taxi to the tour office HQ or nearby a hotel. Here you can meet your driver.

Alternatively, if you’re travelling alone and can’t find others to join you for a Sri Lanka elephant safari, you can also just get a ride to the Minneriya National Park entrance and hope to meet other travellers there.

This is best done in the morning, when drivers and vehicles collect at the entrance waiting for people without booked safaris to just turn up.

A great way to snap up a bargain, as long as you’re flexible and travelling in high season, you should find others either willing to join you in a vehicle, or have you join theirs.

Booking in advance is the best way to guarantee your safari experience in Minneriya and I recommend this great option.

If you’d rather go direct through a local provider who works out of Habarana Village, then get in touch with driver Thene on +94 77 994 5322. His English is not perfect, but you’re likely to get a good deal.


Costs and Inclusions

Sri Lanka, Minneriya National Park, Elephant in Trees

So now is probably a good idea to talk about what is included in your Minneriya National park safari and what is not.

First up, you’ll need to check if the park entrance fee is included in your safari tour.

If not, you need to pay for this separately and carry cash or card to do so.

You’ll also need to pay for your tour, which will include the vehicle, the driver / guide, both of their park entry fees and the fuel.

Remember to factor in whether your tour includes a complimentary hotel pick up / drop off, or whether you need to pay for transport to either the park entrance or other driver meeting place.

Don’t also forget some cash for the driver’s tip at the end of your tour, as well as any snacks or drinks you’ll want afterwards.


What to Expect from Minneriya Elephant Gathering

Sri Lanka, Minneriya, National Park, Elephants at Lake

It’s likely your Minneriya safari experience will be very well organised.

You jeep will be a 4×4 vehicle with open sides and likely a roof that pops off – this will give you a great view of the animals and allow you take photos or stand up for a better view too.

The national park is well laid out with clear, set tracks and drivers must follow them.

Your driver will also likely know the park very well and won’t need a spotter to track the elephants.

Drivers are all certified and aware of the ethical issues connected with not approaching the elephants too closely.

When I was there, while there were quite a few jeeps, everyone kept their distance and the elephants were relaxed and unfazed.

There was no wild chasing of the animals, no unnecessary engine idling and there was ample space for the elephants to retreat or withdraw if needed.

Not they needed to, in fact the elephants seemed quite happy to amble slowly past us at fairly close range.


Sri Lanka Elephants

Sri Lanka, Minneriya National Park, Elephant in Water

The Elephant Gathering really is the main reason to visit Minneriya National Park.

Of course the elephants here are Asian elephants and at the height of the season over 300 of them gather in this one place.

This is not a migration, but an annual coming together of these amazing animals, who congregate to enjoy the sweet water of the Minneriya lake  – a manmade body of water created in the 5th century for the irrigation of the nearby padi fields.

Once here, the elephants drink, eat, splash around and build social connections.

The afternoon is the best time to see them, so I recommend heading out for a game drive after lunch to heighten your chances of seeing huge herds of these amazing animals splashing, slurping, spraying and socialising.

When I visited Minneriya, there were quite a few jeeps gathered around, but all kept their respectful distance and everyone got great views of the elephants, including of a couple of babies – one of which was just 3-4 weeks old and closely shadowed mum!

There was even the chance to grab a elefie, aka an elephant selfie!


What to Wear for a Minneriya Safari?

Sri Lanka, Minneriya, National Park, Elephant with Tusks

Loose comfortable clothing in neutral colours is the best option for your Minneriya safari experience to keep cool, covered from the sun and to blend in with the surroundings.

A scarf or buff can be useful to drape over shoulders, neck and mouth too.

Don’t forget a hat to protect yourself from the sun, sunscreen and water, as well as sunglasses and your camera.

It’s usually fine to wear sandals on your feet, as you are unlikely to leave the safari vehicle.

For more info about what to pack and wear for your Sri Lanka travels in general, check out this article I wrote, which includes a full item checklist.


Where to Stay Near Minneriya National Park?

Sri Lanka, Pool, Me


If you want to stay in the city closest to Minneriya National park, it’s hard to get better than the amazing Habarna Village by Cinammon


Otherwise, I highly recommend staying near Sigiriya, especially if you plan to visit this attraction and others in Sri Lanka’s cultural triangle such as the Dambulla Golden Cave Temple.

From here to Minneriya National Park it’s only a 30 minute journey.

If you do stay near Sigiriya, then I really enjoyed the beautiful Aliya Resort & Spa – the pool here is incredible!

For more luxury stays in Sri Lanka, check out my list of 9 top 5* hotels across this island.


Get Your FREE Checklist Now!

Just enter your details below and I'll email it you - simple!

Information will be sent to the email provided above


Top Travel Tips for Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka, Galle, Tuk Tuk


How to Get to Sri Lanka

Flights from across the world arrive at Sri Lanka’s main airport – Bandaranaike International Airport (CMB) – which is 30km north of the capital Colombo.

Instead of heading straight to the city however, I recommend spending your first night or 2 at the more relaxed coastal spot of Negombo to acclimatise to both the culture and humidity here.

As always, I use Skyscanner to book my flight tickets and Agoda to book my accommodation.


Top Sri Lanka Tours

If you’d rather not travel Sri Lanka independently, these top Sri Lanka tours are a great way to experience an adventure here with others.


Travel Insurance for Sri Lanka

World Nomads offers simple and flexible travel insurance. Buy at home or while travelling and claim online from anywhere in the world.

Alternatively, if you’re a long-term traveller, digital nomad or frequent remote worker seeking travel health cover, check out Safetywing’s Nomad Insurance policies.


Travel Money in Sri Lanka

The easy way to spend abroad with real exchange rates, no markups and no sneaky transaction fees, you can use your Wise card just like a debit card in Sri Lanka… and it links easily with Google and Apple pay. Get yours here.




And there you have it, my full guide to visiting Minneriya National Park.

Jampacked with all you need to know about planning your perfect visit, as well as when to go, how to get there and where to stay, it’s the only guide you need to see the amazing elephant gathering

Have you visited Minneriya National Park before?

Have any tips to share with fellow travellers?

Then please drop them into the comments box below…


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.