JUMBO PARADISE! Where Giants Roam Free

Sri Lanka’s Dry Zone is the domain of the endangered Sri Lankan elephant (Elephas maximus maximus), one of three recognised subspecies of the Asian elephant. Wild and free, they stroll through dry, evergreen forests and whispering grasslands that blanket the terrain, foraging and gathering in their hundreds at watering holes and reservoirs.

Popular jeep safaris will take you to places where you’ll come face-to-face with these magnificent beasts – that comprise agricultural land, reservoirs and heritage sites.

From ancient Buddhist monasteries to mega reservoirs, sprawling national parks and rock fortresses, the island’s Central Province is replete with interesting places to visit.


The Kaudulla National Park is home to the Kaudulla Wewa. And it’s at this national park that over 200 elephants gather between the months of August and December to drink from the life-giving waters of the Kaudulla Wewa.

Elephants come from as far as Kantale and cross the national park’s evergreen forest corridor on their journey to the Minneriya Tank to cool off during the dry season.

This area is a combination of tropical dry mixed evergreen forests, abandoned chena cultivations, grasslands and wetlands. It provides an ideal habitat for elephants and other mammals such as deer, leopard and bears, as well as the various aquatic birds that flock to the reservoir.

The Kaudulla Wewa, which is fringed by the national park, is one of Sri Lanka’s largest man-made reservoirs. Though this gigantic irrigation project from the 3rd century is attributed to the efforts of King Mahasena of Anuradhapura (a.k.a. Mahasen), legend has it that it was his sister Princess Bisobandara who created this architectural wonder.


Minneriya is the home of the great ‘Elephant Gathering’ and the migration that takes place here is believed to be the largest of its kind in Asia.

As the dry months between June and September set in, over 300 elephants gather around the Minneriya Tank, which lies within the Minneriya National Park.

This annual gathering, which delights nature and wildlife photographers and other enthusiasts, offers a great opportunity to observe how herds of elephants mingle as a united community. As the matriarchs look on, newborn calves toddle behind their mothers, and the young and restless jostle one another during this yearly get together.

The scrub plains and mixed evergreen forests, alongside rocky outcrops and wetlands in the park, are also home to other fauna.

If you’re lucky, you’ll catch a glimpse of Sri Lankan favourites such as leopard, sloth bears and endemic monkeys – for example, the toque macaque or purple-faced langur. There’s also a vivid mix of forest and aquatic birds… so you’ll have the best of both worlds!


The main tourist hotspot in the area with its quiet, unique village charm is Habarana. There are many other popular sites in close proximity to the town as well.

Not far from this township is the Hurulu Forest Reserve – another location where Sri Lankan elephants can be seen in abundance. This eco-park acts as a brief resting-place for elephants that are migrating to Minneriya. The tall grass and dense scrubland are home to leopard, rusty spotted cats, star tortoises, jungle fowls, parrots and hawks.

Another must-see is the twin reservoir complex, which comprises Kala Wewa and Balalu Wewa. This 5th century architectural marvel is found in the Kalawewa National Park, which is another gathering ground for many of Sri Lanka’s elephants.

Habarana also has on offer a unique tour that takes you through the quaint village of Hiriwaduna while passing umpteen plots of cultivation. This hamlet offers visitors a scenic boat ride on the lotus covered Hiriwaduna Lake and a chance to indulge in delicious locally prepared meals.

Compiled by Nicola Jayasundera

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