By Lisa on Apr 26, 2016 with Comments 0
I’m very pleased to announce that we did see wild elephants at Hurulu Eco Park in Sri Lanka!
We had been in Sri Lanka for a grand total of twenty hours and so far we had: stayed with a local family in Colombo, conquered Colombo Fort Station, travelled on a train through the lush Sri Lankan countryside, eaten spicy samosas in our first encounter with short eats, bartered with a tuk tuk driver and found somewhere to stay in Habarana.
Not bad going so far.
Now it was time to hopefully get lucky and see wild elephants at one of the nearby national parks…
Hurulu Eco Park
We didn’t exactly choose the smaller Hurulu Eco Park over Minneriya and Kaudulla, the other two national parks in the Habarana area; more that Hurulu Eco Park chose us!
You see, I had read that the best thing to do when you are in Habarana is to just ask the locals where the elephants are at the moment.
There is an elephant corridor connecting all three parks and the elephants move around between them. The locals will tell you where there have been more sightings.
I had also read that guesthouses can organise jeep tours to and in the parks. You can’t visit Hurulu Eco Park or the other two parks unless it is by jeep.
We had a chat with our friendly guesthouse owner who said that he could sort us out with a jeep (his brother – they always keep business in the family). It would come and pick us up and take us to whichever of the three parks we wanted to go. He said that both Minneriya and Kaudulla were flooded at the moment and that the elephants were mostly at Hurulu Eco Park. So that’s where we decided to go, of course.
That was a bit of a bonus because Hurulu Eco Park is right outside Habarana, less than a ten minute drive, and the entrance tickets are also cheaper than at the other two parks (costs at the bottom).
Our Experience at Hurulu Eco Park
Our jeep turned up at 2pm sharp as arranged and our driver leapt out to shake our hands and help us in.
What a rough and ready vehicle this was! We noticed as we pulled up to the park entrance that the other vehicles all seemed newer and shinier.
“They’re not real jeeps,” said our driver with a wink, like he knew what was coming. And sure enough, we were soon happy to be in this banged up old thing rather than in one of the newer looking trucks…
We set off into Hurulu Eco Park sticking to the well-worn but well bumpy tracks which were wide enough for one vehicle.
We had the open-top jeep all to ourselves so we could move around as we liked, standing up, sitting down, switching sides.
Our driver just went wherever he fancied and we figured that we’d either see elephants soon enough or we’d just continue enjoying the ride and the landscape.
We had been extremely lucky the previous winter to have seen the very rare wild Borneo pygmy elephant in Malaysia. Nothing could top that. So it wouldn’t be the end of the world if we didn’t see wild elephants here at Hurulu.
We were driving along and suddenly the driver slammed on the brakes and we jolted forward. “There,” he said, pointing.
How can a beast as big as an elephant be difficult to see through the trees just twenty metres away? Yet it took me a while! Finally I saw it.
It moved a bit but it hadn’t seen us.
Our driver started creeping the jeep slowly and carefully in its direction so that we could get a closer look. Out the corner of my eye I saw another movement. Another elephant. There were two! Oh, and then another! It was like I’d suddenly opened my eyes and there was a whole family of elephants.
It was like, you know when you see a monkey in a tree and then suddenly you realise that the trees are absolutely full of monkeys? It was like that. But with elephants. And they weren’t in the trees!
Another jeep appeared. Then another. Then suddenly there was a whole convoy of them. They were coming for a look at our elephants!
I noticed during the tour in general the elephants didn’t seem remotely bothered by the jeeps and for the most part ignored us, but this family of elephants started slowly and lazily moving away from us. Maybe they were a bit spooked.
I did make the mistake of asking our driver if an elephant had ever charged at him in Hurulu Eco Park. The way he said so casually “yeah” made it sound like “duh” or “obviously”. Will I ever learn not to ask these questions?
The driver, at seeing my shock hastened to add “yeah, but only hitting the jeep, not the people inside.” Oh, well doesn’t that make it a whole lot better?!
We watched as the elephants disappeared slowly from sight.
Our driver jumped down from the jeep and, setting off into the jungle, started following them on foot.
He was back a few minutes later and we wondered what he had been doing. He started up the engine and started to move forward. That’s forward in the direction of the elephants, forward in the direction of the overgrown jungle, not forward down the track.
We slowly lurched and plunged as we left the road completely and started driving through the undergrowth. The jeep was seriously put to the test and while I was white-knuckling it, Toni was standing up, grinning like a kid on a rollercoaster, ducking every now and then to avoid low hanging branches. Now we knew what the driver had been doing; checking the terrain to see if the jeep could go through. I would have come to the conclusion that it was impossible but he had other ideas.
We clung on as we slowly dipped and lurched over the uneven terrain, wondering at every moment if we would get stuck or tip over.
“Real safari today,” the driver said over his shoulder grinning. This led me to believe that they don’t normally come this way!
When I turned around I saw a whole convoy of other vehicles wobbling after us, their drivers looking worried. I think it was a macho thing; if one goes they all have to go.
When we came to a stop, we could indeed see the family of elephants happily grazing away and waving their trunks (at us? In mock salutation? As if to say “ha ha stupid humans, let’s see where we can make you go next!”).
We watched for a while, but this time when they progressed deeper into the thicket our drivers turned back, thankfully.
After a series of very tight three- and fifteen-point turns we were headed back out the way we came. We were now at the back of the line of vehicles.
But we couldn’t go back the way we came because there was a truck full of tourists stuck at the point where I had been afraid that we might have got stuck. Every time the driver of the truck tried to get out, the wheels spun mud all over the place and sank them a little deeper.
“You see,” said our driver, slightly pleased. “That’s not a jeep.”
So our convoy was going to have to go a different way, through a puddle the size of a muddy pond.
As I said, we were at the back.
The first jeep in our convoy went through. Just. I don’t know how it got through because it was spraying mud up everywhere and seemed to be sinking deeper. It did get out but made quite a mess of the puddle. Now it was worse.
The next vehicle went in, stopped, spun the wheels and we heard a pop! Instant puncture.
We then waited twenty minutes while the drivers changed the jeep’s wheel in the muddy pond. We were in the baking afternoon heat with jet lag so me and Toni did the logical thing while all this was happening – we slept!
Have you ever read about anyone going on a jeep safari and falling asleep? True story.
Then the tow rope was produced and the first jeep pulled the second jeep out of the mud with a lot of spluttering. Then the next jeep went in the mud and the one in front pulled it out.
Finally it was our turn.
I knew it would be fine because I’d just watched five other jeeps do it but you know when you are on the big dipper and you go ever so slowly up up up and then you are right at the top, balancing as you tip slowly slowly forward before all of a sudden, WHOOSH! You’re flying.
“Hold on tight,” said our driver.
The moment when we were about to launch ourselves into the mud was one of those slow motion moments where you’re balancing, slowly tipping…
And then plop! Our jeep was in the mud. Next moment we were getting hauled out and we were all free.
All except one.
The one that forced us to take this route in the first place was still stuck just across the way and one of our convoy had to pull them out too. Backwards. Then we were able to get out of there and back to the real track. And we all went our separate ways, just like that.
We enjoyed a bumpy ride through forest and clearings and just when we thought we wouldn’t see more elephants we came into a clearing and saw a group of more than twenty elephants, just lazily grazing in the grass.
What we also encountered were just as many jeeps all trying to get as close as possible. The elephants weren’t bothered in the least. They just haughtily ignored the jeeps, the pasty-looking tourists and the cameras.
Here we saw big ones, little ones and all shapes and sizes. Well, actually they were all the same shape now I think about it.
This was a great moment, everyone was calm, focusing on the elephants, occasionally cooing at the little ones’ antics.
Later we got ourselves stuck in a bit of serious forest on a fruitless wild goose – I mean wild elephant – chase and then it was time to head back to Habarana for a much needed shower.
Costs of Hurulu Eco Park and notes
If you visit Hurulu Eco Park, this is what you’ll pay. And there’s no bartering:
- Price for jeep including pick up from hotel and safari in Hurulu Eco Park: 3,000rs
- Admission fee per person for Hurulu Eco Park: 1,000rs
- Fee for vehicle entrance to Hurulu Eco Park: 750rs
- Total for 2 persons: 5,750rs
Not cheap at all. That’s why we only did one safari in Sri Lanka rather than visiting the more popular national parks in the south.
Note: the jeep will always cost 3,000rs. If they are trying to charge more, barter. It’s a widely accepted general price.
Note: According to Lucy Calder, a good guide is Pubudu Kumar.
Note: The only blog post I ever read about someone not seeing wild elephants on a safari in this area was by Eva Stone and she visited Minneriya in January (my visit was also in January).
Note: Both Minneriya and Kaudulla National Parks are more expensive than Hurulu Eco Park.
I would like to remind you that all the photos used on InMyShoesTravel.com are my own unless otherwise stated.
You can see my whole collection of Travel Photos here.
About the Author: Lisa, born and grew up in England, live in Mallorca, Spain... Have visited more than 20 countries, have twice as many to yet visit, love sharing experiences....