How To Find Wild Elephants Near Arugam Bay

Want to find wild Elephants near Arugam Bay, but not sure where to start? Welcome to our guide full of practical tips and insider information to make sure you find them.

It had been a fun day. We were up at first light, whipping around the dirt roads and farmlands to the south of Arugam Bay, on the hunt to spot an Elephant. Our adventures had taken us to many unnamed deserted beaches, to hidden lagoons, to the edges of the jungles and past fields framed with palm trees. We’d come across Buffalo, Monkeys, even Crocodiles, but still no Elephants to be found.  

As the day progressed, it seemed our luck was running out and with the sun descending and darkness coming soon, it was definitely time to head home. We bounced around back up the dirt tracks giggling as I tried not to bin the bike. And as we got onto the main road, the wind whipping through our hair it was like the gods had been listening to our prayers. There, in one of the many fields near Elephant Rock was a giant male bull with two huge tusks throwing dust on its back, our luck had come in.

A traveler in a motorbike helmet watches an Elephant with tusks on the edge of the forest near Arugam Bay

We’d seen Elephants many times before on safari in Yala National Park and Udawalawe, but this encounter was something different. It was just us on the side of the road sharing a personal moment with this majestic creature. Over the next 30 minutes we watched it snap branches off the trees and stomp around the field with many travelers stopping to watch him do his thing. It was a special moment and one we’ll remember forever.

There are many places where you can find Elephants in Sri Lanka, but if you’ve ever spoken to someone about Arugam Bay, you’ve most likely heard tales of them roaming around everywhere. It’s easy to believe you’ll see them walking down the beach, causing traffic jams or drinking out of your pool. Drinking out of the pool is probably a bit of a stretch, but Arugam Bay is one of the unique locations in Sri Lanka where you can find Elephants on your own by just exploring the local area, and we highly suggest you do. 

Unfortunately, sometimes, you have to actually find them and it won’t be so easy, and although the searching is an adventure on its own, here’s all the information you need to make it a little easier and guarantee you will find one.

A happy Elephant eating from the trees in Arugam Bay

What kind of Elephants can you spot

There is only one type of these majestic animals in the whole country and that is the Sri Lankan Elephant. These beauties can weigh up to 5,000kg and they’re the biggest of all the Asian Elephants. There is something so special about watching them gracefully go about their business, throwing dust on their backs, picking branches off the trees and plodding down the road.

Sri Lankan Elephants are super social and often found in groups. If you visit Yala National Park or Udawalawe you’ll come across family after family chilling out together. In Arugam Bay, the Elephants tend to be more solo warriors so you’ll likely only come across one or two on your adventures. But here, there are so many males with big tusks hanging around the forests and bushes near the town which makes it such an unbelievable experience to see.

Giant wild Sri Lankan Elephant with tusks in a field near Arugam Bay

Where to find wild Elephants

Arugam bay has a diverse ecosystem of dense jungles, expansive grasslands, wetlands, coastal areas, and farmlands. Combined with smaller towns and less road traffic the area is teeming with Elephants and it’s perfect to explore to try and find them. Whether you want to go on an organised safari with a guide or try and find them yourself, you’ve got a great chance of coming across an Elephant in Arugam Bay.

Kumana National Park Safari

Kumana National Park has 30 – 40 resident Elephants living within the park among many Buffalo, Crocodiles, Monkeys, Deer, Boar and some elusive Leopards. The Elephants are often found using the dirt access roads to move around the park or drinking in some of the many lagoons, if you visit on a morning or evening safari, you have a good chance of coming across one.

A jeep in Kumana National Park

The park is about 45 minutes south of Arugam Bay and it’s easy to get to with safari’s running in the morning at 5.30am or the afternoon at 3.30pm, and priced around $100 per vehicle for a half day if you get a good deal. This park is definitely one of the most underrated in Sri Lanka and it has a real feeling of going into the wilderness with hardly any other jeeps and just you and the wildlife.

We had a great morning safari at Kumana and we think it’s one of the top things to do in Arugam Bay. The entrance was amazing with Monkeys swinging from the telephone lines, chasing Giant Squirrels and grasping onto their newborns as they tried to steal a few snacks out of our backpacks. Boars were charging at each other, bumping and playing in the morning sunlight, maybe doing something a little cheekier as well. And we spotted so many Deer, Buffalo, Crocodiles and Eagles around the park. 

But, because it’s so big, you’re not guaranteed to see Elephants on every trip and we didn’t either. So we only suggest coming here if you want to see general wildlife with a good chance to spot some Elephants.

Best place to book: $100 per vehicle, bargain. Book now

Great for:

  • Seeing Elephants: 3⭐ – There are many in the park but it’s big and expansive so it’s not guaranteed you’ll see one, you’ll need to get lucky.
  • Seeing other wildlife: 5⭐– There is so much wildlife to see here and a great chance to see Leopards too!
  • As a day out: 4⭐– A half day trip is fun where you’ll get the opportunity to see the really wild parts of Arugam Bay south of the town and bounce around in a jeep.

Read more: Kumana National Park, should you visit?

Lahugala Kitulana National Park Safari

Lahugala Kitulana National Park is one of the smallest parks in Sri Lanka but it’s perfect for finding Elephants. The park contains multiple reservoirs where a special type of grass grows that the Elephants love to eat and so a herd of 100-150 of them call Lahugala home. This is one of the only places in Arugam Bay you’re likely to spot them as families, so it’s a great place if you want to see some babies too!

A baby Elephant on it's own in Lahugala Kitulana National Park at sunrise

The park is accessible for morning safaris at 6am or afternoon excursions at 4pm, with a safari typically costing $80 per vehicle and being relatively quick at only a 3 hour round trip. It’s perfect for switching up one of those lazy afternoons for a little adventure.

There is the opportunity to see other animals, especially Birds and Crocodiles, but because the park is so small, it’s definitely not the most biodiverse. So we only recommend visiting Lahugala if you’re desperate to find some Elephants, it’s definitely the easiest place to find them.

Great for:

  • Seeing Elephants: 5⭐ – With around 150 resident Elephants usually around the lagoon, this is one the best places to find them in Arugam Bay.
  • Seeing other wildlife: 3⭐– Alongside Elephants, you may encounter Deer, Birds, and Crocodiles, but because the park is small the focus here is primarily on the Elephants.
  • As a day out: 3⭐– The safari is quick and you’ve got a great chance to see Elephants, but there’s not much else going on.

Best place to book: viator from $55 per person

Pottuvil Lagoon Safari

Pottuvil Lagoon offers a different experience altogether for those looking to encounter Elephants near Arugam Bay. Unlike the national parks, this natural lagoon provides an opportunity to see them by boat, well not really a boat, more of a kind of makeshift raft floating boat tub thingy. Here the locals will take you for a two hour ride around the mangroves where many Elephants often cool off and go for a drink.

The lagoon can be explored via a boat safari that typically runs in the early mornings at 6 am or late afternoons at 3.30 pm and costs around $30 per ride. On the safari you’ll get the opportunity to see many Birds and potentially a Crocodile but not much else. If you’re looking for something a little different to do or a cheap option then this is a good way to find Elephants.

Great for:

  • Seeing Elephants: 4⭐ – There’s still a chance the Elephants decide to take the day off but there’s a good chance to see them here in the mornings and evenings.
  • Seeing other wildlife: 3⭐– The lagoon has a very similar environment to Lahugala, expect to see some Crocodiles and a lot of Birds, maybe a few monkeys if you’re lucky. 
  • As a day out: 3⭐– The trip is short and you get to see some great wildlife, don’t expect anything amazing though.

Self-guided Safari

Our absolute favourite way to find Elephants in Arugam Bay is to get off the beaten path and go find them yourself. No guide, no tours, just you on a motorbike on a little adventure. 

A man riding around on a motorbike to find Elephants Arugam Bay

The roads can be rough so you’ll need to be comfortable on a bike and you’ll need to do some searching, but the rewards are unforgettable. Just imagine stumbling upon a solitary Elephant enjoying a bath, or a big bull grazing quietly as the sun sets. The sense of discovery and the connection to nature is unbeatable.

A bike costs about $5-6 a day to rent so this is easily the cheapest way to find them, and you can rent a bike for multiple days and combine the searching with other adventures to make sure you see them. We combined our Elephant searching with an exploration of the secret beaches near Panama as well as many lagoons and Crocodile filled rivers. It was one of the most memorable days of our trip.

Great for:

  • Seeing Elephants: 3⭐ – You do need to go find them, and you’ll need quite a bit of luck, so this is the most difficult way to see them..
  • Seeing other wildlife: 2⭐– If you go explore on your own you have a great chance of coming across Crocodiles, Buffalo and many birds.
  • As a day out: 5⭐– Is there anything better than ripping around on some scooters and exploring the backcountry, it’s an amazing day if you go for it.

Where to search for Elephants

The best place to find Elephants in Arugam bay is around lagoons, rivers or watering holes where the Elephants want to cool off. Or near vegetation and forest edges where Elephants will eat in the early morning or evening. If you take out a bike you’ll commonly find them around these locations:

  • Crocodile Rock – there’s a giant lagoon here where Elephants regularly bathe. Best to park up at the end of Arugam Bay and hike to the top of the rock.
  • The road near Elephant Rock – many Elephants like to feed on the edge of the forest near here every evening, if you do a few laps up and down the road from the farms to Peanut Farm and back you’ll likely come across one.
  • Panakala Wewa – this watering hole just south of Panama is really close to Kumana and many Elephants frequent it regularly.
  • Raddela Tank – Another watering hole really into the jungle, you’ll have to follow some long dirt roads so be careful.
  • The road to Kumana National Park – the road from Panana to Kumana is 10km of small lagoons and patchy forest, this is one of the best places to search and find an Elephant.
  • Pottuvil Lagoon – if you want somewhere close to town this is a great place to come, you can park up near whisky point for easy access.
A male bull elephant looks at a wooden shack near Arugam Bay

Best time to spot Elephants

Time of day

The early mornings (between 6 am and 9 am) and late afternoons to early evenings (between 3:30 pm and 6:30 pm) are the best times to find Elephants. During these cooler parts of the day, Elephants are often more active, foraging for food, heading to watering holes, and socialising.

You should avoid trying to find them in the midday sun, Elephants tend to hide and find shade, and Arugam Bay is really hot. Best for you to chill and go for a swim or have a beer instead.

Time of year

If you’re timing your visit to maximise your chances to find Elephants then coming deep into the dry season will give you the best chance. When water sources start to dry up, Elephants tend to concentrate around remaining waterholes, making them much easier to find. August and September are the best months to come when it will be the driest, with June and July being good months too.

A happy elephant standing on the side of a dirt road near Arugam Bay in the early morning sunlight

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