Sri Lanka: Yala National Park
Most of our safaris had so far focused on the elephants but this one had another purpose – to try and find leopards
Yala National Park is a large wildlife conservation area found in the south-east of Sri Lanka bordering the beautiful Indian Ocean.
Divided into 5 blocks, the park has a protected area of nearly 130,000 hectares of land consisting of light forests, scrubs, grasslands, tanks and lagoons. Two blocks are currently opened to the public.
Yala was designated a wildlife sanctuary in 1900 and was designated a national park in 1938. Ironically, the park was initially used as a hunting ground for the elite under British rule. Yala is home to 44 varieties of mammal and 215 bird species. Among its more famous residents are the world’s biggest concentration of leopards, elephants, sloth bears, sambars, jackals, spotted dear, peacocks, and crocodiles.
When to visit
The best time to visit Yala is between February and July when the water levels of the park are lower, which brings the animals into the open. We visited around Christmas time in December towards the end of the rainy season and there was a lot of water around which kept the elephants at bay and also meant the leopards we holed up in the trees. That said we still had a wonderful time, and it was fun splashing through the puddles in our 4WD vehicle.
Getting into and around Yala
It is possible to enter the park with your own vehicle, but the roads are not paved and from our experience, they can be very bumpy and if it has been raining there could be some deep puddles. So, a 4WD vehicle is recommended.
Most of us visiting the park won’t have a handy 4WD vehicle so we will want to join one of the many safari drives that take place every day – they are plentiful but it is worth booking ahead.
If you book a safari tour they can arrange to be picked up from anywhere in the Tissamaharama area.
The costs of getting into Yala are:
Park Entry: Adult $15, Children $8
Safari Tours: 1/2 Day; $35 – Full Day; $60
Where to stay
Most people will stay in or around Tissamaharama where there are plenty of hotels to choose from.
If you want something a little different you can stay in the park at one of the bungalows or at one of the luxury campsite (this is glamping not roughing it!), an example of a campsite is Leopard Trails.
Another option is to try the Kumbuk River Eco-Resort and stay in one of their unique accommodations including the Elephant Villa which take up to 10 people. I am an addict of unusual places to stay so I will be trying this out next time!
The safari tours
We do love safari tours. For us, it is as much about the experience as it is about spotting wildlife. In India, we did 3 tiger safaris and did not see one tiger but we still loved it!
Our Yala safari was fun. A lot of time is spent meandering around the park looking at the more common beasts, such as water buffalo, antelopes, peacocks etc and then there will be a call and suddenly you are off on the trail of a rarer animal. Yala is also renown for its birdlife.
As there was a lot of water around we didn’t get to see any elephants who were off enjoying themselves in drier places – but we hadn’t come to Yala to see the elephants. The main draw to Yala is the leopards; there are believed to be 75 in zone one of the Park.
We joined a multitude of assorted jeeps and all-terrain vehicles in an area close to an inlet from the ocean – a beautiful spot – to watch a leopard who we resting up in the branches of a tree. The leopard was quite distant but it was nonetheless exciting to spot one of these in the wild as they tend to be quite bashful.
…. In summary
If you are in Sri Lanka you absolutely must do a Yala safari. As with all safaris be prepared to be out in the sun for several hours:
- Wear a hat
- Put on plenty of sunscreen (factor 30 and above)
- Take plenty of water
- Don’t forget your camera or phone!