When I was planing my trip to Sri Lanka, first thing I googled for images and saw pictures of beautiful leopards. Wow… I have the chance to see a wild leopard in Sri Lanka? Where exactly? First hit: Yala National Park.
So I decided to add Yala National Park to my Sri Lanka itinerary.
In this blog post: About Yala National Park Which animals can you see in Yala Where to stay How to get to Yala National Park Safari Tour Costs My recommendation about Yala National Park Alternatives to Yala Warning What to pack for Safari in Yala National Park
About Yala National Park
Yala National Park is situated in the south-east of Sri Lanka, directly at the coast of Indian Ocean. The park has a protected area of nearly 130,000 hectares of land. Two of five blocks are opened to the public.
Which animals can you see in Yala
According the official website Yala is home to 44 varieties of mammal and 215 bird species. The most interesting animals to see are leopards, elephants, sloth bears, sambars, jackals, spotted dear, peacocks, and crocodiles.
I’ve seen only couple of elephants, water buffaloes, birds and peacocks. Admittedly, I have seen all those animals and even more just randomly outside the Yala National Park while travelling in Sri Lanka. The only real highlight for me was watching one elephant bathing.
I guess most of the animals left the public area of the park and chose the other three blocks of the park for more privacy. Good for them, actually 🙂
Where to stay
The town called Tissamaharama (Tissa) is the closest town to Yala National Park. It seems like the whole town has only one occupation which is “operating safari tours”. Here in the town or even at your hotel directly you can organise easily your safari tour to Yala National Park.
I stayed at My Village, which is a very stylish hotel with nicely decorated spacious rooms. Once you go through the main gate you feel like entering another world.
How to get to Yala National Park
Yala National Park is 21 km away from Tissa town. But your safari operator will pick you up from your hotel anyway, so you don’t need to worry about it.
If you’re coming from Hill Country, you can catch a bus from Ella to Wellawaya and change here for Tissa. If you’re coming from the west coast you can take a bus to Matara and change here.
Safari Tour Costs
We organised our safari tour at the hotel directly. We shared a 6 seat jeep with another couple. For two, we paid 10000 LKR (~68 USD) which includes one early morning game drive, the jeep, driver, guide and admission fee for the park. It is also common to tip the guide and driver. Together with the other couple we tipped 500 LKR for each.
My recommendation about Yala National Park
Honestly, I was quite disappointed about the safari in Yala. Maybe because I already had an awesome Safari experience in Kenya.
The chances to see a leopard are 50% and I belong to the unlucky part of the statistics. But, my disappointment is not because I was not lucky enough to see a leopard (haven’t seen it in Kenya either), but also because of the poor wild life in general. All the animals I’ve seen in Yala, I also saw outside the Yala National Park, just randomly on the roads. Yes, even an elephant.
Besides, it was actually quite disturbing to see how fast the jeeps had been driving around after they got the signal that the other groups spotted leopards. I had the feeling the number of jeeps and humans in the park was way higher than the animal population.
Alternatives to Yala
Wilpattu National Park is the largest park of Sri Lanka and there is also a small chance to see leopards.
If you want to see herds of elephants then you should go to Uda Walawe National Park or Minneriya National Park.
The Yala National Park closes down during September due to mating season. It usually opens again in October, but this depends on the decision of the Wildlife Department. Sometimes they extend the time till mid-end October. So if you plan to visit the park around that time you better check on the official website of Yala National Park.
What to pack for Safari in Yala National Park
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For more insights from real pros I recommend Lonely Planet's Travel Guide for Sri Lanka. For price worthy accommodation check Booking.com or Agoda.com.
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