About Yala National Park
Yala is the second biggest national park in Sri Lanka. The park is divided into five zones. Only zones 1 and 5 are open to the public. The other zones are reserved for research and documentary shoots. This gives animals the liberty to remain in a natural habitat without the intrusion of humans.
Yala National Park is most popular as it gives a chance to sight the spectacular big cats of Sri Lanka – the elusive Leopard! Many travellers choose Yala out of the fifteen national parks in the country for the sheer longing to spot these majestic wild cats!
Best time to visit Yala
You can visit the park all year round. However, the dry season that runs from February to June is the most reliable time for animal sightings. During the monsoon season, animals go into shelter hence sightings are not possible. The park is generally closed in September every year for maintenance.
Do you need a Tour Guide for the safari?
Yes! There are no regulations that require you to go with a guide and many people only hire a driver. However, a guide has better knowledge and experience that will be useful to find the best spots around the park for sightings. If you are travelling with a tour company they will have in- house guides.
Where to stay in Yala
When you are on a wildlife safari always remain in the wild! You can cut down on travel time by staying in the allocated campsites bordering the national park.
Reputed companies such as Mahoora, Wild Trails and Leopard Trails provide luxury-tented camps that offer creature comforts for those who don’t believe in roughing it out. In other words ‘glamping‘ is a better option than conventional camping. You also find plenty of luxury and budget hotels around the park. If you plan to campout near the park you will get a firsthand experience of the wildlife and have the privilege of being the first in and last out of the park when on a safari drive.
You can indulge in luxury and fine comforts in exquisite hotels such as Jetwing Yala, Cinnamon Wild Yala, and Chena Huts Uga Escapes. You can expect five-star facilities and services at these hotels.
For budget-friendly accommodation, Tissamaharama has some good options such as Lake View Hotel, Blue Turtle Hotel, and Ekho Safari.
What to expect at a Yala Safari
There are two-time slots to enter the Yala National Park; the morning slot is at 6 am and again at 2 pm. For the morning safari, it’s best to be at the entrance by 5 am. When your jeep enters the park first, you will see animals getting up to the sound of the vehicle and that’s when the day begins in the wild!
Yala is home to a vivid collection of wild animals including mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and an array of birds. There are 44 species of mammals seen in the park and it’s a birdwatcher’s paradise!
As with any wildlife safari you cannot specify which animals can be seen. However, you have a chance of seeing elephants, monkeys, sloth bears, spotted deer, sambar deer, buffalo, wild boar, jackals, and of course leopards! Remember that Yala National Park has been recorded to have the highest densities of leopards in the world.
You can also look forward to seeing many species of birds such as peacocks, crested serpent eagles, pelicans, flamingo, as well as rare ones such as egrets, purple heron, oriental darter, and night herons. You can take specialised bird watching safaris where the guides will focus on spotting a variety of birds. Birders are going to love it here and you can capture some great clicks!
One of the most difficult sightings in Yala, are leopards. You will also notice that elephants are not so common here unlike in other national parks in Sri Lanka. There are close to 75 leopards in zone 1 and it is 140 square kilometers in size. So the ratio of sighting a leopard is 1:2. When you travel with a guide, they usually know certain spots where leopards hangout so that will be a huge advantage. But in the wild nothing is certain so keep your fingers crossed and hope for the best (or for a leopard!)
Duration to stay in Yala
To maximise the chance of seeing more animals you need to spend at least two days at the park. If you are not much of a wildlife lover then one safari drive is sufficient.
Tips for a Yala safari!
- If you plan on taking a Yala safari, invest in a good camera. It’s a unique experience and you will want to capture it
- Carry sunscreen, sunglasses and a hat
- Mosquito repellent will be handy especially if you are camping out
- A sweater will be useful during morning safaris since it’s cold before the sun is out
- Avoid drinking too much before you go on the safari. There are no toilets inside the park. Your only option is to stop and dash into the bushes
- Every safari experience is different so don’t keep your expectations too high. Staying two days will give you a better chance of more sightings
Adventure Lanka offer licensed guides on all their tours.