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Sunday, May 19, 2013

Yala National Park

Yala National Park is located in the deep south of Sri Lanka. It is perhaps the most well known and spoken about National Park in Sri Lanka. Its fame stems from its most treasured inhabitant, the Leopard. Yala has the worlds highest density of wild Leopards, which makes it highly likely to see one.

My travels took me to Yala in Jan 2012, unfortunately for me I had just lost my camera, and had to rely greatly on my Nokia N8. That said a trip is not always about the photos its about the experience. It was the 3rd of Jan 2012, in the afternoon that I embarked on my safari.

Below are some highlights from Yala National Park.

Safari in Yala National Park - Southern Sri Lanka - Leopards - Safari Jeeps
Safari In Yala National Park


 Yala National Park Location

As I mentioned Yala is located in the deep south of Sri Lanka, and is on the south eastern coast boardering Kataragama, Tissa, Kirinda, Lunugamwehera National Park and Bundala National Park. The map below shows Yala national park and other attractions within a short distance of it.

Located around 300KM South East from the capital Colombo, it can be a days journey to get there.

View Yala National Park in a larger map

 How to get to Yala National Park

As mentioned previously Yala is located 300KM South East of Colombo. Getting there is a long journey specially as the majority of the trip will be along A Roads. There are currently no train services from Colombo to Yala or Kataragama.

Below are two means of getting from Colombo to Yala both are very long, but the journey will be worth it!

 Yala By Road

The journey from Colombo to Yala can take the most part of a day. For example, if you were to leave Colombo at around 6 AM you would expect to reach Yala around 3PM. This is mainly due to traffic conditions.

If you are new to Sri Lanka then it is advisable that you do not drive your self as not only can the long drive be exhausting but for those who are not familiar with the traffic and driving conditions as well as the road rules. Sri Lanka being an ex British Colony means driving is right hand side of the road and drivers seats are on the right.

If you were to take this option it is strongly advisable to get a driver, this can be arranged from Colombo or any major city. The usual cost for this can range from 35-45RS per KM. That includes the Fuel. The driver will take you on which ever route you prefer.

There are two ways to get to Yala from Colombo, one which is Via Galle, and the other which is Via Ratnapura and Uda Walawe National Park. The latter is the fastest route to get to Yala , it will include some mountain roads, and some breath taking scenery. The road conditions are rather good, as they have all been recently renovated. Below is a map of the two routes.

View Route to Yala National Park From Colombo in a larger map

Below are some shots of what you will see en route between Yala and Udawalawe.

However if you are up for the challenge of driving on the roads in Sri Lanka, while it can be very dangerous for fist timers, it can also be very exciting. In order to drive in Sri Lanka you will need a valid international drivers license. This can be obtained before you travel from the AA.

Having done both routes several times, I must stress the fact that doing it at night is not a great idea, the roads can be very narrow at points and very winding.

 Yala By Bus

There are intercity buses from Colombo Via Galle to Kataragama. If you were to take the Bus route from Colombo, you will have to make your way to the Colombo Central bus station located in Pettah, and take one of the route 32 buses. Here is a link to check bus times. Buses are very frequent approx one every 30 mins starting at 4AM and finishing at 1AM.

Bus journey too can take around 9 - 10 hours from Colombo. You should get off at Tissa, from where you can organise your tour to Yala.

Yala By Air

Sri Lankan Airlines now fly to Mattala International Airport, which is located a short distance from Yala. If you were to fly into Mattala your Journey time to the National Park would be significantly lower. Please refer to flight schedules at


Where to Stay

It is probably best to make camp in Tissa if you are intending on heading to Yala, that said you can always stay in Kataragama or Kirinda. Last time I went to Krinda I did not recall seeing any star classed resorts. If you are fussy about where you stay then its probably safer to find a place in Tissa or Kataragama. I have always stayed in Kataragama. The drive to Yala can be longer however if you choose to stay in Kataragama. The closest place would be Kirinda. See my article on Kirinda here.

Organising you Safari

You can expect to pay around $40 (4500Rs) for half day driver and jeep, or $65 for full day (7500Rs). Keep this in mind when speaking to drivers as there are those who will try to con tourists by charging them much more. That said the rates can vary by around $5-10 depending on the vehicle and the price of fuel at the time. The park also charges you 3500Rs for entry per day, your guide take care of this for you. This charge include a park guide who will explain the wildlife that you see in the park. Most of the guides speak English and have a great deal of subject knowledge. It is however a good gesture to give the guide and the driver a tip at the end of your trip, perhaps $5 each.

Best time of the year to visit Yala National Park

Yala National park is located in the dry zone of Sri Lanka, where rain is not very often in this area. Rain is mainly during the Northeastern Monsoon.

Sri Lanka has two distinct monsoon seasons: they are locally known as the Yala and the Maha monsoon. The Yala monsoon season falls between the months of May and July which affects the south western areas of Sri Lanka, while the Maha monsoon affects the north-eastern regions of Sri Lanka between October and January.

Most people would say the best time of the year to visit Yala would be between June and September each year.

What is the best time of the day to visit Yala National Park

It is best to visit the park early in the morning at sun rise or late in the evening towards dusk.

Safari In Yala - What to expect

Yala National Park, as mentioned is the second largest Nature Reserve in Sri Lanka, it covers a total region of around 1200 Square KM. Established in 1938 it is one of the first two designated national parks in Sri Lanka. Most of the park is considered a strict nature reserve. Below is a map of Yala National Park that I found on the internet, credit goes to the original uploader.

Image source :

Yala National Park is split into two regions where visitors are permitted, Block I and Bolck II. Yala Block one covers 140 Square KM of land, and is the most visited part of the park, as such it gets very busy. This area of the park is open from 5:30AM to 6:30PM every day. Visitors must vacate the park by 6:30PM unless they are staying in any one of the camping sites or bungalows inside the national park.

Block II is much more un-spoilt and adventurous, few people venture into this region of the park (I personally have not been there). There are tours that you can book onto to get to this area of the park too. Below is a video that I found on Youtube that shows you what to expect in Yala Block 2, one of the rules of this part of the park is to have a backup vehicle, as you can see from the video the reason for this becomes very obvious. This block is only meant for off road 4x4 vehicles.

Although you are very likely to see a leopard, don't get your hopes too high. The reason I say this is simply because Leopards by nature are very hard to spot. Your guide will try their best to get you a chance to see one, one thing you will notice is that all the guides and drivers talk to each other constantly and together track leopards and take their guest on a leopard hunt. This can be rather fun as it includes a lot of bumpy driving in big safari jeeps.

It is the Maha monsoon that affects Yala National Park. My journey there was towards the end of the monsoon season, which meant less rain. That said we had to drive through a few patches of submerged roads leading up to the entrance of the national park. Below is a video I took of the road running from Kirinda to Yala.

Yala is also home to many other animals, such as deer, wild boar, elephants, various reptiles, birds, bears, crocs amoung others and landscapes. You are very likely to spot wild boar as they are abundant as are the deer.

Fauna you can expect to see in Yala National park

I have listed below with links for more information a few highlights of he animals and birds that you are probably going to come across during your safari in Yala.

Yala is home to 215 bird species which includes six endemic species, they are

Sri Lankan Grey Hornbill 
Sri Lankan Junglefowl
Sri Lankan Wood-pigeon
Crimson-fronted Barbet
Black-capped Bulbul
Brown-capped Babbler 

Yala is also home to around 45 migrant bird species and a large number of water birds. During the north-eastern monsoon season the lagoons are visited by many migrating Waterbirds, they include

Eurasian Curlew
turn stone

Resident waterbirds include

Whistling duck 
Yellow Wattled Lapwing 
Red Wattled Lapwing 
Great Stone-Plover

Yala is also home to many forest birds such as

Orange Breasted Green Pigeon
Pied Hornbill
Asian Paradise Flycatcher

Kumana National Park or Yala East is actually the the better place to go for bird watcher, as is Bundala Naitonal Park, both of which are within a short distance of Yala. Here is a link to a list of pictures of birds which you could potentially see in Yala.

as well as 44 species of mamals including 4 endemic species

Sri Lankan Elephant
Sri Lankan Water buffalo
Sri Lankan Leopard
Sri Lankan sloth Bear

and 46 species of reptilians including five endemic to Sri Lanka.

Sri Lankan Krait
Boulenger's Keelback 
Sri Lankan Flying Snake
Painted-lip Lizard 
Wiegmann's Agama 

The park is also home to 2 species of crocodilians

Mugger Crocodile 
Saltwater Crocodile

Two deadly serpents species amound other serpants

Indian Cobra 
Russell's Viper 

Yala's pounds, lakes and streams are also home to 21 fresh water fish species, and the coastal regions of the park are frequently visited by the all five globally endangered sea turtles

Leatherback turtle
Olive Ridley
Loggerhead Sea Turtle 
Hawksbill turtle
Green turtle

On my trip I got to see very few elephants in Yala, but plenty of wild buffalo and wild boar as well as deer. Towards the end of our trip just as all hope of seeing a Leopard was fading, we spotted one. Huge female leopard, lying by a watering pound looking at us.

We also spotted many different birds, including peacocks, pied hornbills, jungle fowl, and many bee eaters.

During my visit we experienced a lot of dust! I am deadly serious about this, by the end of the safari I had turned a muddy brown. However it did make for a great shot for my friend, below is a shot of safari jeeps speeding out of the National Park at Sunset around 6PM local time (it gets very dark in Sri Lanka by around 7PM, all year round)

Sunset at Yala

The two videos below will give you a good idea of what to expect at Yala, Great work on part of both uploaders! The first video shows you footage of the wildlife you would expect to see in Yala, while the second is somewhat of a review or a first hand look.

Leopards in Yala National Park

I started off my article describing Yala as the worlds best place to spot a leopard. Yala National Park has the worlds highest density of leopards per square km. There have been a few recent documentaries carried out about Yala by the likes of National Geographic.

These leopards are known as the Sri Lankan Leopard. There are eight known leopard species,  the Sri Lankan Leopard (or Kotiya) are considered to be one of the biggest in size.

Below is a video extract posted by the guy who did this documentary.

My Pictures from Yala National Park

Sadly I had just lost my camera by dropping it in the sea near dondra, so I had to rely more heavily on the Phone as a camera. Below are pictures taken during my visit to Yala National Park in Jan 2012.

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Yala National Park, a set on Flickr.
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