Established as a wildlife sanctuary more than 120 years ago, Yala National Park is today one the best places to see animals in Sri Lanka. Our day-long jeep safaris will give you the chance to come face to face with some of the 44 species of mammals that call it home.
As well as herd of 300-350 elephants, the park is famous for one of the highest leopard densities in the world, with 25 individuals estimated to roam in Block 1. If you’re lucky, you may spot wild water buffaloes, sloth bears, sambars, jackals, spotted dear, peacocks and crocodiles, Toque macaques, golden palm civets, red slender loris and fishing cats. It also harbours 215 bird species, including 6 endemic to Sri Lanka.
Yala is one of the most visited national parks, which means it boasts a wide range of accommodation, from luxury tented bush camps near Block 1 for the full safari experience, to very reasonable small hotels in nearby towns. As always, we try to do things a bit differently, so we’ll take you to an ecolodge north of the park at Block 5, an area that’s far less busy than block 1 and perfect for photography, birding and a more private nature experience. As well as jeep tours, you can explore the area in a more immersive and sustainable way, on walking safaris with one of the lodge’s local guides.
There are a further 6 national parks and 3 wildlife sanctuaries in the vicinity of Yala where you can also spot large mammals and huge numbers of birds, so why not try the wetlands of Bundala or get your elephant fix at Udawalawe or Lunugamvehera National Park? Just let us know what kind of wildlife experience you want and let us do the rest!
Partly due to its reputation as “the” place to see leopards in Sri Lanka, Yala Block 1 has fallen victim to over-tourism in recent years. The pressure of numbers comes both from overseas and local visitors, with the worst behaviour taking place at sightings, where there can be 20-30 jeeps surrounding the animal and vying to get a better view.
As well as jeep drivers jostling and shouting in pursuit of tourist tips, poor visitor behaviour includes harassing animals at close quarters, driving at high speeds while pursuing animals, using flash photography and large buses and even alighting from vehicles.
To avoid contributing to the stress on animals and the environment, as well as give you a more relaxed experience, we prefer to use accommodation near block 5. It’s possible to visit block 1 from here too, but we arrive and depart at different times to standard tours and use the quieter northern gate. We would also highly recommend visiting neighbouring reserves, where you can see many of the same species – a leopard sighting may not be as guaranteed, but you’re sure to have an unforgettable experience.