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All About Yala National Park

Located in the south eastern corner of Sri Lanka, Yala National Park is one of the best known wildlife parks to be explored on the island, attracting hundreds of thousands of visitors per year. Home to one of the world’s densest population of leopards, it is the second largest national park in Sri Lanka, behind Wilpattu National Park. It is roughly 300 kilometres away from the city of Colombo – the journey to reach Yala can easily take five hours by car, so get ready for an early morning start if you haven’t made camp anywhere nearby!

The Gateway

The first stop on your journey to the park will likely be at Tissamaharama, a town in the Hambantota district that acts as a gateway to Yala. Here is where a majority of safari drivers pick up their customers – try to book your trip in advance so that you can avoid having to bargain with tour guides at the last-minute. From Tissamaharama, your journey continues through a 20 kilometre drive (approximately half an hour away) to Palatupana, where a visitor centre is available to provide information for tourists and assign trackers to the safari vehicles. The costs of the safari are easier to manage between several people, so try and travel with friends. From here, you hop into your safari jeep and head off!

The Park

Yala National Park contains five blocks, with the two south-eastern coastal blocks being the most frequently visited by the public. The park is also connected to adjoining wildlife sanctuaries and national parks, the largest of which is the Lunugamvehera National Park. Overall, Yala covers an area of 979 square kilometres that hosts a variety of different ecosystems, ranging from jungles to freshwater wetlands, that makes it an ideal home for several species of wildlife.

The Wildlife

Yala is home to more than 200 species of birds and 40 species of mammals, but it is probably most well-known for its leopard population. There are more leopards per unit of land in Yala than almost anywhere else in the world, and the park certainly has far more leopards than any other national park on the island. Several of the braver leopards have grown accustomed to the safari jeeps that roam through their habitat, which makes them far easier to spot than elsewhere. It is best to visit between January and July to increase your chances of spotting these magnificent creatures.

Elephants can also be spotted at Yala, but their population varies throughout the season. This is because Lunugamvehera National Park acts as a natural corridor between Yala and Uda Walwe National Park, which the elephants use to move between habitats. Your best chance of spotting them is during the dry season, between May and August.

Yala is also home to crocodiles, peacocks, monkeys, sloth bears, water buffalo, wild boar, deer and golden jackals. Around 130 different species of birds have also been recorded in the park, including pelicans, storks, herons and flamingos.

Tips and Tricks

  • The best time to visit the park is at 6 AM, right as it opens, or after 4 PM, when the animals emerge out of their shadowed hideaways from the sun.
  • The average temperature at the park hovers around 27 degrees Celsius, although it can reach heights of 37 degrees during the dry season. Make sure that you bring a small bottle of water with you for the trip.
  • If you haven’t arranged for any meals during an afternoon safari, try and bring your own packed lunches. However, remember that anything you bring with you must be taken back. Do not litter, especially with plastic bottles and wrappers, or leave behind anything that could negatively affect the park’s ecosystem.
  • Do not leave the safety of your vehicle during the safari, unless specifically told that it is safe to do so by your guide.

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