The diversity which Sri Lanka upholds, in spite of being so tiny, is unfathomable. This tear-shaped island country on the Indian ocean is home to various species of birds, animals, insects, plants and flowers and is a great example of wildlife conservation for the entire world. This is proven in the large number of national parks that Sri Lanka has - as many as 21.
Yala National Park in Sri Lanka, which is approximately 260 KM from the country’s capital, Colombo is as big as 26 Colombo cities when put together. Situated in the vicinity of Hambantota city, Yala National Park is on the southeast coast of Sri Lanka, having almost 215 species of birds, 44 kinds of mammals and boosts of one of the highest rates of endemism and highest leopard density in the world. First recognised as a wildlife sanctuary in 1900, it was in 1938 that Yala Wildlife Sanctuary got the name of Yala National Park, consisting of 5 blocks in 130,000 hectares of land. Yala National Park is rightly conserved and tourists and locals can bear witness to the excellent ecological balance between wildlife and nature.
Yala National Park - Safari Timings
Yala National Park opens at 06:00 AM in the morning up to 06:00 PM in the evening. The authorities are strict about timings with no prior delay. As hundreds of jeeps carrying tourists and travellers roam around the roads leading to Yale National Park, consistent traffic can be observed. It is better to keep in hand 1 hour of time before the planned timings of the safari.
Yala offers a variety of safari slots throughout the day, allowing visitors to choose the time that best suits their needs. The safari options available are:
Morning Safari in Yala: from 5:00 AM to 9:30 AM Evening Safari in Yala: from 2:30 PM to 7:00 PM Full Day Safari in Yala: from 5:00 AM to 6:00 PM Special Five-Twelve Leopards Safari*: from 4:30 AM to 11:30 AM Special 6-11 (Six-Eleven) Birds Safari: from 5:30 AM to 11:00 AM
*The Special Five-Twelve Leopards Safari begins early in the morning, allowing visitors to explore the park before any other safari jeep. This increases the likelihood of spotting these majestic creatures in their natural habitat since early morning is the time when leopards are most active. Moreover, there are fewer jeeps and less human interference in the park at this time, which provides a calm environment for the leopards to roam freely.
Yala National Park Timings: 6:00 AM - 6:00 PM
Safari in Yala National Park - Cost
The fees for different durations and areas of the Yala National Park are as follows:
For Block 1 at Palatupana, a half-day tour costs USD 45 (LKR 14,513), while a full-day tour costs USD 75 (LKR 24,188). For Block 1 at Katagamuwa, a half-day tour costs USD 50 (LKR 16,126), and a full-day tour costs USD 85 (LKR 27,415).
For Blocks 4 and 5 at Galge, a half-day tour costs USD 50 (LKR 16,126), and a full-day tour costs USD 80 (LKR 25,802).
Ticket prices vary for foreign adults and children, and also for visitors from SAARC nations. These are base ticket prices for entering the park. There are separate rates for tour plans.Along with the ticket prices, service charge for jeep usage will be used and VAT must be paid, too. The jeep service charge reduces with more number of individuals using the jeep.
Yala National Park, located in the southeastern coastal region, is dry most of the year except during the monsoon. As Sri Lanka experiences two monsoon season in the country at two different time period, tourist preferences of visiting the place as per monsoon also change. Southeast region experiences rainfall from October to January, so February to July is preferable for the visit. The water level is low during this time because of the heat. This also ensures experiencing more of aquatic animals.
How to reach Yala National Park
Yala National Park can be reached via air, train and car. But there is no direct transportation to Yala National Park. The nearest town which heads to Yala National Park is Kataragama. Tourists can also travel from Tissamaharama Town. From there on, jeeps of Yala National Park are available to carry forward the journey.
By Air: One can either first reach Bandaranaike International Airport in Colombo city. From there one can take a flight to Mattala Rajapaksa International airport in Hambantota followed by a jeep to Yala National Park.
By Rail: One can also avail train from Colombo to Haputale and then take a car. By Road: Otherwise, buses from Colombo are also available which might take 9 hours of the day.
Gate access in Yala National Park
The entire area entitled under Yala National Park is divided into 5 blocks. Neither the blocks are accessible to the public nor is there is a single gate for all the blocks. There are 5 different blocks in 5 different regions. Only blocks 1 and 2 of Yala National Park are accessible to visitors, while the remaining blocks are designated as strict natural reserves.
Block I and II have gates in the Palatupana and Katagamuwa, however, Block II is to be entered via Block I, itself. Block III and V have gates in Galge, whereas Block IV has its gate closed to the public. It is better if tourists pre-decide their gate of preference for the entrance inside the park.
Block 1: Palatupana Gate:
The most popular safari area of Yala National Park is Block 1, which is accessed through the Palatupana gate. Here, visitors have the best chance of observing leopards as well as other wildlife and many species of water birds.
Block 2: Off-Road Adventure:
Block 2 is for the more adventurous visitors, as it involves several river crossings and requires a four-wheel drive vehicle with all-terrain driving capabilities. Wildlife in this area is less disturbed but shy of noises.
Block 3: Two Entry Points:
Block 3 can be accessed through two main gates: the Galge area gate on the Buttala-Kataragama road and the Kumana Park or 'Yala East' main gate at Okanda on the east coast. Visitors come here to see wild animals, with elephants being the most preferred.
Block 4: Strict Nature Reserve
Block 4 is a strict nature reserve and is not yet open for safaris. Its thick canopy and large trees make it hard to see animals, but it offers unique vegetation due to its high rainfall.
Block 5: Private Safari
Block 5 adjoins Blocks 3 and 4 in the northern area of Yala National Park. With fewer jeeps, visitors can enjoy a private safari here. While sightings are lower than in Block 1, there are still opportunities to spot leopards, elephants, sloth bears, spotted deer, and many birds.
Wildlife in Yala National Park
The wildlife in Yala is incredibly diverse, boasting over 200 bird species and 40 mammal species, with a particular abundance of leopards. Yala is known to have one of the highest densities of leopards in the world, making it a prime destination for those hoping to spot these majestic creatures. For the best chances of spotting them, it is recommended to visit between January and July.
While elephants are also present in Yala, their sightings are more unpredictable as they use the Lunugamvehera National Park as a natural corridor between Yala and Udawalawe National Park. The dry season, between May and August, provides the best opportunity to spot these gentle giants.
Other animals that can be found in Yala include crocodiles, monitor lizards, peacocks, monkeys, sloth bears, water buffalo, wild boar, deer, and golden jackals. The park is also a haven for bird enthusiasts, with over 130 different bird species recorded, including pelicans, storks, herons, flamingos, grey hornbill and black-capped bulbul.The lagoons of Yala are not vacant as well. Filled with crabs and prawns, the other water areas have more than 20 varieties of fishes like stone sucker, olive barb, orange chromide and many others. In the shabby water areas, crocodiles yawning in the sunshine is a very common scene spotted in Yala National Park.
The coastline of the park is frequently visited by turtles and other endangered species like the hawksbill turtles, green turtles, olive ridley and few more. Indian Cobra and Russell, two extremely dangerous snakes carrying the most poisonous venom, can also be found loitering around. 215 species of birds can be heard chirping around Yale National Park. There are Sri Lankan endemic birds like the hornbill, jungle fowl, wood pigeon and also migrating birds of different areas like egrets, painted stork, Asian Hornbill, little cormorant and more.
Things to do in Yala National Park
This huge national park cannot bore anyone. The diversity Yala National Park inherits is vivid and attractive. There are many things that one can do on their visit to Yala National Park :
1. Safari Rides in Yala National Park
The first and foremost thing which nobody can give a miss when at Yala National Park is the Safari ride. Obviously, safari ride is a point of attraction for visiting here and thinking of witnessing wildlife at its best. There are authorised companies that conduct safari tours. There are provisions inside Yala National Park where one can book safari tours. Pre-booking facility is also available. There aretwo types of Safari tours - half day tours and full day tours; individuals can choose their own tour depending on budget, time and other constraints.
2. Beach Walks in Yala National Park
The coastline that faces Yala National Park is not open for the public for their recreational purposes. There are assigned areas, with proper safety measures, which can be visited. One can take a quick walk around the beach. Also, the Tsunami hit location, which killed many innocents, can also be visited.
3. Birdwatching in Yala National Park
There are around 215 species of birds that are found in Yale National Park. There are both endemic and migrant birds. Even if not interested in bird watching, the birds are varied in colours that will definitely amaze the visitors.. There are birds like Orange Breasted Green Pigeon, Hornbills, Ruddy turnstone, Eurasian Curlew and many others. Witnessing so many birds together will be an exhaustive experience.
4. Camping in Yala National Park
Inside the park, campsite accommodation is available. A family of ten with two kids below age 6 are allowed for a single site with not more than 3 days of living. Under the sky, with wildlife at its best and nature encircling one, camping gets a whole new definition in Yala National Park. However, there are strict rules of camping that must be adhered to such as no alcohol consumption, no smoking, no loitering around, no littering of food, keeping the campsite and tent clean and so on.
5. Night in Yala National Park
Nature enthusiasts can also get hands-on experience by spending a night in Yala National Park itself in the park provided bungalow. One can also pre-reserve the bungalow. The bungalow isn’t anything luxurious but it provides for a more rustic and rural experience. No wonder, one can hear leopards gently yawning or the trumpeting elephants’ slow walk. Waking up in the morning amidst nature, surrounded by wildlife will be an overwhelming and unforgettable experience.
6. Sightseeing in Yala National Park
One can get to see the 2200 years old Buddhist monastery on their visit to Yala National Park. This monastery named as Sithulpawwa is an ancient rock temple which has a rich lineage of history and is heard to be the home of 12,000 monks. Buddha and Bodhisattva images can be found here. Those who have an affinity towards history and archaeology, this monastery is worth the visit.
Accommodation in Yala National Park
Yala National Park provides various lodging options at four different locations within the park. Online bookings for up to three consecutive days are permitted. Lodges can accommodate groups of 10 or more, subject to availability. Please note that the rates listed below may change without prior notice, so please confirm with the park office.
1. Warahena Bungalow First Night: LKR 8008.00 (USD 25) Second Night: LKR 14,504.00 (USD 45) Third Night: LKR 21,000.00 (USD 66)
2. Mahasilawa Bungalow First Night: LKR 8008.00 (USD 25) Second Night: LKR 14,504.00 (USD 45) Third Night: LKR 21,000.00 (USD 66)
3. Ondaatje Bungalow First Night: LKR 6,888.00 (USD 22) Second Night: LKR 12,264.00 (USD 39) Third Night: LKR 17,640.00 (USD 55)
4. Heenwewa Bungalow First Night: LKR 5,768.00 (USD 18) Second Night: LKR 10,024.00 (USD 32) Third Night: LKR 14,280.00 (USD 45)
5. New Buthawa Bungalow First Night: LKR 8008.00 (USD 25) Second Night: LKR 14,504.00 (USD 45) Third Night: LKR 21,000.00 (USD 66)
6. Thalgasmankada Bungalow First Night: LKR 5,768.00 (USD 18) Second Night: LKR 10,024.00 (USD 32) Third Night: LKR 14,280.00 (USD 45)
7. Old Buthawa Bungalow First Night: LKR 8008.00 (USD 25) Second Night: LKR 14,504.00 (USD 45) Third Night: LKR 21,000.00 (USD 66)
Tips for visiting Yala National Park
While visiting Yala National Park, few things must always be kept in mind. These are :
While venturing into the wildlife, one should strictly not come out of the jeep for any activity. It might lead to unwanted and dangerous situations.
While one is on a tour to venture wildlife of Yala National Park, one should not click pictures with flashlights. This irritates the animals and as animal behaviours are not pre-decided and unpredictable it may lead to problems.
No alcohol, drugs or smoking is allowed inside the Yala National Park premises.
It is preferable to keep mobile phones on silent or on vibrate. The sudden upbeat sound might create unwanted movement within the animals.
One should not start eating anywhere and everywhere. There are restrictions to that which the guide or the driver is aware of. Consultation of what are the eating norms must be known.
No strong odour food must be carried inside.
Nobody should attempt to throw food or feed any animal inside Yala National Park. This might invite unwanted problems.
Guns, knives, matches, lighters - everything that might harm animals and wildlife should not be carried.
Unnecessary honking of the jeeps should be avoided. It disrupts the normalcy of the wildlife ecosystem.
Nobody should take or touch anything that belongs to the wildlife, be it stones, sand or any remains.
In case of emergency, keep each other calm and try not to make noise because it may further worsen the situation. The trekker who is with the jeep can take care of the situation.
Yala National Park is truly a Nature Lover's paradise, but also offers much more. So don't miss this on your next trip to Sri Lanka