From leopards to whales, Sri Lanka is one of the best places in the Asian continent to view wildlife. The exposure to rainfall from two obliquely facing monsoons and altitude varieties diversifies this island nation’s nature. The 26 national parks scattered all over the country are testament to that fact, but out of all of them no nature park has been as popular with locals and tourists alike as much as the Yala National Park.
The second largest nature park in the country consisting of an area of 1268 km2 (of which only one fifth is open to the public), it is approximately 300 kilometers from Colombo. The pilgrimage town of Kataragama is also just an hour’s drive from the park where good and affordable accommodation can be easily found in places such as Yoho Manikpuragama and the Yoho Goyagala Canel Road.
There are five blocks in Yala and the climate is generally warm and dry so it is recommended that you dress to suit the weather. The up to date visitor centre at the entrance will provide all required information. A ticket will usually cost about $30 for foreigners. Fancy a jeep with a soft top? Be sure to hire one from the park to view the wildlife in their natural habitat.. There are also plenty of third party Yala safari jeep companies that offer the same facilities and the fee associated varies with the time of the day. A safari jeep ride in Yala would cost you about $35 and the recommended time periods for safaris would be from 0600 AM to 10.00 AM and 2.00 PM to 6.00 PM. It is best that you contact multiple companies and compare the prices to get an attractive package. The Yala entrance fee differs for locals and tourists.
Probably the most sought after species by every visitor to the park, are Sri Lankan Leopards (Panthera Pardus Kotiya). A subspecies of the Indian Leopard, they can be found in every part of the park. The Yala forest is said to contain the highest density of leopards in the world and since they are accustomed to the presence of humans and jeeps it is easy to find them calmly strolling down the gravel jeep trails presenting great photographic opportunities for photographers.
Birds! Yala contains an abundance of them making it a haven for the avid bird watcher. Birds such as the crested serpent Eagle, Spoonbill, Orange Breasted Green Pigeon and Lesser Flamingos are a daily sight. If that’s not enough, visit during the Northeast monsoon to feast your eyes upon many migrating birds. These birds include the Pintail, Garganey and Whimbrel.
A visit to Yala National Park is an extremely good opportunity to marvel at the majestic elephants in Sri Lanka. If elephants are at the top of your list, visiting the park between May-August is a great idea!
If you need a change, visit the coastline bordering the park to witness a large number of sea turtles. These turtles use the beach as a breeding ground and is quite a sight to witness. You can also feast your eyes on mesmerising reptiles including Mugger Crocodile and if lucky, a Russell’s Viper!