Yala National Park- Sri Lanka

Why should you visit Yala National Park

Yala National park is probably the most visited national park in Sri Lanka and is one of the largest national parks in Sri Lanka. The park has been divided into 5 main blocks of which only two are open to the public, which is a good thing, which I’ll be explaining why later here. Actually, it’s simply because I don’t believe in disturbing animals in their habitats in the name of trekking. Two famous blocks are Ruhuna National Park and Kumana National Park or Yala East.  The park covers 979 square kilometers (378 sq mi).

Yala National park was established a long time ago in the 1900s for the conservation of Sri Lankan elephants, endemic aquatic birds, and Sri Lankan leopards. Actually people, mostly foreigners go there hoping to see leopards. At least that was why I visited Yala in the first place. 😀

There’s a Buddhist temple just outside the entrance of the park too. This is a place worth paying a visit as well. I personally have been to so many temples. So skipped it. But if you are from outside of Sri Lanka anything can be new and exiting.

Another main feature of the park is the Elephant rock, which is a rock, which looks like an elephant, Obviously, haha.

Location

Unlike the hill country, the southern part of Sri Lanka can be pretty hot comparatively. Yala National Park is situated in the southern province mainly but also some parts lie in the Uva province as well. But Uva province shouldn’t be hot considering it has a number of Sri Lanka’s famous water falls such as Dunhinda falls, Diyalumma falls and Bambarakanda. BUT Yala is pretty HOT, I’ll tell you.

Yala is located about 300 kilometers (190 mi) from Colombo. If you want to get to Yala from Airport itself using public transportation you are looking at two hops.

  1. Airport to Pettah bus stand
  2. Then Kataragama buses from Pettah bus stand.

Or you could also just get airport transfer or cab at the airport. That will, however, cost you around 150 $. So if not on a budget. better seek luxury. I always do. 😉

Yala Climate for Dummies

Yala is situated in a hot, semi-arid environment which explains the extreme hotness you will experience when you get there. Despite its greeny sites, the temperature in Yala could be as high as 260C to about 300C, especially in the monsoon season. September to December is a rainy season in Yala which is why it’s kind of an off season. Because during the dry season only animal will come of their habitats looking for water.

Fun facts

-Yala is bigger than you are allowed to explore. Only two blocks are currently opened to the public, which is good. Keep reading to know why.  😉

-Yala was designated a wildlife sanctuary in 1900 and was designated a national park in 1938.

-Ironically, the park was initially used as a hunting ground for the elite under British rule.

-Yala is home to 44 varieties of mammal and 215 bird species.

-Among its more famous residents are the world’s biggest concentration of leopards, majestic elephants, sloth bears, sambars, jackals, spotted deer, peacocks, and crocodiles.

-When Tsunami hit Sri Lanka in 2004 December 26, the land features of Yala’s coastal belt changed forever.

-It also killed a lot of people, around 300 who were in and around the park at the time, which makes me think this isn’t exactly a fun fact. But… 😀

-Also which strikes me the most is the fact that no animal was recorded harmed, ensuring nature still has the power over us. Obviously, some ants might have died. I’m talking mega scale here.

-It’s been said that elephants with electrical colors did show some unusual behaviors and that they started moving towards a safer direction before the waves strike.

– A Tsunami memorial is constructed at Patanangala. Visitors are allowed pay their respect or just visit by getting off at this point by the beach.

– Yala was a rich agri-based civilization long time back. The tanks used during this time now serves animals well during dry seasons by storing water.

Plan the trip

This is not a big deal once you get to the entrance of Yala National park. But you do have to plan it. The main thing you should keep in mind is the timing. Yala National Parks opens its entrance for visitors around 6.00 am. So it’s better if you could start your journey around that time if you are an early bird. Or else after 4.00 pm is recommend and these are the times with higher probability of seeing animals. So I timed the distance and arrived at the entrance of Yala and just hired a jeep at the entrance. But taking your own vehicle if it suits the off road environment is also possible too. A car wouldn’t do btw. If you plan to hire a jeep at the entrance it’s always a good idea to pre book it as jeeps and trekkers might not be available depending on the crowd. So..

The best season to visit Yala would be from February to July, which is a less rainy season. Also since the water levels of the lakes of the park are low, animals will frequently walk around to find water, which gives high chances of spotting animals.

Rates

Tour rates

Half Day – U$D 40

Full Day – U$D 75

The above rates are for 1 jeep; your group can include up to 6 people for this cost.

Ticket rates

Foreign Adult – LKR 3688.00

Foreign Child – LKR 1037.52

Accommodation

Yala National Park offers accommodations inside the park which you can book for 3 consecutive days. One lodge is enough for comfortable accommodation for around 10 people.  I’ve linked down the site where you can book the lodges.

Check for Accommodation In Yala National Park.

Something to think about

I don’t want to highlight the negative aspects of anything but this really got me thinking. I was pretty disappointed by the Yala park management. I mean I was expecting a calm get away into the forest. But there’s was a huge rush at the entrance, almost like traffic in Colombo. Jeeps were waiting to go into the forests. A lot of people too. There was a huge line for tickets too. And for a very long time, we didn’t see any animals, which is not surprising as it’s animal nature to run away from danger. In this case, it was about, I don’t know 20 jeeps rushing by.

I think Yala management can easily look into the matter. They just let only a few jeeps in at a time. They have to understand that this is not about money. They just have to apply sustainability 101.

That also got me thinking if it was good decisions to buy a ticket to visit Yala. I mean we are basically disturbing the wild life. Humans have already invaded their space and now we are disturbing them in this way in the little space they have?. Buying a ticket means demand and that means there will be more supply, more jeeps, more disturbance…. There’s something to think about.

Also, in my opinion, none of the drivers had no knowledge about wild life or animals or what so ever. They were just doing a job to earn money. Yala Authority should put some nature sensitive educated people into the positions of guides. Because when someone spots an animal somewhere all the jeeps rush towards scaring the hell out of the animal, which was truly terrible.

Pleasant Memories

However, when you get away from the rush you can actually enjoy the nature’s tranquility and be in the moment. But it was harder than I expected.

Some common animals that I saw were Painted Stork, Mugger Crocodile, Spotted Deer, Indian Monitor, Water Buffalo, Asian Elephant, Asian Open bill, White-breasted water hen, Black Crowned Night Heron, Ruddy Mongoose, Wild pig, Golden Jackal, Garden Lizard, Hawk Eagle, Skink, Monkeys, Hare, Pond Heron, Red-wattled Lapwing, Spotted dove and White faced Heron. By common, I mean these animals looked familiar to me.

Spotted Deers In Yala National ark
Spotted Deers In Yala National Park

If you get really lucky you could spot Leopards!!!! I love leopards. But the way leopards freak out when they see jeeps and people really braked my heart. Elephants, however, seemed quite used to these visits, I guess, from the way some of them approached jeeps seeking food.

Some rare creatures which can be found in Yala are Grey Langur, Green Bee eater, Chestnut-headed bee eater, Peacock- peacocks are actually very common in Yala, But I don’t see peacocks in day to day lives or let’s say ever, thus under rare creatures list, Wooly-necked Stork, Eurasian Spoonbill, Not-so-common Common Hoopoe :D, Red  Jungle fowl, Malabar Pied Hornbill which was so amazing, Baya Weaver, Sloth Bear, Frogmouth which can be found both in India and Sri Lanka, Spot billed pelican, Yellow Footed Green Pigeon and Common Kingfisher. For all the bird watchers out there Yala could be the perfect get away.

Spoon bill- Yala National Park- Sri Lanka
Spoon bill- Yala National Park- Sri Lanka

One of the sweetest sites I saw was a baby elephant playing in a muddy pool which made me forget all my troubles. It was the most adorable thing ever.

So Yala was an unforgettable experience without a doubt. Just remember to take only picture and leave only foot prints. Let me know in the comments below how your experience in Yala was like.

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