Your Complete Guide To Yala National Park, Home Of The Sri Lankan Leopards
The crown jewel of Sri Lanka and the favourite spot for all wildlife enthusiasts and nature lovers, Yala National Park offers a diverse experience to visitors of all kinds. Taking you across on a thrilling ride amidst thick jungles, golden beaches, dusty tracks, and muddy marshes, Yala National Park gives travelers that much-needed dose of adventure they had been craving. Yala isn’t just another wildlife sanctuary. It offers a chance to spot some of the rarest and most dangerous species of animals and birds out in the open.
Immerse yourself in the most intoxicating affair as you set out to the lush environs of Yala with an adrenaline rush matching the speed of those sly leopards hiding in the thickets. Home to a diverse range of flora and fauna, Yala won’t disappoint you!
Yala National Park Basic Information
Area: 978.8 km sq
Location: Southern and Uva Provinces, Sri Lanka
Elevation: 98 ft to 410 ft above sea level
Latitude: 6°22’22N | Longitude: 81°31’01E
Geography: Dry semi-arid region; flat and mildly undulating plain extending to the coast; mostly composed of metamorphic rock belonging to the Precambrian era; predominance of reddish brown and low humic gray soil among others; dominant water sources – streams, tanks, waterholes, rock pools, and lagoons; rivers – Kumbukkan Oya (east) and Menik River (west)
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Map Of Yala National Park
Best Time To Visit Yala National Park
Though Yala is a year-round destination, one should visit between June to September for the most comfortable and pleasant weather, and high chances of leopard sightings. The average temperature in Yala remains around 26.4°C.
How To Reach Yala National Park
By Air: Yala National Park is located 176 km away from Bandaranaike International Airport in Colombo, the capital city of Sri Lanka. From there you can hire a car and drive to Yala either via Kandy or Galle.
By Rail: One can also get to Yala via the railway network in Sri Lanka. Board a train from Peradeniya near Kandy and get down at Bandarawela near Yala. You can cover the rest of the distance to Yala via bus or cab. The best of Sri Lanka tour packages offer private AC vehicles with an English speaking driver-cum-guide to take you all the way to Yala from different destinations in Sri Lanka.
By Road: With a spectacular and well-maintained road network spread throughout Sri Lanka, it ain’t difficult to drive down to Yala, or any other city for that matter. One can either hire a car for a self-drive tour, or book a package that allots them a comfortable vehicle with a driver to drive down on the smooth roads of Lanka. As mentioned earlier, one can drive down to Yala from either Kandy or Galle
Distance from Colombo to Yala National Park: 300 km
Travel time: 6 hours
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Getting to Yala from Colombo via Kandy
Total distance: 386 km
Total travel time: 9 hours 40 minutes
Getting to Yala from Colombo via Galle
Total distance: 312 km
Total travel time: 6 hours 30 minutes
Yala National Park Timings
The park is open for tourists everyday from 6 AM to 6 PM.
Yala National Park Safari Timings
A duration of 1 night 2 days is ideal for a trip to Yala National Park. Within that, a duration of about 5 hours is adequate to explore the park, indulge in all the major activities like safari, wildlife spotting, exploring the beach, and visiting all the major attractions inside the park. Wildlife enthusiasts and photographers can spend more time inside the park at their convenience (and with special permissions from the forest authorities) to observe the wide range of animals and birds that the park is home to.
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Flora And Fauna Of Yala National Park
The park is home to a diverse variety of plants, animals, and bird species. One is likely to spot most of them on an early morning or evening safari tour inside the park.
Yala National Park has a varied ecosystems including moist monsoon forests, dry monsoon forests, semi deciduous forests, thorn forests, grasslands, marshes, marine wetlands, and sandy beaches. The dominant plant species one can spot inside the park include Drypetes Sepiaria, Manilkara Hexandra, Cynodon Barberi, Zoysia Matrella, Manilkara Hexandra, Drypetes Sepiaria, Ceylon Satinwood, Terminalia Arjuna, Limonia, Berrya Cordifolia, Randia Dumetorum, Pleurostylia Opposita, Gymnema Sylvestre, Bell Mimosa, Neem, Banyan, Toothbrush Tree, Schleichera Oleosa, Vitex Pinnata, Indian blackberry, Gmelina Asiatica, Carissa Spinarum, Euphorbia Antiquorum, and Acacia Eburnea, Glennie Unijuga, and Asparagus Racemosus.
Among the 44 different species of mammals found in this park, the Sri Lankan Elephant and the Sri Lankan Leopard are the most popular. Others include Wild Water Buffalo, Sri Lankan Leopard, Sri Lankan Sloth Bear, Turtles (Olive Ridley, Leatherback Turtle, Hawksbill Turtle, Green Turtle, Loggerhead Sea Turtle), Toque Macaque, Golden Palm Civet, Red Slender Loris, Fishing Cat, Crocodiles, Sri Lankan Krait, Boulenger’s Keelback, Sri Lankan Flying Snake, Painted-Lip Lizard, Wiegmann, Fan-Throated Lizard, Mugger Crocodile, Saltwater Crocodile, Indian Cobra, Russell’s Viper.
Amphibians inside the park include Bufo Atukoralei and Adenomus Kelaartii. Fish species (in the lagoons and marshes) include Mozambique Tilapia, Stone Sucker, Esomus Thermoicos, Blackspot Barb, Olive Barb, Orange Chromide, Common Spiny Loach, Crabs, Prawns. Butterfly species include Common Bluebottle, Common Lime Butterfly, Crimson Rose, Common Jezebel, and the Common Mormon.
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There are as many as 215 bird species in Yala, among which six are considered to be endemic to the country. Birds in Yala include Sri Lanka grey hornbill, Sri Lanka junglefowl, Sri Lanka wood pigeon, crimson-fronted barbet, black-capped bulbul, blue-tailed bee-eater, and brown-capped babbler. Waterbirds include lesser whistling duck, garganey, Lesser cormorant, Indian cormorant, grey heron, black-headed ibis, Eurasian spoonbill, Asian openbill, painted stork. Rare birds include Black-necked stork and lesser adjutant. Migratory waterfowls include northern pintail, white-winged tern, Eurasian curlew, whimbrel, godwits, ruddy turnstone.
Other birds include the great white pelican, spot-billed pelican, lesser flamingo, pelicans, purple heron, night herons, egrets, purple swamphen, Oriental darter, lesser whistling duck, yellow-wattled lapwing, red-wattled lapwing, great stone-curlew, Rock pigeon, barred buttonquail, Indian peafowl, black stork, black-winged stilt, greater flamingo, Crested serpent eagle, white-bellied sea eagle, orange-breasted green pigeon, hornbills, Old World flycatchers, Indian paradise flycatcher, Asian barbets, and orioles.
Average Per Person Budget For A Trip To Yala National Park
Here’s a breakdown of the estimated average per person cost for a trip to Yala Reserve which includes aspects like transfers, accommodation, food, and safari.
Avg Flight Rate (round trip): INR 15,512/- per person
Avg Accommodation: INR 5,000/- per person
Transfers: INR 2,000/- per person
Meals: INR 1,000/- per person
Safari: INR 3,500/- ((4 WD Jeep)
Miscellaneous: INR 250/-
- Flight rates are not included in the budget given above as they may vary on the traveler’s destination and time of booking
- Flight rates given above are average current round trip airfares from Indian cities like Delhi, Mumbai, and Chennai
- ‘Transfers’ here indicate transportation from Colombo/Kandy/Galle to Yala Reserve (either by train or road)
Things To Do At The Yala National Park
There are various activities one can indulge in inside Yala reserve. From adventurous safaris, peaceful monasteries, to romantic beach walks, Yala has activities for every kind of traveler.
Go on an adventurous safari
No visit to Yala in Sri Lanka is complete without a safari tour inside the park. Yala National Park safari tours are sure to take you on an experience of a lifetime, which is why Yala Park is among the best places in Sri Lanka! The joy of watching animals roam free in their natural habitat is matchless. Watching herds of elephants play around in the marshes, deer caring for their offsprings, and leopards hiding in the thickets, waiting to prance on its prey, you wont et to see such engaging sight sin any circus or zoo.
The feeling of what you might encounter next and that anxiety associated with spotting a leopard will give you an adrenaline rush like no other. To catch the inhabitants of the jungle you need to be at the right spot at the right time, which is why Yala provides guided safari tours with experts accompanying you in your safari vehicle and informing you about every aspect of the jungle during the tour. Scroll up for Yala safari prices and timings.
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Take a refreshing walk on the beach
Yala National Park offers the best of both worlds – the thrill of a jungle safari and a refreshing visit to the beach. Yes, Yala is one of those rare wildlife parks in the world with a beach! While much of the long coastal stretch that hugs the park is not accessible by humans, theres still a long, pristine stretch of the shore where you can take a leisurely walk, stretch your legs, back in the sunshine, and witness the nearby tribal fishing villages, a charming sight for sore eyes.
Seek blessings at the rock-cut monastery of Sithulpawwa
Sithulpawwa is an ancient rock monastery in Yala that is believed to have housed a total of 12,000 monks. Its a popular place of worship for devotees and pilgrims from around Yala, and a remarkable icon of architecture, The term Sithulpawwa is derived from the word ‘Chittalapabbata’ which means the hill of the quiet mind. A visit to this monastery is a must for those coming to Yala.
Visit the stunning site of Magul Maha Viharaya
Tucked away on the southern region of Sithulpawwa, Magul Maha Viharaya is believed to have been the setting for the marriage of King Kavan Tissa to Vihara Maha Devi. One can easily visit Magul Maha Viharaya during a visit to the ancient rock temple of Sithulpawwa as both these attractions are located close together and are unique in terms of their beauty and architecture.
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Pay your respects at the Tsunami Memorial on the Yala beach
At the primary beach spot open to public in Yala is the location of the bungalows that were wiped out by the Asian Tsunami of 2004 along with its occupants. The place now holds the remnants of the devastation along with a memorial built in honour of those that died there. A visit to this sanctum will offer you a profound moment of silence and solitude.
Traveler Reviews For Yala National Park
Any information about Yala Park is incomplete without a mention of what its previous visitors said about it. So, we’ve put down some reviews given by people who had ventured into the wild realms of this lush abode.
1. Angie says: “A great place to see some wildlife! We set off at 5.30am and arrived a short while later at Yala. We were not the first! There was a long line of jeeps waiting to go in. Don’t let this put you off. We still felt we got a good trip although we had our own guide accompany us in the jeep and he was very knowledgeable about the wildlife and spotting the animals. I do not know what it would have been like relying on the driver alone. We spotted a lot of birds, monkeys, elephants, deer, crocodile etc. we heard a lion but did not see it. At no point did we feel rushed. Also, the jeeps keep in touch with each other and you may head off in a different direction if someone says they’ve seen an animal. Beautiful…”
2. Ellon says: “Visited here as part of an overnight tour excursion with Sri Lanka Tours. We had a wonderful time watching elephants in their natural habitat, plenty of monkeys, deer, the odd mongoose or two, peacocks, snake eagles, fish eagles and crocodiles. No leopards were seen that day but that didn’t matter as there was so much other wildlife to spot.”
3. Traveller_prk says: “Leopard!!! We saw lots of wildlife here. It was late afternoon and the shadows were getting longer and the animals were making their way to the watering hole. I was on the LHS of the jeep and I was focussing on the ground underneath the bush. All of a sudden I saw a Leopard crouched underneath a small tree. I whispered to the guide. The jeep slowly backed up and the Leopard was still there. We all kept very quiet and still. The Leopard came out from under the tree and sauntered across the track and disappeared into the bush. It was truly amazing! WOW!”
Further Read: 14 Best Waterfalls in Sri Lanka That Unveil The Country’s Bewitching Landscapes
With so much to offer, Yala National Park is a promising sanctum for travelers seeking nature and adventure. Book your trip to Sri Lanka right away and experience the best of what this country has to offer. Got any more important information to add to this Yala National Park guide? Pop it in the comments below.
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Frequently Asked Questions About Yala National Park
What is Yala National Park famous for?
The most visited and second largest national park in Sri Lanka draws its popularity from the fact that it’s the only place in the country that serves as a home of free-roaming Sri Lankan leopards. Among its other diverse wildlife, like the enormous monitor lizards, and the national bird of Sri Lanka – the Jungle Fowl, it is the leopards that draw most of the tourist influx to this park.
Do the hotels and resorts in Yala provide safari tours inside Yala National Park?
Most of the hotels in and near Yala National Park provide guided safari tours inside the park, even at discounted rates! One can simply request their hotel management to book a safari tour for them for a hassle-free and smooth safari ride. Hotels like Elephant Reach and Yala Safari Game Lodge offer guided safari tours in the forest reserve.
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