Sri Lanka

My experience from Yala National Park

I went to Yala National Park in Sri Lanka to get a feel of wildlife. I will try to sum it up in this article about my experience and also show some of the pictures I took when I was visiting.

Yala is famous for its leopards. It is usually visited by professional wildlife photographers from around the world, that wants exclusive shots. Many award winning pictures have been taken from here.

Yala is located in the south of Sri Lanka, 25 km north east of the town called Tissamaharama. I advise you to find a hotel in Tissamaharama and then you will be close to many different national parks located around the town. We stayed at Priyankara Hotel. It is a great hotel with pool and AC. It only takes about 30 minutes to drive to Yala. If you find a good jeep driver they will know all the shortcuts to get to Yala. The cost for a luxury jeep with leveled seats can cost up to 6500 rupees to hire. The driver cost around 650-750 rupees plus extra tip sometimes. Be careful, always have everything printed out on what the travel agency have said and what the drivers say. They will probably not say the same rate, as we experienced. I have read about the rates now afterwards that if you pay more than 5500 rupees you are being ripped off.

Preparations before going to Yala:

You need to come prepared when you go to Yala, you need the following;

  • Good camera, lens should be able to reach favorable up to 300-600 mm to get really close shots of the animals
  • Book a hotel nearby Yala or in Tissamaharama
  • Breakfast package from hotel if you have the morning tour
  • Jeep with good/skillful driver
  • If you are local you need to give proof to get special rate in Yala, otherwise you will have to pay foreigner rate which is much higher

Fees in Yala:

We had our local jeep driver which our travel agency had arrange plus the normal driver who drove us from Colombo to Tissamaharama. We also had the Yala guide with us in the jeep. The entrance with everyone included cost me 5934 Sri Lankan rupees. It cost much more if you are a foreigner then if you are a local. For 2 locals it cost total 120 rupees and for 2 foreigners it cost a total of 3890 rupees. We visited in May so the fee might change depending on high/low season. The guide cost 250 rupees and it is well worth it to have a guide. The reason is because the guide will know where to find the animals and their usual hideouts. Also the jeep driver would be lost without the guide because there are many different paths to choose from when you are in Yala. The guides knows all the good roads.

There are morning tours and afternoon tours. You can also combine these to make it a full day tour. Each tour is usually for 4-5 hours.

My experience of Yala:

Yala is a very popular national park, so do not get surprised that you are not alone there. There will be many jeeps driving very frequently in the same path. The morning tours starts at 6 am, we arrived there at about 6.30 am. The sun had come up and we were ready for the trip. So were all other tourists too. In the beginning it felt like we were just driving around without finding any animals. When we did find animals it would be mostly dears or buffaloes. Eventually we found more animals and got to take lots of pictures.

Sometimes I would find some interesting birds in the trees but for most of the times the driver would be driving to fast for me to get a picture of them. We had to tell the driver to slow down. After that we could enjoy the drive but then suddenly one jeep would pass us by like crazy and our driver would follow in same pace. This can only mean that someone have seen a leopard and now everyone is rushing to get to that place. Then when you arrive at the place where someone have spotted a leopard this is the view you will get.

Lots of jeeps will be gathering and none will be able to see anything except for the jeep that was there first.  It will also be difficult to get out of the place when more jeeps keeps coming to the same little place. and blocking the roads.

Common sight

Needless to say we did not see any leopards at that spot. So we continued our tour and saw elephants and wild bore. At one place there were lots of crocodiles and buffaloes living in harmony.

There were also nice birds to see. For example this one seen below, it is a Malabar Pied Hornbill.

When half of the tour is finished there is a place near the beach where people can get out of the jeeps and stretch their legs. Here is the chance to eat the food you hopefully have brought with you. Usually the hotels will make a breakfast package for you in the morning which you can take with you in the jeep.

When we were heading back to the entrance we saw some jeeps gathered by a tree. We looked up and saw two leopards. Since I have a ultra zoom lens I was able to get pretty close without disturbing the leopards.

“It was totally worth it after seeing those leopards staring at us and just relaxing in the tree.”

If you do not get to see leopards it feels like the tour would be incomplete since most people come to Yala just to see those. That is also the main reason the jeep drivers drives like crazy so that their costumers gets satisfied seeing the leopards.

All in all I am happy I visited Yala National Park because I got to see lots of animals which was the main aim for coming there.

I will give Yala a score of 4 points out of 5.

Pictures of leopards from Yala:


2 replies »

  1. Fabulous photos – especially the hornbill.
    It is compulsory to have a National Park guide jump in the jeep with you in Yala and the other National Parks such as Minneriya however don’t be surprised if the merely sit silently and then demand a huge tip. Unless you have hired an independent wildlife expert, they don’t need to be paid twice. At busy times it is possible there won’t be enough guides. It’s sad that the jeep drivers race around upsetting the elephants and putting their passengers in danger. This has become a well known problem.
    I agree with you that Bundala and other less popular parks are more satisfying to visit.

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