A Complete Guide to Yala National Park
Updated: Jul 30
Yala National Park is located on the south coast of Sri Lanka. Divided into 5 blocks, the park consists of a protected area spanning nearly 130,000 hectares of light forests, scrubs, grasslands, tanks and lagoons. During your safari, you will get the chance to get up close with the untamed world of wildlife.
2 blocks out the 5 blocks are open to the public. Don’t worry. This is more than enough to fill hours and hours observing plenty of animals in their natural habitat including 44 varieties of mammal and 215 bird species.
In this article, we want to share with you a complete guide about the park, including the kind of animals you can expect to see and how to best prepare for your safari to make it a ‘truely’ memorable experience for everyone.
Do I Need a Guide?
You do not need an official guide, but what you do need is a driver who knows the park and who is working for a safari tour operator in Sri Lanka. While their ability to speak English is often limited to basic conversations, these drivers know the park very well and they will make sure you get to see the highest diversity of wildlife possible.
During the safari, your driver will also be in contact with drivers, which means when one spots a herd of elephants or a leopard, for example, your driver will be notified. That has both advantages and disadvantages. On the one hand, they do whatever they can to provide you with a great experience, on the other hand, when 3,4 or 5 jeeps are all rushing to the same spot, you can easily feel more like a chase. Most of the time, however, we were by ourselves - just us and the animals.
We booked our safari with Ajith Safari Jeep Tours. They were extremely helpful and super flexible considering that we booked our trip only a day in advance. The safari started at 2 pm and ended around 7 pm. We paid USD112 for 2 people, which is an average price for a 5h visit to the park. Best of all, it was a private tour and they provided binoculars for us as well.
What Animals Will I See in Yala?
Yala National Park is packed with wildlife. While there is no guarantee of the animals that you will get to see, the likelihood you getting up close with serpent eagles and peacocks, monitor lizards, deers, buffalos, and wild boars is extremely high. You will also get the chance to see herds of female elephants with their babies as well as bulls roaming the park.
Leopards are more difficult to see. You must be lucky and be at the right time in the right place to get a glimpse of these majestic cats.
We visited the park in May and we were able to see plenty of wildlife. There are tours that start early in the morning and others in the early afternoon. Lazy as we are, we chose to wake up late and have a nice breakfast at our hotel before embarking on our safari in the afternoon at 2 pm. Our driver picked us up.
When is The Best Time to Visit The Park?
Yala is open almost all year round. They only close in September, for maintenance. The best time to visit Yala is during the dry season between February and June. With lower water levels, it's easier to spot animals coming out to the lagoons to drink.
We visited the park in May and we were able to see plenty of wildlife. There are tours that start early in the morning and others in the early afternoon. Lazy as we are, we chose to wake up late and have a nice breakfast at our hotel before embarking on our safari in the afternoon at 2pm. Our driver picked us up.
How Long Should I Plan For The Visit to The Park?
To see more of the incredible diversity of animals in the park. We opted for one-afternoon safari. Personally, we felt that this was enough. We saw plenty of wildlife up close and only missed out on seeing leopards who often hide for days. So even if you stay for 2 days, there is no guarantee for you to see them.
Where Should We Stay?
There are several accommodations in and around Yala National Park to choose from. Depending your budget, here is a list of locations, that we looked at when we planned our safari.
In Yala National Park: Mahoora is a completely mobile safari camp option, which provides all guests with a unique and luxurious safari camp experience. Working with a large group of nationalists, Mahoora will make sure you not only get to experience animals up close but also give you the opportunity to learn a lot about them.
Boarding Yala National Park: Cinnamon Wild Yala is a beautiful nature resort located at the southernmost tip of Sri Lanka. Wildlife safaris can be arranged upon request.
Airbnb in Tissamaharama: In the end we opted for an airbnb in Tissamaharama. The place we chose is called River Face Inn. It was great. The service was super friendly, the food was good and our room was clean with a nice view across the river. Driving to Yala National Park only takes half an hour. The time we needed to get to the park was not deducted from our safari.
Things You Need to Bring to Your Safari
Camera: Bring a good camera including a zooming lens. You will have plenty of opportunities to shoot amazing wildlife and landscape photos during your safari.
Water: Bring enough water. It can get very hot during the day which is why it is important to stay hydrated and bring enough water.
Sanitizer and tissues: There are toilets in the park and they are relatively clean. Just to be on the safe side, however, bring your own hand sanitizer and tissues.
Sunscreen: Never underestimate the sun in this part of the world.