Yala National Park Safari in Sri Lanka

If you plan a trip to Sri Lanka, you definitely must visit Yala National Park. It provides an amazing safari experience in Sri Lanka with exotic wildlife and stunning landscapes. It’s no wonder it is said to be one of the most thrilling safari parks in the country.

We visited the park in September 2023 and had an unforgettable adventure. Our post will give you first hand knowledge and insights to help you plan your journey. You can rest assured that the information you’ll find here is tried and tested, backed by our personal experience.

Images of grey langur monkeys, sloth bear, a baby elephant and a Malabar pied hornbill on our trip to Yala National Park Safari in Sri Lanka

We’ll tell you about and show the pictures we captured of the animals we encountered during the safari, such as leopards, sloth bears, and elephants, as well as the large variety of birds the park offers.

We’ll also provide all the details you need to plan your trip, including where to stay, the best time of year to visit, things to take, what to wear, and tips for making the most of your adventure.

Whether you’re a seasoned safari explorer or your first time on safari, Yala National Park is a must-see destination. So, let’s dive in and explore what Yala National Park offers!

A land monitor at Yala National Park Sri Lanka

Here is a quick video of what we saw during our safari at Yala National Park.

Discovering Yala National Park

Yala National Park is a breathtaking wildlife sanctuary in the southeastern part of Sri Lanka, covering an enormous area of 979 square kilometres, making it the second-largest national park in the country. The park boasts a stunning 22-mile-long beach that extends along the Indian Ocean.

The beach area view from jeep at Yala National Park Sri Lanka

Originally established in 1900 as a hunting ground for British royals, Yala was later declared a wildlife refuge in 1938. The park’s breathtaking landscape and diverse wildlife have made it a popular destination for tourists, who witness its wild inhabitants, with 44 mammal species and 215 bird varieties, the park is a natural haven teeming with life.

A 4x4 jeep driving on a long road in Yala National Park Sri Lanka

The leopard is definitely the most sought-after animal that visitors come to see. Yala boasts one of the largest concentrations of leopards on earth, and you will also get to see other wildlife like elephants, sloth bears, spotted deer, peacocks, rare bird species and crocodiles during your stay here!

Visiting Yala will give you an unforgettable experience of being closer to nature than ever before.

A sloth bear walking on the road towards our jeep at Yala National Park Sri Lanka. Black fured bear with paws that twist inwards, long claws and a brown long nose.

Planning Your Yala National Park Safari

Planning a Yala National Park safari can be an exciting experience for travellers. Here at Flawless Journeys, we understand that planning requires thought and research. That’s why we are here to guide you through planning your perfect safari adventure.

We will provide advice on booking, the various safari options available, when the best time to visit is, what items you should pack with you and what clothing to wear.

A crow eating a dead bird standing on a branch

Getting to Yala National Park

To make our holiday experience as smooth and fun-filled as possible, we decided to use Apple Vacations Pvt Ltd for managing all of the arrangements – from accommodation to transportation.

The travel company had abundant expertise in Sri Lanka, enabling us to enjoy our honeymoon journey across Yala National Park without worries about planning or organizing. Use a trusted source for your trip, here are some links to who we used!

They offer a great way of getting there with convenient transfers from places like Ella, Colombo and Bentota. Their service includes an air-conditioned car for the transfer, bottled water, and entrance fees, so you can start looking forward to your wild safari adventure without worrying about logistical issues!

For those wanting different transportation options, it is possible to take public buses or get a tuk-tuk. However, it will be a long journey and not so comfortable! So allow extra time and take some snacks!

Safari Options

When figuring out which safari option you would like at Yala National Park, various options are available, including half-day or full-day safari, group safari or private expeditions. You can even stay overnight inside a campground – each offering an enjoyable yet unique encounter with nature’s beauty.

Yala National Park entrance sign. At the gates of where you pay to enter the jeep into the safari park,

Whether taking part in an early morning safari, afternoon adventure or spending an entire day in Yala alongside the diverse wildlife, you will have ever-lasting memories.

To take advantage of competitive prices while guaranteeing everything is correctly taken care of, book your safari beforehand if feasible! Some hotels will offer to book for you, but check the prices beforehand.

We only booked half a day, an early morning safari, which included four hours at Yala from 6 am to 10 am. We were so lucky to see all we did in those 4 hours! But on our next visit, I plan to book a full day to get the most out of it.

Safari Transport

Jeeps are the only mode of transportation allowed within the park’s boundaries. To fully appreciate the natural beauty and wildlife sightings of Yala while exploring safely, it’s recommended to plan your safari jeep in advance.

We had a safari jeep to ourselves (with the driver and a guide), which allowed us to fully immerse ourselves in the natural surroundings and enjoy the journey at our own pace. It was amazing to see so many different animals in their natural habitats.

Hiring a Guide

A guide is highly recommended to maximise your limited time in Yala National Park safari by providing essential information and helping you spot animals.

Luke and Kay with our driver and guide for our safari at Yala National Park Sri Lanka

We had a private tour, and our insightful guide shared interesting facts about wildlife, which gave us a comprehensive understanding of what we observed.

Our guide was highly skilled in navigating through the different habitats where diverse kinds of creatures live and can help you spot them on-site. He also had books to show about the animals and birds spotted during the day.

Packing Tips for Yala National Park

When visiting Yala National Park, packing some essential items is important.

Bag

Bring a zip-up bag or rucksack to store your belongings securely, as it can be windy on the jeep ride, and you don’t want things you have packed to go missing, or if there is rain, they may get wet!

Water and Snacks

Be sure to bring bottled water, and snacks such as nuts, energy bars, and fruit are also recommended to keep your energy levels up during the safari.

Hygiene

Remember to bring toilet paper and soap with you, as the restroom facilities at the park are quite basic and often don’t provide these essentials. Additionally, it’s a good idea to pack antibacterial wipes and hand sanitiser for added hygiene.

Camera

A great camera with a fantastic lens can make all the difference for the photos to show off to friends and family when you get home! I used a 70-200 lens on my Nikon Camera.

Luke and Kay from Flawless Journeys standing next to a lake holding her camera.

As you will see by the pictures of the animals coming up, it worked great. I hope to upgrade to a better zoom lens before our next safari.

Phone

Phones have great cameras these days, so make sure to have it charged up and space available for all the pictures and videos you will take.

Power Bank

Invest in a power bank to keep your camera or phone charged, as the pictures and videos taken during your visit will drain your battery.

Protection

Use a high-factor sun cream to protect your skin from the sun’s rays. Apply the sun cream early in the morning before leaving to avoid forgetting it in the excitement of seeing the animals. Wear a stylish pair of polarised sunglasses to cover harmful sun rays and shield your eyes.

Most importantly, don’t forget to pack a sense of adventure and an open mind – you never know what incredible wildlife sightings await you at Yala National Park!

What to Wear on Safari

When embarking on a safari, it’s advisable to wear comfortable, light-coloured clothing that blends in with the surroundings – think khakis, browns, and greens.

For those with long hair, consider wearing it tied up, braided or in a bun, as the jeep rides can get quite windy, leading to a wind-swept knotty look.

Luke and Kay standing in front of a safari jeep waiting to go on a Yala safari

Don’t forget to bring sunglasses for the jeep journey for sun protection and to shelter your eyes from the wind on the way to and from Yala National Park.

When to Visit Yala National Park

When planning your visit to Yala National Park, timing is crucial. It is recommended to visit the park between February and July, which is the dry season. During this time, the park’s water level is lower, attracting animals closer to the remaining water sources. This makes it easier for visitors to spot them.

However, more tourists are likely to be present during this period, which means there will be more jeeps in the park as well. Starting in 2023, Yala National Park has decided to remain open throughout the year instead of closing for six weeks in September as it used to.

Luke sitting in the front of safari jeep driving on the roads in Yala National Park Sri Lanka

We visited the Yala Safari Park in September 2023 and made the most of the fact that it was not yet widely known that the park would remain open all year. This allowed us to enjoy our safari experience without the usual crowds of tourists, making it an ideal option for a more peaceful and private safari outing.

Blocks in Yala

Yala National Park is divided into five zones or blocks with unique habitats and diverse wildlife populations; only blocks one and five are currently open to the general public.

The main attraction in Yala is Block 1, consisting of 13,800 hectares of forest which is said to be home to as many as 80 leopards that roam fearlessly around this area without natural predators threatening them.

A map of Block 1 at Yala National Park Sri Lanka

Yala’s forest areas provide the ideal habitat for big cats and other animals. The area boasts various shrubs, high trees, open plains, and huge granite boulders. Additionally, the large lakes and water holes make for a remarkable sightseeing experience while exploring the stunning terrains of Yala.

Accommodation near Yala National Park

For an unforgettable experience in Yala National Park, and to make sure you make it in time for the early morning safari, travellers can choose from various accommodations that suit any budget and preference.

Those seeking something luxurious may opt for Cinnamon Wild Yala Hotel. We highly recommend it. Read more about our stay and review of Cinnamon Wild here.

Situated close to the park with features such as free Wi-Fi, air conditioning, cable TV, laundry service and bathrooms equipped with amenities. They also offer a private jeep safari for morning or afternoon safari trips.

Entrance at Cinnamon Wild Yala near to block 1 Yala

We have heard that the Uga Chena Huts also offers a wonderful experience. Or try the new Hilton Yala Resort. There is also a safari camp you could try.

Alternatively, those who wish to save money can find cheaper accommodations in Tissamaharama. Various hotels and guesthouses offer good value for money while within easy reach of the national park itself!

 

Animals in Yala

Animals in YalaWhile exploring Yala National Park, we were fortunate to have unforgettable encounters with many animals and birds in their natural habitats.

It’s important to note that since these are wild animals, there are no guarantees of what you’ll see on any given day. However, the experienced drivers and guides are well-versed in the area and can lead you to the best possible locations.

What we have listed below is not all the animals you will see, its what we saw, you may see others we missed, let us know in the comments that you saw!

Leopard

We were lucky to witness a magnificent Leopard slumbering in a branched tree. Regrettably, its majestic head remained concealed from our eager gaze.

A leopard asleep on a big tree branch in Yala National Park Sri Lanka. With his vibrant orange fur and black spots.

The leopard must have felt at ease and undisturbed by our persistent attempts to capture its image. You can see the back of his head through the branches in this picture.

A leopard called Lucas asleep on a big tree branch with his head facing away from the camera in Yala National Park Sri Lanka.

We later discovered that the leopard we had encountered during our safari adventure was Lucas. Here are more details about him and some other leopards from Yala from our hotel board.

Images of different leopards that can be seen at Yala National Park Sri Lanka taken at Cinnamon Yala Hotel

The drivers communicate with each other to let each other know when there has been a leopard spotting.

Sloth Bear

We were thrilled to come across another incredible sight – a sloth bear leisurely strolling alongside the road, once again completely unfazed by our presence.

A sloth bear walking along side our jeep at Yala National Park Sri Lanka. He has fur missing on his rear and a sore red ear.

He looked a little worse for wear, with fur missing and a sore ear. Maybe he had been in a fight? You have to remember these are wild animals, so they don’t look as well looked after as they would be in a zoo without natural predators.

Water Buffalo

Water buffaloes were a common sight throughout Sri Lanka, with their massive forms dominating the landscape, quite often wallowing in the lakes.

A female brown water buffalo in Yala National Park Sri Lanka

You will see many of them by the water holes, but they do wander closer to the roads in search of tasty leaves. Being in the jeep, you can get closer to capture some great photos of them! The one above is a female, also referred to as a cow, they have smaller horns.

Meanwhile, the male water buffalo seen below are larger, with backwards curving horns with big ridges in them.

A male grey water buffalo in Yala National Park Sri Lanka

Spotted Deer

The elusive spotted deer, also known as Axis deer or Chitals, we encountered had a timid nature, making them skittish and fond of concealing themselves behind branches, which made capturing them close-up challenging,

From a distance, you could observe groups of graceful spotted deer quenching their thirst from the lakes.

A herd of spotted deer's on the banks near a lake in yala national park There are 5 female chitals, two whom are young fawns. A young male axis and a large buck.

Strangely, in Wilapattu National Park, they were not as skittish, so I will post some better close-up pictures of them and some of the sambar deer we spotted on that blog post (coming soon).

Mongoose

We captured this picture of a ruddy mongoose that dashed across the road for food. As it hurried along, it gave us a little glance back. How cute is he/she?

A Sri Lankan ruddy mongoose on the ground at the National Park in Yala

Hare

Having a guide with us was key to spotting this hare almost camouflaged beside a fallen tree trunk.

A hare sitting under a fallen tree trunk at Yala National Park Sri Lanka with big ears and brown black and grey fur and a vibrant reddish brown eye.

Langur Monkeys

The trees were alive with grey langur monkeys swinging from branch to branch, their playful antics a delight to watch.

A mother and baby Sri Lankan Grey langur monkey sitting cuddling in a tree at Yala Park. With black faces and ears, brown eyes and white and grey fur.

I adore this shot I captured, showcasing the heartwarming bond between a mother and baby grey langur monkey, snuggled ever so close.

Reptiles in Yala

On our Yala safari, we had the opportunity to see some incredible reptiles. Seeing them in their natural habitats was truly a unique experience.

Crocodiles

Following a recent heavy downfall of rain, we had the magnificent sight of crocodiles chilling in the lakes while birds gracefully dipped into the water, skillfully snatching fish in their beaks.

A crocodile poking his head out of the water, a painted stork next to him looking for fish and a peacock on the bank of the lake in at Yala National Park Sri Lanka

We were lucky enough to get up close and personal with some of these beautiful creatures, which made our visit even more special. While crocodiles are usually known for being aggressive, we found them to be docile and lazy.

A crocodile with its mouth open on the banks of a lake at Yala National Park Sri Lanka

Land Monitor

Everywhere we turned, we were greeted by an abundance of land monitors – both large and small, gracefully navigating the terrain, effortlessly scaling large granite boulders or mounds of elephant poop!

A Sri Lankan land monitor on dry ground at Yala National Park sri lanka. A large lizard with brown reptile skin.

Chameleon

Speaking of camouflage, it’s truly remarkable how our guide managed to spot this tiny chameleon. We would have missed him if he hadn’t pointed him out.

A chameleon lizard shaded yellow standing under a twig on the leafy ground at Yala in Sri Lanka.

We watched with amazement as the chameleon changed colors to match his surroundings,

Birds in Yala

Yala also boasts an array of stunning birdlife. From woodpeckers to warblers, eagles to herons – Yala is an ideal spot for birdwatching. Here are a few of what we saw.

Malabar Pied Hornbill

Birdwatchers would have delighted to see a Malabar pied hornbill gracefully perched high above.

A Malabar pied hornbill perched on a tree in Yala National Park Sri Lanka. A large yellow and black beak with black and white feathers and a long tail. with a tiny beady red eye.

Black-Necked Stork

During our visit to Yala National Park in Sri Lanka, we were fortunate to spot a black-necked stork, a magnificent near-threatened bird species. It stood regally in the lake, showcasing its beauty and presence in the natural habitat.

A black necked stork standing next to a lake and tree stump in Yala National Park Sri Lanka. With a long straight black beak, neck, legs and tail and white festhers on his chest and back.

Green Bee-Eater

I had the delightful opportunity to observe a lively Asian green bee-eater gracefully darting around in its quest for insects.

A vibrant green feathered bird with some brown, white and black feathers and a black beak. The Asian green bee eater sat sideways on a tree branch in Sri Lankas National Park Yala.

Its brief pause on a branch allowed me to seize this remarkable shot (my favourite of the day), showing off its vibrant colour and beauty.

White Throated Kingfisher

In Indian folklore, the white-throated kingfisher has a symbolic meaning of good luck, prosperity and protection.

A white throated kingfisher also known as the white breasted kingfisher sitting on a tree branch at Yala National Park Sri Lanka with a pink beak, brown, black and bright blue feathers.

Its stunning blue feathers undeniably catch your eye against its surroundings.

Junglefowl

Let’s not overlook the presence of Sri Lanka’s national bird, the magnificent Sri Lankan junglefowl. These enchanting creatures were abundant, their vibrant colours-catching glimpses through the shrubs.

Junglefowl in Yala National Park, Sri Lankas national bird, with vibrant purple, blue orange, red and yellow feathers.

Lesser Adjutant

One of the rarest sights of the day was a lesser adjutant — a true treat for any wildlife enthusiast. Listed as a vulnerable bird on the IUCN threatened species list.

A Lesser Adjutant, a yellow necked, long beaked, pink faced bald and long legged vunerable sri lankan bird standing in a lake getting a fish in yala national park

I nearly missed it while snapping photos of the spotted deer. Our guide pointed it out to me, and he was very excited to see this rare sight!

Painted Storks

The flock of painted storks was a thrilling sight. These large birds with elegant curved orange beaks descended gracefully into the shallow lake.

A flock of painted flamingos on the banks of a lake at Yala in Sri Lanka. With hooked orange beaks and face, mostly white feathers with black and some vibrant pink feathers and long legs.

Their bright pink feathers stood out against the muddy waters. Quickly snatching up small fishes in their long beaks. It was an incredible spectacle witnessing these creatures in their natural habitat, effortlessly capturing their prey before flying away again.

Great White Egret

I caught this great white egret (White Heron) in the act of catching his supper.

A Great Egret standing in a lake with a fish in its mouth at Yala National Park Sri Lanka. Long legged pure white bird with yellow beak known as a white heron.

Brahminy Kite

The Brahminy Kite (also known as a Red Back Sea Eagle) soaring high in the skies of Yala National Park is a sight to behold. His red and brown feathers, backlit by the sun, are a mesmerizing contrast against the bright blue sky.

A Brahminy Kite also known as a red back sea eagle flying in the sky at Yala National Park Sri Lanka With a white head and chest and brown - red feathers.

Getting a clear photograph of him from the safari jeep was not easy! I could spend hours admiring his beauty as he soars higher and higher.

Crested Serpent Eagle

This Crested Serpent Eagle was sitting on a branch an arm’s length away from our jeep. Allowing me to capture this amazing close-up side profile shot of his beautiful eye!

Side profile close up shot of a crested serpent eagle, with is brown feathers and white speckles with a vibrant yellow eye. At Yala National Park Sri Lanka

Brown Fish Owl

Another bird of prey, the Brown Fish Owl was sleeping in plain sight. He briefly opened his sleepy eyes to check us out before returning to sleep! Being so close to this beautiful large owl was a special moment.

A brown fish owl on a tree branch with its eyes half open at Yala National Park Sri Lanka. A large owl with brown and white feathers and spiky feathers on his ears and big yellow eyes

Peacocks

A less rare sight are peacocks and peahens strutting around in all their colourful glory, adding a splash of colour to the verdant surroundings.

A Peacock in Yala National Park Sri Lanka. With his feathers half up.

Yala National Park’s numerous wildlife sightings offer visitors a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity unlike anything else, with the most mesmerizing landscapes you’ve ever seen!

Summary

Yala National Park is a must-see destination for those seeking an unforgettable adventure. It isn’t hard to appreciate why so many people have fallen in love after visiting Yala.

Two crocodiles in a lake at Yala National Park Sri Lanka. One with hos mouth open

The pictures seen in this blog are what we spotted and got a good picture of. There are many more birds, animals and reptiles to be seen! Share in the comments anything we missed!

Its lush landscapes and unique wildlife create the perfect setting for a once-in-a-lifetime safari. Whether you’re experienced in safari adventures, or this is your first safari, proper planning will ensure you maximise your time at Yala National Park.

Comparing Yala to Other National Parks in Sri Lanka

We had the privilege of experiencing three remarkable safaris in different National Parks of Sri Lanka. Yala National Park held a special place in our hearts as our favourite.

If you have to choose just one safari, we wholeheartedly recommend Yala as the Best Safari in Sri Lanka. Its vast expanses are teeming with animals around every corner, offering sightings of elephants, leopards, bears, and so many reptiles and birds that are simply unparalleled.

Flawless Journeys owners Luke and Kay taking a selfie whilst sitting in the safari jeep in Yala National Park Sri Lanka

Each park offers unique experiences and wildlife sightings that are absolutely worth exploring.

Udawalawe National Park

Udawalawe National Park Safari is renowned for its elephant population, so if it is Sri Lankan elephants you mainly want to see, you may prefer it there. You will see them at the side of the road before you even enter the National Park. (Blog post – coming soon). We took a private tour to see the sri lankan elephants on our Udawalawe safari. Read more about our Udawalawe Safari here.

You can also visit the Udawalawe Elephant Transit Home, which looks after sick baby elephants. This allows you to see a lot of elephants up close while they are being fed! (Blog post – coming soon)

Wilpattu National Park

Wilpattu is home to many of the same animals as Yala, including sloth bears and leopards. But it is 50% larger, so the animals are more spread out and harder to spot. You will need a full day to see what you can see in a half-day tour at Yala. (Yeah you guessed it, blog post – coming soon) We stayed in a safari camp that offers a guided tour of wilapattu to bring us closer to nature. Again, they offer half-day or a full day tour.

Minneriya National Park

We did not visit the Minneriya National Park but it is another one of sri lanka safari, popular national parks.

Combining Yala with Other Sri Lankan Adventures

Exploring the wonders of Sri Lanka can be a very rewarding journey for those who set out to discover its many attractions. When planning your adventure, consider budget and trip duration when selecting which activities or destinations to include.

It is important to remember the distances you need to travel to reach the must-see places in Sri Lanka. It is nice to break up the journey by visiting other places and staying in hotels.

We came from Colombo and stayed at Riu Sri Lanka (read more about our stay at Riu Sri Lanka). You can visit the turtle hatchery, followed by the tsunami education centre.

Then explore the Galle Fort, and see the stilt fishermen and Mirissa beach along the way to Yala National Park.

After our safari and stay at Yala National Park, we set off to Udawalawe National Park for the next safari adventure with plenty of elephant sightings.

Kay from Flawless Journeys standing infront of a Bodhi tree ( the people tree inside the Kataragama Temple in sri lanka

On our way, our driver stopped at the captivating Kataragama Temple to delve deeper into the revered culture cherished by Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, and Christians in Sri Lanka.

FAQs

What is special about Yala National Park?

Yala National Park is a remarkable sanctuary for various animals, such as leopards, elephants, sloth bears, spotted deer, sambars, jackals, and crocodiles. The park boasts 44 distinct mammal species and 215 different bird varieties. Considering its impressive wildlife population, Yala National Park is undoubtedly a unique destination for nature lovers.

Is Yala National Park worth visiting?

Yala National Park offers a safari experience not to be missed, if you only have time to visit one National Park, I would highly recommend this one!

How to get to Yala Sri Lanka?

For those looking to go from Bandaranaike International Airport to Yala, the journey would take about 4 hours and 30 minutes by car. Alternatively, a shorter drive of around 2 hours and 30 minutes could be taken if you’re coming from Ella.

How long is the Yala safari?

Visitors can participate in a 4-hour Yala safari twice daily, at 6 AM and 2 PM, or combine them for a full-day safari.

Is Sri Lanka good for safaris?

Yes, Sri Lanka is a great destination for safaris. The country’s diverse wildlife and beautiful landscapes offer a unique safari experience that any nature lover or adventure seeker should not miss. Yala National Park is just one of many amazing safari destinations in Sri Lanka.

The vivid colours of the wildlife were a scene like no other. It was truly an experience we’ll never forget. Stay tuned for more of our adventures. Prepare yourself for the incredible journey that awaits you at Yala National Park!

Have you visited Yala before? Share your favourite sightings with us!

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