Yala National Park

Yala National Park is the second largest and most visited national park in Sri Lanka. I did quite a lot of research on the different national parks in Sri Lanka to see which one was the best to visit. I actually decided against Yala National Park and favoured Minneraya. However, due to our route and after some further research we finally chose Yala.

When planning my trip to Sri Lanka I'd imagined lots of 5 am starts. But this wasn't actually  the case. In fact, my trip to Yala National Park was probably the earliest I'd been up the whole trip, apart from my visit to the Taj Mahal of course!  I'm the first to admit that I'm not a morning person, I don't try and pretend I am. I like my sleep. A lot. But when my alarm went off I got out of bed rather easily. This may have had something to do with the fact that I had a double bed to myself and we'd treated ourselves to a nice hotel (with aircon!) rather than the usual hostel or guest house.

                                                                                 I was the definition of bed head on the safari but hey when you're on the look out for elephants and leopards who cares! I got up and dressed, ate a slightly stale muffin so I didn't get too hungry on the tour and headed to the hotel lobby. Our driver was waiting. And so we headed off into the pitch black ready for our safari.

It wasn't long until we started seeing other jeeps. I can only describe the pitch black drive in the jeep as the wacky races (remember that TV show?!). Or should I say what  I imagine the wacky races to be like in real life. The jeeps went so quick! We kept overtaking ones and then they would overtake us again. They'd be sharp turns in the road that we'd shoot around. If I wasn't awake already I definitely was after this drive. I decided to sit back and try not to think about the fact that our driver was overtaking other jeeps at an incredible spend in the pitch black. All the drivers seemed to be in one big race. And I guess in a sense we were.

The race was to get to the ticket area for the park. Once we got there we parked up and our driver collected our money. After about five minutes we were off again, this time heading to the actual entrance. This is why the journey had turned into wacky races. Everyone wants to be as near to the front of the queue as possible. We got there about 15 minutes before the park opened and were already about ten jeeps back. The queue behind us quickly increased too.

When the park opened the jeeps lined up sped in, while most followed the same route some began to split off and head down other dirt tracks. Our driver seemed to be pretty good at knowing where to go. He was on his walkie talkie a lot. I think a lot of the drivers talk to one another and tell each other any animals they spot.

We started to see animals quite quickly. We saw peacocks, a fox, some crocodiles. All were quite far away but I had my zoom lens on my camera so was able to use that to take pictures/ use as binoculars. In hindsight, I should of worn my glasses as I did struggle to see things sometimes.

We headed off to a quieter area of the park, our driver then got a message saying that there may be leopards. This was the main reason we chose Yala so we really hoped we could see one. We first went to the area they were spotted but there was no sightings. Then we moved to another area where there were already some jeeps. We parked up and waited. We were there for about a good ten to fifteen minutes. That's part of the safari though, you need to wait and see if the animals appear. It's not something that can happen instantly. They're wild animals so you may go and not see any. We very nearly left to go to another area of the park when one of the other jeeps motioned that there was a leopard.

It then turned a bit chaotic. The jeeps all shot forward, trying to get nearer to the area. At this point there was about five jeeps. It took me forever to spot the leopard. Mostly because I wasn't wearing my glasses. Kate kept pointing to where it was and I just couldn't spot it. But then I did! We were incredibly lucky as another leopard appeared and the a youngster! Our driver said this was quite rare.

It must have been because our driver seemed more excited than us! He took my camera and took some photos for me which were really good! Then even more jeeps arrived, there were about 50 people in various jeeps leaning out trying to get a look at the leopards. It was quite bizarre. By this point we were quite far back meaning jeeps were blocking our view, however, they couldn't move as there was no where to go. There was a child in the front jeep just casually eating his food and not even paying attention to the leopards right beside him!

After getting some pictures and watching the leopards play we headed off. Just in time because more jeeps were coming to the area. Our driver proudly told every other jeep we passed about our sighting. After the excitement of the leopards we didn't see many more animals. I was really hoping for some elephants but seeing the leopards definitely made up for this. We saw some warthogs and some beautiful birds.

We left the park around 8.30 am, got a picture by the sign and were dropped back at our hotel. We were initially planning on moving on that day but had decided to book one more night in the hotel because the pool was so nice! It was the first 'luxury' accommodation we'd stayed in and it was great to relax and catch up on some reading. My room also had a bath, I don't have one at home so I took advantage of this. I think I may write a post about the hotel because it was so nice!


  • You can organise a tour through most hotels, however, ours told us that we'd get a cheaper price finding a driver ourselves.
  • Most accommodation for Yala is located in the town of Tissa or nearby. If you choose to stay in a hotel it will most likely be located just outside. You can get a tuk tuk to the main town for around 200 rupees. 


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