Yala National Park, situated in Southern Province, is the most popular park in Sri Lanka. The park is the second largest in the island and covers almost 1000 square kilometres. It has a diverse variety of ecosystems and terrain including moist monsoon forests, grasslands, flat plains, rocky outcrops, lakes, sandy beaches and marine wetlands. A safari in Yala is a must for nature lovers and wildlife enthusiasts.
Yala has the highest leopard density in the world – for this reason people flock from all over the world here, making it one of the busiest parks during the season. Various other mammals can be spotted during your safari here, including sloth bears, jungle cats, mongoose, wild boar, sambar deer, spotted deer, buffalo and Asian elephants. You can also spot a number of crocodiles near rivers and pools, as wel as turtle species near the coastal areas. The birdlife here is also impressive with over 130 species being spotted. The best time to go on a Yala safari is early morning or at night to avoid the heat. It is also advisable to avoid weekends or holidays, as it can get very busy.
One of the closest towns to Yala National Park is Tissamaharama, which serves as a starting point for Yala excursions. The important Hindi and Buddhist pilgrimage site of Kataragama is also accessible from this town. A short distance fromTissamaharama is another park – the Bundala National Park. This UNESCO Bio Reserve is an Important Bird Area with close to 200 species, making a safari here well worth your time.
There are several accommodation options available around Yala. Cinnamon Yala and Jetwing Yala are excellent choices fot those looking for hotels close to the Yala entrance. Those that prefer a wilderness setting will be pleased with Mahoora Yala and Leopard Trails, which offer tented luxury camps at the border of Yala National Park. Tissamaharama has a few mid range options such as Priyankara and Safari Tissa.