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Yala isn’t always on everybody’s Sri Lanka itinerary, but it should be! We really enjoyed our one day safari in Yala even though we didn’t get spot any of the infamous Sri Lankan leapards… *sob, sob*. In this post I will tell you everything that you need to know to plan an amazing trip to Yala National Park.
Where is Yala National Park?
Located in the southeast part of Sri Lanka, Yala National Park actually borders the Indian Ocean. It lies across two of the country’s provinces: Southern Province and Uva Province.
The park covers 378 square miles (979 square kilometres), and it is the second largest national park in Sri Lanka. Yala National Park is actually made up of five blocks, as well as adjoining blocks and sanctuaries.
Yala National Park is around 190 miles (300 kilometres) away from Colombo, the capital city of Sri Lanka. Many people stay in Colombo when visiting Sri Lanka. You can drive to the Yala area if you charter a taxi – it takes around 4.5 hours. Alternatively, for a budget DIY way of travelling from Colombo to Yala National Park, take the EX 1-12/32 bus from Colombo Bastian Mawatha Bus Terminal (heading towards Kataragama). Alight at Tangalle and get a taxi to the Yala area. The bus will cost around £1-2 GBP, with the taxi costing around £13 GBP.
We opted to do a customised tour during our travels through Sri Lanka. This allowed us to plan the itinerary and make sure that all the best bits were included, including a trip to Yala! You can find the tour we did here.
What’s the weather like in Yala?
The Yala National Park area is warm. It’s not quite hot, but it’s definitely warm! Temperatures tend not to fluctuate too much throughout the year, either. The coldest months (December through February) see lows of 23°C and highs of 30°C, while the warmest months (March-May) have lows of 24-26°C, and highs of 31°C. So no matter what time of year you visit, it is likely to be warm!
Read also: Sri Lanka: A two week itinerary
The rainy months are April, May, September, October, November and December. February is the driest month, and despite being the coolest month it still has temperatures of between 23 and 30°C making it an optimum time to visit the Yala area.
Most safari trips start early in the morning before it gets light. At this time it can be a bit chilly, so I recommend that you pack a jumper.
Tip: Don’t forget to pack your mosquito repellent! When it starts getting light the mozzies will be out and about…
Things to see at Yala National Park
The park itself and the surrounding area is a complete hotspot for eco-tourism in Sri Lanka. There is so much to see, and with blocks 1, 4 & 5 of Yala National Park being open to the public, plenty of opportunity to see it!
Entry to the park costs the equivalent of around £12 GBP for (foreign) adults and around half of this for children. Here you can hire a jeep with driver; this costs around £30 GBP for a half day, and just under £60 GBP for a full day. Jeeps hold up to six people and the cost remains the same.If you want to book in advance you can find some good options with Viator.
All of the tours seem to collect people at the same time in the morning (before it gets light). They then race to the park in the jeeps, which can be a bit of a rough ride so make sure you hold on! They then have to go and collect the tickets, which takes a while. So be prepared to wait in the jeep while your driver organises everything. We were waiting around 45 minutes, but some people were waiting longer.
A safari is the best way to explore Yala National Park. There are so many beautiful animals in the area, and you’ll have the opportunity to spot plenty of them: leopards, elephants, crocodiles, peacocks, sloths and more. To see animals relatively up close in their own environment is a rare treat for most people, and something that can’t be taken for granted. It is an absolute must if you’re in the area!
Bird watching is another fun way to spend the day at Yala. There is a whole rainbow of birds present at the national park: from the Lesser Whistling Duck to the Eurasian Spoonbill, and the Painted Stork to the Ruddy Turnstone – there is no shortage of bright and beautiful birds flying and swooping through the trees and around the water.
DID YOU KNOW: there are 44 varieties of mammal and 215 species of bird in the national park!
There is also an area of the Yala National Park that offers space to walk along the beach. With stunning views, clear blue water and soft white sand it is a beautiful place to relax, reflect and soak in the atmosphere. Here you will also find a memorial to the victims of the 2004 tsunami. Around 250 people died in the national park as a result of the tragedy, and of course the land changed completely. No animals in Yala National Park were harmed during the tsunami, which has fascinated scientists and researchers.
For a truly wild experience, you can camp in the national park or stay in one of the wildlife bungalows. For more information and to book, click here. By staying within the park, you’ll be the first ones out on safari the following day!
If you want some history and culture as well as all the nature, visit Sithulpauwwa. This is an ancient rock temple, the name of which comes from ‘Chittalapabbata’ meaning the hill of the quiet mind. It is something of a pilgrimage for a lot of people, and is believed to have housed 12,000 monks in ancient times.
Where to stay in Yala
There are plenty of hotels and accommodation options in the surrounding area, just a few minutes away from Yala National Park. Here are a couple of my recommendations.
Cinnamon Wild Yala is pure luxury. Just a five minute drive away from the national park, there are stunning chalets with private balconies, beach or jungle views, and private bathrooms. There is an outdoor pool, free WiFi, a restaurant offering both local and Western dishes, and 24-hour check in services. Spa facilities are available, and the hotel can provide a packed lunch for your day in the national park, too!
Best Hostel Yala is also just a few minutes drive away from Yala National Park. There is free WiFi, and the hostel offers double rooms as well as dormitories. All rooms have shared bathrooms, and staff are happy to organise national park tours for guests. Rooms are clean and basic, and there is plenty of socialising space.
There are also several other places to stay around Yala National Park. For a full list of accommodation options available on your travel dates use the search box below.
There you have it – a complete guide to visiting Yala National Park. It is well worth a trip to see some of the beauty on offer!