Sri Lanka’s most popular wildlife destination

Yala National Park

Dense jungles, lakes, lagoons, grasslands, riverine and coastal areas provide a wide spectrum of habitats, making Yala hospitable to a range of flora and fauna.

Sri Lanka’s most popular wildlife destination

Situated on the south-west coast, Yala was once a hunting reserve during early days of British rule, but was designated a wildlife sanctuary in 1900 and a national park in 1938.

Today, it is one of the best places to see leopards. The reserve’s Block 1 reputedly has one of the highest leopard densities globally, but leopards are certainly not limited to this block.

In addition to its famous leopards, Yala is home to 44 varieties of mammals. Commonly seen animals Elephant, Spotted deer, Sambar, Barking Deer, Monkey, Wild Buffalo, Wild Boar, Sloth Bear, Monitor Lizards and Crocodiles. Yala is also rich in endemic and migratory birds, recording more than 200 species.

The best time to visit Yala is between February and July when the water levels of the park are quite low, bringing animals into the open.

Ancient Rahuna

Amongst the abundant wildlife are tell-tale signs of a lost civilization, the kingdom of Rahuna.

The monastic settlement of Sithulpawwa, an important pilgrim site, is said to have housed 12,000 inhabitants seeking solace, some 2000 years ago. A series of well-preserved ancient temples survive.

Hundreds of now dilapidated tanks bear testimony to previous agricultural use of these lands, and now provide much needed water to the animals during the dry season.

The salt pans at Palatupana are a great place for bird watching.


Safaris come in morning or afternoon options but for wildlife lovers, the best option is the longer full day safari which includes lunch served at a designated spot. During the designated lunch time, all vehicles congregate at the spot, and you get to stretch your legs on the beach.

This saves time wasted going back and forth from the park gates on the bumpy roads, and allows you to maximize your stay in the core area

From the Director's Travel Diary

A majestic tusker blocked the path of our safari vehicle, and there being no easy way to reverse on the narrow winding track, we waited silently for the elephant to move off the path.

However, we were on a sticky wicket when after posing gracefully for our cameras for a while, the towering tusker decided to calmly walk straight towards us.

Our experienced guide and driver didn’t panic and advised us to remain silent.

In what seemed an age, and yet was only a few seconds, the tusker walked past us within brushing distance without as much batting an eyelid as we watched with bated breaths and open mouths.

Apart from the tense excitement, I can still vividly remember his perfectly silent walk and the strong elephant odour.

An enthralling moment that encapsulated the best of wildlife encounters. Wild animals don’t necessarily behave aggressively unless threatened or spooked. Our excellent crew had given the elephant ample time to evaluate our intentions, and in turn, had judged his body language perfectly, leading to an encounter of a lifetime, rather than an encounter to end a lifetime.

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