Leopard Trails: A Review of the Yala Camp and Safari

It doesn’t get any better than my stay with Leopard Trails at Yala National Park in Sri Lanka.

 This was one of my very top experiences, not just while I was in Sri Lanka, but anywhere that I’ve travelled to!

It reminds me in many ways of my stay in Tembe Elephant Park in South Africa, which I called My Best Travel Experience of 2012!

I made the mistake of just staying one night which gave me the opportunity to do an afternoon safari and an early morning safari.  Don’t make the mistake that I made – stay at least two nights, but a day or two longer is preferable if you’re a nature lover like I am.

One of the Hanuman Langurs that served as the unofficial welcoming committee to Leopard Trails Camp near Yala National Park.
One of the Hanuman Langurs that served as the unofficial welcoming committee!

Game Ranger Arran picked me up at the agreed upon meeting place and was friendly and welcoming! The kind of guy you feel like you’ve known forever.

When I hopped out of the jeep, there was another welcoming committee, a troop of Hanuman Langur monkeys!  For a gal whose blog is called Monkeys and Mountains, I don’t think I need to tell you that this is the ULTIMATE welcome! Just be sure to zip your tent shut though, advised Arran. They haven’t been brave enough to go into tents…yet, but we want to be cautious!!!

Agreed, as much as I love monkeys, even I don’t want them snooping through and stealing my stuff.

My tent at Leopard Trails, near Yala National Park, Sri Lanka.
My tent at Leopard Trails with monkeys in the trees right outside my door!  Seriously, how ideal is that?!

I dropped my stuff off at my gorgeous tent, complete with all the modern-day amenities that make your stay comfortable, such as electricity, and a cool outdoor shower. This is my dream type of stay, wild, where you feel you are at one with nature, but still luxurious!

Soon after my arrival, it was time for lunch!  No wonder I immediately fell in love with Leopard Trails, a warm welcome, monkeys and now a hearty Sri Lankan lunch!

Lunch tent where hearty local Sri Lankan dishes are served at the Leopard Trails camp near Yala in Sri Lanka.
Lunch tent where hearty local Sri Lankan dishes are served.

There are a maximum of 8 guests at the Leopard Trails camp in Yala and I was a bit nervous to meet the other guests since they had arrived before me and were traveling in two groups and we would all be dining at one table.

I was very much aware that I would be the outsider.  My worries were completely unfounded though, they were warm and welcoming and made me feel as though I was part of the group as we bonded over our shared love of wildlife.

I think that’s the great thing about the intimate setting at Leopard Trails, it attracts like-minded people who bond almost immediately over a common interest.

After lunch, it was time for the first safari.  Before arrival, Leopard Trails has guests fill out a questionnaire so that they can personalize the experience for guests. This addresses any food allergies or preference you may have, which as someone with celiac disease (a gluten-allergy), I really appreciated.

It also asks what type of wildlife you are interested in seeing in Yala, Sri Lanka’s most visited and second largest national park.  That way they can divide the group according to interest.  There was a birding group and a leopard-seeking group during my stay.  I was part of the latter.

Yala has the highest leopard population density in the world and while I was also interested in seeing the other 43 species of mammals and at least giving a passing glance to the 215 bird species there, it was the leopards that I most excited to see, see they have eluded me on my four previous visits to Africa.

And see them I did!!!  You can read all about my leopard-spotting here! In addition, I also spotted elephants, not as many as what I saw in Kaudulla National Park, where I saw over 200! But I had a very nice encounter with this juvenile and spent about 15 minutes observing him eating his breakfast of leaves.

Elephant eating breakfast in Yala National Park, Sri Lanka.
Elephant eating breakfast in Yala National Park.

Besides being in Yala, surrounded by the sounds of hundreds of chirping birds, I was completely mesmerized by our guide Jerome.  He is the best and most entertaining safari guide I have ever had – bar none, and I’ve been fortunate to have had some great guides!

He has worked as the field assistant on numerous projects including elephant and sloth behaviour, human-crocodile conflict mitigation, and provides training to the Department of Wildlife Conservation on Jungle Survival Techniques and Animal Behaviour.

I won’t give you Jerome’s whole resume, but I would advise you to ask him about the two times he was bitten by a snake.  The one story is insane!  Given his incredible knowledge of animals, plants and birds, he made our time in Yala entertaining and educational – and I mean that in the best way possible, not in a boring way.

On our morning drive it poured like crazy and even though they had warned us there wouldn’t be a lot of animals out, we still went.  In the beginning, we didn’t see much as predicted due to the weather, but Jerome kept us entertained with pointing out what we could see and pointing out the less obvious stuff such as some of the medicinal properties of plants. And once the weather cleared?  Well, let’s just say that it was the best safari I had in Yala!

Painted storks hanging out on a partially flooded road in Yala after a heavy rainfall.
Painted storks hanging out on a partially flooded road in Yala after a heavy rainfall.

Arriving back at camp, we had some down time and then we were to meet for drinks before dinner.  I had already discovered that wine is not very popular in Sri Lanka, but much to my delight they had some.  I may have indulged in a glass, or two, or….hey what happens in the bush, stays in the bush!

In summary, I highly Leopard Trails to nature lovers and for those who want to be in nature, falling asleep to the sounds of the jungle – while doing it in comfort.  It’s an incredibly romantic place (I really wished my husband had been with me), with top-notch service and exceptional guides!

Know Before Booking Your Stay at Leopard Trails:

  • Book as far in advance as possible.  As they only have 8 spots available, they fill up quickly.
  • Rates start at $643 USD in low season for single occupancy.  It includes your accommodation, two safaris in Yala, and all your meals, alcohol and snacks. It’s not cheap but provides excellent value for luxury.  
  • For further information check out Leopard Trail’s homepage.

Note:  Thank you to Leopard Trail’s for making my visit possible.  As always, all opinions expressed are my own.

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