Everyone goes to Yala to see leopards. I get it. Leopards were at the top of my bucket list too. But if you just focus on leopards you will miss all that Yala has to offer and will leave disappointed if you don’t spot a leopard.
Yala is the most visited and the second largest national park in Sri Lanka, after Wilpattu. It has a variety of ecosystems ranging from several different types of forests, to grasslands, both fresh water and marine wetlands and even sandy beaches! As a result its abundant with wildlife and each visit is different.
I can’t recommend enough visiting Yala more than once. I was fortunate to go three times and each visit was a different adventure!
What I loved about visiting Yala with AYU in the Wild is that they focus on what you see. If you happen to see a leopard that’s great, but they’re not going to go chasing it. That’s a huge issue in Yala and something I saw many other jeeps doing, much to the disservice of the leopard. It would inevitably get annoyed by the roaring engines of the jeeps and the not so quiet tourists asking the drivers loudly, Can’t you get just a little closer? From my observations, I felt that many of the other companies were getting to close, especially when it came to leopards and elephants. Ayu in the Wild has a different philosophy, the welfare of the animals are the first priority, you getting the perfect shot is the second. Not to say that they don’t highly value the visitor experience, as they do, but they do so while keeping a respectable distance. I think you’ll see from my photos below, that I was still able to get some great shots!
Yala is home to a bird lovers paradise with 215 bird species. Six of them are endemic to Sri Lanka. The best time to visit is between November and January when you will see migrating species as well:
Yala is home to an elephant herd that numbers between 300 to 350. I saw elephants on each of my three visits, but not in the huge herds that I saw in Kaudulla National Park in the north.
In addition to elephants, there are 44 mammal species in Yala National Park.
I knew my chances of seeing a sloth bear weren’t very high, and the odds worked against me. That’s why I appreciate AYU in the Wild’s philosophy so much – appreciate what you do see, and be open for whatever wildlife adventures may come!
Here are three of my favourite unexpected sightings in Yala:
I also LOVED hanging out with the Toque macaque!
While macaques are the widest spread primate on earth, next to humans, the Toque macaque is only found in Sri Lanka. I immediately felt a bond with them since toque in Canada is a winter hat! Plus, I loved watching them stuff their mouths as full as possible, so much so that at times they could hardly chew! But heh, I get it. I’m possessive around food too!
More wildlife sightings in Yala National Park:
I loved each of my visits to Yala and highly recommend it, but please go with a responsible tour operator – one who respects wildlife and won’t get too close. And remember to focus on what you do see – not what you don’t see in the true spirit of adventure where anything can happen!
PRACTICAL INFORMATION ON VISITING YALA NATIONAL PARK
You need to visit the park with a guide. While it is possible to go with a guide from the park, often it’s a better option to go with a private guide who have often had more training and are more knowledgeable.
As mentioned, I visited Yala with AYU in the Wild. In addition to Yala, we also visited a local farmer and I learned how to make coconut sambol, my favourite Sri Lankan dish. There are so many local experiences that AYU in the Wild provides that you would miss if you were on your own. AYU in the Wild provides tailor-made holidays around family travel, slow travel, special interest and wildlife. Once you tell them what your interests are, they will suggest customized activities for you to choose from, things you won’t find in guidebooks. I traveled with Chamintha, one part of the husband and wife team that comprises AYU in the Wild. She was one of the loveliest people I met in Sri Lanka. She really cares and wants you to fully experience Sri Lanka, not just check a bunch of sites off your list. I truly love their philosophy and can’t recommend them enough – you can read my full review here!
I stayed at Wild Trails Yala, which is conveniently located just a few minutes drive outside of Yala. They offer four tented safaris and outdoor dining! It’s glamping at its finest! One of the highlights was dining just steps away from a leopard’s favourite sunning spot! If you visit Yala with AYU in the Wild, they will arrange all your accommodation for you.
Thank you to AYU in the Wild for making my visit to Yala National Park possible. As always, all opinions expressed are my own and based on my experience.
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Laurel Robbins is the founder of Monkeys and Mountains, an adventure travel blog and company that helps people plan their hiking, cycling and wildlife vacations in a sustainable way. Although Canadian, she lives in Germany. You can find her in the mountains on most weekends.