Yala National Park
Located on Sri Lanka’s southernmost tip, Yala is the island’s largest National Park, boasting an abundance of wildlife including the elusive leopard and magnificent wild elephant. Visitors to Yala can spend the day on jeep safaris, watching monkeys swing through the trees beside them, and inspecting the mysterious ruins of ancient civilisations, built over 2000 years ago.
Yala National Park, also known as Ruhunu, is 260km south east of Colombo. Open from 6am to 6pm, the park is a protected area of over 321,000 acres of land which covers a vast range of different landscapes, from sand dunes and grassland, to lagoons and thick forest. The diversity of terrain in Yala means remarkable variety of wildlife. Ironically first used as a hunting ground for the British elite in the 19th century, the park became a designated protected area in 1938, and since then has been dedicated to the conservation and protection of all the wonderful species that call it home.
The park is famous for a leopard density, which is higher than anywhere else on the planet. This makes Yala Sri Lanka's most popular national park, attracting visitors from across the globe. These ‘Lords of the Jungle’ can be spotted prowling through the rainforest and across the plains, while large herds of elephants plod by. Other wildlife to spot includes slow and gentle sloth bears, jackals, peacocks and crocodiles. The best time to visit Yala is generally speaking between February and July, as the water levels in the park are low, so the animals come out into the open. The park is often closed in September, so do speak to your specialist about the best time to go.
There is plenty to do in the park, whether you are just spending a day there or staying overnight in the park’s campsite. Yala is not just home to some of Sri Lanka’s most outstanding wildlife, but also a number of ancient ruins. The most popular of these is Sithulpauwwa, an ancient rock temple, which is believed to have once been home to 12,000 Buddhist monks. The Magul Maha Viharaya, another ancient Buddhist temple, is said to be the place where King Kavantissa married the princess, Viharamahhadevi in the 2nd century BC. A trip to Yala effortlessly blends ancient history and tradition with sensational wildlife viewing.
Not only is Yala National Park a treasure trove of history and nature, but it can also be a relaxing sanctuary with some beautiful hotels and luxurious tented camps.