Sri Lanka: Safari in Yala National Park

Safari in Yala National Park was one of the best experiences during my trip to Sri Lanka and the first safari in my life. I would recommend this experience to anyone, so if you plan to go to Sri Lanka soon, put Yala necessarily on your list of must-do.

The island has many national parks and reserves, but Yala is the best by far (or at least the natives say so), and therefore the most visited. Not surprisingly, in the end can boast of the greatest diversity of species. There are about 215 species of birds (which makes Yala one of the 70 IBAs – Important Birds Area), and 44 species of mammals, among which the most desirable to see is leopard. It is not easy to spot it but most of the safari ends in success. Perhaps because here in Yala is the world’s largest population density of this big cat? 🙂

Yala Park is located in the south-east of the island , at a distance of 270 km from Colombo, which is only about 7 hours away by bus. We (me, Robyn and Kj) stopped in Kataragama in the newly opened guesthouse (we were the first guests!). There are two spacious rooms for rent with private bathroom. Simple but clean . Room costs 2500 rupees and the place has four huge advantages: 1. it is located only a half hour jeep ride from the park entrance, 2. the location is literally in the jungle, so you will not find around any streets or hotels, just plants and freshness, 3. owners – Sandun with his family – are one of the nicest Sri Lankans I’ve met, 4. they can prepare for you the best rice & curry you’ll ever eat. The best because home made! 😉

I highly recommend Sandun’s homestay. You can see this place on airbnb here. When you get to Kataragama just ask the tuck-tuck driver to get you to Sandun. I think everybody knows each other there, at least it worked in our case. 😉

We begun our safari in the morning. It was a shorter half-day option, which ended around noon, mainly because of the costs (I will write more about it at the end). However, if you are in a larger group, then go for a whole-day safari – in the afternoon animals gather by the water and it gives better opportunities for observation. Of course, that does not mean that half-day safari will be boring! 🙂

The most numerous in Yala are birds. It’s good to rely on your driver-guide’s skilles, who is often able to spot a small parrot somewhere amongst bushes or an eagle sitting far away.

Changeable Hawk-Eagle

Or a rooster. I mean Sri Lankan Junglefowl. 🙂 It’s an endemic bird that lives only in Sri Lanka, that’s why it is the national bird of this country. The difference between Junglefowl and roosters is that Junglefowl lives in the jungle and they sometimes climb the trees.

Also peacocks are very common in Yala.

And waterbirds.

Painted storks (with black wings) and Little Egrets
Asian Openbill
Western reef Heron (I guess?)

Speaking about water, Mugger Crocodiles are also able to be spotted! 🙂

There is a lot of wild boars…

… Axis Deers…

… and Wild water buffalos.

Of course the biggest mammals in Yala are elephants. 🙂

baby elephant 🙂

Elephants may be the biggest mammals but undoubtedly the biggest attraction are leopards! In Yala there are about 300-350 individuals. The worst thing is that when somebody spots a leopard he informs other drivers and they show up in the area very quickly making this place really crowdy…

driver shows a track of a leopard
nature is perfect!

But our leopards behaved like they didn’t pay any attention to jeeps and played with each other. Sandun, who was with us, said that he had seen leopards many times before but they never came so close. We were really lucky! 🙂

Ok, it’s time now for some practical stuff! 🙂

Safari in Yala National Park – how to organize it?

You can use the services of different companies that advertise themselves on the internet but probably you will pay more. You can also simply ask your guesthouse’s owners to help you with the organization as we did. We just said that we wanted to go on safari and our participation in the organization ended in this point, everything has been done for us. 🙂


It all depends on whether you are going on a whole-day or half-day safari and how many participants your group counts. It was only three of us and we decided to go on half-day safari and it all costed us about 35$ per person total. It is impossible to give a specific price, because they add 13% tax to the bill but I will try to explain everything as easily as I can. 🙂

– Entrance fee for tourists: $15 (about 2,000 Rs)
– Entrance fee for Sri Lankans: 60 Rs
– ‘Entrance fee’ of the vehicle: 250 Rs
– Service charge: $8 (about 1,050 Rs)
– Plus tax 13%

Costs of hiring a jeep with driver (pay separately to the driver):
– 5000 Rs for half a day (about 38$)
– 10 000 Rs for the whole day (about 77$)

Of course, tourists pay the driver’s entrance fee. We also took Sandun with us as a guide. After all, 60 Rs (about 0,5$) is not much…

Summing up, on the bill that we got from the park there is a total price of 8112.80 Rs for three white tourists and two local guides. Later we also tipped the driver 500 Rs. Then we divided all the costs of our safari by three and it was exactly 4540 Rs / person, which is about 35$.

Though our safari was short (I have to go back to Sri Lanka!), I am very pleased that I did it . There is no greater fun than sitting in a jeep in the middle of the bush and spotting critters! There are emotions and adrenaline … And I’ll never go to the zoo again! 🙂

And some monkeys at the end! 🙂

Grey Langur
Toque macaque

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