Yala National Park: Your Complete Guide for a Safari
When it is about safaris in Sri Lanka, you never can miss Yala National Park.
As the second largest National Park in Sri Lanka, it has good biodiversity to explore by a safari.
Since most of the visitors to the area interested in doing a safari in the Yala National Park, here is a complete guide for a safari in this paradise.
History of Yala National Park
In 1990, Yala national park was designated as a wildlife sanctuary after being used as a hunting ground during the colonial era.
In 1938 it was declared as the second largest national park in the country. It has five different areas called blocks.
All these blocks have different entrances as well. In total Yala National Park is about 1297 km2 including a strict nature reserve.
Yala is an ancient civilized area, you can see a few archaeological ruins in the park.
Also, it has a different type of flora diverse with riverine, dry and thorn monsoon forests, fresh and brackish wetlands, grasslands, lagoons, scrub jungle, and beach as well. And not to forget the sand dunes in Block 1 near the resting place.
Will you believe that you can see Asian Elephants on the beach?
Yes, Yala National Park is the only place that you see them in a coastal area.
Where to Go In Yala Sri Lanka?
Since Yala has five different blocks, you might be confused at first where to go. Other than these five blocks, it is adjoining to Lahugala, Lunugamweherea, and Kumana as National Parks. Nimalawa, Katagamuwa, Kataragama are the sanctuaries around Yala National Park. And surprisingly, there are elephant corridors in these national parks.
So it is how elephants migrate looking for water in dry seasons.
Other than Block 4 and strict nature reserve, all other blocks are accessible for visitors.
And each block has a different kind of vegetation and fauna, so you can’t expect the safari experience to be the same in every block.
BLOCK 1 of Yala – Yala National Park Map
Block 1 is the most popular area for safaris in the park.
This was the first block to be visited, so the animals are not very scared of the vehicles in the park.
Since Yala has the highest density of leopards in the world, there are more than 50 leopards in this block. Therefore, although it is not guaranteed, you can spot a leopard in a safari most of the time.
Also, there are two separate entrances to Block 01.
One is from Palatupana and the other from Katagamuwa in order to reduce the number of jeeps getting to the park Even though, you would have to expect some traffic in this block, during the peak of the tourist season.
BLOCK 2 of Yala Park
You can enter Block 02 by crossing the Menik Ganga River from Block 01, which is in the most Southern area of the park and you would need at least about two jeeps to get there.
Since fewer vehicles have entered this block, the frequency of seeing animals can be very low, but good for a camping experience in a campsite operated by the department of wildlife.
It is advisable to use a 4×4 to drive in this Block.
BLOCK 3 of Yala National Park
Block 3 entrance is right in front of Block 5 in Galge area.
It is in the Northern area of the park, which has a very few jeeps daily. But it has some good sightings near a lake as well.
Also, this area was hunting ground for colonial army personnel, still you can see a small tower in the area of Block 03.
Since this land was civilized years ago, some rock inscriptions also can be seen in the lake area. During the dry season,
Block 03 is good for an evening drive to see sloth bears.
BLOCK 4 of the Park
This is not used for safaris yet.
Even though there are some roads which have been constructed by the Department of Wildlife recently, with a thick canopy and large trees it is hard to see animals here.
It is in the North area of Yala and has a rainfall more than any of the other blocks, due to such, you get a very different kind of vegetation in this Block.
BLOCK 5 of Yala
Block 05 is adjoining Block 03 and Block 04 in the Northern area of the park.
With a lesser number of jeeps, you can always enjoy a private safari here.
Compared to Block 01, sightings are low in this area due to the dryness.
But it has a few leopards, elephants, sloth bears, spotted deer and a lot of birds. But these leopard and bear encounters are very rare. So keep your fingers crossed for such sighting in Block 05.
In this block, there is a reservoir and there you see a lot of birds as that is the breakfast spot for jeeps.
But if you are going for an evening drive, don’t forget to get down at the river from “Sellangala” to have a bath in the natural water stream.
Where to Book a Yala National Park Safari?
Always go for experienced safari operators to book a safari.
Or you can get a jeep booked through your Hotel.
Most of the safari operators here, use Toyota Hilux jeeps and Bolero Jeeps.
Hilux jeeps are a bit expensive than a Bolero, but it is more comfortable to ride
These jeeps are modified with high roofs and seats. Minimum of 6 could be seated in a jeep, you all get a good since it is open from both sides.
Duration for a safari
In a half-day drive, you can spend at least 3 hours inside the park.
If you are going for a morning drive, tickets are given around 6.00 AM.
But on a busy day, you will have to be in the queue from early morning or go around 7 AM to the entrance and avoid the queue.
Evening drives are commencing from 2 PM, so it is advisable to go around 3 PM to enjoy good sightings.
Since it is too dry and hot around noon, less number of animals can be spotted there during that time. Even if you go for a full day safari, you can’t drive inside the park from 12- 2 PM.
You could stop by at the nice beach and relax during that time. The park usually closes by 6 PM. If someone violates the rules, they will have to be punished by DWC the permit will be canceled for two weeks.
For a half day safari, for a minimum of 2 people, you pay USD $90.
Children, 5-12 years pay USD $40 (under 5 free of charge. For a full day safari, the price is doubled.
What type of animals could be spotted at Yala National Park?
Yala has the highest density of leopards, so obviously it is a paradise for leopards!
Other than that, it is home for large herds of elephants, sloth bears, spotted deer, Jackals, monkeys, mongooses, Sambar Deers and a lot of birds.
It has a diversity of more the 215 birds, From November to March is the season to see migratory birds in Yala. Other than the Big three in Yala,
It has 44 species of mammals and 42 species of reptiles.
What Is The Best Time To Visit Yala National Park?
February to June is a dry season of Yala, so it is relatively easy to spot animals around water holes.
But the season for Yala starts from November, while most tourists explore the Southern Coastal area.
More importantly, Block 01 and Block 02 will be closed for 6 weeks for maintenance.
Last year it was closed for the whole month of October as well. During that time you will be taken to block 03, block 05 or Lunugamwehera National Park.
Yala National Park Hotels
Since Yala is a popular destination for wildlife lovers, you can find a lot of accommodation options from Luxury Lodges to small hostels in the area close to the entrances.
Try to find a place near the entrances to avoid the long-distance drives to the park, since it can be very tiring.
How Long To Visit Yala National Park?
It depends on your enthusiasm for wildlife.
But if you go for a full day drive, you can explore and experience more wildlife in a day although it would be a bit tiring.
Again, find a place close to the park to avoid long drives before the safari.
What is Weheragala Reservoir?
Since most visit Block 01, Weheragala Reservoir is not much heard of. It is in Block 05 bordering Lunugamwehera National Park.
This was built in 2009 to get water to farmers and pilgrims in the area by blocking the “Menik Ganga” river.
Also, during the dry season, it is a great source of water for animals as well. It is very nice to see a lot of dead trees in the middle of the water
And don’t forget to take your binoculars, there are a lot of eagles nesting on the top of the trees.
Tips for a perfect wilderness experience.
- Don’t get too close to Animals.
- Don’t get out of the jeep inside the national park.
- Avoid feeding Wild Animals.
- Be silent as much as possible.
Some Good Information about Yala National Park
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Prathibha Madushani
Prathibha Madushani is a full-time Banker and a part-time Traveler from Colombo, Sri Lanka. You can also follow her on Instagram: [ https://www.instagram.com/thissrilankangirl]