Yala National Park Safari Tours For A Top-notch Leopards Sighting

Yala national park safari tours for a top-notch leopard sighting

From Leopard spotting and ancient ruins of archaeological sites to serene beaches around the park, the magic of Yala national park takes the visitors by surprise always. Venturing on Yala national park safari tours (tips for Sri Lanka wildlife tours) is the best way to explore this rich wildlife of Sri Lanka (about Sri Lanka). Yala national park is the most popular safari destination in the island of Sri Lanka and it is set in the island’s legendary Ruhunu kingdom of southern Sri Lanka. Yala national park safari is one of the most popular activities in southern Sri Lanka and it includes most road trips of Sri Lanka. Tour operators such as seerendipity tours organize one day tours, multi-day Sri Lanka tours and adventure trips to beach holidays with inclusions of Yala national park.

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It gives you the maximum of wildlife adventure, it is rustic, scenic and wild at wildest. The vegetation of the Yala national park is dominated by shrubs, thorn bush and various types of grasses. Isolated big trees are seen at the beginning of the Yala national park safari tours while dense jungle dominated as you go deep into the park.

Watching a leopard stalking on a prey is an unforgettable and rare wildlife experience for any travellers. It is a great site and a truly spine-tingling memorable experience that any nature lover can imagine. Unfortunately, only a few places allow you to have that experience and a few travellers get the opportunity to witness this magnificent hunter in the action. Count on Yala national park for similar kind of experiences, it is Yala where you can hope spotting this big cat in action because Yala has the highest number of leopards compared to any other national park of its size in the world.

Sri Lanka 7 days tour with Yala national park safari

One of the notable difference between Yala and other national parks in Sri Lanka is the collection of fascinating ruins within the borders of Yala national park, the ruins belong to a Buddhist monastery complex dating back to 2nd century BC (visiting a Buddhist temple in Sri Lanka these are the rule need to know). Wild animals such as monkeys, deer, elephants, wild boar and even leopards are roaming around the monastery. The monastery is situated at one of the highest places towards the western borders of the park commanding a breathtaking view from its lofty position.

Undoubtedly, spotting a leopard is the most sought-after experience of the visitors who take Yala national park safari tours, but, spotting the leopard is the most difficult and it cannot be guaranteed. Even though the park is the home for a large number of leopards, spotting this magnificent carnivore is a daunting task and need a great deal of patience as well as the luck. In some cases, you will be able to spot all the creatures living in the park such as leopard, sloth bears, deer, crocodile, elephant, monkey, mongoose, jackal, water buffaloe etc during your Yala safari tour. But there are instances that you only see few species of these animals during the Yala national park safari tour.

Yala national park is the 2nd biggest national park in the island and it was established in 1900 as a wildlife sanctuary. The park spreads over 978 km2 and one of the best places to observe wildlife in the island. Yala national park has a fascinating blend of ecologically different places such as lakes and water holes, huge boulders, grasslands, thorn bushes, and sand dunes. Yala national park is the most popular national park in the island mainly due to the large concentration of leopards.

The visitors are lavishly rewarded by mother nature when they take part in Yala national park safari tours. You can see gorgeous scenery across the grasslands, and huge lakes filled with rainwater with colourful birds. You can spot majestic elephants, leopards, and various other animals. Colourful green bee-eaters are everywhere and they allow you to have a close look at them. You see the isolated mongoose, herds of buffaloes, deer and wild boar in the distance as you pass the grasslands. You will be greeted by wild crocodiles as you come across the ponds and waterholes. You will encounter large herds of deer, numbering hundreds in some occasions, grazing on the lush green growth. Leopards are the rarest animal to spot here and you can see this predator everywhere in the park. It can be occurring in treetops, grassy plains, on boulders or near the water holes.


Grasslands and shrub forests are very frequent at the beginning of the Yala national park safari tours, where you see the animals even in the distance with ease. Unlike most national parks, you don’t drive hours without spotting any animals at Yala. In Yala, you see the animal at every moment of your game drive, at least a troop of monkeys.

One of the most common animals in Yala is the elephant. Almost every traveller gets the opportunity to see several elephants at any given time of the day. These jumbos are starting to appear as you drive about 2-4 kilometres deep into the jungle. Usually, jeep drivers wheel around the Elephants and position you to have a better view of the animal all the time. Sometimes the elephants are getting very close to the jeeps. In some instance, they are standing next to your jeep and not more than 15 feet away from the door.

Unlike in most other national parks such as Minneriya national park and Udawalawe national park, it is very convenient to spot wild animals during the Yala national park safari. Vistors are not required to drive many kilometres from place to place to spot animals. The visitors can spot the animals in every 10-15 minutes interval. After about 2-3 hours the jeep covers the entire circuit (usually the safari takes place in the Zone 1 of Yala national park) of the safari trip and guests are able to spot most animals during this time.

Most rare animal to spot Yala national park is the leopards, still, Yala is one of the best places to spot leopards in the world. Usually, the travellers are able to see a large number of wild animals in every safari, but it is difficult to find the leopard and bear compared to other animals such as Elephant. Other than leopards and bear wildlife sightings are very common during the Yala national park safari tours.

sri lanka safari jeep

It is always recommended to use professional safari jeep drivers for Yala national park safari tours. Because the success of safari largely depends on the drivers, they have a very good eye and can easily spot wild animals hidden in the woods. Same times they have a good idea of where the animals roaming in the park. The animals show-up in different places in the park depending on the season and the time of the day. Normally the lakes and waterholes are the best places to spot wild animals. These lakes are also occupied by hundreds of different species of birds.

Usually, the Yala national park safari tours start early in the morning (at around 5.00 AM) or afternoon (at around 2.00 PM), therefore most travellers who are coming from far away destinations spend one night in a nearby hotel (before or after the safari) and do the Yala national park safari at a most suitable time. Tissamaharama is the nearest city to Yala and most accommodations facilities available around Tissamaharama. All types of accommodations, from star class hotels, Eco-hotels to cheap guest houses are available here making it a destination suitable for any type of budget. There are several campsites also available in Yala for travellers who are interested in camping. These campsites are not located directly in the park but at the border of the Yala national park. These luxurious caping sites offered with all meals and 2 safaris trips in Yala wildlife reserve.

Yala national park is one of the best places to witness leopards in the world

Yala is considered to be one of the oldest national parks in Sri Lanka and it is one of the biggest national parks in Sri Lanka with 97880hectares. Densest population of biggest leopards in the world is recorded in Yala national park. Sri Lankan leopard is identified as a sub-species of common leopards (panthera pardus kotiy) and, which is endemic to the island.

Yala national park initially used as a hunting ground during the British rule in Sri Lanka. As the number of animals drastically reduced due to the hunting, Yala is declared as a national park in 1900 and became a safe place for wildlife. Yala is the biggest national park is divided into 5 zones. Bio-diversity of the national park considered to be high and Yala mainly recognized as the best place for observing leopard in the country. Other than the leopards there is a number of other animals in the park such as Elephants, Deer, Buffalo, Wild boar, Bear, monkey’s etc.

Yala has the reputation as one of the best places to witness leopards (panthera pardus kotiya) in the world with 17 ½ big cats per 100 square kilometres. Naturalists are saying that in the Block 1 of Yala National park could be home to the densest population of leopards in the world, the density of leopards in the block one around a leopard per every 2 sq. kilometres. Thirty adult individual leopards are identified by the naturalists in Yala block 1 other than the cubs. Unlike most other national parks where leopards can be seen in dark Sri Lanka leopards are on the move during the day as well. One of the main reasons for the great concentration of leopards in Yala is the abundance of games for the animals. One naturalist has said “There is no competition for food. So they are not bothered about protecting a kill. We have noted a number of kills left here and there. Leopard kills feed a number of other animals. They actively keep the prey in check”.

This incident took place at during a Yala national park safari because the elephant had sensed the presence of fruits in the jeep. Never take fruits in the jeep during your safari and never get off from the jeep.

Leopards are most fearful and biggest carnivores on the island. Physical characteristics of leopards are varying depending on the habitat, and leopard in Sri Lanka considered being the biggest leopards in the world, which grows up to seven feet in length and up to 170 pounds. Larger body size of the leopards enables them to prey on larger animals such as full-grown sambhur or big buffalo. The leopard in Sri Lanka is identified as a sub-species of common leopards in the world. Sri Lanka leopard (panthera pardus kotiy) is endemic to the island.

Yala national park is not only a great place to watch leopards. It is also a great place to watch dry zone birds and other favourite animals. And of course, the bears, the microcosm of biodiversity including crocodiles are on show at the Yala National Park. Yala is also a good place to see crocodiles in action, and during the dry season, they could be seen feeding and preying on dead buffaloes.

Yala is also considered to be one of the best places to see birds, especially from April-October; migrating birds also flock into the park during this period. Yala is the home for many endemic birds such as Lanka Habam Kukula – Sri Lanka Spurfowl, Lanka Wali Kukula – Sri Lanka Junglefowl, Lanka Mailagoya – Sri Lanka Wood Pigeon, Lanka Giramaliththa – Hanging Parrot of Sri Lanka, Layard’s Parakeet, Lanka Alu Girawa. Yala also attracts a large number of seasonal birds, especially during the bird migration from October to April.

Leopard at yala national park

Yala Safari price

There are few factors that decide on the Yala safari price. The main contributor to Yala safari price is the entrance fees and the cost of the jeep. The entrance fees for most national parks in the island is similar, which stands at LKR 2,730 (USD 18 approximately) per adult (breakdown of the entrance fee LKR 1,740 + 40% + 12%). Jeep & tracker charges are LKR 250 and it should also be added to the Yala safari price. Other than the entrance fees the cost of the jeep of the safari is also counted for the Yala safari price. The cost for the jeep higher fluctuates between LKR3000 to LKR4000. If you wish to have a modern Jeep with more comfortable seats, it cost around LKR4000. So Yala safari price for 2 persons is approximately LKR 10000. As the number of persons in the group increases the Yala safari price per head reduces. Because, mainly the cost of tracker, service charge and the cost of the jeep hire are divided among all the members of the group.

Hotels near Yala national park

There are only very few hotels near Yala national park to stay during your Yala national park safari tours. Most tourists who wish to make Yala national park safari tours opt to stay in a hotel near Tissamaharama rather than in Yala. Tissamaharama is the main city near Yala national park, which is around 20 km away from Yala national park. There are a large number of good hotels in Tissamaharam. Here you can find accommodation from very cheap dormitories to luxurious boutique hotels. Whatever the budget you have you can find suitable accommodation here.

Apart from a large number of possibilities to get accommodation, there is another important reason why most travellers stay in Tissamaharama, which is the possibility (of course with different prices and different categories) of exploring many other historical and natural attractions such as Kataragama temple, Tissa lake, Kirinda etc. Yala is a remote isolated area with dense foliage whereas Tissamaharama is concerned it is a very populated area with markets, shops, restaurants, hotels, bars and many historical places around.

The map shows the route from Colombo to Yala and Kandy to Yala national park

How to go to Yala national park

Yala is located at South-east Sri Lanka and the park is far away from cities and other populated areas. The park entrance is well above 10 km away from the main road and travellers need to travel 20minutes between the forest in order to reach the park entrance. The ticket counters are located at the park entrance.

Because the park is located in an unpopulated area do not expect to have public transportation to reach the park. At least the last leg of the trip  (10 km between the main road and the park entrance). Since every traveller goes to Yala to observe wildlife they have to rent a jeep sometime of the trip. Usually, most jeeps are stationed at Tissamaharama and jeeps do not charge anything extra for the drive from Tissamaharama to Yala national park. Therefore it is recommended to start the jeep safari in Tissamahara where you can find accommodation easily. It is easy to reach Tissamaharama from any part of the island and you find direct buses to Tissamaharama from most cities.

Other popular places neat Yala

Kataragama temple, Yatalatoissa Buddhist temple, Kirinda

Does and doesn’t as you embark on Yala national park safari tours

1. Don’t ever take fruits into the national park elephants smell the fruits and come to you

2. Take a bottle of water

3. Take binoculars to see animals and birds

4. Wear a hat

5. Wear a light cotton dress, it is very hot and humid in the Yala park

6. Apply mosquito repellent

7. Apply sunscreen if you start your Yala national park safari tour in the morning

8. Roads are very dusty in the park, therefore, be prepared to get dirty.