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Yala National Park Tourism And Travel Guide
24.5° C / 76.2° F
February to June
2 to 3 Days
Mattala Rajapaksa Airport, Hambantota
With a variety of ecologies that include dry forests, thorn jungles, semi deciduous forests, marine wetlands and fresh water along with sand beaches, Yala National Park is largely a dry zone covering Sri Lanka’s southeastern areas, formed more from the perspective of saving the wildlife, making it one of the most famous and frequented national parks in the country. Here's a travel guide that will help you find your way around in Yala National Park.
For the purpose of tourism in Yala, of the best places to visit in the park, there are 3 wildlife sanctuaries and 6 national parks, that form a part of the large corridor of jungles. The safari area of the park is largely driven by the long dry spells, which in turn is dependent on the annual rainfall that occurs during November, December & January. There’s less or no rain from the end of January to the mid of October with a rare shower or two.
How to Reach
From Colombo Airport, the fastest way to reach Yala National Park is to take a flight to Hambantota, which takes about 45 minutes, and from Hambantota, you can travel by road to Yala. Cinnamon Air, a domestic airline in Sri Lanka has daily scheduled flights to Hambantota at 7.00am (non-stop) and then 2.00pm with 1 stop, and costs about $270.
It takes approx. 9 hours by train from Colombo to Yala National Park, and it’s wise to board the train from Colombo Fort Station with the end destination being Haputale, which is 1 ½ hour’s drive to Yala National Park. The train leaves Colombo Fort at 9.45 in the morning followed by another at 8 in the evening daily. The train tariff ranges between LKR 95 to LKR 320.
Approximately 300 km from the Bandaranaike International Airport, Yala National Park by road is best explored through the Southern Highway in a rented car, which happens to be the most convenient in comparison to the arduous and exhausting train and bus journeys!
Getting Around in Yala:
It is best to explore Yala in a Jeep with a driver, and for your trips in the countryside if you like cycling, then hiring a bicycle would be adventurous!
Weather and Best Time to Visit
February through July is the best time to visit Yala National Park when the water levels are low and most animals end up turning at the same water spot.
With an average temperature of 32.6°C, Yala weather’s usually hot and dry, with sporadic rains that occur about a week or less in a month. This usually is the dull period for tourism in Yala.
June to September is the dry period and April-May and July turn out to be the warmest months in the year. This is the time when you’ll see most animals, mainly the leopards, elephants and other smaller animals collecting at the water spot in herds. The average day temperature stays at 32.6°C, while the night temperature rarely drops below 26.1°C
The fall season of September-November receives a week to 10 days of rain or snowfall, making it one of the best times for tourism for the second time in a year, with an average temperature of 31.3°C
For travelers who love winters, December to February is bliss! Rainfall occurring for 3 to 9 days in a month, the average temperature is about 32.5°C and October through February witnesses heavy rainfall.
Things To Do
Visiting Sri Lanka without a halt at Yala is incomplete. With an area of 1268 sq. km, Yala National Park is abundant with elephants, monkeys, crocs and water buffaloes, not to the forget the largest concentration of leopards!
Is the most apparent thing to do on arrival at Yala. For Yala National Park, there are a lot of guided tours organized by the hotels & guest houses in the city, which leave for the safari typically at 4.30 am or 2.30 pm, the entry fee being around LKR 3,700. The guided tours, on the whole, should be between LKR 4,000-6,000, over & above the entry fee, usually shared by everyone on the tour equally. It is best to haggle on this as a group, to avoid being fleeced!
Barbeque Dinner & Wildlife Camping:
Enjoy a bonfire and barbecue dinner in the midst of wilderness with juicy meats, fresh green salads and potato jackets by the light of the hurricane lamps, followed by a camped night stay. Amidst the lush greenery and authentic natural ambiance, experience luxury inside a tented accommodation with air conditioning, comfortable bedding, ensuite shower & loo and open sitting deck, giving you a luxurious yet a natural experience in the company of the wildlife.
Along with its wildlife safari, Yala is also popular for its bird watching escapades, being one of the 70 sites where birds inhabit. Most birds here are migratory, with 6 being endemic - Sri Lankan jungle fowl, brown-capped babbler, the grey hornbill, crimson front barbet, the wood pigeon and the black-capped bulbul. Further, there are more than a thousand waterfowls which migrate to the Yala lagoons during the northeast monsoons.
Be a first-hand witness to the daily activities of the local fishermen on stilts before you head for the wildlife safari at Yala and experience the art of fishing in the lake with all the fishing gear.
Embark on a tour by the countryside on a bicycle, enjoy the rich paddy fields, coconut plantations, the conventional farming fields, cattle farms and visit the village homes to interact with the locals.
Set out to see the ancient ruins in and around Yala National Park, the temples and the shrines on a Jeep excursion with a tour guide who will share details and background information on all the tourist spots and also help you with your questions.
Where To Eat
Aside from the barbeque dinner in the natural habitat of the Yala National Park with just an electric fence between you and the wildlife, there are many other options to enjoy the local cuisine in and around the Yala National Park. There is the Yala Peace Cottage, Tissamaharama with barbeque, Asian and Sri Lankan cuisines with special options for vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free meals. A beautiful place, perfect for enjoying the sunset and watching the peacocks, the place offers good meal portions and delectable at that!
The Tree Tops Jungle Lodge, Illukpitiya Road, Buttala, is a wonderful set-up with some lip-smacking dishes prepared using local ingredients, cooked on site. The food here is recommended by most travelers and is known to be quite delicious. You can look forward to romantic candlelit dinners with the sounds of the wilderness to keep you company.
Some other popular places to eat at include the Risenco at Kataragama, Shine Park at Tissamaharama and the Green Café at Wellawaya.
Where To Shop
Yala is all about wildlife and wilderness. With a few tourist attractions that would keep most travelers engaged, there isn’t much you’d do there in terms of shopping, except the local produce of fruits, fish and vegetables.