Occupying the south-eastern corner of the island, the vast Yala National Park is Sri Lanka’s second largest national park and also its most popular.
The park itself is divided into five blocks, two of which, Ruhuna and Kumana, can be explored on guided game drives, and stretches from the sea inland, encompassing some 979 square kilometres (378 square miles) of forest, wetlands and savannah. This varied landscape provides a vital home for hundreds of Sri Lankan elephant, sloth bear, crocodile and rare wild water buffalo, as well as over 200 bird species.
But it is the leopard, found here in perhaps the highest concentration in the world, that are iconic of the park. Their secretive nature means spotting Sri Lanka’s top predator is still a challenge, but accompanied by a skilled guide and a little luck, there a few better places in the world to find these enigmatic cats.
When to Go
Yala National Park can be visited year round, depending on your interests. The rainy season, from November to April sees short dramatic downpours and brings with it lush vegetation and wildflowers. This is the best time for birders, with many migratory species flying from as far north as Siberia to escape the winter and is good a good time for spotting elephants. The dry season from May to October sees the bush die back and animals congregating around water holes making it the easiest time of year to see leopards, elephants, buffalo, spotted deer, wild boar, eagles, owls and kingfishers though it is hot and dusty.
I really loved my time in Yala – it’s a busy park but our rangers still managed to find areas where we only had the wildlife for company. I was absolutely blown away by the birdlife in the park – such an incredible variety of species. Leopard sightings aren’t guaranteed, but you’ve got a pretty good chance!