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Yala National Park

Snapshot
Yala, situated in the south east corner of the island, is home to the greatest variety of Sri Lanka’s wildlife. Its varying habitats, consisting of scrub plains, jungles, rocky outcrops, fresh water lakes, rivers and beaches, provides home to many species of animals including sloth bear, herds of elephants, buffalo, monkeys, sambar, deer, crocodiles and the endangered leopard subspecies, Panthera Pardus Kotiya, which is only found in Sri Lanka.
Don’t Miss
The magnificent Yala leopard
Yala’s open plains and abundant wildlife
Herds of wild elephants
The untamed beaches of the Yala coastline
Camping inside the park
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Getting There
Situated in the south east of Sri Lanka, the Yala National Park can be reached coming from the hill country via Wellawaya to the south coast, or along the south coast. Yala can also be accessed from Tissamaharama and Kataragama.

Useful drive times include: Galle to Yala (3.5 hours); Colombo to Yala via the Southern Highway (5 hours); Dickoya to Yala (5 hours); Bandarawela to Yala (3 hours).

Historical Background
Sri Lanka became the first country to set up a flora and fauna sanctuary in Mihintale, as long ago as the third century BC, so beginning a long tradition of conservation. Now, 12 per cent of the island is designated for wildlife protection. Although the strict natural reserves are out of bounds for visitors, there are National Parks and sanctuaries, tropical rainforests, and wetland marshes throughout the island where animals can be seen in their natural habitat. Yala National Park, with a total protected area of 1,267 sq kms, maintains a proud tradition. Yala's Block 1, on the western side of the park and Yala East (known as Kumana National Park) are the only two of five sections open to the public. Kumana can only be accessed via Arugam Bay on the South East Cost. Yala National Park boasts one of the world's densest leopard populations which has now dwindled to less than fifty. For the best leopard viewing, visit the park from January to July.

Sights
The Yala National Park is home to the greatest variety of Sri Lanka’s wildlife. Early-morning or dusk safaris with an expert guide are the ideal times to visit the park when the animals come out to the waterholes. Yala closes in the dry season, usually early in September. The Lunugamvehera National Park, located within the same district, acts as a corridor for elephants migrating from the Yala National Park to the Uda Walawe area. Kumana, also known as Yala East National Park can only be accessed via Arugam Bay on the South East Coast. The villus (swamp lakes) of Kumana is nesting sites for water birds. During the nesting season which begins towards June, large colonies of pelican, spoonbills, herons, painted storks, and egrets can be spotted here. Bundala is an important and beautiful Wetland Sanctuary that uniquely combines 20km of beach, lagoons and scrub which host more than 150 bird species. These wetlands are home to winter migratory birds and large flocks of flamingoes.

Accommodation
There is no better way to experience this corner of the island than an adventurous camping safari just outside the Yala National Park hosted by one of four wildlife specialist companies - Kulu Safaris, Leopard Safaris, Master Campers, Leopard Trails - all of which have particular strengths. Ask us to assist your choice. Camping can be expensive and a few wildlife park hotels are located on the edge of the park including Chaaya Wild popular with mid and upmarket package groups and Yala Villa - a simple game lodge withan open-plan design opening out to a garden and the luxury of a swimming pool.

Food & Drink
This region is well known for its homemade buffalo curd and Kitul (palm) honey sold in clay pots at wayside stalls. Thambilli (king coconut), a favourite thirst quencher, is also available right along in wayside boutiques. The Safari in Tissamaharama is popular for rice and curries at a reasonable price. Chaaya Wild serves up Sri Lankan and western cuisine buffet style and a la carte.
Activities
Wildlife safari in Yala
For those with limited time, budget or interest in wildlife, a simple day-trip into this National Park at dawn or at dusk, and a view from the back of a jeep, is a perfectly practical if potentially exhausting option. But for those looking to get more out of their visit, Red Dot strongly recommends a camping safari which enables you to immerse yourself in an entire 24-hour cycle within this untouched wilderness. Kulu safaris, Leopard Trails, Leopard Safaris and Master Campers all offer an adventurous camping safari experience just outside the Yala National Park.
Yala National Park
Yala boasts one of the world's densest leopard populations. However, don't expect to see them prowling around in their thousands – there are less than fifty. Also expect to see elephants, sloth bears, sambar deer, spotted deer, wild boar, crocodiles, monkeys and buffalos. Transport around the park is provided by jeep- complete with driver and expert guide/tracker.
Bundala National Park
Bundala is an important and beautiful Wetland Sanctuary combining 20km of beach, lagoons and scrub which host more than 150 bird species. These wetlands are home to winter migratory birds and large flocks of flamingoes. The lagoons prove popular with crocodiles whilst on dry land herds of up to 60 elephants can be seen, as well as civets and giant squirrels. From October to January the area, near Tissamaharama on the south coast, also receives visits from the endangered marine turtles that lay their eggs on the shore. A visit to Bundala will reward all those who’ve sought out this lesser-known National Park.
Kumana National Park
Kumana, also known as Yala East National Park covers an area of about 18,000 hectares and can only be accessed from Okanda which is south of Arugam Bay on the South East Coast. The villus (swamp lakes) of Kumana is nesting sites for water birds. During the nesting season which begins towards June, large colonies of pelican, spoonbills, herons, painted storks, and egrets can be spotted here. The jungles of Kumana are also home to wild elephants, buffalo and deer. Kumana is edged by the Indian Ocean. Often the endangered marine turtles come ashore to nest here on the secluded beaches. Best time to visit is at dawn and late afternoon when the animals are easily spotted. A guide can be hired at the entrance gates.
Tissamaharama
Tissa was the capital of the ancient Ruhunu Kingdom in the 2nd century BC. The Tissa Weva (lake), built by King Kavantissa 2,300 years ago, provides a sorawling backdrop. The town is dominated by gigantic ancient Buddhist dagobas (temples). An archeological museum also provides a glimpse into the ancient Ruhunu kingdom.
Kataragama
Kataragama is an ancient sacred riverside pilgrimage site where all religions are worshipped. Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, and Christians visit this ancient holy site. It is believed that King Dutugemunu, the warrior king and Sinhala folk hero, built a shrine here for the worship of the Kataragama God in the 2nd century BC. There is also a first century BC Buddhist Dagoba, Kirivehera, at this site. The `Maha Devala’, the main shrine of God Skanda, the Hindu war God, and several other adjoining Hindu shrines, conduct daily religious rituals (poojas).
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