Yala National Park is one of the most popular National Parks in Sri Lanka. Out of all the parks it is the one that attracts the most visitors throughout the year and is considered the second biggest in terms of size. It is located on Sri Lanka’s southeast coast and is part of the Uva Province. Like the other National Parks in Sri Lanka, Yala is a wildlife sanctuary where wild animals are free to roam unmolested by poachers. National Parks in Sri Lanka, like the ones in other countries exist to allow the eco system to flourish naturally, free from human interference.
The land itself and animal species is under the strict protection of the Sri Lankan government, meaning any developments such as buildings need to be something that adds value to the park and it’s wild denizens. As the land is considered green belt’ developments are generally forbidden, however hotels for tourists and similar buildings have been created with special permits, as tourism to the National Park is what helps fund its conservation efforts. Although human activity in Yala National Park is carefully monitored and comes with important rules that visitors must abide by.
Access to Yala National Park is generally achieved by coach or car journeys from the nearby population center of Colombo. Although there is a significant journey by road in order to reach it. On average the drive can be 3-4 hours depending on route and traffic. As Yala National Park is on the coast, it can be accessed from the water in some circumstances but this is much less common for regular tourists. The park is open to the public from January to August, although it attracts the most tourists in the heights of summer, referred to as the dry season. This may be because that’s when safari trips are the most requested by western tourists and because this is when the wildlife is at it’s most active, therefore most visible. The park is closed to visitors during the winter months. This allows rangers to carry out essential maintenance, monitor the animals and allow them the space and time the eco system needs to recover from the impact of summer.
Like the other National Parks, Yala is renowned for it’s incredible wildlife such as Asian elephants and boasts one of the highest leopard populations on Earth. It was also home to two ancient civilizations thousands of years ago known as the Magul Vihara and the Sithipahuwa. Both of these are considered very important to Sri Lankan heritage so the sites of ancient cities in the park are popular tourist attractions for Sri Lankans and visitors from further a field. Theses locations are also considered sacred to followers of the Hindu faith, semi-mythical King Ravana was said to hold his Kingdom somewhere in the Yala region, according to the Bhagavad Gita, the Hindu holy book.
The best way to visit the park is to organize a safari. Booking one of these safaris is easy as they can be booked online before your visit to the country or as part of a holiday packages though your travel agent. Alternatively you can arrange one when you arrive through your hotel or safari provider directly. The cost of a safari per-person varies depending on what zones you visit and when, but the average price per-person is $160 USD.
Most safaris last around three hours, buts this all depends on the provider. Some can last up to five hours but generally more expensive. Other travellers may choose to camp or stay in one of the parks purpose built hotels. With this option, visitors can sleep where the wildlife is right outside their window. They can relax knowing the elephants and other wildlife will be waiting for them in the morning and that they won’t have far to go to see them once they wake up. It also allows visitors to get the most of their visit to the park, enjoying the sights and discoveries of two different days instead of cramming it all into one day. Safari trips generally start in the early afternoon and end prior to an evening meal for those travelling to and from Colombo in single day, this is the cheaper option when compared to staying overnight.