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Yala National Park
Yala National Park, located in the southeast of the country in the Southern and Uva Provinces covers 978km ² and is divided into five blocks of which only two, Block 1, also known as Ruhunu and Block 5 – (part of Lunugamwehera NP), can be accessed by the public. With the highest density ratio of leopards in the world it is the most visited National Park in Sri Lanka. Most people, when referring to Yala think of Block 1. This Block has two separate entrances, one from Palatupana with the main entrance 22km from the nearest town, Tissamaharama. The second and quieter entrance is located at Katagamuwa, 12km from Kataragama town. Block 5, accessible from Buttala-Kataragama road, is far less visited.
As well as the often elusive leopard Yala is home to the Sri Lankan sloth bear, Sri Lankan Elephant, Water Buffaloes, Spotted Deer, Sambar Deer, Mouse Deer, Barking Deer , Rusty Spotted Cat, Jackal, Sri Lankan Grey Hornbill, Jungle Fowl, Black Necked Stork ,Lesser Adjutant Stork, Flamingo, Crested Hawk Eagle, White bellied Sea Eagle, Orange-Breasted Green Pigeon.
Most visitors usually visit the park for a half day safari from either 6am to 9am or 3pm to 6pm when the animals are out in the open. Jeeps can be hired from Tissamaharama or Kataragama towns or arranged by hotels and guesthouses. Each vehicle that enters the park is supposed to have an official Park ranger whose job it is to ensure the good behaviour of the tourists and drivers rather than spotting wildlife. With the big number of vehicles in the park at any one time, this does not always happen. Professional guide/spotters can be privately booked through various companies or accommodation providers.
The professional companies recommend full day or overnight visits and these are popular with keen naturalists. There are few campsites inside the park. One, Patananagala, is located near the beach at while the other, Paranathotupola, is located near the Manik river. Game drives take place between 6am – 10am and in the afternoon from 2pm – 6pm leaving tourist free to otherwise relax around the camp, perhaps on the beach or beside the river. Those who opt for an overnight stay should check all details, including meals and snacks, around their stay carefully with the company providing the service.
Most half day game drives from Tissamaharama enter from the main entrance and basically cover up to Patanangala area including some common spotting places in Block 1. Coming from Kataragama via the Katagamuwa gate, a half day game drive also covers the Patanangala area. Safari service professionals always recommend a full day game drive for those who have the time and wish to see more.
Accommodation in the park is often reported for being overpriced for the services provided. Animals don’t always show up on cue either so research is recommended before visitors make a decision between a half day visit or an overnight one.
Jeep costs, per jeep and not per passenger, lie between Rs4000 – Rs5000 for a half day and Rs8000 – Rs10,000 for a full day. Jeeps can carry 6 – 7 passengers in addition to the driver and [compulsory] tracker. Entrance fees [information is available in a Top Question] are in addition to the jeep hire.
Yala's popularity, due to its leopard population in particular, is not without its problems. The main problem seems to be the high numbers of jeeps, the way they speed noisily around the park and disregard the rules about distances that should be maintained between the animals and the jeeps. Those who are planning to visit should seek experienced profesional guides and ethical operators who know the quiet areas and are skilled at tracking and spotting the animals. If, when on a safari, your jeep gets very close, speeds and races dangerously for both animals and possibly passengers please do request that rules and common sense be observed.
Best time to visit
The best season to visit Yala is April to September however Yala provides good sightings year round except September & October during the very dry season. Yala is usually closed during September and October [dates vary] for maintenance and to allow the animals to rest and recover from stressful conditions.
The best time of day for the possibility of good sightings is 6am to 10am & 3pm to 6pm. At other day times, the animals are resting, hidden in a cool place from the midday heat.
How to make it great
First choose a good game drive operator, a professional with good ethical values, proven skill at tracking, spotting and identifying the animals. Mid week safaris are less crowded than weekends and the many public holidays. For a morning safari arrive at the gate by 5.30am to be ahead in the queue for tickets and to enter the park.The park opens at 6am and the earlier you are there the greater the sightings reported.
Above mentioned points based on professionals experience & article base on how to do good game drive, so it’s just about game drives & if you have any queries about Yala you can ask a question or post some thread in TA, then members of TA can help with it.