Into The Wild At Yala National Park

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I have always wanted to go on a safari and see exotic wild animals. In my dreams, I pictured going to Safari in Africa, but after reading about the safari opportunities in Sri Lanka I was sold – Safari in Yala National Park here we come!

We were only on our fourth day in Sri Lanka, staying outside of Unawatuna, and it was a loooong way from Unawatuna to Yala National Park (basically on the other coast side of the island).

As we sat in our rental car with our Sri Lankan driver and he told us that the trip to the Park would take 3 hours, it occurred to us that we had done sloppy research and should probably have waited with the safari until we got a bit closer to Yala. Well, well, thankfully it was a really nice car trip to Yala National Park, most of it along the beautiful southern coast of the island.

We even got to see some fishermen fish in the old traditional Sri Lankan way, sitting on poles out in the sea.

Fishermen Sri Lanka
Local fishermen fishing the old traditional Sri Lankan way
Fishermen Sri Lanka

Yala National Park

There are two times each day for entrance into the Yala National Park; 6 am in the morning or 2 pm in the afternoon. As the non-early birds we are, we chose the 2 pm time….. πŸ™‚

Once we got to the small town Tissa, we joined the organized safari which our hotel in Unawatuna had pre-booked.

The only way to visit the Park is as part of a Safari in one of their Jeeps. We got a Jeep all to ourselvesΒ and had a really nice driver who managed to spot animals that were impossible to see, at least for us non-trained-animal-spotters.

The entrance to the Park is about 21 km from Tissa town.

Yala National Park
The entrance to Yala National Park

Once inside, the landscape opened up into beautiful scenery of lakes, open patches of grasslands, jungle, and complete silence and peacefulness!

Yala National Park
Me enjoying our afternoon safari tour in Yala NP

The Animals To See In Yala National Park

1. Deer

The animals we saw most of were deer, heaps of deer. Really beautiful white spotted deer. Some of them were even together with monkeys.

Yala National Park

Yala National Park

Yala National Park

Yala National Park

2. Crocodiles

Yala National Park

3. Buffaloe

Yala National Park

Yala National Park

Yala National Park

4. Wild Pig

Yala National Park

Yala National Park

5. Elephants

It is apparently around 300 elephants in Yala National Park. They tend to be a bit shy and keep away from the most-visited parts of the park, but luckily we saw some.

Yala National Park

Yala National Park

Yala National Park

Yala National Park

Yala National Park

6. Birds

Around 215 species of birds have been recorded at Yala, many of them are visitors here escaping the cold winters in the north part of the world. Maybe some of these have flown all the way from Norway?!

Yala National Park

Yala National Park

Yala National Park

Yala National Park

Yala National Park

The roads around the park were pretty bumpy and dusty.


Towards the end of the safari trip, we stopped at a breathtaking deserted beach where we were allowed to walk around. Really nice after a couple of hours in the Jeep vehicles on the bumpy roads.

Yala National Park

Yala National Park

After a lovely day in the park, we drove back to Tissa town in the sunset.

Yala National Park

One animal we did not see, even though this is one of the world`s best parks for spotting it, was the leopard. There are apparently around 25 leopards in this park, but we saw 0 :(.

We really enjoyed our day at Yala! A safari trip to Yala National Park is well worth a visit!

How To Book Safari Tours In Yala National Park

We did an afternoon safari trip in Yala National park (4 hours), from around 14:00 (2 pm) until the park closed just after sunset (18:00/ 6 pm).

You can also opt for a morning safari trip in Yala, which starts at sunrise when the park opens at 06:00/ 6 am and ends around 10:00/ 10 am. Or a full day (it is basically two trips into the park, one in the morning and one in the afternoon), or a 2-day safari trip where you sleep in huts, tents, or treehouses inside the park.

Here are the different safari tour options in Yala National Park:

Private Half-Day Safari Tour (morning or afternoon, 3-4 hours)

You can choose between a morning safari tour or an afternoon safari tour. The morning safari starts at sunrise (the park opens at 06:00/ 6 am). Whilst the afternoon option allows you to explore the park from 14:00/ 2 pm until sunset (the park closes at 18:00/6 pm).

β‡’ See more information and check the latest prices on this half-day safari tour

Afternoon Yala Safari With Beach BBQ Dinner & Wine (6-7 hours)

The perfect Yala afternoon safari tour where you after the tour in the park, will be taken to a private beach where you have a couple of hours to explore, dip your toes in the cool water, and enjoy a 4-course barbeque dinner with a glass or two of wine.

β‡’ See more information and check the latest prices on this afternoon safari tour with BBQ dinner

Full-Day Safari At Yala With Picnic Lunch (11 hours)

This great safari tour gives you two safari tours into Yala NP, one in the morning and one in the afternoon, maximizing your chances of seeing leopards. You get lunch included on this tour. They pick you up at your hotel for free if you are staying in the Yala area, or you can take a taxi/ Uber to the park on your own.

β‡’ See more information and check the latest prices on this full-day safari tour

All-Inclusive 2-Day Yala Safari (2 days, sleep in luxurious treehouses)

This is the ultimate 2-day safari tour to Yala National Park where you really get to experience the jungle of Yala! Β You will sleep in luxurious treehouses. Included in this tour is breakfast, lunch, and dinner (with beer) at the campsite (yes there will even be a campfire in the evening), morning and evening game drive in a safari car, qualified game ranger as your personal guide, snacks and drinks.

By doing safari trips over two days, you will maximize your chances of seeing leopards. A truly unique Yala National Park experience!

β‡’ See more information and check the latest prices on this two-day safari tour

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Do you dream of going on Safari? Would you like to go on Safari in Sri Lanka or Africa? Which of these 6 animals would you like to see the most? We`d love to hear your opinion in the comment area below! If you like this blog post and find it useful, please share and like it on social media! Thank you so much! πŸ™‚


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About The Writer Maria Wulff Hauglann

Maria is a Norwegian travel nerd who has explored more than thirty countries on four continents. She holds a master's degree in Computer Science, as well as an MBA. In 2014 while on a year-long trip across South East- Asia, Maria co-founded the travel blog Nerd Nomads to help others get out and explore the world. In 2018 she left her day job permanently for a life of full-time travel. See our about page for more about Maria.


  1. Fascinating blog, guys! Thanks for connecting with us on Twitter! Keep up the great work and travel safe!

    • Thanks for stopping by! Never imagined starting a blog was this much work, but connecting with fellow travellers like you makes it worth it πŸ™‚

      • Hello.. Going to Yala national park tomorrow. I was wondering if you know of a near by town to get a hotel in. Hotels in yala national park are pricey and wanted to be in a nearby town if possible.. Please let me know.

        • Hi Tony,

          Awesome that you are visiting Yala NP tomorrow! The closest town to Yala NP is Tissamaharama.

          Tissamaharama, or “Tissa” as it is called by the locals, is the gateway to Yala National Park. The Yala NP safari tours usually start here. We were dropped off in Tissa by our driver and got our tickets and safari guide & driver there. It takes about 20-30 min to drive into the park from Tissa.

          The accommodations in Tissa are quite cheap, at least a lot cheaper than to stay inside Yala NP. Here are a few hotels that I think looks pretty nice and affordable in Tissa:

          Ariya Tissa: US$24 per night (2 persons), breakfast included
          Tissa Nehansa Resort & Yala Safari: US$11 per night (2 persons)
          Blue Turtle Hotel: US$39 per night (2 persons). Has a swimming pool! πŸ™‚

          Have a great safari trip to Yala National Park tomorrow! Crossing my fingers that you will get to see a leopard (we did not, unfortunately….)!


  2. Viewing wildlife is our ‘thing’ – you can’t really beat Africa for the mix of big and small animals (Kenya being our favourite safari destination).

    Although you didn’t see a Leopard you saw a great collection of animals. We are hoping to visit Yala next March, thanks for sharing your blog, it gives us a much better idea of what to expect. Happy travels πŸ™‚

    • Hi Liz! Thanks for commenting!

      Wow, you have a great webpage, and have been to so many cool wildlife places! We would love to go to safari in Africa, it’s high up on our bucketlist. So inspiring to read you blogposts from Africa! See that you have a polar bear in your header photo. Where did you take that one, not on Svalbard in Norway or? I saw a polar bear killing and eating a seal once on Svalbard, it was an amazing ezperience!

      Yala National Park was fantastic, although we unfortunately did not see a leopard. Sri Lanka is one of the finest wildlifewatching countries in South Asia. The variation of animals is incredible, given the fact that it is such a small island in size. There are also other national parks in Sri Lanka, Yala being the most popular overall park. It depends what animals you want to see. There are also great blue whale and dolphins safaris in Sri Lanka, as well as turtles. We saw both dolphins and turtles (see our blog posts with videos).

      Have a great trip to Yala! I’m sure you will love it! Happy travels to you too!! πŸ™‚

      • Hi Maria, no we’ve not been to Svalbard, our polar bear viewing was done near Churchill in Canada.

        I’ll be sure to check out your other posts from Sri Lanka, we plan to do some marine watching too (March is supposed to be a good month to see blue whales and sperm whales).

  3. Hello Maria,
    Thank you for this nice blog really helpfull πŸ™‚
    I was wondring about going on a safari, but I was thinking about Udawalawe instead of Yala … Why did you choose Yala ? Thank you πŸ™‚

    • Hi Christelle, thanks for those nice words and glad to be of help!

      We did not go to Udawalawe National Park, so can`t really compare the two. We heard however that Udawalawe is best if you want to see elephants and birds, as they have plenty and the park is much smaller than Yala so it is easier to see the animals. In Yala you can also see other animals like leopards, deers, snakes, buffaloes and crocodiles. Yala is especially known for it`s leopards, and we really wanted to see a leopard! Unfortunately we did not see any leopards, but plenty of other animals. So I guess it depends on what kind of animals you want to see, and how bad you want to see leopards as they are only in Yala. I have heard that you are almost guaranteed to see elephants in Udawalawe, but not other animals.

      Have a great trip to Sri Lanka and enjoy the safari! I`m sure you will have a great safari trip no matter which park you choose, Udawalawe or Yala.

  4. Your best bet for seeing a leopard is going early in the morning or staying overnight in one of the bungalows inside the park (which means you can go leopard spotting at the break of dawn).

    They hardly come out during midday hours.

    The wildlife department bungalows need to be booked in advance so it’s a bit difficult. I think there are also some privately run places now but they are very expensive.

    • Great info on Yala! Did you or Zoidberg see or find any info about staying inside the park?

      Can you take your own car into the park.? Or a motorcycle if you know?

      Great photos guys!!

      • Hi Keith,

        There are apparently several accommodations close to and inside Yala National Park: Looks like you can choose from bungalows and tents. We went on a day trip to Yala, and did not sleep near the park.

        I am not sure if you can drive your own car inside Yala, we did not see any private cars while we visited the park. The roads can be pretty muddy and difficult to find, so I doubt motorcycles are allowed, but maybe 4×4 wheel cars. I read somewhere that a local guide/ tracker is a compulsory part of the entrance price and that the local guide has to come with you in your car. The guide will help you find the animals as well as help you stay on the tracks and not get lost.

        Have a great trip to Yala! Crossing my fingers that you will be have more luck than us and spot a leopard. πŸ™‚

        • Many thanks for the info Maria..and NR!
          I am in Sri Lanka now and unfortunately Yala is closed!

          But no worries…Uda was a wet moto bike away and I was able to get some killer photos of some massive elephants!

          Thanks for both of yours’ info. Indeed, it was very similar in Uda. Many operators and trucks around as well as hotels that operate their own service. I was able to get a truck/guide all to myself:)

          No leapords though:/

          Uda: Elephants
          Yala: Leopards

          Thanks for the good Sri Lanka content!
          Best relevant and photo worthy travel blogging I have seen!

          • Thanks a million Keith for commenting back, and for your compliment on our blog! You are awesome! πŸ™‚ Really appreciate that info on Uda National Park. Will definitely check out that park the next time we visit Sri Lanka. Sounds like you had a great time in Uda! Elephants are such amazing animals.


      • You can take your own SUV type vehicle in to the park. Normal “car” wouldnt be able to handle the terrain. Bikes are not allowed. Every vehicle needs to have a “tracker” licensed by the park

  5. You can take your own vehicle but you won’t be able to do much driving inside the park if it’s not a four-wheel drive. Motor bikes are not allowed, it’s a matter of safety (there are elephants about!).

    An approved guide will always come with you, visitors are not allowed to drive around the park on their own.

  6. Finding a vehicle and driver is not a hassle. There are plenty to be hired in Tissa. If you book accommodation near or in the park I’m sure they can organize a vehicle for you. Going through the hotel is a good idea so they can find a reliable driver for you from the multitudes that are plying this business now.

    • I agree, nr. Even though we did not stay in Tissa or near the park, the hotel where we stayed at in Unawatuna booked a driver and vehicle for us. So it`s no problem at all organizing a vehicle with a guide for Yala.

  7. Yala does close for about two months every year before the peak tourist season to let the park recover. I think the park was supposed to be open now but they caught some poachers and one of them was shot. So the opening maybe delayed till the police finish their business.

    If you are still keen on seeing Leopards you could always try Wilpattu . Wilpattu was the place to see leopards before Yala became famous. There are more leopards there but they may not be as habituated to people as the ones down in Yala.

  8. Thanks for your report about your visit to the Yala National park. We are going to Sri Lanka in January and try to find out which parks are the best. It seems you had a great day!

    • Hi Natascha,

      We sure had a great day in Yala National Park! We did unfortunately not see any leopards but saw a lot of other animals. We did not visit any of the other national parks in Sri Lanka, so sorry I can`t help you out on which one is the best. I guess it depends what animals you want to see, and which park is closest to where you will be staying the rest of your trip. I`m sure you will have a great safari experience no matter which park you choose to visit.

      Have a great trip to Sri Lanka!

      Best regards,

  9. Hello Maria,
    Thank you for sharing your experience.. I have done some Indian Jungle Safari but I have never been here.. But would love to go Yala National Park. Keep sharing your experience.

  10. Hi Maria,

    I’m heading to Yala as part of my trip to Sri Lanka in January. Can you let me know how much you paid for entrance as well as the jeep hire (we will be 2 people)? Just so I have an idea and won’t be ripped off as I’ve read some very differing figures on other forums!


    • Hi Verity,

      You can find ticket prices on the official webpage of Yala National Park:

      The entrance ticket is LKR 3688 = USD 24 for an adult and LKR 1038 = 7 USD for a child. As for renting a Jeep, the price is about USD 40 for a half day (we did a half day tour) and about USD 75 for a full day tour. This if for 1 Jeep that can fit up to 6 people.

      Have a great trip to Sri Lanka and enjoy the beautiful Yala National Park and all the elephants!


  11. Thank you for this awesome guide to Yala National Park!
    We just went on a two-day safari here, and found you’re blog post to be very useful, especially when we researched about this amazing place! We did see a gorgeous male leopard up close on our third safari after days of tracking one and constant calls. All the animals we saw were amazing. I have always dreamed of going on safari, and we enjoyed seeing each and every animal on your list, but our favorites (Not counting the leopard) were by far the elephants, birds and deer. Thanks again, and I’ll make sure to check out some of your other posts!

    • Hi!

      Thank you so much!!! Sounds like you had an amazing trip to Yala! Wow, I can`t believe that you saw a leopard up close!!! Lucky you! We did unfortunately not see any leopard, a reason to head back I guess :). Good idea to do a two-day safari trip, it increases the changes to see a leopard.

      I really enjoyed the elephants, though, simply love elephants!

      Thanks for your nice comment, really appreciate it!


  12. Hello,

    I’m going to travel to Sri Lanka and I was wondering, are there any organized trips to safari from any city/town? As I’ll go as a solo traveler, it would be really helpful.


    • Hi Andreea,

      All hotels, guesthouses, and hostels will be able to arrange a trip for you to Yala or whatever national park you want. If you want to join a trip with others, I`m sure they can do that too. The hotel that we stayed at in Unawatuna, Damith Guesthouse, organized our Yala safari trip.

      If you want to pre-book your safari-trip, we have used this company a lot and they are awesome and do safari trips as well: (say hi to Sadun from us…. πŸ™‚ ).

      Have a great time to Sri Lanka and enjoy your safari trip!


  13. Hi Maria,
    Thanks for the great info on your site. We are a party of 13 ranging from the age of a healthy 81 to 10 years old and are travelling around Sri Lanka for 2 weeks in August. We arrive in Tissa from Arugam Bay in the afternoon and plan to do the early safari the next day. Can you tell me what sort of time the morning safari finishes as we are planning to move on to Galle next? Would you advise travelling the next day or is it possible to do the safari and travel the same day without being too tired? Thank you.

    • Hi Dee,

      Thank you so much!

      Yala National Park opens at 06:00 (6 am) in the morning, so most safari trips start around that time. A typical safari trip takes about three-four hours, so from approximately 06:00 – 10:00. You will have plenty of time to drive to Galle after the morning safari, the drive takes about five hours so you will reach Galle in the afternoon.

      Have a fantastic trip to Sri Lanka in August, and enjoy your safari in Yala NP! Crossing my fingers that you get to see a leopard, we did not, unfortunately.


  14. Hey there, can I shoot you an email about the safari? I’m talking to Sadun about it and wanted to bounce it off you since you’ve been on one.


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