Yala National Park is the main safari destination in Sri Lanka, as it offers you the best chance to witness a vast array of wildlife all in one place. The big draw for Yala is its population of leopards. The chance of seeing these big cats is one of the main reasons to choose a safari in Yala National Park.
The nearby town of Tissamaharama is the perfect place to stay due to its close proximity to the national park. We recommend staying for a couple of nights in Tissa, as you have an early start on the morning of your safari.
Getting to Yala National Park
A public bus is available from the main bus station in Tangalle. It takes around 2 hours and will cost 120LKR ($0.69 USD). If you are coming from Hiriketiya Beach the bus journey will take an extra 20 minutes.
How much should it cost?
There are multiple different trip options ranging from short morning tour, half day and full day. We chose the half day tour, which picked us up at our guesthouse at 04:00 am and dropped us back off just before midday. The average cost for a half day tour should be 6000 – 6500 LKR ($34.29 – $37.15 USD).
The early morning rush to be first in line means you have a bit of a wait at the gates to the national park. If you are near the front of the queue you will probably arrive at around 04.45 am and the main gate into Yala doesn’t open until 06:00 am. There is a small café open first thing in the morning by the gate so you can grab a coffee and a bite to eat to wake yourself up.
Choosing the best safari
The best way to book your safari is through your guesthouse. This is the quickest and easiest way to do it. However, if you don’t like the look of the safari offered by your guesthouse, there are lots of people in Tissa to shop around with. Many tour operators will also stop you in the street and try and give you a sales pitch, so there is no shortage of options.
Each morning there is a huge lineup of jeeps waiting to enter the national park. The ideal scenario is for you to be towards the front of the line. The reasoning behind this is that the jeeps tend to scare the animals away so if you are towards the front of the queue you are more likely to see more wildlife.
This means finding a tour that will get you there nice and early. Most decent tour companies leave at around 4.15 – 4.30 am to try and reach the front of the queue. While it does not guarantee wildlife sightings it does increase your chances.
Finding a tour with a guide is also recommended. While we are certainly not nature nerds, it’s always cool to find out about the wildlife and have someone to answer your questions. It also means there is an extra pair of eyes for spotting the animals as leopards can be notoriously hard to see in the bush.
Most jeeps are 6 seaters and have forward facing seats. They are fairly big and comfortable. Some tour companies have bench seats that face each other in the back meaning you have to crane your neck constantly to look out of the vehicle. It may not seem like that big of a deal but it will make a difference after 6 hours on safari.
What animals are there in Yala?
As previously mentioned, leopards are the animal most people want to see as they are the rarest. Elephants are a very close second. It’s always awesome to these giants going about their daily routine.
Other animals you are likely to see are water buffalo, deer, antelope, crocodiles, wild boar, sloth bears, and birds.
Other tips for Yala National Park
– Bring food and water as most tour companies will not provide this for you. Unfortunately, there are not too many safe places to stop and use the bathroom when you are in the national park so don’t drink too much.
– Pack a hat, sunscreen and bug spray as it is a long hot day in the sun. The jeeps are covered but you will inevitably end up in the sun for part of the day.
– Bring a jumper as it can be a cold early morning drive to the national park.
Where to stay in Tissamaharama
We stayed in Viveka Guesthouse which is just outside Tissa town centre. It was a good budget option for the area, although not the comfiest beds we have stayed in. The good thing about staying here is that the safari we booked through our accommodation was the first jeep through the gates which was a bonus.
Find other great places to stay in Tissamaharama here.
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Sri Lanka is one of the most affordable places to take a safari. It is pretty amazing to be able to take a half day safari for so little and still see amazing animals. For the overall cost, we really recommend making the effort to go on safari and Yala National Park fits perfectly into most Sri Lanka travel itineraries.
Next stop Ella!
*Please note, prices are a reflection of our experiences while traveling Sri Lanka in March 2019 and are subject to change. Prices quoted in LKR were the exact prices we paid and USD conversions are listed for your convenience.