In search of Wildlife in Yala National Park, Sri Lanka

I never did spot what sounded like a ‘Whatt Outt!’ on my recent safari trip in Sri Lanka!

Leopard, yes, Elephants, yes and even a rare Sloth Bear, yes.  All are what are called the Sri Lankan top three! And all were achieved in just one day in Yala National Park thanks to some luck and the skills of Amidu, an expert safari guide.

An early start, rising just after 5am, had me at the safari park gate entrance just before 6am.  The aim being to improve the chances of catching at least one leopard on the full day excursion.

The British set up the park in the 1930s and Yala is criss-crossed with bumpy, rough tracks that the safari trucks patrol, spotting the animals that inhabit the huge, protected wildlife park.

Its small passenger trucks offer excellent viewing on raked open seating behind the driver. Not only during the trip was the leopard ticked off, the elephants and sloth bear, plus a myriad of birds, crocodiles, monitor lizards, mongeese or should it be mongooses? Well just in case, I did see one mongoose and I also saw another one too!

Located just inland of the south-western shore of the island, the park has several distinct areas, with the best animal viewing areas located in its zones one and five.

Although it’s the mammals and bigger game that are much desired by visitors, I would say that the bird life is truly exceptional. Almost to point where if you spent the day on safari and you failed to spot the big three, seeing just so much of the impressive bird life and really close up too, is absolutely worth it!

There are options for half-days park tours if a whole day seems too much. The small trucks can jolt you on the bumpy tracks so you have to be prepared to hold on as you shake rattle and roll scanning the bush for the wildlife that the guides point out.

The safari tour I was on formed part of an accommodation package in conjunction with Mahoora Safari Camp which is located very close to one of the quieter easy access park entrances. Sleeping under canvas in some style and dining under the stars by firelight is a charming way of spending two or three nights in and around Yala. An interior shower in the tent plus a washstand and flush toilet, mean no night-time sojourns to the bush are needed! The tents boast comfortable double and single beds, a separate seating area, electric lighting and cooling fans, so my type of camping!

Staff at the camp are friendly and very helpful. Mahoora tents are well spaced and located in the bush with oil lamp lit paths to guide you around after dark. Other cultural excursions, cooking lessons and night-time walking tours from the campsite are available.

Black Faced monkeys and the odd monitor lizard called by during my stay, plus many colourful birds were either resident in the camp site itself or passing through with the park being so close by.

A small boutique style hotel just two hours, drive away called Ceu Ceylon at Tangalle offers a beach option after the camping. This is a new five-bedroom hotel right on the beach with a delightful swimming pool and an open breezy garden in which to sit and rest under a coconut palm or umbrella. The attentive hotel team will keep you fed and watered in some style. Seafood is, of course, top on the menu with also a freshly cooked breakfast, along with plentiful fruit and excellent lunch choices too.

The hotel is located near to a large lagoon where local fishermen will gently take you around the 50 hectare lake on their punted catamarans. Here, there are yet more great birdlife and other animals to see as you cruise through and over the floating mats of water hyacinths.

Another excursion to seek out is to watch turtles laying their eggs on a nearby beach. The ‘Turtle Watch’ trip means going out at around 9pm and being escorted to the site where guides, using red torches, let you very quietly approach and then watch this remarkable annual process.

This safari camping and Indian Ocean hotel beach break works well together as a package and if you have an interest in culture, wildlife and birds, then this would be perfect!

And what about the ‘Whatt Outt’ you are asking?  That turned out to be me thinking it was a local name for an animal that I could not see or find. It was in fact the driver shouting “watch out” over the noise of the engine to warn me to duck out of the way of over-hanging branches that could whip you as you pass by narrow sections of bush track… Doh!

Follow in our Footsteps


Ceu Ceylon

Experiential Journeys

Turtle Watch

Our Silver Travel Advisors can help you plan a magical stay in Sri Lanka, visiting Yala National Park and the beaches. You may like to take a tour of the island to visit the most iconic sites. Call 0800 412 5678.


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Geoff Moore

Experienced travel writer, photographer, blogger & videographer

3 Responses

  1. We visited Yala National Park in January and stayed at Ceylon Wild Safari. We had three drives in the park and were lucky enough to get a great leopard sighting on the first one – she was simply lying in the middle of the road and no other vehicles were around which made it even more special. Unfortunately, we didn’t manage to see the sloth bear so you were really lucky.

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