Sri Lanka’s Yala National Park consists of five areas, known rather boringly as blocks. Whilst staying at Ceylon Wild Safaris, we enjoyed game drives in 1 (the most popular), 3, and 5. 2 was said to be rarely visited due to its remoteness and 4 was never mentioned. As the drive to the park entrances took 45 minutes along the main road, the pace was pretty full on. We set off for morning drives at 5am and returned around 11.30am, and then after a short rest and lunch, we were off again between 1.30pm and 2pm, not returning until after 6.30pm.
However, journeys to the park entrance were not boring and we spotted elephants on the roadside which have obviously been conditioned to know they’ll be fed by passers-by. Whilst the considerable paperwork was being done at the entrance, we were entertained by the antics of grey langurs and macaques.
Everyone visits Yala to see leopard, and on the first of three drives, it was slightly ironic that after lots of elusive searching and messages over the radio which culminated in false alarms, we literally came across a leopard sunning itself in the middle of the track. We were the only vehicle and, turning off the engine, we simply sat and admired, silently snapping away. Eventually, the handbrake was taken off and benefitting from being on a slope, we inched our way closer until we were only 20 foot away. We continued to snap away, until she shot up a nearby tree with alarming speed. Fortunately she hung around in the y shaped branches to allow us to get more photos before charging down and wandering off rather nonchalantly down the track. We then spotted her leap into another tree with a land monitor lizard in her sights, which fell down with a bang closely followed by the leopard. Other jeeps started arriving and we left them to enjoy. It was an incredible sighting, particularly as no one else was around.
Elephants were plentiful and included a family group with a baby and a huge male with twisted tusk. Our final sighting was watching a tusker decimate a tall bush. Other animal sightings included DLTs (deer like things – our collective name when we don’t know the type), a mongoose trying to drag a dead land monitor into the undergrowth and wild pigs.
Bird life was also plentiful, with peacocks being particularly abundant: our guide explained the term ‘train rattling’, which is when the male displays its feathers and vibrates them to attract the peahen. Another wonderful sight was around 50 bright green Bee Eaters on the ground,
The undergrowth in the park was relatively dense but the bushes were colourful and included: red and orange lantana; the poisonous flame lily; and the most prevalent, ranawara, a yellow flower used to make a herbal drink before tea was introduced into the country.
Breakfast was taken on our drives and although it had to be eaten in the jeep, we enjoyed coconut sambal and egg mayonnaise sandwiches, jam jars with chopped fruit and yoghurt and tea. Likewise mid-afternoon we stopped for cold drinks and biscuits.
The Sri Lankan safari experience is nowhere near as polished as those we’ve been on in Africa, but if you want to combine culture with wildlife and beaches, the country can offer all three.