Yala National Park

Lying within the South-Eastern dry zone, the Yala National Park is the most popular destination for game watching in Sri Lanka. Its landscape and topography ranges from dense scrub jungle, to open plains and rocky outcrops which provides habitat to 45 mammalian and 215 bird species.

Yala is renowned for a high concentration of leopard within its boundaries and offers the best chance of spotting this elusive feline. With a recorded population of between 300 and 350 elephants in the park, it is common to see small family units of the majestic pachyderms feeding in the open grasslands and scrub. The sloth bear, Sri Lanka's only species of bear, is also found here, but luck is needed to spot this shy, nocturnal creature. The best time of year for sightings are in July and August, when it's favourite fruit trees come into bearing. Spotted deer abound in the park, but the larger elk-like sambhur, with its impressive antlers are less common. Other common mammalian species you are likely to witness are the large troupes of playful monkeys, herds of wild boar and wild buffalo.

Yala is one of seventy designated Important Bird Areas in Sri Lanka and it's numerous water bodies draw a host of waterfowl, both local and migratory. Painted and black-necked stork, purple and grey herons and lesser adjutants are the larger birdlife that line their shores, while whistling teal, cormorants and purple coot feed in the deeper waters. Other species of birdlife around the water include pelican, flamingo, stilts, curlews and terns some of which are migratory. Above the water, White-bellied Sea Eagles - Sri Lanka's largest eagle, and the Brahminy Kite patrol the skies in search of fish, their primary diet. Other common raptors to be found include the Serpent Eagle and the Crested Hawk Eagle.

In forested areas, Malabar Pied Hornbills and Grey Hornbills rule the canopy, and lower down its difficult to miss the Paradise Fly-catchers flitting from perch to perch. On the ground, proud peafowl strut about the plains and if it's the season their elaborate courtship gesture of tail display is a wonderful sight.

Best time to visit: Yala can be visited all year round

Distance and travel times from Yala to some key cities;

Distance from Yala to Ella is about 130km and travel time is around 2.5 to 3 hours

Distance from Yala to Arugam Bay is about 184km and travel time is around 2.5 to 3 hours

Distance from Yala to Galle is about 190km and travel time is around 2.5 to 3 hours

Distance from Yala to Colombo is about 270km and travel time is around 2.5 to 3 hours

For any other location you can use the distance calculator on the side bar.

Written by Jonathan Roelofsz for TLC.lk

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