Situated in the southeastern part of Sri Lanka, the expansive Yala National Park is divided into five blocks, of which only Blocks I and II are open to visitors. Covering an area of 141 sq km, Block I or Yala West (Ruhunu) is the more visited part of the park, largely due to its accessibility and leopard population. Punctuated by rocky outcrops, the park’s sprawling landscape varies of fauna, which includes elephants, spotted deer, civets and crocodiles. The birdlife here is also very diverse, with migrants swelling the ranks of the resident population in winter. Yala is also home to a number of cultural attractions, notable among which are the historic sites of Situlpahuwa and Magul Maha Vihara.
The Sri Lankan Leopard is a subspecies endemic to the island. Home to around 35 leopards, Yala West is said to be one of the best places in the world to observe and photograph these felines. Although they can be sighted year-round, it is easier to spot them during the dry season (May- September).
Exploring the Park
A 4WD vehicle is required to enter and explore the park, since walking is not permitted here. Jeeps can be easily arranged through one of the many tour operation in Tissa. All vehicles are assigned a guide, who accompanies visitors into the park. While it is possible to explore the place on a full-or half-day safari, most people choose the letter as a whole day can be exhausting. The ideal time to visit the park is either early in the morning or the late afternoon. There are currently no limits on the number of vehicles entering the park, hence it can be very busy on weekends and public holidays. Visitors are advised to avoid making noise as it can frighten the animals and the lower the chances of a sighting.
Dating from the period of the Ruhunu Kingdom (around 200 BC), the monastic settlement of Situlpahuwa is an important pilgrimage site en route to Kataragama. A steep staircase leads to the bright white Situlpahuwa dagoba, which sits atop a 122 m high rock; the summit affords splendid views over the park. more