Situated in Sri Lanka’s south-east hugging the panoramic Indian Ocean, Yala was designated a wildlife sanctuary in 1900 and was designated a national park in 1938. Ironically, the park was initially used as a hunting ground for the elite under British rule. Yala is home to 44 varieties of mammal and 215 bird species. Among its more famous residents are the world’s biggest concentration of leopards, majestic elephants, sloth bears, sambars, jackals, spotted dear, peacocks, and crocodiles. The locals call it Ruhunu National park and it is the second largest in Sri Lanka. Tissamaharama is the nearest town where most tourists stay for visits to Yala.
Yala is divided into blocks. Of these, Block 1 is said to have the highest Leopard density out of anywhere in the world. The leopard found here is a different subspecies from the Indian and African varieties, it is called the Sri Lankan Leopard (Panthera pardus kotiya). Also the Elephants found here are a different sub-species, the Sri Lankan Elephant.
Apart from Mammals, Yala also boasts of a rich bird life, with one of the Sri Lanka Endemics, the Sri Lanka Jungle Fowl seen regularly here.
When to go
The best time to visit Yala is between February and July when the water levels of the park are quite low, bringing animals into the open.
A notable feature of the park is that it is adjoining the Indian Ocean and has a beach in the park itself. Full day trippers usually have their lunch in the beach itself.