Yala National Park is the second largest in Sri Lanka and offers one of the best opportunities to see the most popular animals. It is located on the south-east coast in the dry zone. The park consists of five blocks and is neighboured to the east by the Kumana National Park and to the west by the Lunugamvehera National Park.
The Palutapana entrance is for Block 1 (also known as Ruhuna National Park) and is the closest to the towns of Tissamaharama and Kirinda where the majority of accommodation options are located. This is the most popular entrance and Block 1 is the most crowded area of the park due to the having the highest chance of spotting elephants and leopards.
The Katagamuwa entrance is between Blocks 1 and 3 and accessed via the town of Kataragama. The main advantages to using this entrance is that there is less traffic and it is possible to stay in the park later during the evening. This is because the distance to the gate from the main animal sighting areas is much less than with the other entrances.
The Galge entrance is located on the Buttala to Kataragama road and gives access to Blocks 3, 4 and 5. These areas offer the smallest chance of animal sightings due to the thick vegetation which grows right up to the road. It is commonly used in the dry season during September and the first half of October when Blocks 1 and 2 are normally closed to the public.
Yala is the most popular national park and can become extremely crowded, especially during the high season months of December to February. There are current measures to limit the number of jeeps permitted in the park although some believe it is not enough. The only way to really avoid the crowds is to do a full day safari as most jeeps leave late morning and come back mid afternoon. However, the hottest part of the day does not offer the best opportunities for animal sightings.
Safari Costs and Timings
The entrance fee is about 25 – 30 USD per adult and the jeep hire is normally around 5000LKR for a half day safari. The jeep price is the same total for one, two, three, four, five or six people. Expect it to cost a little more if the jeep is picking up and dropping off at a hotel outside the park, for example in Tissamaharama. Half day safaris start at 5am and 2pm. The closer to sunrise and sunset gives the best opportunity to see animals.