A leopard resting on a branch of a tree
Leopard in Yala National Park, Sri Lanka

Yala national park is indeed one of the reasons to visit Sri Lanka to make your trip to Sri Lanka a complete experience. It is the second in size among national parks in Sri Lanka. Also, Yala was titled as a wildlife sanctuary in 1900 and identified as a biodiversity hotspot in the world. Being one of the famous destinations for wildlife explorers, bird lovers, photographers, and students, Yala is the most visited among the other Sri Lankan wildlife sanctuaries for a number of unique reasons!

How Do I Get to Yala National Park? 

Yala national park is located about 260 km away from Colombo in the Southern and Uva Provinces of Sri Lanka. It is the only national park on the Island that borders a golden sandy beach of the Indian Ocean. So, isn’t it truly a blessing at Yala to have all in one! However, Yala is accessible through the Southern expressway approximately in 4hrs, or either you can take the Colombo-Ratnapura-Wellawaya-Batticaloa highway (A4), which takes about 6.5hrs.

What Can you See in Yala national park?

But wait, what ‘can’t’ you see in Yala? It is a complete package of biodiversity and truly a treasure chest of beautiful nature scenery everywhere. 

The park covers a large area of 378 square km and consists of five blocks, among which two are opened for the public exhibition.

The two blocks that allow the public visit are;

  1.   Ruhunu National Park or Yala West
  2.   Kumana National Park or Yala East National Park

Excited to know about these blocks. Isn’t it? Nothing to worry about! Continue reading, and feel the delight.  

Ruhunu National Park (Yala West)

You can access block 1 of Yala national park from the coastal highway from Colombo to Tissamaharama. After 20 km from Tissamaharama, you meet Palatupana. It is where the main gate is located. Also, apart from the main entrance, there is another entrance from the Kataragama-Situlpawwa road.

Most importantly, block 1 of the Yala National Park is very popular for conserving wild animals, including elephants and leopards. Yala is also a park that has a high density of leopards. Block one consists of varied habitats such as thick jungles, open savannah, rivers, rock pools, lakes with crystal clear water, water streams, sandbanks, and the coast. Further, the famous Menik River (Menik Ganga) also flows across this area. All these variations of terrain together create an all-in-one experience for the explorer.

Furthermore, as you already know ecotourism is to visit such exotic, unique and threatened natural lands without doing any harm to it. The block one of the park is one reason why Yala has become one of the enormous contributors to the ecotourism industry of Sri Lanka. 


The majority of the flora at the Yala national park is Manilkara hexandra, Hemicyclea Sepieria, Bauhinia Racemosa, Cassia Fistula, Chloroxylon swietenia, or ‘Palu.’ ‘Ehela,’ and ‘Burutha’ as it is called in Sri Lanka. Meanwhile, Sonneratia Caseolaris is the most commonly seen flora in the part of Kumana national park. Besides, there are many and more types of aquatic plants along the Kumbukkan Oya and the swamps in the park.


Besides Flora, there are about 44 mammals that live on the premises.

  • Leopard
  • Elephants
  • Sloth bears
  • Sambars
  • Spotted deers
  • Peacocks
  • Jackals
  • Crocodiles

Yala is very popular to have a high density of leopards and elephants. Hearing the sounds of all these animals from time to time is a fantastic experience for a camper who camps at night in the site.

Kumana National Park (Yala East)

Kumana National Park is the other part of Yala National Park, which is open for public visit. The previous name of Kumana National park was ‘Yala East National Park,’. It is because Kumana is located at the east of Yala. Thousands of people visit this part of the park annually as it is along the way that leads to the famous Kataragama Pilgrimage Hindu Temple. However, later, the name changed to ‘Kumana national park’ in 2006. Contrary to the Yala west, Kumana is exclusively renowned for its birds’ nesting and breeding (avifauna).

However, as per the recordings, there are around 255 species of birds, including many waterfowl and wading birds, at the Kumana national park. Thus, it is the main bird watching destination of bird lovers in Sri Lanka. Many local and foreign tourists visit this land of amazement annually to receive that wonderful experience of bird-watching from their naked eyes.  

Bird Species to be Observed in Kumana National Park

Some birds live in the national park, while some are migrating species due to the weather conditions.

Rare Bird Species that Live in Kumana

Kumana is a famous destination for bird watchers for another reason. It is to spot very rare species of birds in the world. It is amazing how a small island like Sri Lanka is rich with such a biodiversity that attracts the whole world.

Some of such rare species of birds are;

  • Black-necked stork
  • Great thick-knee
  • Eurasian Spoonbill
  • Lesser adjutant

Of course, these are just a few! There are many more rare species of birds in Kumana. So, never forget to visit there and a catch a glimpse of them!

Visitor or the Migratory Birds to the Kumana park

Not only the birds who live there, but Kumana of the Yala national park is rich with the visiting or the migrating birds. They migrate here during the winter season of the other areas in the world. Thus, it is clear that these lovely birds of many colours and types annually visit Kumana for nesting in the warmth and sunshine at Kumana.

You can find below some of the most popular migratory birds that can be seen in Kumana.

  • Waders from Scolopacidae and Charadriidae families
  • Pintail snipes
  • Water cock
  • Purple swamphen
  • Little cormorant
  • Little egret
  • Great egret
  • Intermediate egret
  • Asian openbill
  • Indian pond heron
  • Black-crowned night heron
  • Purple heron
  • Glossy ibis
  • Spot-billed pelican
  • Little grebe
  • Common moorhen
  • Purple swamphen
  • White-breasted water hen
  • Pheasant-tailed Jacana
  • Black-winged stilt
  • Lesser whistling duck
  • Rare wading species that visit the park
  • Yellow-footed green pigeon
  • Greater racket-tailed drongo
  • Malabar Trogon
  • Greater sand-plover
  • Lesser sand-plover
  • Little-ringed Plover
  • Pacific golden-plover
  • Grey plover
  • Common snipe
  • Pintail snipe
  • Common redshank
  • Red-faced malkoha
  • Sirkeer malkoha
  • Wood sandpiper
  • Marsh sandpiper
  • Curlew sandpiper
  • Little stint.

Of course, all these birds further magnify the splendour of Kumana, and delight the visitors beyond a doubt.

What is the Best Time to Visit Kumana?

It is advisable to visit Kumana during the time when the migrant birds visit the premises in order to get the maximum use of bird-watching experience. April to July is when most of these species visit the swamps in Kumana National Park. Indeed, it is a magnificent sight to see thousands of birds fly in flocks and their chirping all together! So, try your best to visit Kumana during this season.

The Ideal Atmosphere for Birds at Kumana

However, located 90 meters above sea level, Kumana is a beautiful land which appears as a combination of both wetland and dryland. It provides an appropriate habitat atmosphere to these hundreds of bird species who live in this national park. About 20 lagoons that are no deeper than 2 meters, tanks on the premises, and Kumbukkan Oya that borders the park from the South supports the birdlife in Kumana. The birds fish Tilapia and mullet fishes the most at Kumana national park.

Meanwhile, there are many species of reptiles, mammals that visit the swamp in search of food. Around 40 elephants roam around on the premises of this national park. All these things have supported to lever up the whole of Yala, a biodiversity hotspot in the world, without a second thought.

However, while the civil war was in place in Sri Lanka, Kumana has been closed for visitors based on security reasons. It was from 1985 to March 2003. Then again, in 2004, it was severely destroyed by the Tsunami disaster after which the park was closed for several months. However, currently, it is open to the public as before.

Climate and the Best time to visit Yala

Yala generally has a hot climate throughout the year. It can also be called a semi-arid environment, as there is a lot of greenery around although it is hot. The average temperature in the site varies from 26C to 30C which is similar to the average temperature in Sri Lanka. Moreover, Yala receives around 1300ml of annual rainfall, mainly from the Northern monsoon. It is from September to December. During this time, the animals live in the deep forest, enjoying plenty of fresh water and food gifted from nature. The animals do not come into open much thus, if you visit during September-December period do not expect much of them to see in open.

During the other part of the year, the water pools of the park get relatively dry. Thus, there is a high tendency of animals coming into the open in search of water during that period. Accordingly, between February to July is the most recommended period to pay a visit to Yala. Meanwhile, the migrant bird species also visit the park within this period, starting from the month of April.

History and the Cultural Importance of the Yala National Park

Have you ever wondered about the unheard history of this vast land, which is full of animals today? You would never think that It was considered home to several thousands of civilians. It was not in the recent past but about 2000 years ago. The restored pilgrim sites Sithulpawwa and Magul Viharaya provide witness to the ancient civilization that has been in place on the premises. It could have been most probably a civilization based on agriculture as there are many tanks in Yala. However, most of these tanks are not in the look of a tank with time. The support given by the tanks left to the wildlife is immense, mainly during the dry season at present.   

Later in 1900, Yala was designated as a wildlife sanctuary; subsequently, in 1938, it was named a national park.

For a better overview, let us share with you the cultural attraction around this site as well.

Sithulpawwa Raja Maha Viharaya

Sithulpawwa Raja Maha Viharaya is located around 18km from the pilgrimage site of Kataragama in the Southeastern province of Sri Lanka. It is a creation of King Kavantissa in the 2nd century BC during the ancient civilization in Ruhuna.

It is a temple built on a rock that popped up through the Yala national park’s greenery. Accordingly, a sight of an elephant, a deer, or a leopard from a distance, is a frequent opportunity. The temple was also called ‘Chiththala Pabbatha,’ meaning ‘the rock of the quiet mind.’ It is famous for the ancient paintings which have a history around 2000 years back.

Sithulpawwa Raja Maha Viharaya is one of the best escapes for a quiet mind to think about the preaching of Lord Buddha while hearing the bells of the temple along with the sounds of the wild beasts in the forest around.

Magul Maha Viharaya

Magul Maha Viharaya is located about 4km from Yala, and an explorer who comes for a visit to Yala never misses visiting this temple for its uniqueness. It is also a creation of King Kawantissa and this was the place where the wedding ceremony of King and his queen Vihara Maha Devi took place. The name ‘Magul’ that means ‘Wedding’ provides witness to this story.

This pilgrimage ground spreads across a land of more than 10000 acres and is full of historical ruins and creations. The moonstone in the temple is a rare creation that includes distinguishing features from the other ancient moonstones in Sri Lanka.

A visitor who has a yearning to study the uniqueness of Sri Lankan ancient architecture must visit this place to see the ruins, which are now under the control of the archaeological Department of Sri Lanka.

Effects of Tsunami on Yala

In 2004, the Eastern and Southern coasts of this beautiful Island were hit by the most dangerous Tsunami waves. The tsunami snatched away many valuable lives and the livelihood of several people to whom it brought effects. It also affected the Yala site, which is located bordering the Southern coast.

As a result, around 250 people died while at the park and the park’s vicinity. Nevertheless, proving the significant factors about animals’ sense than humans, almost all the animals managed to comprehend the upcoming disaster and escaped the waves’ paths. However, the giant waves flushed the original features of the park’s coastal belt for many years, leaving behind the memory of this disastrous incident in the hearts of many. 

There is also a Tsunami memorial at Patanangala to remind the people who visit about this incident in the history of natural disasters in Sri Lanka.

Threats to the Yala National Park

As for any nature reserve, Yala national park also has threats. People who do not understand the value of preserving such enormous properties of nature that give us life, always try to take illegal uses out of the park.

People come for poaching of wild animals such as wild boars, deers etc. Not only that, some come for fishing illegally in the tanks and pools on the premises. There were many cases reported of turtles being trapped in fishing nets at Patanangala. Trapping of turtles on the beach and snatching turtle eggs also is a threat at Yala which is a pathetic condition.

Gem-mining in the Menik River is also another threat to the preservation of the forest. People who come for fishing and gem mining litter the waterways, which is an unfortunate situation. Meanwhile, some selfish humans who are greedy for the giant trees that stand in the forest cut them off for logging. Further, illegal farming of tobacco, Ganja, etc., and burning of some parts of the greenery, have affected some parts of the Yala national park. Furthermore, the farm animals or the domestic animals such as cattle are left to roam freely by the farmers.

Even though Yala is blessed with an immense tourist attraction, irresponsible tourists disturb and harass the wildlife by so much noise during the rides and the sound of vehicles. It is a real threat to the wilderness and to maintain the park as an entirely natural reserve. In this case, restricting the other three blocks of the Yala National Park is the right decision.

Furthermore, apart from the humans, there is also a threat to the Yala by some alien species of invasive plants. Namely, they are Lantana Camara, Opuntia Dillenii, and Chromolaena Odorata which grow spreaded over land and water.

Conservation at Yala

However, the Department of wildlife conservation and the park’s authorities have taken some necessary measures to preserve the national park and its wildlife. Most of the waterways are under preservation, and the authorities also manage grazing lands for animals. The Department also performs eradication of the invasive species of plants on land and water within the premises which are threatful.

How Much Does Yala Safari Cost?

These approximate price ranges are based on the number of pax per vehicle.

Most commonly;

For a couple it costs- approximately US$ 88

Price per 1-5 pax –  the price varies from US $70 –US $143 roughly

Five and above pax – the price varies from US$ 143 and above

Is It Worth Visiting Yala National Park?

Yes , it is! As mentioned early in this read, Yala in Sri Lanka is an all-in-one destination for any nature lover to explore and learn.

The vast stretch of greenery,  the golden sandy beach, the richness of biodiversity including the land and water animals, hundreds of bird species, along with the two pilgrimage sites in the vicinity, make it a complete and unforgettable experience for an explorer! Thus Yala supports the Sri Lankan tourism industry in big time.

According to the requirements of the visitors, there are several hotels, bungalows, and campsites to accommodate them with varying facilities. Going on a safari through the park is also a fantastic experience which is worth spending. Make yourself surprised by seeing a sudden movement of a leopard, a peacock, or an elephant crossing the road very closely. There are some places where the passengers can get off the cab and enjoy the view and surroundings during the ride. However, make sure to visit during the peek when the animals come to the open in search of water.

The Bottom Line

Above all, we truly recommend visiting this excellent site of Yala National Park! Visit, and make your trip an unforgettable experience, filling up your backpack with wonder and happiness –leaving behind only the footprints. Happy and Safe Travelling!