Yala National Park

Yala National Park, renowned as the most visited and second largest national park in Sri Lanka, is a sprawling sanctuary that beckons travelers from across the globe. Located in the southeast region of the country, it spans the Southern Province and Uva Province, covering a vast area of 979 square kilometers (378 sq mi) situated approximately 300 kilometers (190 mi) from Colombo. Yala’s rich history dates back to 1900 when it was designated as a wildlife sanctuary, and later in 1938, it earned the distinction of being one of the first two national parks in Sri Lanka, alongside Wilpattu.

Boasting five blocks, two of which are accessible to the public, Yala National Park is celebrated for its diverse ecosystems, ranging from moist monsoon forests to freshwater and marine wetlands. Recognized as one of the 70 Important Bird Areas (IBAs) in Sri Lanka, Yala is home to 215 bird species, including six endemic species unique to the island. The park’s lush landscapes provide sanctuary to 44 mammal species, with Yala boasting one of the highest leopard densities globally.

Yala’s significance transcends its ecological diversity, as it also holds traces of ancient civilizations. Pilgrim sites such as Sithulpahuwa and Magul Vihara are nestled within its verdant confines, adding to its cultural allure.

The park’s establishment as a national park on March 1, 1938, under the Flora and Fauna Protection Ordinance, marked a pivotal moment in Sri Lanka’s conservation efforts. Today, Yala encompasses six national parks and three wildlife sanctuaries in its vicinity, including Kumana National Park and Yala Strict Nature Reserve.

Home to a plethora of threatened species such as the Sri Lankan Sloth Bear, Sri Lankan Leopard, and Sri Lankan Elephant, Yala’s biodiversity is a testament to its importance in conservation. The park’s reptile fauna, numbering 46 species, includes five endemic species, while its coastal line serves as a haven for globally endangered sea turtles.

For visitors, Yala National Park offers an unparalleled wildlife experience. Most visitors are drawn by the opportunity to witness wild animals, with elephants being the most sought-after sight. From leopards to birds, Yala’s diverse fauna captivates visitors, who are granted access to observe wildlife from 5:30 am to 6:30 pm daily.

While droughts historically prompted seasonal closures from September 1 to October 15, Yala remains a year-round destination, captivating travelers with its untamed beauty and captivating wildlife encounters.