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Leopard Spotting in Yala National Park Safari

Leopard Spotting in Yala National Park Safari

Did you know you don’t have to go to Africa to go on a safari? Well, if you did you’re smarter than me. Sri Lanka has several National Parks in which you can go on a safari, but a Yala National Park safari is the best.

We’ve been on 2 overland African Safari’s in which we spent 110 nights camping. For most people, this type of safari is not an option due to limited vacation time.

If this is the case for you, then we’d suggest heading to Sri Lanka where you can go on a Yala National Park Safari and tie in some beach time either in Sri Lanka or the Maldives.

Yala National Park Safari

Yala National Park is located in the southeast region of Sri Lanka and lies in Southern Province and Uva Province. The park is 979  square kilometers (378 square miles). Yala consists of five blocks, only two blocks are open to the public.

On our safari with Leopard Trails, we visited block 1, and all the footage in our video was shot in Yala National Park was from block 1 or Leopard Trails camp.

Leopard on rock Yala National Park

Spotted 2 leopards perched high up on the rocks in Yala National Park.

How do you get to Yala National Park?

  • 243 km/5-5.5 hours from Colombo depending on the route
  • 210 km/4.5-5 hours from Kandy depending on the route
  • 169 km/3.5 hours from Galle
  •  134km/2.5 hours from Arugam Bay
Yala National Park Safari Entrance Sign

Entrance to Yala National Park, safari time!

Most people hire a driver for their entire time in Sri Lanka as they make their way around the country, or they hire drivers to get them from point A to point B. We had a driver bring us from our hotel Cantaloupe Levels in Galle to Yala National Park.

The cost of the driver will vary based on where you are coming from. Because it takes a long time to drive anywhere in Sri Lanka I suggest staying in a hotel close to Yala National Park and then go into the park early in the morning.

Yala National Park Safari glamping Leopard Trails

Dinner after our Yala National Park safari at Leopard Trails

We went on a Yala National Park safari with Leopard Trails, where we spent the night at their 5-star glamping safari camp which was amazing. Staying at Leopard Trails allowed us to “sleep in” a little longer. If we had traveled from Galle we would have had to leave at 2 a.m.

Yala National Park Safari Sunrise

Watching the sunrise while on our Yala National Park safari. Worth the early wake-up.

If you are seeing the best of Sri Lanka on a budget you can take a public bus to nearby cities and then hire a driver to get you the entrance of Yala National Park. Buses in Sri Lanka are really inexpensive for example Colombo to Kataragama on a super luxury bus is only $7.

What Does A Yala National Park Safari Cost?

Well, this all depends on which safari company you go with and the experience you want to have. There are several tour operators running Yala National Park safaris we went on a safari with Leopard Trails.

As you can guess they specialize in leopard sightings. We really wanted to see the leopards so it was an obvious choice for us to go with Leopard Trails.

Looking for leopards in Yala National Park

Hannah trying to spot the leopard on the rock on our Yala National Park Safari.

Do your research when picking a safari company, ask them about their vehicles/what’s included/what do they specialize in/etc. The cheapest safari isn’t always the best option, going on a safari for many is a once in a lifetime trip so don’t cheap out.

  • Park entrance fee Foreign Adult – LKR 3688.00/Foreign Child – LKR 1037.52 click here for the current exchange rate. The park entrance fee is typically including in your safari rate and it was with our Leopard Trails safari.
  • Leopard Trails prices vary based on season & availability but included overnight in camping in their luxury glamping tents, all meals & drinks (alcohol too), and 2 game drives a day (morning & afternoon)
  • The cheapest option I found was booking at the Yala National Park visitor center $40 for a half-day Jeep safari or $75 for full-day Jeep safari unto 6 people in 1 Jeep.

What Animals Can You Possibly See On A Yala National Park Safari?

Leopard in Yala National Park

Spotted this leopard hunting while on our game drive.

Every game drive is different and there is no saying what you will see, that is part of the fun in going on a safari. You never know what animals are going to be active that day. You have the possibility of seeing the following animals on a Yala National Park safari:

  • Leopard (Panthera pardus kotiya)
  • Asian Elephant (Elephas maximus maximus)
  • Mugger Crocodiles (Crocodylus palustris)
  • Sloth Bear  (Melursus ursinus)
  • Water Buffalos (Bubalus bubalis)
  • Spotted Deer  (Axis axis)
  • Several variations of Mongoose (Herpestes vitticollis)
  • Wild Boar (Sus scrofa)
  • Jackal  (Canis aureus)
  • Indian Rock Python (Python molurus)
  • And many more animals
Elephants drinking at a watering hole in Yala National Park.

The watering hole in Yala National Park had several elephants and even a baby elephant!

Our safari with Leopard Trails included an afternoon game drive from 3 pm-6 pm and a morning game drive from 530am-1130am. On our morning game drive, we stayed in longer than normal as we were watching two leopards up on a rock, thanks to our Leopard Trails guide! Each of our game drives in Yala National Park we saw leopards & elephants, we always had our cameras ready!

Can you spend the night in Yala National Park?

You cannot spend the night right in Yala, you will have to stay in accommodation near Yala National Park. We chose to spend 2 nights just outside the park glamping at Leopard Trails.

Yala National Park safari inside Leopard Trails Tent

Inside our glamping tent with Leopard Trails after a Yala National Park Safari

When Is The Best Time To Go On A Yala National Park Safari?

Leopards can be spotted year-round on a Yala National Park safari, so there really isn’t a bad time to go. The best time to see elephants and migratory birds is October-April.

The main dry season lasts from May-October, the park will be very dusty during the main dry season and several of the watering holes dry up. This sometimes forces animals to come to specific watering holes.

This is the ideal time of year to spot elephants, buffalo, deer, wild boar, eagles, owls, and kingfishers while on a Yala National Park safari.

Sunset in Yala National Park

There isn’t a bad time to go on a Yala National Park safari is you ask us!

What’s the weather in Yala National Park?

It’s quite hot in Yala year-round, with temperatures ranging between 79F (26C)- 86F (30C). The monsoon season in Yala is September through December when Yala gets most of its rainfall. The rainfall makes for some great photos as everything will be super green and lush looking.

No matter which season you visit it’s always a good idea to pack a lightweight jacket in case.

Water buffalo cooling down in Yala National Park

Water buffalos cooling down in Yala National Park.

Fun Facts about Yala National Park

  • The leopard population density in Yala National Park is highest in the world.
  • Yala National Park is 26 times bigger than the city of Colombo
  • Yala National Park is the most visited National Park in Sri Lanka
  • Yala National Park is the second-largest National Park in Sri Lanka

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Yala National Park Safari - Leopards - Sri Lanka

Have you been on a safari? Share your safari experience below in the comments! 

Kolo Pius

Saturday 3rd of September 2016

Wow! Am trapped up in East Africa but this is a Nice Guide. How much is a trip to Yala? My clients would surely love the visit. Please email me the quotations for luxury, midrange and budget trips. Thanks for the article.


Sunday 30th of October 2016

We love Africa! A trip to Yala National Park varies based on outfitter you go with and the number of people. No matter who you go with you will most likely see leopards!