Is the amazing Yala National Park on your bucket list? If so then you have come to the right place! We had the pleasure of visiting Yala on our 1-month tour of Sri Lanka and it turned out to be one of the highlights of our trip. Let us introduce you to this beautiful destination in our guide below.
But first a little bit about ourselves: we are Sam and Natalia from the travel blog “Something of Freedom”. We are both from England – Sam is from Milton Keynes and Natalia is from Folkestone – but we actually met while travelling and working in New Zealand on working holiday visas.
Sam’s love for travel stemmed from studying abroad in the US for a semester as he made friends who were also on exchange. After that, he did a working holiday in Australia before moving onto New Zealand.
Natalia has always been interested in travel and she volunteered in Tanzania at 18. She then started working nights while studying at university so that she could spend her time off travelling as much as possible.
Since we met in 2015, we have been travelling together whenever we get the chance and normally spend at least half of our time on the road. It came naturally to us that we should invest in a decent camera in order to capture our travel memories and share them with other people too!
Our Journey with “Something of Freedom”
When we were living in New Zealand we started an Instagram account to share our travel photos. At first it was more just a way for us to be able to document our travels. But then, as it grew, we found that we were being asked similar questions about how we travel and general advice.
We decided to create the blog to put our knowledge out there for people. The idea was to have all the information people would need in one place. Our goal has always been to inspire others to experience different cultures so they can see what the world is like and can leave their comfort zones.
On top of that, we want to inspire people to travel in a DIY way rather than relying on travel agencies. It’s more affordable to travel than some realise.
Visiting Sri Lanka for a Second Time with Sam’s Family
Our most recent trip to Sri Lanka was actually our second time visiting. We loved the country so much the first time round that we ended up planning a second trip for Sam’s dad’s 60th birthday. We wanted to show Sam’s family what amazing destinations and experiences Sri Lanka has to offer.
In total we spent a month in Sri Lanka but only around 10 days of that was with Sam’s family. We started off in Mirissa to go blue whale watching, moved on to Tissamaharama to visit Yala National Park and Bundala National Park, then we made our way to Ella to enjoy the scenic hill country before taking the famous Ella to Kandy train ride which was just awesome.
After Sam’s family left, we visited Boossa (a small laidback town), Hikkaduwa and Colombo. On our first trip we also visited Nuwara Eliya, Udawalawe National Park, Tangalle and Kandy. All amazing places!
Touring Yala National Park with Yala Kings Safari
We did a lot of research before arriving in Sri Lanka on the best way to visit Yala National Park and found an amazing company called Yala Kings Safari who had great reviews on Tripadvisor. They weren’t the cheapest option but sometimes it works out best to pay a bit more for a high quality service.
This worked out well as our guide was great at spotting wildlife. There was the option of a half day or full day safari. We opted for a full day to give ourselves the best chance of seeing a leopard and sloth bear. Luck was on our side as we saw both thanks to a late appearance from a leopard!
The thing we loved most about Yala was just having the chance to see such amazing animals in their natural habitat. It was also fantastic to be able to share that experience with Sam’s family as we normally only get to show them photos. It was nice that they were there with us for a change.
Rich Wildlife of Yala National Park
Looking over our photos it seems that we saw over 20 bird species and over 10 different species of larger animals at Yala National Park. But these are just the ones we managed to get photos of! Some of the highlights from the birds were the Bee-Eaters, Hoopoes, Hornbills and Painted Storks.
In terms of other animals, seeing a leopard and sloth bear on the same day was an incredible experience. We also got to see elephants which was nice as this is not always guaranteed when taking a safari in Yala National Park.
Highlight of Yala National Park: Seeing a Leopard
The standout for us at Yala National Park, as mentioned before, was seeing the leopard. We were really hoping to see this animal and felt blessed when we did! Yala is one of the best places in the world to see leopards. But as the end of our day drew near it seemed like we might be out of luck.
Our driver from Yala Kings Safaris then got a tip off that there was a leopard nearby. He took us to the area but when we arrived there was nothing to see. We waited in the hope of seeing the leopard when suddenly it appeared from behind some bushes to give us an amazing view. What a moment it was and something we will cherish forever!
Need to Know Before you Go
The most important tip we can give is to do your research before booking a safari. You want to make sure you have a reliable operator with consistently good reviews. It’s crucial to do this to give yourself the best chance of seeing wildlife and also to make sure that they run the safaris ethically.
Sometimes – even if more expensive – it can make the difference between a good safari and a great one! Another tip is to take a full day safari as that way you have the best chance of seeing a leopard. If we opted for a half day we wouldn’t have seen one. It’s good that we settled on a full day!
Thanks for reading and we hope you enjoy Yala National Park. Feel free to get in touch or read our blog to learn more about us and our travels.