Yala National Park is, together with Wilpattu National Park, one of the two oldest national parks in Sri Lanka.
Though it is the second-largest, after Wilpattu, it is the most visited park on the island. It is best known for its Block I, which is recognized as the place with the highest density of wild leopards in the world. And the popularity of Yala is mostly due to these majestic animals.
But, Yala is much more than just leopards. It is home to more than 40 different mammalian species, more than 200 bird, and more than 45 reptilian species. It is also a place of several starkly different ecosystems.
It features dry and wet monsoon forests, semi-deciduous forests, marshes, marine wetlands, beaches, and grasslands. It is one of the rare places in the world where you can see and experience such a wide variety in a very short period of time.
In ancient times, Yala was a rich region of the island with a developed and flourishing agriculture, which is evident from the numerous tanks and reservoirs of which some are dating as far back as the 5th century BC.
Besides embarking on a safari, at Yala National Park there are places well worth visiting, so here’s the list of things you should see or do while visiting this national park.
Visiting a national park or a wildlife sanctuary of any kind is almost always done with the aim of taking a safari tour. In Yala National Park you will not be disappointed by its nature.
The main attraction of this park is the majestic but elusive leopards. If you are lucky you will be able to see one the around 30 individuals languidly roaming the wilderness of the Block I.
But, even if you do not spot leopard there is a wealth of wildlife to enjoy.
Yala is also home to a herd of more than 300 wild Sri Lankan elephants, wild water buffalos, Sri Lankan sloth bears, mugger and saltwater crocodiles, and many other animal species.
Yala is one of the 70 Important Bird Areas on the island. In park you can see more than 200 different bird species.
Because the park is featuring many various ecosystems you will be able to spot many different types of birds, the forest birds, water birds, migratory, and so on. But the best spot for bird watching is the Bundala National Park which is located just half an hour ride from Yala.
Bundala is one of the internationally important wintering grounds in Sri Lanka for migratory birds, and as such, it is designated as a Man and Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO.
In five lagoons the park consists of, you can observe almost all bird species that are wintering or making a stop on the island during migrations.
According to tradition, this Buddhist temple was built in the 2nd century BC, though the 14th century AD stone inscriptions suggest that it was built in the 5th century AD and several times renovated.
Today you can see well-preserved stupa, image shrine and still living sacred fig tree.
Sithulpawwa is an ancient Buddhist monastery with a history spanning more than 2,200 years. Through its history, it was an important center of Buddhist learning.
Throughout the premise of the monastery are spread many ruins of the ancient buildings, and many are decorated by images of the Anuradhapura era which lasted from the 5th century BC to 11th century AD.
Kataragama is a pilgrimage town located adjacent to Yala national park, and one of the more peculiar places in Sri Lanka. It is best known for the Kataragama Temple, which is a syncretic temple with houses of worship of Hindu, Buddhists, Muslims, and indigenous Vedda people.
This temple complex is primarily dedicated to the Buddhist guardian deity of Sri Lanka, Kataragama deviyo, and Hindu God of War, Murugan. Besides this temple complex, Kataragama is also home to the Kiri Vehera, the ancient Buddhist stupa for which is not certain whether it was built or renovated during the 1st century BC.
One of the best ways to explore the local culture is by taking a bicycle ride around villages that surround Yala National Park. This tour you can also do on foot if you prefer so.
But either way, you will be traveling on the rural roads winding around bushes and experience Sri Lanka’s landscape without obstructions of glass windows.
As you slowly move through the nature of the island you will be able to enjoy the sights and sounds of nature undisturbed by your presence.
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