Safari at Yala National Park, Sri Lanka

Have you ever wanted to go on a safari, but can’t afford to drop a huge chunk of dough on an African safari? If that’s the case, consider Sri Lanka for your next budget safari. Most African safaris can set you back hundreds of dollars a night, but a safari in Sri Lanka is much more affordable. There are many different parks in Sri Lanka to choose from for a safari—we chose the famous Yala National Park.

On the Road in Yala National Park

Why Yala National Park?

Yala is famous for its leopard population! The park has the highest density of leopards in the world. If you’re lucky, you just might see one of these beautiful near-threatened beasts on a Yala safari. Also, Yala’s location worked perfectly into our Sri Lanka itinerary (post on that coming soon: subscribe to our blog to get an update when it goes up!).

Riding around on the Jeep in Yala

 

How Much Does A Sri Lankan Safari Cost?

Our safari at Yala National Park cost $40 a person, plus entrance fees ($15 each). That makes $110 for an all-day safari (5AM-3PM) for 2, with meals and pickup included—not bad at all!

Yala National Park's Beauty
The way to reduce your safari budget is to try and share your jeep with other people. We shared ours with 4 quirky Italians who were friendly and kept largely to themselves. This brings the price down considerably compared to what you’d pay for a private jeep (unless you had enough people in your group to fill up the truck!). It’s just like sharing a cab—it’s always cheaper to split the bill with more people. This was the biggest splurge of our trip, and also one of our most highly-anticipated excursions.

Painted Storks
Painted Storks

How Do You Book a Yala Safari?

It’s easy to book a Yala safari. You could book a safari in advance, but the odds are it’s going to be more expensive that way. This is because many safari offers are package deals with lodging included, as well as the safari itself. If you’re looking to do a budget safari like we did, it’s probably better to set up your safari when you arrive in Tissamaharama. The staff at your accommodation will be more than happy to help connect you with your safari guide and driver. Just inquire about a safari, and they will set up everything for you! It doesn’t get any easier than that.

Elephants in the distance

 

The owners of the guesthouse we stayed at were kind enough to wait up for us to arrive in Tissamarama, and arranged the safari for us for the next day with not much notice. The guesthouse itself was nothing special, but the hosts were incredibly friendly and helpful, and it’s a great budget option for a quick stay before heading to the national park.

*Victory Guesthouse, Tissamaharama: 54/1, Halambagaswala Road, Tissamaharama 82600, Sri Lanka

Ben sitting in the back of the safari Jeep

Our Safari Experience

Our guides picked us up at 5 AM so we could arrive at the park just before sunrise. We stopped at the ATM to retrieve some quick cash, then another brief stop for water, and off we went. The day was off to a beautiful start as we ate our breakfast (included in the safari price). We enjoyed the view past herds of water buffalo bathing in wetlands lit by a gorgeous sunrise in between bites of bananas, tasty pol sambol (spicy coconut) and roti (flatbread).

Sunrise in Yala National Park

After entering the park, we began slowly traversing the park’s back roads, eyes peeled for any and all kinds of animals. On a Sri Lankan safari, you’re only allowed to exit the jeep at certain points for safety reasons. That was just fine, as we were perfectly comfortable taking in the sprawling park in the open-air vehicle.

Scenery at Yala National Park

As we cruised through Yala, we spotted many kinds of wildlife, including buffalo, peacocks and other birds, monitor lizards, crocodiles, deer, wild boar, monkeys, and elephants. Many of these animals were just off the road, and some even crossed right in front of us. After a few hours of cruising, we had a break and got out of the jeep at an undeveloped stretch of beach. It felt wonderful to stretch our legs after sitting for hours. It’s not as relaxing as you’d think sitting in the jeep, as the terrain is often rugged, and given the recent flood of rain in the area—very wet!

Wet road
Around noon, we stopped for lunch. Our lunch site was on the shady banks of a river overrun by monkeys, and our guides served us up a dish of rice and fish curry (not the best rice and curry we had in Sri Lanka, for sure!). The monkeys were very intent on stealing our food, which made us laugh more than anything as we weren’t that protective over that particular meal anyway. It did, however, bother our Italian jeepmates. We enjoyed watching them arm themselves with giant sticks to try to fend off the monkeys, accompanied by wild Italian gesticulating and shouting.

Ben keeping our rice and curry from the encroaching monkeys
Keeping our rice and curry from the encroaching monkeys

Post-lunch and post-lunch-nap, we continued driving along the narrow dusty road. The heat of day forces many animals into the shade, and there were parts of sprawl when the only beasts we saw were dozens of big black jeeps in a row. Now, however, the animals were starting to come out a bit more, especially as the park emptied slightly as all the half-day safari visitors left. We spotted a few elephants with no jeeps in sight, and had a fun little encounter with an elephant crossing the road in front of us no more than 20-30 feet away. “Elefante, elefante!” shouted our Italians with enough joy to excite anyone. The elephant was a tusker, too!

An elephant with tusks

 

Soon enough, the time came for us to go, but not without a final spotting of a herd of deer. The deer sat peacefully in the late-afternoon glow in the grassy field. The stunning scene contained so many deer, it looked stolen from Snow White. This set the record for the biggest herd of deer we’d ever seen, and marked a postcard-perfect finish to an already spectacular day in Yala.

Herd of deer

Upon leaving the park, a large herd of water buffalo on the main road surrounded us. We waved sayonara to the beautiful park and animals, and enjoyed the ride back to Tissamaharama through the serene and wide-open wetlands.

Buffalo in the road

So, What Did We Think?

We didn’t see any leopards, and we can’t pretend that wasn’t a little disappointing, but the safari was still a highlight of our trip! Its incredible and pristine scenery constantly dumbfounded us with its postcard-like beauty, and that alone makes the park worth a visit. Keep in mind that Yala is one of the most popular parks in Sri Lanka because of its leopard population. This may impact your safari, because if you go when it is busy (often), you will definitely see many other jeeps. The amount of people can scare animals away (no leopards, fewer elephants), which was the case when we went. It was New Year’s Eve, and was probably more crowded than usual. Nevertheless, we enjoyed our safari very much and would recommend it, especially if you’re able to make it out on a less busy weekend! Otherwise, you may be better off choosing a less popular park. If we had known just how incredibly busy the park could get, we would’ve chosen a different park, such as Udawalawe National Park.

Wild boar

A safari can be a remarkable highlight of any trip to Sri Lanka. Exploring the stunning jungles, savanna, and wetlands that Sri Lanka’s national parks have to offer from the back of a jeep is an incredible experience. What’s even better is that all this can be done without breaking the bank! Sri Lanka can be done on a very low budget, and its safaris are no exception.

Safari at Yala National Park, Sri Lanka

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  1. Looks great! Would love to visit Sri Lanka one day:)

    Liked by 1 person

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