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12 Things to Know BEFORE Visiting Yala National Park, Sri Lanka

12 Things to Know BEFORE Visiting Yala National Park, Sri Lanka

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Yala National Park is one of the most popular spots to visit in Sri Lanka, which is a big deal given just how many beautiful and exciting things there are to do in the country. Whether you’re exploring some of its gorgeous beaches and world-famous tea plantations, or driving your own tuk-tuk, there are some incredible experiences in Sri Lanka. 

Visiting Yala National Park was high on my Sri Lanka bucket list, and it lived up to every expectation! Hundreds of exotic animals can be found in Yala, most famously the elusive leopard. As such, I had to stop in Yala National Park to see if we could find this jungle cat and other animals. Spoiler alert: we found a leopard and so much more!

Getting into the park isn’t as cut-and-dry as other national parks around the world, so we wanted to share what we learned on our trip. This guide will cover everything you need to know before visiting Yala National Park so you can have a stress-free visit. We’ll also touch on our personal experiences, which were so amazing – as I’m sure yours will be too!

Don’t have time to read the full article? Yala National Park is most famous for its leopard population. Your best chance of spotting these elusive cats is on a safari – like this full-day safari. The safari is all-inclusive so you only have to worry about watching for wildlife, which your local guide will be able to find much more quickly than you could on your own!

1. About Yala National Park

A young elephant eating and watching us as we watch in Yala National Park Sri Lanka
This elephant is pregnant!

Yala National Park is located on the southeastern coast of Sri Lanka. It has a unique climate as it borders the Indian Ocean. The park features a sprawling coastline, and the rest is made up of many different ecosystems including light forests, jungle, grasslands, marshes, and more.

The national park covers 979 square kilometers (378 square miles), making it the second-largest national park in the country. It is broken up into five different blocks, but only Blocks 1 and 5 are open to the public for conservation efforts, with Block 1 being the most frequently visited.

Yala National Park became a protected reserve in 1900 and an established national park in 1938. Yala along with Wilpattu were the first two protected reserves and national parks in Sri Lanka! The original boundaries of Yala National Park were just Block 1, which is about 14,101 hectares (34,844 acres). Since its origins, four more blocks have been added, and two national parks adjoined, Kumana National Park (called “Yala East”) and Lunugamvehera National Park.

Yala is easily the most popular national park in Sri Lanka because of its large leopard population. In fact, it has one of the densest leopard populations in the world! There isn’t an exact count, as the leopards are very good at hiding and they aren’t tracked, but park rangers estimate 100 leopards live in Block 1 alone! So multiply that by 5 blocks and that’s a lot of leopards in one national park. 

While these stealthy jungle cats are certainly elusive, it’s not impossible to spot them. However, your best bet is on a safari tour like the one we did because the guides know where they like to hide out.

The best time of day to see leopards is early in the morning, so most safaris take off at 6 am when the park opens, in hopes of being the first to see a leopard. While many parks in Sri Lanka require a tour or safari to enter, Yala allows anyone to drive through. However, the area is protected, and there are some rather wild animals out and about, so you can’t get out of your jeep and walk around within the park. 

2. Where is Yala National Park?

Watching an elephant eat from a tree from our jeep in Yala National Park Sri Lanka
So cool!
Warthogs drinking from a pool in Yala National Park Sri Lanka
Warthogs drinking from a pool in Yala National Park

Yala National Park is in the southeast corner of Sri Lanka. It is 281 kilometers (175 miles) from Colombo, which is about a 4.5-hour drive. You can also visit Yala from Mirissa, which is 142 kilometers (88 miles) and a 2.5-hour drive away. 

Most people will stay in Tissamaharama, which is the closest large town with plenty of accommodation options. Tissa is about 22 kilometers (14 miles) from Yala Block 1 (the most popular safari location). You can reach the park entrance in about 30 minutes when it’s early in the morning and there is no traffic! 

Related Read: To get off the beaten path in Sri Lanka, read our guide to Dambulla, a city near Sigiriya that most travelers have never heard of.

3. What to expect when visiting Yala National Park

Other members of our tour talking with our guide in Yala National Park Sri Lanka
All of the guides we met were so friendly!

Taking a guided safari of Yala National Park is by far the best way to experience it. The guides spend so much of their time within the park’s bounds, so they know it like the back of their hand. 

When you take a jeep safari, you won’t be the only jeep in the park, not by a long shot! Prepare yourself to begin the day with a long line of other safaris, engines revving, ready to take off through the entrance gates in search of animals. We went in October, which isn’t even the busy season, and I was surprised at how crowded it was. So, if you are going during peak tourist season (December to March), expect to see a lot of other vehicles. 

This isn’t entirely a bad thing because the guides are in constant communication. If one spots a leopard, he calls up his buddies and they come zooming in to find it. This does mean that if you find something cool to stop and look at, it’s only a matter of minutes until another 5-10 jeeps show up to see it too. But eventually, everyone goes their separate ways and you won’t see as many vehicles. 

4. When is the best time to visit Yala National Park?

A group of waterbuffalo submerged in a pool of water to stay cool in Yala National Park Sri Lanka
Water buffalos taking a morning bath.

The best time of day to visit Yala National Park is early in the morning, as this is when the animals are most active! Most safaris will take off at 4:30 am to pick up all the passengers and arrive at the park when the gates open at 6 am.

Because of Yala’s location in Sri Lanka’s dry zone, it can get very hot! The average temperature is 27℃ (80℉), but it can get up to 37℃ (98℉). This makes visiting in the morning or late afternoon ideal so you miss out on the heat of the day. 

If you’re looking for the best weather, visiting Yala from May to August will bring lots of sunshine and warm weather! However, peak tourism season is from December to March – and if you don’t mind more visitors around, you can also take advantage of the high animal sightings during this time.

The best thing about Yala is that you can visit at any time of the year! It is mostly temperate, and even if you visit during the rainy season, you can find one or two good days to schedule a safari. 

5. How much is the entrance fee to Yala National Park?

Entrance to Yala National Park is surprisingly expensive! Including all fees and taxes, we paid around $47 USD per person. Mind you, the entrance fee is listed as $35 USD, but this is before taxes and extra fees.

The tour we did covered the price of the safari, but we had to pay this entrance fee in cash the day we went to Yala. Some tours will include entry fees in the total tour cost, so you won’t have to worry about any extra expenses on the day of your safari. 

6. Where can you visit Yala National Park from?

Jeeps lined up at the entrance of Yala national park in tthe morning Sri Lanka
Waiting to get into the park

Tissamaharama/Debarawewa

Yala National Park is a bit out of the way from Sri Lanka’s major cities, so the closest town to stay in is Tissamaharama. Most safari tours are based out of Tissa and will provide pick-up from surrounding hotels and Airbnbs. Tissamaharama is 22 kilometers (15 miles) from the main entrance gate in Block 1 and it will take 30-40 minutes to drive there. 

We stayed in Debarawewa, which is the neighboring town that runs into Tissa. Either of these is your best bet for visiting Yala National Park! 

Kataragama

Kataragama is situated on the northern side of Yala National Park. This is the best place to stay if you are visiting Yala from the Katagamuwa Entrance, which will take you to Block 5. Many jeep safari tours will still offer pickup from Kataragama, as it’s only about 18 kilometers (11 miles) from Tissa. You can still access Block 1 very easily from Kataragama as well!

Colombo

While it will make for an incredibly long day, you can visit the park on a day trip from Colombo. Yala National Park is about 4.5 hours from Colombo, so you’ll take off early in the morning and embark on an afternoon safari, which is still a great time to see animals!

I recommend taking this tour from Colombo to Yala National Park. It includes private transportation and makes stops along the way to break up the drive (you’ll be thankful for this, trust me!). Once you reach Yala, you’ll switch to a safari tour guide and spend 3 hours exploring the park, spotting all sorts of wildlife, and enjoying the incredible scenery. Then, your driver will return you to Colombo at the end!

This tour does not include entrance to Yala National Park (an additional $47 USD) or food, so bring cash and snacks! It will be at least a 10-hour day, if not longer, but a great way to see Yala from Colombo. You can reserve this experience for $120 USD per person for 2 people. The price drops per person for larger group sizes.

7. What are the best tours to Yala National Park?

Leopard Safari in Yala National Park

A peacock displays its feathers in Yala National Park Sri Lanka
Getting a show from a peacock
An elephant mother opens her ears as a warning for people not to get close to her family in Yala National Park Sri Lanka
Seeing a family of wild elephants was so cool!

Spending time in Yala National Park will be an unforgettable experience as you spot leopards, peacocks, lizards, and elephants! We took this tour to Yala National Park and had a blast driving around the park, seeing the lush flora, and spotting a ton of animals! 

You can choose between a full-day or half-day option. We opted for the full day, which meant an early morning pickup at 4:30 am at our hotel! You can choose to go directly to the meet-up point at 5 am instead, but you still won’t exactly get to sleep in.

We reached Yala around 6 am. Honestly, the early wake-up time was worth it! We watched the sunrise just as we entered the park and started seeing peacocks, warthogs, water buffalo, and elephants within the first 30 minutes. 

We drove around the park for hours until finally, our guide got a call about a leopard. He turned around and drove like he was in the Fast and the Furious movies until we reached the location, turned off the jeep, and waited. Finally, the leopard walked right across the road, and we watched this magnificent creature – it was truly incredible! 

We spent a few more hours driving around. The park closed from 12 pm – 2 pm, so all the jeeps pulled into a day-use area for lunch. It was nice to have a break because we had already been in the jeep for 7.5 hours. After lunch, we hopped back in the jeep and drove around for another 3 hours, seeing more wildlife!

The full-day tour gives you plenty of time to see a lot of incredible wildlife. However, it makes for a very long day! We saw most of the big-ticket animals within the first half of the day, and by the second half, we were exhausted. I think booking a half-day tour would be enough time in the park. But, we did see the sloth bear at the very end of the day (around 5 o’clock), and we wouldn’t have spotted it if we only took a half-day tour!

Our tour guide was great and made this long day totally worth it! This tour includes hotel pickup, a light breakfast, and water, and we paid to include lunch. Entrance to Yala National Park isn’t included, so bring cash to pay on the day of the tour (about $47 USD per person).

There’s a minimum of two people per booking for this one (sorry, solo travelers!). The full-day tour is $80 USD per person and the half-day tour is $37 USD. There’s also a 7-hour tour for $42 USD if you’re looking for something in between the two other options.

You can reserve this jeep safari to Yala National Park in advance, here!

Yala Camping Safari All Inclusive

A view of a small lake with Elephant Mountain in the distance in Yala National Park Sri Lanka
The sunrise in Yala is incredible!

While taking a full-day safari gives you a great look at the park, you can take your experience to the next level by staying the night within Yala National Park! This luxury camping trip (aka glamping) includes everything you’ll need for two safaris and an overnight stay in the park. If you have room in your budget, this is certainly a once-in-a-lifetime experience!

This private tour begins by meeting at the tour office in Tissa around 12 pm. Your guide will take you to Yala National Park to check into your luxury camping site and have lunch. The “tents” are more like cabins or yurts and have a bathroom attached and a jacuzzi tub inside – they aren’t kidding when they say luxury! 

The tents are certainly nice, and you’ll almost wish you could stay in them all day. But, the 4-hour afternoon safari is completely worth it because you’ll (hopefully) spot elephants, monkeys, peacocks, a sloth bear, and a leopard – like we did! After the safari, you will return to camp to relax and have dinner under the stars. All meals and alcoholic beverages are included in this tour! 

The next morning you will get up early for a morning safari, where you’ll see even more incredible animals. The morning safari lasts from 5:30 am to 10 am. We think you won’t mind the early wake-up time though because different wildlife is active in the mornings. Plus the visitors who are staying outside the park can’t get in until 6 am, so you feel like you have everything to yourself for a little while!

You have breakfast when you arrive back at camp. Then, the tour guide will drive you back to Tissa to wrap up this incredible overnight experience! 

I honestly can’t think of a better way to explore Yala National Park than staying overnight. The park is gorgeous and secluded, so you will be able to see thousands of stars here. Plus, you can hear the animals rustling around the bushes all night but stay in the safety of your tent! This tour takes service to the next level, so you can expect a luxurious two days in one of the most beautiful places in Sri Lanka

This tour includes transportation from Tissa, all meals, drinks (alcoholic and non-alcoholic), entrance to the park, your overnight accommodations, and the amazing safari guides! It’s $488 USD per person, which isn’t terrible considering all that is included, and what a unique experience this is!

Be sure to reserve this experience in advance, as it is popular and has limited spots! 

Full-Day Safari – Yala National Park

A peacock sits on top of a large rock in Yala National Park Sri Lanka
This peacock was keeping watch all day!
Several warthogs watch us drive by as they drink from a small pool in Yala National Park Sri Lanka
Just a couple of warthogs around a watering hole

We loved our safari experience, and it was cheaper to book ahead of time, but we ended up having to pay quite a bit more on the day of our tour. If you’d rather have an all-inclusive tour and not worry about any extra costs and fees while you’re out exploring, this full-day safari in Yala National Park is your best bet!

You get to choose your start time of 4 am, 4:30 am, or 5 am. Although this early in the morning, I don’t know how much of a difference it will make! This tour has a maximum of 4 travelers, which is great if you’re traveling with a small group. You’ll arrive at the park before it opens at 6 am, and soon be racing through the entrance gates to find the animals.

We really like that everything is included on this tour, so you can focus on enjoying the wildlife. Hopefully, you’ll get lucky and spot a leopard like we did! Even if you don’t find this elusive cat, you’ll have a good chance of seeing elephants, monkeys, mongooses, snakes, and lots more. Because this is a full-day tour, you will be in the jeep for hours (likely over 12 hours by the end of the day) which leaves plenty of time for spotting wildlife. 

The park closes midday, so you’ll stop for lunch (which is included) from 12 pm to 2 pm. There’s plenty of food provided, and you won’t be hungry even though you’re in the park for so many hours. We saw different animals in the afternoon than in the morning, so we think it’s worth doing a full-day tour if you’re as interested in wildlife as we are.

We love that this tour is all-inclusive, as it will take care of entrance fees, and provide breakfast, lunch, water, and your knowledgeable guide! You get all this for just $99 USD per person. This tour requires a minimum of two people per booking, and it’s great for small groups and couples.

This tour can be reserved in advance here and you can pay later (up to 2 days in advance of the tour)

Half-Day Special Leopard Safari Tour

Our view from the back of the jeep as we drive down a dirt road in Yala National Park Sri Lanka
The jeeps are super comfortable
Watching a baby elephant eat from a tree up close from our jeep in Yala National Park Sri Lanka
So many wild elephants!

If you don’t want to commit to a full-day safari, this half-day tour is a great option! As fun as it is riding around in a jeep as if you’re Indiana Jones, it can make for a very long day on a full-day excursion. Half-day tours are a great option because you still spend 4-6 hours scouting for animals and you usually can see a lot during that time!

We like this tour because it includes all entrance fees, so you aren’t paying any extra when you arrive for the tour. You can choose between taking a morning or afternoon tour, depending on your schedule and preference. Morning tours depart at 4:30 am, and while that is early, it’s also the best time to see the leopards! The morning tour lasts roughly 7 hours, including about 5 hours in total inside the park.

However, if you’re not a morning person you can take the afternoon tour that will let you be in the park from 2 pm – 6 pm. You still have a great chance of seeing a leopard, as well as the sloth bear, elephants, and all sorts of bird life. We happened to see one of the rare sloth bears as we were leaving the park in the afternoon! Plus, 4 hours is still a good amount of time to see the highlights of Yala, without getting too exhausted from an early morning. 

This tour can accommodate up to 6 travelers, so if you have a larger group this is a good option. Otherwise, you’ll share the jeep with some new friends. Hotel pickup is offered from multiple towns surrounding Yala National Park, and entrance fees, safari fees, and your guide are all included in this tour.

You can book a morning tour for $65 USD per person or an afternoon tour for $78 USD per person. If you decide you’re up for a full-day adventure after all, there’s an option for a 10-hour tour for $90 USD. Note that food and drink are not included except for lunch on the full-day tour.

Check your schedule and book this tour in advance, as it’s a popular option! 

Yala National Park Group Safari

The entry gate and sign to Yala National Park Sri Lanka
You get up early but it’s worth it.
Baby monkeys climbing on the roof of our jeep while we eat lunch in Yala National Park Sri Lanka
Your ride for the day.

This safari in Yala National Park is best for those traveling with a group! It follows the same formula as most other safari tours of the park but is offered at one flat rate depending on which tour you select. So if you have 6 people in your group, the safari is cheaper per person.

We love a good price on a tour! But, definitely be aware that this is not an all-inclusive tour, so you have to pay for a few extras while you’re in the park.

This tour is offered as a half-day, full-day, or 7-hour tour. It includes hotel pick-up from Tissamaharama and surrounding areas, as well as the safari tour.

The half-day tour lasts for 4 hours and is offered as a morning tour departing at 5 am, or as an afternoon tour at 2 pm. The hours right around sunrise and sunset are when the animals are most active and you have the best chance of spotting a leopard! The morning was our favorite time in the park, but the afternoon is still good if you’re not a morning person.

The 7-hour tour departs in the morning, with that nice and early 5 am pickup time. This will give you more time to drive through the park. Breakfast can be included for an extra $8 USD per person, which I recommend because it’s usually some yummy Sri Lankan food!

If you select the full-day tour, pick-up is also at 5 am. You’ll be in the park from 6 am to 6 pm, with a lunch break from 12 pm to 2 pm. You can also add breakfast for $8 USD and lunch for $10 USD. The lunch break is not optional because the park is actually closed then, so you’ll most likely want to add lunch or bring something with you to eat.

Regardless of which tour you choose, you’ll spend hours driving through the park, spotting some incredible wildlife, and taking in the jungle scenery.

This tour is a flat rate, so if you have 6 travelers (the maximum allowed), it’s a better deal per person. You can reserve this safari in Yala National Park for $78 USD for the half-day tour, $105 USD for the 7-hour tour, and $158 USD for the full-day tour. Entrance fees to the national park are not included (around $47 USD per person with all fees and taxes) nor are meals, but food can easily be provided for an extra cost. 

While there are a lot of options here, this is the cheapest safari to Yala if you’re traveling with a group! 

Secure your spot in advance here through Viator with free cancellation up to 24 hours prior

Why We Book Tours with Viator

Viator is a trusted online booking system for tours around the world! We almost always book our tours using Viator for a couple of reasons:

  • Free cancellation on most tours – Most of the tours on Viator allow you to cancel and get a full refund up to 24 hours in advance. This is handy in case plans change, or if booking an outdoor activity, the weather forecast is looking grim.
  • Reserve now and pay later – You can secure your spot on some of the most popular tours well in advance and not pay until closer to the day of the tour.
  • Lowest price guarantee – If you happen to find the same tour at a lower price elsewhere, Viator will refund you the price difference.
  • Pay in your chosen currency – Avoid costly international transaction fees by choosing to pay in your home currency.
  • Peace of mind – When booking with tour operators you find in person on the street or in small booking offices, you are often promised one thing and given another. This online platform holds tour operators accountable with a written description of inclusions as well as the opportunity for customers to leave reviews.

Check out the Viator website here! Or, for more info, read our detailed review about Viator here.

8Can you stay overnight in Yala National Park?

A flooded forest in Yala National Park Sri Lanka
There are birds everywhere in the morning!

Yes, and it’s an incredible way to experience Yala National Park! Staying in the national park makes getting up for an early morning safari much easier, as you won’t be part of the large line of jeeps waiting for the gates to open at 6 am. You also will get to see the stars in an area with nearly no light pollution and can hear the animals in the jungle at night. I don’t know if that last one is more incredible or scary!

The best way to stay overnight in Yala National Park is by booking a luxury camping experience, as they provide all meals and accommodation. There are also more primitive bungalows that you can rent in the national park, but you will have to take care of any food and tour coordination on your own. That’s why we think booking this camping experience in advance is easier and a little more comfy!

Luxury camping (or glamping) overnight in Yala National Park would also make for a unique romantic honeymoon destination in Sri Lanka!

But if camping isn’t your thing, you can stay at the Cinnamon Wild Hotel which is a luxury hotel just 5 minutes from the park entrance! 

9. Do you need to book a tour of Yala National Park in advance?

Two adult elephants walking through the jungle in Yala National Park Sri Lanka
So cute!
An elephant family gets ready to cross a dirt road in Yala National Park Sri Lanka
Crossing the road!

Yes, you need to book a tour of Yala National Park in advance. This is the most popular national park in Sri Lanka, and while there are lots of tour operators out there, the best tours will get reserved first. If you visit during peak season (December to March), there will be a lot of people trying to secure safaris, so the earlier you can book the better. 

If you have your own means of transportation, you can drive through the park by yourself, but I highly recommend booking a tour. Our guide had been leading tours for 10 years, so he knew the animals’ behaviors and patterns. He was able to spot so many animals I would have completely missed!

Our guide also explained things to us that made the experience much more enriching. For example, one of the elephants we saw was pregnant, but you really couldn’t tell, and I was so glad our guide was there to point it out to us!

10. What wildlife can you see in Yala National Park?

A group of spotted axis deer watch us as we drive by slowly in Yala National Park Sri Lanka
A group of spotted axis deer!

Yala National Park is all about the leopards, and each guide tries their best to find one! It is almost a competition between guides to see who can find a leopard first. That being said, they will also call other drivers if they spot one that way everyone can see this gorgeous jungle cat!

While seeing a leopard is not guaranteed, you have a pretty good shot at finding one. We caught a quick glimpse as leopards crossed the road twice! 

The leopards are quick and stealthy creatures that don’t hang around very long, but you will be able to sit and watch other animals like elephants for as long as you want! There are a lot of wild elephants that roam around the park. The mothers and babies usually stick together, and the males will wander around on their own. We saw a pregnant elephant (as our guide explained) and a baby elephant that was just a month old! 

Another rare yet incredibly cool animal you might see is the sloth bear. This elusive animal looks like a black bear but is in the sloth family. It’s very rare to see a sloth bear in Yala, as there aren’t a huge number of them, and they are pretty low-key creatures. We were fortunate enough to spot one hiding in the trees as we were leaving the park! It was the coolest part of the whole safari!

While leopards, elephants, and sloth bears are some of the big-ticket animals in Yala National Park, you will see plenty of other animals! You can find water buffalo soaking in ponds, monkeys trying to steal food, peacocks flashing their exotic feathers, crocodiles swimming in the lakes, and warthogs that look like Pumba. There is no shortage of incredible wildlife to see on a Yala National Park safari!

This was one of the most memorable experiences we had in Sri Lanka, and I was amazed at the vast number of creatures we saw!

Related Read: If you want a guarantee that you’ll see elephants, your chances are very good at Sri Lanka’s Udawalawe National Park.

11. What should I bring when visiting Yala National Park?

Sun protection

Even though you’ll be in a covered jeep for most of the day, you’ll still be out in the sun! The sun at Yala National Park is pretty intense, as it’s right off of the Indian Ocean. Trust me, you will want to protect yourself from the strong UV rays. Bring sunscreen, a hat, and sunglasses, and you should be good to go. 

Clothes you don’t mind getting dirty

All of the roads are dusty at Yala National Park, and with lots of other jeeps driving around, you’re going to get pretty dirty! I recommend wearing comfy, lightweight clothes that you don’t mind getting messy. It will be pretty hot, so dress comfortably. You can wear sandals or closed-toe shoes as you won’t be getting out of the jeep throughout the safari. 

Water/snacks

Most tours provide water, but I always like to pack extra water and snacks just in case! If you can get a hotel in Tissa that provides breakfast, most will pack you a to-go meal for your early departure at 4:30 am. If you take a full-day tour, the tour will take a lunch stop from 12 pm – 2 pm as the park closes during that time, so you have a few hours to eat and relax!

Extra money

If your tour does not include entrance to Yala National Park, be sure to bring extra cash to pay the entrance fees. On some tours, you might also need to pay extra for food, too. Our tour did not include entrance fees, so we paid about $100 USD extra for entrance for two people and lunch. Just be aware of the potential extra fees!

12. Is visiting Yala National Park worth it?

Jeeps parked in the sand at the beach in Yala National Park Sri Lanka
Yala’s beautiful coastline

Yes, Yala National Park is among the most popular national parks in Sri Lanka for a reason! The vast amount of wildlife is astounding, especially for visitors who aren’t used to seeing the exotic animals found in the park. The sheer number of species was incredible. I feel like we saw some unique animal every 20 minutes, if not more frequently!

Plus, riding around in an open-air jeep is a lot of fun, and the park itself is quite beautiful. 

Even though the park was rather crowded at the beginning of the day, we still enjoyed our experience and thought it was totally worth it! Visiting Yala National Park is my top recommendation for safaris to add to your Sri Lanka itinerary

Related Read: Another one of our favorite activities in Sri Lanka was visiting Pidurangala Rock, an almost 200-meter (656-foot) high rock with incredible scenic views.

Where to Stay Near Yala National Park

Pool at Cinnamon Wild Yala
Photo credit: Cinnamon Wild Yala

Exploring Yala National Park requires an early wake-up time, so you’ll want to stay somewhere close! Luckily, there are a ton of accommodation options, and you can usually find something pretty nice for a good price. Since most people come to this area solely for a Yala National Park safari, many of these hotels can provide breakfast in the morning or help coordinate transportation when it’s time to go! 

To make your planning simpler, we have put together three excellent places to stay. This way, when you come home exhausted from your safari, you can promptly take a nap! 

Cinnamon Wild – $$$

The Cinnamon Wild is our top pick for luxury, and best of all it’s only 5 minutes from Yala National Park’s Block 1 entrance! The chalet-style rooms all have private balconies overlooking the park or the beach. There is no bad view here. It also has a gourmet restaurant, a rooftop bar, and a pool. You might even see some of the wild animals from the park wandering through the property!

Prices start at $202 USD per night. You can book a stay at the Cinnamon Wild here on Booking.com

Big Game Yala – $$

If you’re looking to stay within the national park, Big Game Yala is about as close as you can get with a luxury camping experience! It is located right on the edge of the park, 20 minutes from the Katagamuwa Entrance. They provide breakfast and dinner, as well as running water, wifi, and campfires, and you can add on a bush-walking experience to explore the park.

Prices start around $50 USD per night and vary upon seasonal availability. You can check availability and book this luxury camping experience on Booking.com here.

Hotel River Front – $

Even the affordable option feels incredibly luxurious around here! The Hotel River Front is located in Tissamaharama, which is the main hub of safaris. The hotel has a pool (which is great after a hot day in the park) and a restaurant that serves up incredible traditional Sri Lankan food and Western fare. Breakfast is included, air conditioning is available upon request, and the staff is absolutely wonderful!

Rooms start at $27 USD per night. You can check prices and book a stay at the Hotel River Front on Booking.com

Getting Around Sri Lanka

tuk tuk parked at the beach in mirissa sri lanka
We rented a tuk-tuk for our entire trip around Sri Lanka.
Watching sunsets in Sri Lanka from our tuk tuk
Tuk-tuk is a great way to get around Sri Lanka.

To visit all of the best places in Sri Lanka, you’re going to need a mode of transport. You have a few choices when it comes to getting around Sri Lanka:

Rent a Tuk-tuk

Easily the most popular (and most fun) way to travel around Sri Lanka. We actually rented a tuk-tuk on our trip and absolutely loved it! Tuk-tuks are easy to drive, cheap to rent, and the freedom that comes with your own wheels is unmatched.

If you do decide to rent a tuk-tuk in Sri Lanka, be sure to go with a reputable company that provides quality tuk-tuks, such as Tuktuk Rental (who we rented from.) These guys not only offer an amazing service, but their tuk-tuks are actually rented from local families, providing income for the local community.

If you decide to rent from Tuktuk Rental, be sure to use the coupon code ‘DEST‘ for 5% off!

For more info, read our blog: The Truth about Renting a Tuk-tuk in Sri Lanka.

Hire a Driver

If you’re only planning on going to a couple of destinations, then a private driver is not a bad idea. In the comfort of an air-conditioned vehicle, your driver can take you to your next destination. All you have to do is sit back and relax!

You can hire highly-rated drivers in advance to pick you up right from the airport when you arrive in Sri Lanka. This driver will take you to your hotel in Mirissa, Galle, Bentota, or Unawatuna. Whereas this driver will take you to Kandy.

Of course, every time you want to change destinations you will have to arrange for another driver (unless you book this driver who will drive you around for an entire week). Car transfer can easily be organized through your hotel.

Take Public Transport

This is a choice I only recommend for those on a very tight budget and with plenty of time. Public transport is everywhere in Sri Lanka in the form of public buses and trains. It is also very cheap, costing less than a couple of dollars per journey.

However, it isn’t the most comfortable way to travel. The buses don’t have air conditioning and neither do many train services. They can also be slow-moving, stopping every couple of minutes to pick up more passengers.

With that said, public transport is popular with budget backpackers, and it is mostly safe. This is one way to travel for those who want to get around as the locals do!

Thanks for reading!

drinking fresh coconut water in Hikkaduwa, Sri Lanka
Thanks for reading!

I hope you enjoy visiting Yala National Park as much as I did! Getting to see the wildlife in the park is an unforgettable experience. Even though the park can get crowded, it’s worth doing a safari here!

Before you go, be sure to check out all our Sri Lanka blogs for more info about traveling around this beautiful island nation. We’ve also written about many destinations across the world. Here are a few popular blogs below to get you started:

7 Awesome Things to do in Nilaveli Beach, Sri Lanka

Lipton’s Seat, Sri Lanka – Know Before You Go!

17 Awesome Things to do in Hikkaduwa, Sri Lanka