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DAY 8: YALA NATIONAL PARK

 
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SAFARI SO GOODY

It’s time to swap the Hill Country’s tea plantations for the jungles of YALA NATIONAL PARK, a beautiful swathe of forested scrub, grasslands and tree stump-studded lakes in the country’s southeast corner. Yala is great for birdwatching, with over two hundred species recorded in the park, and is home to several types of large mammals, including wild water buffalo, elephants and, most exciting of all, the world’s biggest concentration of leopards – this is, simply, the best place on Earth to spot these beautiful big cats.

It’s around 95km from Ella to Kataragama, the nearest town to Yala (about 2 hours 15 minutes or so driving time). If you’re staying with one of the specialist safari operators, such as Noel Rodrigo’s Leopard Safaris, you’ll be driven in a 4x4 jeep from a pre-arranged meeting point to their camp, in a buffer zone on the fringes of the park. Settle into your tent, have lunch and then, at around 3pm, head off on your first guided game drive into Yala. You’ll probably start in BLOCK 1, an arid area whose water holes can provide some amazing wildlife sightings. As dusk approaches and the animals start resurfacing, you’ve got a very good chance of spotting langur monkeys, wild boar, massive monitor lizards and probably a mongoose or two. You’re pretty much guaranteed to see peacocks, bee-eaters and the incredible-looking Malabar hornbill, as well as fish eagles perched on the skeletal upper branches of lakeside trees. Block 1 is also a good place to see (and hear) lone elephants, especially in and around its forest clearings. Back at camp, there’s time for an al-fresco dinner and a drink round the campfire before hitting the sack ahead of an early start tomorrow.


TOP TIP If you’re safariing with an operator like Noel Rodrigo’s, everything on your trip will be included, from your transport, accommodation and meals to your game drives and other activities. Several hotels on the borders of the park provide their own vehicles and guides for game drives into Yala as well. Otherwise, Ajith Safaris run recommended half- and full-day game drives for $56 and $98, respectively [under 13s $18, under-6s free, for both], which includes a seat in a 4x4 jeep, national park entrance fees and pick-up and drop-off from hotels in Tissamaharama and Kataragama.





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