ON THE LOOKOUT FOR LEOPARDS
You’ll get an early wake-up call at around 5am today, but it shouldn’t be too hard to rouse your kids for their first morning game drive in YALA NATIONAL PARK. It’s a magical time of the day to be on searching for wildlife, watching the sun rise over the jungle and keeping your eyes peeled for animals out and about on the trails during these cooler hours. You’ll probably head back to BLOCK 1, as this is the most reliable place in the park for spotting leopards – catching sight of such a powerful predator in the flesh, sometimes barely yards from your jeep, is a hair-tingling experience that will stay with your kids forever. But even if they don’t see a leopard stalking along a dusty track or slumbering up a tree, they’ll probably see a massive paw print or two pressed into the sand (exciting in its own way) and they’re still likely to tick off jackals, crocodiles, spotted deer and, if they’re very lucky, a shaggy-looking sloth bear.
Breakfast will be awaiting your arrival back at camp, and then it’s free time – relaxing, catching up on some sleep or taking part in one of the camp activities on offer if your kids need entertaining – before lunch and then your second afternoon game drive of the trip. If you’re here in the dry season (December to mid-April), the afternoon safaris are usually the best, as the animals emerge from the bush and make their way to the waterholes. This could be a good time to venture into BLOCK 3 or BLOCK 5, quieter, wilder parts of Yala where you might not see another jeep all afternoon. The forest is thicker here, good for birds like parakeets and hornbills and a better habitat to harbour larger herds of elephants than you’ll find in Block 1. The road to the entrance gate actually runs through Block 3 and it’s not uncommon to see elephants grazing in the verge or even out on the road in search of fruit.
TOP TIP Yala National Park is divided into five BLOCKS. Block 1, abutting the Indian Ocean, is the most popular part of the park, and you’ll probably spend most of your time here; the main entrance is at Palatupama, 21km east of Tissamaharama, and there’s another entrance gate at Katagamuwa, 12km east of Kataragama. Block 1 generally offers the best chance of spotting wildlife, partly because the animals here are more used to safari jeeps. As a result, it can get very busy in peak season (less so in the area accessed from the Katagamuwa Gate), but at any time of year, make sure that you’re going to be in the park as soon as the gates open at 6am. Blocks 3 and 5, entered from Galge, a gate 19km north of Kataragama, can also be productive, though the animals here are warier of vehicles and therefore harder to see. As a result, though, these blocks receive far fewer visitors. Note that where you stay in Yala may affect what gate you use, and therefore your safari experience, but you should try and take a game drive in more than one block if you can.
THE LIJOMA LOWDOWN
Delve deeper with our tips on what to read and watch before you go, foods and drinks your kids must try, and some key cultural advice
From safari camps to beachfront villas – our pick of the most memorable places for families to stay in Sri Lanka
NEED TO KNOW
A handy overview of Sri Lanka’s weather and climate throughout the year, with recommendations for the best time to visit
Pre-trip practicalities, including getting there, visas and passports, health and safety and how to get around
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