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Yala Park

  Yala Park - Crocodiles and leopards and elephants, oh my...

  "Aah, you are going to Yala to see the leopards.  Well make sure you take the afternoon safari if you want to get the chance."  This was the latest piece of conflicting advise we had gotten on Yala safari park' elusive leopards, this time from the jovial manager of the guest house manager we had stopped for tea.
Our plan on our visit to Sri Lanka's most visited national park was to be at the entrance before 06:30 and tour the area during the coolest part of the day and with the early morning light.  We had chosen Yala Vilage as our hotel not only because it was one of the best places around but also because it was the closest hotel to the entrance.  Armed with our photo and video cameras we boarded the back side of our vintage Land Rover which was well into its fifth decade of service.  A canvas top was keeping us in the shade while the sides and the back were open affording us good visibility on at least three sides.  Although we did not mind, the negative side of this was that by the end of the safari we were all covered by a thick layer of dust.
  Our safari started spectacularly but in a kind of an unexpected way. 
Seeing an animal kill another one in a hunt is probably the high point of any safari.  Well, we witnessed this but the hunter was not a leopard as one might expect but one of its relatives.  A group of egrets landed on a small pool of water as we waited for the gate to open.  Suddenly, out of nowhere leaped a white cat with black spots, eerily similar to our pet cats and snatched one of the egrets by the neck.  The poor bird was dead instantly and off went the cat with its prey.
With a new respect for the simple cat we entered the Park.  For close to three hours our driver gave us the grand tour of Yala stopping each time we spotted something interesting.  We weren't lucky enough to meet any of the resident leopards nor the sloth bears which we were very eager to see.  We were fortunate enough, however, that an elephant did grant us an audience and we also crossed paths with a pack of jackals.  Crocodiles, water monitors, squirrels, spotted deers, hares, water buffalo and a huge number of birds in all shapes and colors also appeared before our eyes.  The landscape of the park is also extremely beautiful and varied.  Solid stone mountains dot the park and wetlands alternate with thick jungle.  We visited a stretch of sandy beach but unfortunately we could not get out of the vehicle as you are not allowed to do so.
  The Yala Park safari was absolutely one of the highlights of our Sri Lanka trip.  It was a bit tiring, especially for the younger one in our group but it was well worth both the money and the effort.  As the cost of this safari had been included in our package we are not sure how much it would cost to make your own on the spot arrangements.  Probably around US$50 for the car and driver and then maybe the Park's entrance fees.