The most visited national park in Sri Lanka, Yala National Park is situated in the southern region of the country and covers over 979 square kilometers. Designated as a wildlife sanctuary in 1900, Yala was named a National Park in 1938 by D.S. Senanayake – Sri Lanka’s first prime minister who was the minister of agriculture at that time. The park is home to 44 species of mammals and 215 species of birds, including six endemic species of Sri Lanka. Yala National Park also has one of the highest leopard densities in the world, making it one of the best places to observe and photograph leopards in the wild. A variety of ecosystems can also be found at the park such as moist monsoon forests, dry monsoon forests, semi deciduous forests, thorn forests, grasslands, fresh water and marine wetlands, as well as sandy beaches.
The park is divided into five blocks – Block I, II, III, IV and V. Also known as the Ruhuna National Park, Block I is the most visited area in the park since it contains the highest density of leopards. Most of the forest area also belongs to Block I. Block II, or Kumana National Park, is famous for its bird population, in particular its large flocks of migratory waterfowl and wading birds. It is one of the most important bird nesting and breeding grounds in the country and tens of thousands of birds migrate to Kumana annually. Forests are more widespread in the Blocks III, IV, and V, with the canopy of the forest mainly containing the Drypetes Sepiaria and Manilkara Hexandra plant species. The western part of the park consists of scrub jungle, brackish lagoons and stunning rock monoliths scattered throughout the park and the eastern edge is bounded by the South East coast.
Visitors to the park are given the option of taking full-day jeep safaris or splitting the day into morning and afternoon drives. Excellent photographic opportunities are present since most young male leopards are very confident and seem to have no fear of the jeep. Jeeps at the park are have a certain degree of camouflage which enables guests to enjoy a privileged view of these magnificent creatures residing in the park.
The most often-spotted Inhabitants of the vast Yala National Park are elephants, but visitors might also be able to spot leopards, sambhur, spotted deer, sloths, crocodiles, monkeys, wild boar, porcupines and a variety of species of birds.
The park is somewhat remote, the nearest town being Tissa, and is situated about 190 miles (305km) from Colombo. Yala is also dotted with a number of archaeological sites, like the Magul Maha Vihara ruins, dating from the 1st century BC.