On new years eve, we made our way south to Yala National Park. The drive is about two to three hours depending on traffic, but we got through rather quickly. Excited to see wild animals again, everybody was on edge and scanning the bush left and right once we got close. Almost an Africa feeling and reminded me a lot about my trip there two years ago.
Most likely, I overdid the old joke about calling out ‘Rhino!!!!’, as nobody even reacted anymore. Probably should work on it.
Yala is the second largest and most visited National Park in Sri Lanka. The park covers 979 square kilometres (378 sq mi) and was designated as a wildlife sanctuary in 1900. Along with Wilpattu it was one of the first two national parks in Sri Lanka, having been designated in 1938. The park is best known for its variety of wild animals. It is important for the conservation of Sri Lankan elephants, Sri Lankan leopards and aquatic birds.
We stayed at a very nice camp, Big Game Camp Yala, which had very good twin tents, each with their own bathroom and even a nice shower! They offer free water, great food, drinks and also wifi – but don’t count on it working!
Soon after arrival, we boarded several safari jeeps and went into the park on a sunset safari. Everybody was really excited to see all types of birds, elephants and of course…leopards. The info we got up front was not very promising though. Our guide guessed that there’s only a 25% chance of seeing leopards, even though the park has quite a good population of the cats.
We saw plenty of peacocks right away. If you’re lucky, one will open the feathers on the back, but unfortunately that didn’t happen for us. You can get some nice shots though and if you have a bit of a zoom, you’ll get a good closeup.
I was only carrying a 55-200 lens, which is less than borderline for most safaris, but it worked out well in Yala. The alternative would have been purchasing the Fujifilm 100-400, but it was a good compromise between carrying it all trip and what I got out of it in the end.
After catching a few birds along the way, we were eager to see some of the bigger animals. It started off with a few elephants in the bush, before we got to an open grass area, were a rare tusked bull was eating some grass. I later found out that his name is Gamunu, the king of Yala!
One of his tusks was broken off in a fight with another bull. He was calm enough for us to stick around quite a while and get a few good shots of him. After passing a few crocodiles, more birds and water buffalos, word between the drivers was that a few leopards were seen and we headed there quite quickly. As these things go, our jeep got very lucky. We spotted a mother with their two cubs walking along a path before heading into the thick bush and disappearing. We later even saw a fourth leopard, a big male cat, but were too late to take pictures before the jeeps scared him off. He was way larger than the other three. As lucky as we got, one of our jeeps wasn’t at all and never saw a single leopard. So be aware of it when heading on safari, you just never know what’s going to happen.
Seeing four leopards in one day was way more than anybody could ask for. My guide had tears in his eyes because he was overwhelmed by the fact. He’s doing that every other week, so it shows how special it was for all of us.
As you can see, the leopards weren’t the only cool sight along the way, but it was all blurry after the encounter. There’s also a bit more description about the birds in the gallery on my website, so please head there if you’re interested!
On the way back to camp, the park said goodbye with a beautiful sunset. I’ll keep this day in my memories forever.
The night was still young when we got to camp. New years eve! The staff set up tables for dinner and we had a 5 course meal, some cold beers and some great conversations before settling around the bonfire to listen to some live music and counting down to midnight.
The end of the trip
The trip had to come to an end at some point. After leaving Yala a bit hung over and with only a few hours of sleep for everybody, we headed to Mirissa, or actually close to it. We stayed at a nice resort, but I’m not even going to mention it, after my iPad got stolen out of my room and they never seemed to care. It was good in a way, because it was finally time to relax and besides a trip to Galle, we were able to choose between a nice pool and beaches all around.
Galle, or better the Dutch Fort, is a good place to visit though. You can find good food, nice shops and good views if you walk along the walls of the fort at sunset.
We finished my final night with a few cold beers and one of the best tuna steaks I ever had. So if you go to Galle, visit the Starbeans Ocean Restaurant in the Dutch Hospital complex! It will be worth it.
A cab took me back to Negombo the next day, where I spent a lonely night thinking about two weeks of great nature, wildlife, very nice and friendly people, mostly good food and a lot more. Sri Lanka was fantastic and I definitely want to go back again.
While you’re reading this, we all know what happened in the meantime and what people do to each other. I will never understand and hope to see terrorism die while I’m still alive, but being a realist, humans will always hurt each other. I’d still advice you to go there and enjoy this little island, it is beautiful.