Yala National Park covers an area of 979km², although only 141km² are open to the public. It is at a distance of 309km along the coastline south of Colombo, on the southeast of the island. One can reach the Park passing through the town of Tissamaharama in Hambantota District of the Southern Province.
While much of the reserve is parkland, it contains jungle, beaches, freshwater lakes, lagoons, rivers and scrubland. This varying habitat gives rise to a wide diversity of wildlife. Yala is a marvellous place to watch elephants in their natural habitat and probably has the world’s highest density of leopards. Sloth bears, jackals, mongoose, pangolin (scaly anteater), crocodile, wild boar, deer, water buffalo, gray langur and wild peacocks can all be seen.
Animals have an abundance of water supply from waterholes, streams, small lakes and lagoons. The national park is divided into Yala West, called ‘Ruhuna’ and Yala East. Ruhuna National Park is recognized to be the best park in the world to observe and photograph leopards. It takes you at least three days to see the entire park. Yet it is possible to take a day’s jeep-safari trip through the park. The park is usually closed relatively late around 7.00 pm and, therefore, the chance to come across one of the leopards is quite high. Tourists guides know very well the tracks frequented by the leopards.
Apart from wild life, you can look forward to enjoying unpopulated beautiful beaches. In the southeast, the Park is bounded by the sea with many natural bays. Natural virgin beaches and sand dunes provide a beautiful environment. This is surely one of the most spectacular seascapes of Sri Lanka. Even though tours through the park are made in open jeeps, once you reach the beach, you can enjoy the sheer beauty of the sea. Mangroves line the lagoons fringing this part of the coastline. Extensive parklands surrounding these lagoons offer visitors superb locations for viewing animals and bird life. It is noted that the Yala National Park is closed in September and October.