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Must Visit Locations

Ruhuna Yala National Park, Sri Lanka

Wildlife: Leopards, Elephants, Mammals & Crocodiles. Birdlife. Ruins of ancient monastery

The Ruhuna Yala Group of National Reserves
Ruhuna Yala Group of National Reserves covering over 100,000ha is divided into 5 blocks of which only block 1 is open to the public. The five blocks together with Strict Natural Reserve, Yala East National Park, Kudumbigala sancutaury Buddhist monastery & LHT (Living Heritage Trust) Okanda Heritage Conservation Zone are surrounded by a long strip of buffer zone with the coast to the south. That's a pretty long range.

Henry, the Lone Ranger
It is recorded, in the course of his duties, Henry Englebrecht, the first Camp Warden (1907-1928) of the Ruhuna Yala Group of National Reserves used to traverse Panama, Okanda, Kumana, Yala, Buthawa, Palatupana, Kirinda, Tissamaharama areas finally arriving at Hambantota where he collected his pay packet from the Government authority & also bought his provisions & other necessities, returning along the same route. Did Leonard Woolf, husband of Virgina Woolf, the colonial government agent at Hambatota during 1908-1911 narrate on Englebrecht's journeys & his sexcursions where he saw his wild oats? He traversed his domain by bullocks (ox) cart. Do you dare? No worries, let's make the safari in soft-top jeeps throughout Yala West (Block 1). Easy. As easy as it comes.

Yala West (Block 1) (14,100 ha)
Ruhuna Yala National Park Block 1 on the southeast coast of Sri Lanka is the Island's most visited wildlife reserve of the island. Sri Lanka having been ranked 21st among the large bio-diversity hotspots in the world, eco-tourism in the island has pushed Ruhuna Yala Park to forefront of numerous wildlife reserves of the island.

Access to the park (Block 1)
The park is easily accessible from the coastal highway Colombo - Bentota - Unawatuna - Galle - Tissamaharama. The main gate is at Palatupana, 20 km from Tissamaharama. The other gate is on the Kataragama - Situlpahuwa road.

Terrain of the block 1 of park
The landscape of block 1 runs over a spectrum of terrain: dense jungle, scrub jungle, open savannah, riverine woodland, rock pools, streams, freshwater lakes & a long coastline which curves around Sri Lanka's southeast coast. Pristine natural beaches & high sand dunes of the coast & add a novel dimension to the considerable wildlife nurtured by the range of habitats.

Panaromic views from vantage points
The enormous rocky outcrops, a distinctive feature in the scrub land, provide vantage points to enjoy the beautiful dry-zone landscape of the park. Then again to the south are dunes close to the coast. Of all the vantage points set up by rocky outcrops, Situlpahuwa monastic settlement at Yalas northern end dish out the finest view.

The basic facts

Although Yala is the best park in Sri Lanka for spotting mammals, it is not in the same league as Africa's safari park. There aren't large mammals at every turn; there aren't leopards dangling from every tree.

Nevertheless, Park's wildlife has its own distinctive charm, with its multitude of mammals, & birds.

The park is usually closed late August to mid October.

The best period to see the animals is during the January to May dry season, when animals cluster around water sources in multi-species groups.

Dawn & dusk are the best times of day to witness animals.

Season for Birds
October to December is the best time for bird-spotting, as migrant species arrive to escape the northern winter in the period of October to December

Season for Elephants
The best time to see elephants is during the January to May dry season, when they congregate around the park's lagoons. (However to see vast herds of elephants the best park is Uda Walawe National Park)


With over 35 leopards seen in Block 1, Yala West has probably one of the world's densest leopard populations. Panthera pardus kotiya, is a distinct subspecies of its Indian cousins, the largest in Asia. The best time to see leopard is February to July, when the water level of the park is low. Vepandeniya is considered a favourite spot. However we need to be accompanied by a resident naturalist.

The resident elephants are best seen during the dry season from around January to May, near water sources, though not on the scale of Uda Walwe National Park.

Among the 32 species of mammals are Sambar deer, spotted deer, muse deer, barking deer, wild boar, wild buffaloes, pangolins, porcupines, stripe-necked & ruddy mongooses, rabbits, (rare) wild cats, jackals macaque, langur monkeys, toque monkeys and many more...

Sloth bears
Sloth bears are occasionally spotted, particularly in June, when they feed on local fruit.

There are also plentiful crocodiles marsh as well as estuarine.

The Palatupana saltpans on the Tissa Road, 6km before the park entrance, are one of the best sites in the world for watching waders: the park is worth visiting for its birdlife alone. There are about 130 species overall. These birds include white-winged black terns, curlews, pintails, barbets, hoopers, Malabar pied hornbills, orioles, Ceylon shamas, & paradise flycatchers, though pea & jungle fowl are the most frequently seen.

A bird-watching focused day trip including the riverrine forest of the River Menik may yield over 100 species, among them such rarities as red-faced malkoha, great thick-knee, sirkeer malkoha, blue faced malkoha & painted stork. Along with birds of prey is hawk eagle. Among the colorful smaller species are green & blue bee eaters, hoopoes, parakeets & bulbuls. You will not miss Peacocks.

Aquatic birds
The expanses of wetlands attract serpent - eagle, eastern grey heron, painted stork. White-fowl arrive each winter to augment the resident population. Among the common aquatic birds are various storks, egrets, pelicans, sandpipers, herons, ibises, kingfishers & the magnificent Indian darter. With a little bit of luck, you may also spot the rare black-necked stork near Buttawa on the coast.

Situlpahuwa monastic settlement

Trekking, Elephants in the evening, monastic settlement

Located right in the Ruhuna Yala National Park is the famous archeological site named Sithulpahuwa. The second century monastery proudly presents the renovated majestic dagobas. Rock carvings & more than 60 inscriptions testify to the history of the site.

the Yala Group of National Reserves was once a part of the ancient Sinhalese kingdom of Ruhuna. A monastic settlement, Situlpahuwa, alone had housed about 12,000 inhabitants including thousands of Buddhist monks during the period of ancient kingdom of Ruhuna of Sri Lanka. Recently resorted, Situlpahuwa is an important centre of pilgrimage en route to nearby Kataragama. Restored Magul Mahavihara (temple) & Akasa Chetiya (shrine) date to the first & second centuries BC testify to a part of the ancient kingdom of Ruhuna. Magul Maha Vihara was built on the spot where King Kavantissa & Vihara Maha Devi were married. In Sinhalese magul means 'wedding'.

Situlapahuwa Monastery archeological site
Five km from Tissamaharama, the watering hole of the animals in transit to Ruhuna Yala National Park, the main road branches off to well laid gravel road. A half an hour drive through the woods that becomes thicker at each turn of the road takes us to barrier point of the game warden. From the barrier another half an hour's drive takes us to Situlapahuwa archeological site of stupas, temple, wild elephants & herbal tea. The monastery comprises of two rock-top dagobas (stupas) with a small lake in between.

Into the middle of wilderness: the first dagoba & the view of the park
The little path leads out of the shrine room with both sides of the path having caves in which monks used to meditate in the ancient times. The path takes us to a rocky outcrop from where we could see the whole expanse of Ruhunu Yala National Park. The existent dagoba on the top of the rocky outcrop is built over the foundations of an ancient dagoba. The inscriptions scattered around the site have identified Situlpahuwa as a monastery of great piety & scholarship.

Kuda Situlpahuwa (Little Situlpahuwa)
Still more into the wilderness & another kilometer through the woods takes us to a smaller dagoba atop another rock outcrop, which is even higher than Situlpahuwa. We will be trekking up a near vertical rock face with the help of rickety hand rail made of iron & tiny toe holds carved into the rock face. Once again we have a panoramic view of the national park.

We have to return to temple where we park the car since elephants begin to roam around in the late afternoon. The elephant lovers stay the night at the temple to view antics of elephants.

Strict Natural Reserve of Yala East (Kumana)
On the far side of the Strict Natural Reserve is Yala East (Kumana) National Park which is currently only accessible via the world class surfing beach of Arugam Bay of pristine eastern beaches.


Brown's Beach Hotel
Has it all: sea views, visiting wildlife, & simple, comfortable rooms in an idyllic setting on the edge of the park.

Yala village
A couple of kilometers from the park entrance, with sixty plush a/c bungalows scattered around ten acres of jungle between sea and lagoon.

Hotel Yala Safari Games Lodge
Hotel Yala Safari Games Lodge is situated on the beach, overlooking a lagoon and only 1/2 km from the Yala Wildlife sanctuary. Offers 42 A/C and 21 Non-A/C Rooms.

Sri Lanka Hotel Guide - Hotel Information, Special Offers, News and Trends and much more

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Photo Gallery

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Ruhuna Yala National Park

Ruhuna Yala National Park

Ruhuna Yala National Park

Ruhuna Yala National Park

Ruhuna Yala National Park

Ruhuna Yala National Park

Ruhuna Yala National Park

Ruhuna Yala National Park

Situlpahuwa Settlement

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