Best of Yala National Park

Top itineraries and travel advice in and around Yala National Park
Sri Lanka’s most famous national park harbors an impressive array of wildlife, including elephants, crocodiles, monkeys, and over 200 bird species. Yala is also home to one of the densest concentrations of leopards in the world. Experiencing this 378 square-mile (979 sq-km) reserve isn’t just about animal encounters. The scenery encompasses a variety of unique ecosystems, from wetlands to grassy plains and forests, and the human presence in Yala dates back more than 2,000 years. Ancient temples just outside the park are important pilgrimage sites for many believers. 

One of the best ways to see wildlife in the national park is on a jeep safari. Open-sided vehicles provide excellent vantage points of lumbering herds of elephants, prancing peacocks and agile troops of macaques leaping through the treetops. At Sithulpawwa Rajamaha Viharaya, you can explore the remains of an ancient Buddhist monastery built in the 2nd century BCE. It was once a major center of spirituality and housed up to 12,000 monks at its peak. About a 30-minute drive west of the park, Kataragama is a holy place for Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims and the indigenous Vedda people, and you can learn all about Sri Lanka’s different religions by visiting the historic temples, shrines and mosque here.
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A leopard in Yala National Park
Map of Best of Sri Lanka's Wildlife - 7 Days
Best of Sri Lanka's Wildlife - 7 Days

From elephants to leopards to whales, the wildlife of Sri Lanka awaits as you embark on this weeklong adventure around the country. You'll go on Jeep safaris in national parks, spotting magnificent animals and birds along the journey. Then you'll continue onward to the coast, where you'll see blue whales during a boat tour off the coast of Mirissa. Rounding out the itinerary are a handful of cultural experiences, including a cooking class at a safari camp and time for sightseeing in the capital city of Colombo.

A leopard in Yala National Park, Sri Lanka
Map of Wildlife & Beaches of Sri Lanka - 5 Days
Wildlife & Beaches of Sri Lanka - 5 Days

This five-day tour highlights the remarkable wildlife and pristine beaches of Sri Lanka's central and southern provinces. Start your adventure with safari tours in Udawalawe and Yala National Parks, where you'll spot elephants and leopards in the wild. Next, you'll head down the coast to the golden sands and turquoise waters of Mirissa and Bentota before spending your final day in the vibrant capital city of Colombo. 

Search for the rare Sri Lankan leopard in Yala National Park
Map of Active Sri Lanka: Rivers, Mountains, Wildlife & Beaches - 9 Days
Active Sri Lanka: Rivers, Mountains, Wildlife & Beaches - 9 Days

Raft, hike, abseil, and snorkel your way around Sri Lanka on this nine-day outdoor adventure. Winding through the island's central and southern regions, you'll start with a week of adrenaline-fueled fun—paddling through whitewater rapids, rappelling down waterfalls, and hiking to dramatic mountain peaks. After heading into the wild to search for leopards and elephants on safari, wind down with snorkeling and swimming in the turquoise waters of the Indian Ocean.

Dambulla
Map of Discover Sri Lanka: Dambulla, Kandy, Ella, Yala, & Weligama - 12 Days
Discover Sri Lanka: Dambulla, Kandy, Ella, Yala, & Weligama - 12 Days

Discover the culture, heritage, wildlife, and beaches on this Sri Lankan journey. To start, visit the esteemed Dambulla Rock Temple. Then, climb Sigiriya Rock Fortress, followed by a trip to a local village, complete with a nature walk and an authentic meal on a working farm. Next, explore the temples and sights of Kandy and the scenic tea country of Ella. Stop for a safari at Yala National Park and then head to Weligama for an ancient fort tour, some whale watching, and four days of beach bliss.

Take a safari into Yala National Park to meet its thriving population of Asian elephants
Map of Central & Southern Sri Lanka: Wildlife, Culture & Beaches  - 12 Days
Central & Southern Sri Lanka: Wildlife, Culture & Beaches - 12 Days

This 12-day itinerary combines cultural highlights with wildlife spotting and some low-key beach time for the ultimate introduction to Sri Lanka. Check off iconic highlights like Sigiriya, Dambulla, and the Temple of the Sacred Tooth, then head to the mountains to cool off in the heart of tea country. After searching for leopards, elephants, and sloth bears on a safari through Yala National Park, make your way to the warm waters of the Indian Ocean for two days of downtime on Unawatuna's beaches.

Footprints on the sweeping beaches of Tangalle
Map of Sri Lanka Luxury Getaway - 12 Days
Sri Lanka Luxury Getaway - 12 Days

Twelve days of ancient temples, mountain tea estates, and tropical beaches await on this luxurious Sri Lankan escape. Sit back as your private driver whisks you through the island's natural wonders and historical monuments in style, from the Cultural Triangle to the Hill Country and on to the wildlife haven of Yala National Park. End your trip with a Champagne toast and some blissful free time on the palm-fringed beaches of Tangalle.

Twilight over Kalpitiya's lagoon
Sri Lanka Glamping Adventure - 13 Days

Sri Lanka's natural beauty takes center stage on this diverse and adventurous 13-day itinerary. Beginning and ending in the capital of Colombo, you'll spend your days exploring ancient temples and fortresses, hiking to secluded waterfalls, relaxing on idyllic beaches, and spotting rare wildlife in two of the country's most spectacular national parks. At night, the sounds and sights of nature will lull you to sleep at a succession of luxurious "glamping" properties.

See Asian elephants at Wilpattu Wildlife Safari in Sri Lanka
Map of Sri Lanka's Ancient Cities & Wildlife Encounters - 13 Days
Sri Lanka's Ancient Cities & Wildlife Encounters - 13 Days

Get ready for an unforgettable journey to Sri Lanka that combines visits to ancient landmarks with safari adventures throughout the country. Immediately on arrival, you'll search for leopards at Wilpattu National Park before touring the ancient city of Anuradhapura and the mythic Sigiriya rock fortress. The rest of the itinerary is packed with nature hikes, visits to tea plantations, and even more wildlife encounters.

Sunset over the beaches of Weligama
Map of Sri Lanka Family Vacation: Safaris, Temples & Beaches - 14 Days
Sri Lanka Family Vacation: Safaris, Temples & Beaches - 14 Days

Plenty keeps the little ones entertained on this two-week, family-friendly adventure through Sri Lanka. Tour the temples and shrines of the Cultural Triangle by tuk-tuk, take a scenic train journey high into the tea fields of the Hill Country, and head out on safari in the savannah-like wilds of Yala National Park. After ticking off the highlights, wind down with plenty of playtime on the tropical beaches of Weligama.

Views across the Sri Lankan highlands from Little Adam's Peak
Map of Sri Lanka Highlights: Sigiriya, Kandy, Ella, Yala & Galle - 9 Days
Sri Lanka Highlights: Sigiriya, Kandy, Ella, Yala & Galle - 9 Days

From the UNESCO-listed ruins of the Cultural Triangle to the historic Indian Ocean fortress of Galle, this nine-day introduction to Sri Lanka rounds up all the highlights of the island's south and central regions. Explore the ancient civilizations of Sigiriya and Polonnaruwa, tour the sacred temples of Kandy, take a breathtaking train journey through the tea fields of Ella, and head off-road in search of rare wildlife in Yala National Park.

Sigiriya, Sri Lanka
Highlights of Sri Lanka - 10 Days

Ancient rock temples, wild elephants and whales, sloping hills planted with tea: this 10-day tour of Sri Lanka takes you to the country's incredibly diverse highlights. Go on a Jeep safari, taste tea where it's harvested, and scan the ocean's surface for whales. With a mix of cultural sites and outdoor adventures, plus time to relax on the idyllic beaches of Mirissa, this sweeping itinerary has something for everyone.

Spend your first night in Galle facing the sunset on the south coast
Map of Immersive Exploration of Sri Lanka - 11 Days
Immersive Exploration of Sri Lanka - 11 Days

Discerning travelers will love this 11-day itinerary in exotic Sri Lanka. The trip kicks off with a private transfer to Galle on the south coast, where you'll take a guided tour of a peace pagoda. Then make a large loop visiting national parks teeming with elephants, ancient UNESCO-listed sites, hiking trails, and swimming beaches on the east coast before returning to Colombo. Partake in a range of optional activities—like private seafood dinners—or explore on your own for a fully customizable experience.

Explore tea plantations in the lush countryside
Map of Sri Lanka Classic Outdoor Adventure - 11 Days
Sri Lanka Classic Outdoor Adventure - 11 Days

This exciting tour is perfect for outdoorsy types who love history and animals. Upon arriving in Colombo, you'll be whisked straight to the countryside to explore a Buddhist cave complex and see hundreds of elephants. Continue hitting the classics with a range of guided excursions to see UNESCO-listed sites, hiking trails, and leopards along the way. Finish with two nights on the beach where you can explore an enormous colonial fort and learn how sea turtles are released back into the Indian Ocean.

Elephants grazing at Yala National Park
Map of Honeymoon in Sri Lanka - 12 Days
Honeymoon in Sri Lanka - 12 Days

This 12-day honeymoon is perfect for couples who love exotic wildlife and natural scenery. Starting from the capital, you'll circle the island-nation exploring a boggling array of national parks, rainforests, ancient villages, UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and Buddhist relics. After each day of sightseeing with your private guide, you'll have quality time (alone) at your accommodations—a fun mix of resorts, beach hotels, and safari camps—for the ultimate romantic adventure.

The lush green mountains of Ella, Sri Lanka
Map of Cycling Tour of Sri Lanka - 13 Days
Cycling Tour of Sri Lanka - 13 Days

This is the quintessential Sri Lankan bike ride! On this two week trip, you will discover local tea plantations, small villages, and historically significant cities — along with some wonderfully diverse riding through a sizeable portion of the island. You'll cycle from the culturally rich north through tea country then down into the southern plains and Horton Plains National Park, finishing in Galle.

Spot Sri Lankan elephants on safari
Map of Sri Lanka Family Wildlife Adventure - 14 Days
Sri Lanka Family Wildlife Adventure - 14 Days

Experience the best of Sri Lanka's nature and wildlife experiences on this two-week family-themed itinerary. Looping through the island's southern and central regions, you'll embark on a series of fun-filled safaris, nature walks, biking excursions, and boat trips, with nights spent in comfort at gracious eco-lodges and safari camps. Search for leopards in Yala National Park, see the monkey-filled ruins of Polonnaruwa, watch elephants swim in Gal Oya National Park, spot rare primates on a nocturnal jungle hike, and discover the colorful marine life of Pasikudah.

Other popular travel destinations in Sri Lanka
Kandy · Sigiriya · Colombo · Negombo · Nuwara Eliya · Ella · Udawalawe · Galle · Wilpattu · Tangalle · Dambulla · Bentota · Anuradhapura · Mirissa · Pasikudah · Habarana