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Travel Tips

Yala FAQ and Tips

What is the nearest town to Yala?

  • Tissamaharama is the nearest town to Yala and is situated 22km from the park.

How long does the drive from Colombo to Yala take?

  • It takes approximately 6 – 8 hours depending on the traffic situation and stops that you might make.

What time does the park open and close?

  • The park is accessible from 6 am to 6 pm.

What mode of transport is used for the game drive?

  • We use a safari jeep for the game drive.

How is transport arranged from hotels away from the Yala National park?

  • If you are staying close to the park, we can pick you up from your hotels for the safari. If not, we can arrange a taxi service to pick you up from your hotel or airport that is situated at a significant distance from Yala.

Are we sure to see leopards during the safari?

  • The Yala block 1 where we spend our time during the safari is recorded to have the highest density of leopards anywhere in the world. Therefore, your chances of seeing leopards is considerably high. However, there can never be a complete assurance of a sighting.

Is the Sri Lankan leopard a subspecies?

  • Yes, the sub species seen in Sri Lanka is the Panthera pardus kotiya which is the largest subspecies in the world.

Why are leopard sightings common in Sri Lanka?

  • This is simply because leopards are the top predators in our eco systems. Due to the lack of tigers, lions or cheetahs, leopards dominate the terrains they live in.

Why don’t Sri Lankan elephants have tusks?

  • Only 6% of the male Asian elephants are recorded to have tusks which makes it hard to spot a Asian tusker anywhere I the world.

What should we wear on the safari?

  • Green or other natural colours are best for the safari. Your objective should be blend with the surrounding landscape as much as possible. Since it can get a little chilly in the morning, it’s advisable to bring a jumper or shawl along with you. Flip flops or open shoes will be enough since you will be inside the jeep during the entire time.

Will children enjoy the safari?

  • Yes, children generally enjoy the experience since they get to witness things that they’ve never seen before.

What is the maximum number of people allowed in each jeep?

  • A maximum of 6 people are allowed in one jeep.

What should we avoid doing during the safari?

  • Wandering off by yourself, wearing perfumed products and making a lot of noise should be avoided. In addition, smoking is also not allowed in the park.

Bruce Collin

I’ve been photographing wildlife for over 31 years and I have been fortunate enough in my travels to have had, for the most part, wonderful guides and drivers who knew my needs concerning the basic requirements for obtaining exceptional wildlife images.
My booking with Ajith Jeep Safaris was certainly a positive experience and my driver/guide Anushka was more than knowledgeable and helpful.

However, I too have the responsibility of being prepared so everyone is on the same page concerning my wildlife photography goals.

Weather, lighting, other vehicles vying for a position, to get shots of that leopard, camera angles, dust, these are some of the variables that must be taken into consideration. But aside from predicaments that are beyond my control, here are a few things that I’ve learned to make my job easier in order to obtain decent wildlife images.

  • Equipment Preparation: Before an early morning shoot, I test all camera batteries, flash equipment, lenses. I make sure I have lens tissue, back up batteries and empty flash cards and it is all packed and ready to go in my camera case before I traipse out the door in a blurry haze at 5:30 in the morning.
  • Camera and lens support: I use sturdy bean bags for lens and camera support. Before a safari, I practice where I’ll be sitting in the jeep so I’ll have a fairly good idea as to where to place my beanbag once wildlife sightings begin.
  • Shake rattle and roll. If there are more than several photographers in the jeep, have strategies whereby everyone should try to stay still while you’re taking crucial photographs. We’re only taking about a few minutes while, for instance, a leopard is in front of the vehicle.

Try to remain as still as possible when photographing.  Have all the photographers take turns while shooting. This is easier said than done, but if this plan is discussed beforehand it saves a lot of frustration and blurry images.

  • Stock Still: Above all use slow and methodical movements when raising your camera to take a shot.The jeep’s motor should be turned off to prevent camera shack. A state of Zen has helped me focus literally on the subject so that I am totally absorbed in the moment, with no distractions, just a wonderful image in the viewfinder of a truly wildlife subject.
  • Direction of Light: Experienced photographers eventually become aware of how vital an understand of lighting is in order to achieve the highest standard of images.

Yala is tricky in terms of the direction of light. You are constantly weaving in and out of jungle roadways where the sun appears in front of you one minute and behind you in the next. The best lighting for photography is usually when the subject is illuminated from the front and the sun over your shoulder.

In the case of back lighting (when thesun is facing you) there are some excellent shots that can be achieved as well but this requires a knowledge of proper camera settings which will allow for the correct exposures that work with backlit subjects

  • Biodiversity: Sometimes less is more. I know that in Yala everyone wants to see a leopard, but someone truly interested in Yala’s biodiversity does not necessarily want to wait in a line of many cars to take grab a snapshot of the cat when there is so much more extraordinary wildlife to photograph.

If you are traveling the roads just before dusk, chances are you might spot a leopard and without the crowds. This happened to us three times in Yala and it happened because of an experienced driver/guide, some luck and the fact that we were still in the park driving around just before closing.

  • Alongside the road: Most of your wildlife sightings will take place alongside the roads. Bee eaters, for example, will often land on the branches right next to your vehicle, within touching distance. They are quite skittish and react to the slightest movement, so it is best, as I suggested before, to raise your camera slowly and methodically. This has become a vital technique for me whenever I’m photographing wildlife subjects. If you stop the jeep and wait quietly, with cameras ready to go, chances are the bird will return to its perch and you’ll have another chance of getting a decent shot.
  • Respect the needs of wildlife:This goes without saying and Yala is run very efficiently in terms of wildlife protection and the protection of visitors.
  • Savor the Experience: The sights and sounds of Yala are truly memorable. Hearing the calls of birds, the rustling of an elephant making its way through the foliage along the side of the road. Listening to the surf from the Bay of Bengal; watching a Yala sunset. These sensations are many of the natural ingredients which lead to inspiring nature photographs.
  • Photo Briefing: Ajith and his staff are only too happy to plan the highlights of your safari beforehand. They willassist you in obtaining decent images. Wildlife sightings are unpredictable however I found that I was offered a worthwhile and unforgettable excursion into a magnificent ecosystem which is raw, beautiful and rare. By the way, I saw and photographed leopards on three different days.

What to pack

Bring the following items to ensure a fun and memorable visit to Yala.

  1. Natural coloured clothes that blend with natural landscapes
  2. Sunscreen
  3. Jumper or shawl for morning rides to avoid the cold
  4. Camera if you wish to capture photographs along with memory cards, batteries
  5. Binoculars
  6. Sun glasses, sun hat or cap
  7. Scarf or dust mask for protection
  8. Swimwear for full day safari swims
  9. Personal items and medicines

What not to do

Visiting a nature reserve is a privileged for anyone. Therefore, it is important to maintain a sense of respect for the beauty and enchantment of the destination and towards the creatures who inhabit it. Avoid doing the following during your visit.

  1. Avoid wearing white and other bright coloured clothes
  2. Do not take away anything from the park. This is legally prohibited
  3. Don’t overdrink water even though it is important to stay hydrated
  4. Don’t make a lot of noise. Whisper at sightings to ensure that you get to see the animals for as long as possible
  5. Be conscious about not letting papers, wrappers or other types of litter flying out of the vehicle
  6. Do not allow children to stay unsupervised
  7. Never feed animals and always maintain a safe distance from them