For my family, Yala National Park feels like second home. That is all thanks to my brother’s passion for leopards. Growing up, I used to make fun of his craze, as he sacrificed many hours in his teens to spot leopards in wild. Our house was filled with footprints of these gigantic cats, made out of plaster of Paris. He was a good artist too. But whenever I asked him to draw a portrait of mine, he ends up doing a portrait of a leopard. It was that bad. To support his search for the Leopard, we have been to Yala many times. I’m sure there is a serious dent in our luck, as we still have not been able to see the spotted big fat cat until date, in the wild.
On a weekend where my brother’s and our holidays aligned, we planned yet another trip to Yala. We booked our stay at Cinnamon Wild, so we didn’t plan too much to sort out the safari jeep before we reached. As soon as we took the turn towards the Park, to enter the hotel, we were signaled to stop by a man. There were many safari jeeps parked. We were given an offer by the him, to take us on a tour on the same day, in the evening. He tried to convince that the evening was the best time to go. I’m sure he knows the best and worst times in the jungle but we already had planned the tour for morning. To keep our options open, we got his number and the rate. It was 4000/= for the Jeep, (fits in about 5-6 people) for 3 hours.
According to my brother & father, that was a really good rate. Apparently, the last time they visited, it was the same rate. Which is about 3 years ago. Ideally, the price should increase but having an offer for 4000/= sounded good. I of course don’t remember any of the numbers as I’m anyway a goldfish with 3 seconds memory.
Just to be sure if it is the usual rate, or if we are given a bargain offer with a cut down on the tour, we contacted another driver that was recommended by a friend. He offered the tour for 4500/=. Since it was through recommendation, we settled for this driver.
Tickets & Entrance
We were asked to be ready by 5.30 in the morning to get picked up from the hotel. For those who stay at Tissa, would have to start heading to Yala by 5am at least. You first need to visit the ticket office, as they say. By the time we got there, it was packed with jeeps! There must have been about 20 vehicles in total. Our driver asked for the ticket money from us, and he ran to the queue to grab the tickets soon. The charge was 1100/=. I’m not sure how the breakdown is, if it was inclusive of a charge for the Jeep, or for the headcount. After spending quite some time there, the driver came back with a tracker too! I think the package we got from our driver comes with a tracker. I didn’t see trackers in some of the jeeps.
Who We Saw
Earlier, when we used to come, there were so many Jungle-fowls. So much so that we got tired of seeing them. This time, I was surprised that the ratio was replaced by peacocks! So many of them. The less fancy female ones and also the oh-so-majestic male ones. We spotted a peacock with his feathers spread out, doing the famous dance. For us, it was just a rear end view. The dance was done while facing the other side, so we got a whole lot of the peacocks butt. We waited for a good 10 minutes there I think, but we never got to capture the front view of it. Thanks to that, we missed a possible sighting of the leopard as well.
Monitors, Deer, Elephants behind bushes, Baby Crocodiles, Buffaloes. We saw all of them but yet again, we didn’t meet who we came for. The leopard. There were a couple of jeeps who were lucky, but the majority was sharing the same luck as ours. Kudos to the Driver & the Tracker. They did a great job, trying to reach the leopard, covering all the possible places. We went closer to the humongous rock in the middle, where the leopard is usually photographed. But it didn’t show up.
Yala Safari in Present
Since we have been to the Park before, a few times during the last 10 years, we couldn’t help but feel dissatisfied with how things have turned out to be. More than safari, it was a race between the jeeps. For the noise these vehicles made, I doubt if any sane animal would appear for us. Maybe we saw the insane ones or the brave ones. More than that, what surprised me was the traffic jam we faced. The small road was packed with too many vehicles at one point, and held us in one place for over 30 minutes. Later we got to know that it was created because one jeep spotted the leopard and he has called his fellow drivers. Which apparently is prohibited to do, for the good reason of avoiding traffic. The officers had to finally barge in and sort out the mess, for the vehicles to get moving. I thought only cities had traffic. But what is on the good side is that, except for us, most of those who visit Yala gets to see the leopard. It has become a frequent sight for most of the visitors.
What you need to know
That was our experience, explained above. I’m sure the whole experience for each of us depends on our luck. So please do visit the Yala National Park, say hello to the big cat who is hiding from us, and give our regards. Here’s what you need to know.
Safari Price per Jeep: 4000/= – 4500/=
Duration: 3 hours
Ticket Prices: 1100/= (There were 3 of us. Not sure how the the breakdown is)
Park Opening hours: 6am to 6pm
What you need to take: Something to munch until you get back for breakfast. Water.
Sighting of the Leopard: If you are lucky. Do pray a bit and start the journey. It might help.
What you are bound to see and get enough of: Peacocks.
Note: Yala National park also has an informative website. They have a page to book a jeep and a tracker in advance as well. I’m not sure if it’s functioning but do check it out. https://www.yalasrilanka.lk/
Fun Fact: At the entrance of the hotel we stayed, they have a board with when the leopard was last spotted in that route. On the day we arrived, it mentioned a date in November. After our Safari, solely to see the leopard, we checked and and was leaving the premises. According to the board, the leopard was perched on the picturesque rock, on the very day we arrived, at 6.30 pm while we were happily having a dip in the swimming pool 😛 Sigh you celebrity cat!