During our first week in Sri Lanka we made the journey to Yala National Park in the hopes of seeing leopards. Yala has the largest population of leopards in Sri Lanka, however, you are still very lucky if you get to see a leopard.
We had an amazing driver from Nuwara Eliya to Yala. The drive through Nuwara Eliya and Ella was absolutely incredible and can not be missed! We drove on the edge of the road through lush green mountains, bright green tea plantations, villages, road side vegetable stands and amazing switchbacks. There were Hindu and Buddhist temples alongside the roads as well as dogs, school children and colorful markets. The serenity and majesty of the mountains, and waterfalls were unlike anything we have ever experienced.
When we arrived at Yala, after about 6 hours of driving, we amazed at the change in landscape. The mountainous terrain had given way to flat marshy land filled with palm trees, and an almost desert landscape. While not the same majestic view as the mountains it was gorgeous.
We stayed in “luxury” tents outside of the national park. While luxury is not the word I would use to describe it, even though the price certainly was, it was still a different experience.
In the afternoon we headed out to our first safari, driven by a guide in a 4 x 4 vehicle. Before we even entered the national park we spotted wild boar, water buffalo and several species of birds. It was hot, so if you go bring water! As we entered the national park the paved roads gave way to bumpy dirt roads and we suddenly felt like we were on safari.
That afternoon we spotted peacocks, elephants and deer along with more water buffalo and birds. The rock formations in the park were awe-inspiring. Along the journey we were surprised by quick glimpses of the beautiful ocean beyond the park.
While we weren’t crazy about the accommodations the men who worked there made a great dinner for us under the stars complete with my new favorite thing, curd. This is made with buffalo milk, prepared in clay pots similar to the way yogurt is prepared and then served with local honey. Delicious!!!
The next morning we were up at 5:30 am to search for leopards, which had alluded us the day before. The drivers at the park work really hard to find the leopards for all of the visitors but they are not easy to find, and in fact completely impossible for us. We did see a wild boar who had been killed by a leopard but then left as he waited for the trucks to leave to enjoy his meal. The journey was fun, we spotted some baby elephants with their mommy and others taking a bath and playing which was great fun. It was nice to see them in the wild, enjoying life as it should be for them.
I had the biggest laugh over this boar “shopping” as we entered the park in the morning.
Even though we didn’t see a leopard it was still a great experience to drive through Yala National Park searching for the elusive leopard. Since we didn’t see him I now have a reason to come back and keep searching!