Dave and I have never seen a big cat in the wild.  We cycled down the continent of Africa and still managed to miss the lion.  We went to the jaguar sanctuary in Belize and didn’t see a jaguar and we left India before we had a chance to go to the Tiger Sanctuary of Ranthambore or Khana.

Entrance to Yala National Park

Entrance to Yala National Park

When we heard that there was a place in Sri Lanka that had the best chance of anywhere in the world to spot a Leopard in the wild, we knew that we had to go there.

Yala National Park is located on the coast of Southern Sri Lanka.  It is a nature reserve covering 126,800 hectares of land.

Where is Yala?

Tissahamaran commonly known as Tissa is an excellent place to arrange a safari to Yala. Located on Sri Lanka’s South Eastern Coast it is a stunning setting of dry lands, bush and beaches.


We stayed at the friendly Traveller’s Home and instantly took a liking to Ebert and his family.   He is new to the Internet and we helped him set up his establishment on TripAdvisor.  He was happy to find out that someone had already submitted him and gave him a great review.

He deserves it.  Ebert was very fair and honest.  We arranged our safari through him and he came up with a price comparable to the guide book.  Plus his service was second to none and he made sure to find other people to go with us to share the cost.

Sharing the Cost

We ended up splitting our safari between 5 people and had excellent company to boot!

Our Yala Safari started at 1:30 pm.  Ebert told us that the best chance to see leopards was near sunset, and we listened.

We all met at Traveller’s Home and were on our way by 2:00 pm.

Nalin, our driver was a young chap and very good at his job.   The park is about a 45 minute drive from Tissa and the breeze felt good as we sat in the back of the safari jeep getting to know one another.

Dave and Deb with their Jeep

Dave and Deb with their Jeep

After a quick stop at the free museum while Nalin signed us in, we were off in search of a Leopard.

It was still early in the day so we had lots of time before any leopard would be climbing out of the trees from their slumber, so we set out to look at the other wildlife inhabiting Yala.

Other wildlife in Yala National Park

It wasn’t long until we spotted elephants, jackals, peacocks and monitor lizards,crocodiles, eagles, spoonbills, storks and wild boars.

elephants bathing in Yala national Park, Sri LankaCrocodile basking in sun in Yala National Park Sri lanka

We were all feeling pretty satisfied and it wasn’t even an hour into our trip.

Nalin drove away from the other jeeps in the park and we felt like we had the land to ourselves for a while.

That is for a while.

As time went on, more and more jeeps came into the park.  We were happy that we came earlier than other groups because we managed to have at least some time to ourselves.

We didn’t really notice just how many of us there were until we came across our Leopard.

We came around a corner and spotted at least 10 jeeps in a cluster.  We knew that there must be a leopard in view to make everyone stop like that and sure enough, across a small lake, we could see a tail hanging from the tree.

We joked that the park rangers probably put it there to make tourists happy.

Patience is a Virtue

We sat and waited and it never moved.  Nalin assured us that it was there and it was real and we needed to be patient.

Many other jeeps gave up and drove away. We were ready to move on as well, but Nalin told us to wait a little while longer. Only a few patient folks remained and the patience paid off.

leopard walking in Yala National Park

We watched the leopard climb down from the tree.  It gave a big stretch, took a look around and walked to a stump sitting in tall grass.  After a quick minute or two, it lay back down disappearing into the grass.

The jeeps that left lost their chance and the jeeps that just arrived missed theirs.  We couldn’t have had a more perfect moment.

We saw our Leopard when so many others didn’t.

I don’t think that it came out again. Many jeeps now jockeyed for position waiting for it to make its move.  But nothing happened.

Having had our taste of a big cat. We were happy to move on and just as we did, we turned the next corner to a herd of elephants bathing in the water. Eight in total.   They were just finishing up their swim when the other jeeps arrived and slowly walked back into the safety of the canopy of trees.

Tsunami Monument

We set off to a beautiful beach for sunset and paid tribute to the 47 people that were killed in the Tsunami there.  The beach was one of two former resorts that were destroyed and there is a memorial paying tribute to the lives lost.

The Tsunami memorial inside the park

It may not have been the great plains of the Serengeti, but Sri Lanka’s Yala National Park will satisfy any wildlife enthusiast and a you will have a little thrill as you race around the bumpy roads during your safari adventure.

Nalin may have had some serious skill or just dumb luck, but whatever it was, the Wildlife Spotting Gods were on our side.

Tips: Guide Book Prices subject to change

  • 1740 Rs ($15 US for Park Entrance Fee
  • 184 Rs ($8 Park Service Charger per group divided by 5 people)
  • 250 Rs for Jeep and tracker
  • 900 Rs (4500 Average price per jeep divided by 5 people-you find the other people to share prices)
  • 3074 Rs
  • 369 Overall Tax
  • 3443 – Total

Plus Suggested Tip:

  • 200 Manatory park Tracker
  • 200 Driver
  • 3843 Rs per person ($34.30 USD per person)

Traveller’s Lodge Prices

4000 Rs including everything plus much longer tour and he finds others to split cost.

No Madatory park tracker

Your choice for tip, we chose to give Nalin 10%.

4400 Rs Per person

Getting from West Coast Beaches

#2 Air Conditioned bus to Matara – 130 Rs (1.20)

Transfer to local bus to Tissahamarana

Get off at Tissa centre 100 Rs (0.93)

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Leave a comment


  1. Jen

    Beautiful photos! Your first few sentences made me think of my husband. He is a baseball fan and everytime we visit a city with a MLB team, they are traveling!! We have toured like 12 baseball stadiums with no teams because the team was always playing an away game!
    .-= Jen´s last blog ..Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia =-.

    1. davendeb

      That is bad luck Jen. That is something that would totally happen to Dave and I. Come to Toronto, they always seem to have a home game and the stadium is always empty so you never have a problem with seats:-) Thanks for the comment on the photos (from Dave:-)

    1. davendeb

      Thanks Candice, I took that shot of the rice field from the side of the road while Deb was buying fruit from a vendor. We were riding our bikes and the light was just right.

    1. davendeb

      I can believe it after spending time in Yala. The guides are amazing because I have no idea how they spotted that little tail in the distance. It looked like a tree branch even with our zoom lens! I guess that is why they are the experts and we are not:)

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  3. Migration Mark

    Awesome sighting. I have been on countless safaris in East and central Africa over the course of 12 years and have seen many lions and cheetahs, but I’m still waiting to see my first leopard in the wild. Great sighting! Yala National Park looks beautiful too.

    1. davendeb

      Thanks Mark. It really was special. We were very lucky, but Yala is one of the best places in the world to see one.

  4. vimal prabhu

    Hi, My friend and I are travelling to sri lanka on the 21st of Aug and will be there till the 27th of Aug ’2010. We would love to have Ebert’s contact email / phone number / address as we would love to go to Yala. Fantastic photographs by the way. Warm regards,

    vimal@tinderboxevents.com , vimal.prabhu@gmail.com

      1. Maike

        Hello from Germany :)

        Could you please send me the contact details (email+phone) of Ebert and his travellers home, too?! I will be in Sri Lanka in February and would love to stay there and take a tour to the national park.

        Thank you for your help!!!

  5. mahesh

    i think being a sri lanka i recomand any traveler in the world come and visite yala ..its one of the best place take wild life pictures…

  6. Jane Church

    Nalin, our tour guy, didn’t turn up on the day, gave us a guide who could hardly speak English and failed to supply us with binoculars. Disappointing. He was a bit of a shit .

    1. davendeb

      Sorry you didn’t have a good tour at Yala. I can’t say for sure if it is the same Nalin, I am sure that there could be another person with the same name guiding, but then again, I can’t say for sure that it wasn’t him either. That is a shame that he didn’t show up, a guide can really make or break an experience.

      1. Dee

        I had similar with Nalin. I had specifically asked him to promise he’d turn up in the morning. He just sent a driver.
        Luckily, I speak Sinhala so I was able to ask the driver to phone him. I insisted if he couldn’t make it we had another English speaking guide. Entailed us losing 20 mins or so as the driver had to double back to the park gate to pick up a guide.
        Funny thing was that Nalin wasn’t ill as the driver initially told us, we later saw him in the park with other people.
        He shot himself in the foot though, I run a tour operator and was on an expedition scouting for guides.
        His decision to rip us off has cost him tens of 1000s of pounds.

      2. debndave Post author

        I wonder if it is the same Nalin that we had. People can have the same name. Sorry that you had a bad experience. We really loved our time in Yala.

      3. Dee

        I think it was. He works through the main safari company there but also freelance in quieter times. I think (based on what I heard around spoken amongst others) he’s a good wildlife tracker but if there’s a chance to make a quicker buck, he’ll take it.

      4. Dee

        Well he was a good wildlife tracker, I saw it, what I meant was when I said listening to other guides/drivers it was often Nalin who had spotted first.

      5. debndave Post author

        So true Dee. When we saw our Leopard Nalin had the patience to wait. All the other Jeeps had left at this point and Nalin told us to just wait. We didn’t believe him, but he was right. We were alone with our Leopard for a few minutes before all the other guides and jeeps came racing back. He was excellent at spotting everything and he worked really hard for us. Sometimes I think other guides and owners are out to sabotage him because he is very good at what he does. It’s cut throat.

    1. davendeb

      Flip you will love it. Sri Lanka is at the top of the list as one of our favourite countries. It is a special feeling to see animals in the wild. There are so few places left where you can. I hope that you have the chance soo too! Cheers.

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  8. Sumitran Robert

    Hi debndave !

    I just returned after a visit to Yala National Park. I stayed at ‘Traveller’s Home’ owned by the same Ebert (the one with a skin condition). He ripped me off. The room he gave me inside his house was mediocre (and charged ne SLR. 4,000 for less than 12-hours. Couldn’t even use the shower as the water pressure was too low. The service was shockingly poor – I was seated at his porch at 04:30 a.m. for the 05:00 a.m. safari and no one bothered to serve me tea, or the takeaway sandwiches for which I had paid for already … and to top it all, he took me for a real ride !For an 8-hour jungle safari, he charged me SLR. 7,500/- !

    The only saving grace of my trip was that I saw a Sri Lankan leopard during the closing hours of the safari. Personally, I wouldn’t recommend anybody to go anywhere near Ebert or his ‘Traveller’s Home’.

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  10. Steve Flynn

    Guys, I am going to yala next week, could you send me contact details for Ebert – email/phone. I will try to contact him before or after I am there


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