It was in 2011 that we were first introduced to Yala National Park. Our Sri Lanka safari started out on a local bus from Hikkaduwa to a small guest house in Tissamaharama. Boy, it's come a long way since then baby.
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Sri Lanka Safari – 2016
We then booked a budget wildlife safari and started our 45 minute drive to the park. This time around, we stayed in luxury at the beautiful Cinnamon Wild Lodge located just outside the park's gates surrounded by wildlife and jungle.
Wildlife actually roams through the Cinnamon Wild camp, and once the sun goes down, you need to call an escort to walk you from your treehouse bungalow to the main lodge. You never know what you'll run into and men with flashlights check out the grounds to make sure you don't come upon any unexpected man eaters or giant animals.
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We had a similar experience in Africa when we stayed at the Born Free lodge in Kenya. But instead of hippos walking in your path, it's elephants or water buffalo in Yala.
Safaris leave directly from the lodge each morning and evening and are run by Nature Trails. The comfortable 4X4 Safari trucks sit high and offer clear views for everyone.
Leopards of Yala
We had the chance to go on three different safaris in search of the star attraction of Yala National Park; the elusive leopard. In Yala, the leopard is not so elusive though. Yala National Park actually houses the highest concentration of leopards in the world and the chances of spotting one here are the best you'll ever have.
In Africa, a leopard’s range is about 100 square kilometres, whereas in Yala, the territory range is around 8km2, meaning you are going to see a high concentration of leopards in a very small area.
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The last time we were in Yala, we saw one leopard sitting on a branch in a faraway tree. This time, we saw five leopards in total and one really good view of a nearby leopard climbing a tree. It was a huge success.
But it's not just the leopards that attract tourists from around the world, it's the abundance of wildlife and the beautiful rugged landscape.
Yala National Park is thriving
When visiting Yala in 2011, there was no mention of sloth bears. This time around, sloth bears were another star attraction. We managed to spot three sloth bears during our safaris, the most interesting encounter was when we came up on a bear walking across the road. Our driver stopped to look at him and instead of running away, the bear sat down in the middle of the path and looked at us.
He was almost daring us to come closer.
But the most exciting bear moment came when a buffalo chased one away from a watering hole. You can see it in the video above, or click here to watch on YouTube. This watering hole was teeming with wildlife.
An elephant sauntered by after the buffalo chased off the bear. Different deer, wild boar and bird varieties drank by the water and crocodiles basked in the sun. It was a beautiful display of Mother Nature in perfect balance and harmony.
We then drove onto a beautiful rock formation deeper in the park where we saw countless monkeys running and jumping along the giant boulders. It was a beautiful site at sunset just before heading to the resort for the night.
Yala Wild is a lovely place to spend the evening as you listen to the sound of the jungle and watch the buffalo, deer, birds and monkeys relax by the watering hole, right in front of the hotel.
We stayed in a beach chalet and could hear the crashing waves just outside our door as we stood 10 feet in the air on a raised platform that let us watch wild boar scamper down below.
The hearty buffet dinner gave us energy for the day ahead and we slept like babies in the elegantly appointed room after a luxurious shower. See our top picks for luxury romantic escapes around the world.
We were up bright and early the next day for another safari where we had the chance to see even more wildlife.
Most Exciting Wildlife Spotting on our Sri Lanka Safari
A first for us was a five metre long python spanning the entire width of the road. We stopped to watch it slowly cross into the jungle and marvelled at it's beauty and strength. I wouldn't want to meet one of these while out for a walk in the jungle!
It was then a day of more crocodiles, herons, hornbills, painted storks and peacocks. It was the wrong time of year for peacocks to show off their feathers, but the last time we were there, we saw many a peacock strutting their stuff.
We don't normally get excited over birds, but in Yala, the hornbills and other birds will certainly grab your attention.
Whether you are into birds, big cats, elephants or reptiles, a safari in Yala National Park will get your heart pumping. There is nothing more exciting than seeing a rare species in the wild.
Something we were very impressed with was the Project Leopard initiative started by Cinnamon Resorts. Yala National Park is located in a rural Sri Lankan community and local farmers are greatly affected by leopards hunting their cattle. In the past, farmers would kill and poison leopards to keep their cattle safe, but with the Project Leopard plan, they are given other options.
So far, Cinnamon and the John Keells Group have built more than 55 pens to keep farmers' livestock safe from leopard attacks. It's a great start to preserving this magnificent species.
Read more about Wildlife Conservation at The Human Elephant Conflict
There are many different types of excursions offered at Cinnamon Wild. You can visit one of the local farmers and see Project Leopard at work for yourself.
They also offer night drives, guided nature walks, champagne breakfasts and sunset dinners in the bush overlooking the watering hole.
We thoroughly enjoyed our time at Cinnamon Wild and one could easily spent 3 to 4 days taking in the wildlife, but also enjoying the pool, spa and comfortable rooms. If you are going to do a Sri Lankan Safari, this is the way to go.
For more information on Sri Lankan Safaris and accommodation all around the country, check out Cinnamon Resorts for more information. We also spent a week in the Maldives. See all there is to do there as well!