Safari in Sri Lanka, at the Yala National Park
Safari is a swahili word meaning a journey and I wasn’t supposed to take one in the jungle during my trip through Sri Lanka, but I wanted to sleep in a tree house…
I know, it might not sound like a very good reason to add a stage to a road trip, but honestly I took part to a lot of safari in Africa in the past and I thought that repeating the experience once more would have been a waste of time and money. Then I started looking for tree houses on the island and I only found two around the Yala National Park. I therefore changed my mind.
The Yala Tree House
When in Ratnapura to visit the gemstone mines of Sri Lanka I phoned Amila at the Yala Tree House and arranged both my two nights stay and the safari for 23.000 Rs, all meals included. The following morning I started my four hours trip, on three different buses, to reach Tissamaharama (always called Tissa by cingalese people) and live my short jungle adventure.
Amila was a great and most welcoming host! Nothing seemed to be a trouble and he really did everything to please me. I will never forget his smile and kindness.
From the moment I arrived in Tissa he started helping me: with the luggage, the transfert to my lovely tree house with stunning view on the jungle, yummy meals around the campfire, travel tips, useful info regarding the safari, but also my next stages on the coast and even an unforgettable night safari before the official one.
My tiny tree house was comfy and charming and waking up admiring the sunrise on the jungle from my bed one of those moving experience that make one feel overwhelmed and simply happy.
If you are a dreamy person I heartily recommend you this accommodation!
The Yala National Park
The Park, locally known as Ruhunu National Park, extends from Trincomalee to Hambantota in the lowest peneplain of Sri Lanka and consists of five sections, but only two are actually open to the public.
The daily safari starts at 5:30 am. I entered the park with Amila on a private jeep, but you can also show up at one of the many travel agency in Tissa and join a group to fill a six to ten seats jeep (actually a pick-up with an extra upper level). The entrance fee is 3900 Rs (in February 2015) and count more or less other 10000 Rs for the jeep and don’t forget the tip for the driver!
From sunrise till sunset you keep passing from one stunning natural scenery to another: monsoon forests, grasslands, white sandy beaches, lagoons, mangroves and impressive rocky hills. I spent the whole day with a dreamy happy smile on my face!
Only the waterfront part of the park is still in quite bad conditions and you can still see the rests of the tourist info point destroyed by the monstrous 2004 Tsunami. We always think about Thailand, but on that December 26th some 250 people were killed by the waves in the Yala National Park. Only animals could escape in time thanks to their sixth sense…
Talking about wild animals, Amila explained me that the park is famous for its over 200 bird species and we actually saw really a lot of them of every size and colors, but I recall not one single name… shame on me, I know. I really liked the waterbirds above the lagoons, pelicans and the super elegant flamingos and of course the amazingly beautiful peacock busy in their love ceremonies. By the way, they really are noisy!
The lagoons were also filled with huge and not that good looking crocodiles and swimming snakes. Not the blue dreamy lagoon one could imagine for a relaxing holiday…
The local stars are its mammals: leopards, bears, lots of “bambis” elephants, wild water buffalos, macaques and fishing cats.
I didn’t see any leopard, but fell in love with peaceful buffalos and had a scary-exciting experience when our jeep crossed a huge male elephant pushing us with his shoulder in order to pass by! He was so closed to my head I couldn’t breath!!! He really didn’t care… passed by and kept walking on the trail. A true king!
A few hours later we also run into a female with her baby elephant and a female friend: she had her baby swim and play in the lagoon with the other female while body guarding them keeping jeeps and male elephants at a security distance.
Once the baby had enough with the happy break she reached him and lead him through the bushes while her friend went away in the opposite direction. A mum’s love is always moving and oh so powerful I couldn’t help but adire the scene with tears in my eyes.
To sum my safari experience in Sri Lanka up: I think I preferred it to those in Africa as per the stunning flora and variety of landscape, plus I got much closer to animals and at the end of the day I really felt overwhelmed. In the end the tree house dream offered me two extraordinary wild life days!
To fully enjoyed it yourself, Amila told me that the best time to visit Yala is between February and July when the water level is low and animals don’t hide, so plan it carefully.
P.S. There are even two ancient rock temples in the Yala National Park: the Sithulpauwwa, know as “the hill of the quiet mind” and the Magul Maha Viharaya. Quite important to locals and close one to the other, but not that impressive to me.