Yala combines a strict nature reserve with a national park. Divided into 5 blocks, the park has a protected area of nearly 130,000 hectares of land consisting of light forests, scrubs, grasslands, tanks and lagoons. Two blocks are currently opened to the public.
Situated in Sri Lanka’s south-east hugging the panoramic Indian Ocean, Yala was designated a wildlife sanctuary in 1900 and was designated a national park in 1938. Ironically, the park was initially used as a hunting ground for the elite under British rule. Yala is home to 44 varieties of mammal and 215 bird species. Among its more famous residents are the world’s biggest concentration of leopards, majestic elephants, sloth bears, sambars, jackals, spotted dear, peacocks, and crocodiles. The best time to visit Yala is between February and July when the water levels of the park are quite low, bringing animals into the open.
It’s home to Panthera pardus kotiya, a majestic leopard endemic to Sri Lanka. But among the glorious spectacle of wildlife, you’d also witness the tell-tale signs of a lost civilization. The Monastic settlement of Sithulpawwa, an important pilgrim site, is said to have housed 12,000 inhabitants seeking solace, some 2000 years ago. The restored rock Temple, among a series of well-preserved ancient temples offers a glimpse into a glittering past. What is today a pristine wildlife kingdom, Yala was home to a thriving civilization, dating back to the glory days of Sri Lankan Kings. Hundreds of tanks, most in dilapidated state today, are testimony to an agri-based civilization. The large, thriving tanks now provide a lifeline to the animal kingdom, especially during dry season.