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Yala Safari Sri Lanka – Leopards, Elephants & Bears

Yala Safari Sri Lanka: We take 2 incredible game drives into Yala national park, Sri Lanka. We give backpacking in Sri Lanka a break to go glamping & safari in style!

yala safari sri lanka - asian elephant

Wild Asian Elephant on our Yala Safari Sri Lanka

Suddenly, without warning, a sloth bear lumbered at high speed straight across the dirt road in front of us. Carrying two cubs on her back, she dove through the undergrowth on the other side of the track.

Seconds later, she appeared from the bushes, without the cubs. She kept running. A few moments passed, and the cubs emerged, moving swiftly after her. It was a flash of fur. Then it was over.

yala safari sri lanka - Sloth bear cubs

The sloth bears were gone in a flash. Just 2 blurry black fluff balls as the cubs ran towards their mother.


Sloth bears are an incredibly rare sighting in Yala national park, Sri Lanka. As our guide Dilanka told us “A sloth bear sighting is worth 5 leopards”. We’d been truly fortunate to see a bear at all, and to see her carrying two cubs, we’d probably had one of the luckiest sightings of the week.

The Sri Lanka Safari Experience

yala safari sri lanka - by jeep

Ready to make some sightings

Luck is part of the essence of safari. A good guide knows the best places to get wildlife sightings. But it’s still down to the animals to turn up.

Taking a safari has been on our bucket list for some time. When most people think of safari, they think of Africa. But Yala national park has plenty of unique wildlife to offer the keen naturalist. Leopards and sloth bears are the big names. But Asian elephants, crocodiles and more would be sighted during our two day safari with Noel Rodrigo’s Leopard Safaris. 

Starting the safari you feel overwhelmed by anticipation. It’s an exciting trip into the unknown. Always on edge, waiting for that sudden burst of excitement where something extraordinary may be sighted. Being ready with binoculars and cameras for those vital seconds to get the perfect view.

Safari Sightings

So, of course, every visit yields different sightings. Here are some of the wildlife we saw during our two game drives.

yala safari sri lanka - elephant

Even before we made it into the park, wild elephants were crossing the road

We saw at least 9 elephants during our two excursions. Many hang out along the road because unscrupulous travelers feed them from the side of their cars. This is not advised as it is damaging their natural behaviour.

yala safari sri lanka - grey langur monkey

Grey Langur Monkey with her baby – looking like a little ewok

Grey Langurs inhabit many areas of the Indian sub-continental region. Yala national park one of the southernmost points to see them in the wild. And you are almost 100% guaranteed a sighting.

yala safari sri lanka - grey langur monkey

They often hang out in groups

yala safari sri lanka - grey langur monkey

And, of course, in the trees!

yala safari sri lanka - water buffalo

A male water buffalo stares us out. They can be quite aggressive if approached.

Yala Safari sri lanka - Crested hawk eagle

Crested hawk eagle – eyes wide after spotting it’s target. Seconds later it dove at the undergrowth below.

During your Yala safari Sri Lanka you are going to see a lot of bird life too. We spotted this crested hawk eagle ready to hunt. We managed to get within just a few metres without scaring him off. We also saw the colourful spotted Painted Stalks, with splashes of pink on their legs and tails. Kites, Sea Eagles, King Fishers, Egrets and more.

Yala Safari sri lanka

Spotted deer are all around the park. They scare easy so getting them to stand still long enough to get a sharp photo is great.

Yala Safari sri lanka - crocodile

The Mugger crocodile – can you spot the one in the water? Better watch out birdy…

We actually saw a lot of crocodiles. After spending time in the water, they need to come back out to bask in the sun and reheat their blood. But they have to be careful not to overheat their brain. They hold their mouths open to keep the brain cool. This was a small one. There were bigger ones on further shores – my zoom lens could not do them justice. But the good news is, you can actually rent camera equipment direct from the owners of the safari camp. Just ask for more details when you book.

June to September is the best time of year for Leopard, Sloth Bear and Crocodile sightings at Yala. The dry season sees watering holes drying up. This means more movement of animals to find water. It also means, the few watering holes still wet will be great locations to sit in wait.


⇒ Looking for more activities to add to your Sri Lanka itinerary? Click Here


Safari in Style – Noel Rodrigo’s Leopard Safaris – Glamping

Going on safari definitely does not mean having to rough it.

Noel established Noel Rodrigo’s Leopard Safaris in 2006. What began as a small organisation with just one jeep and a few tents is now a flourishing, award-winning camping experience in multiple national parks.

Yala Safari sri lanka - curry

A multitude of Sri Lankan curries for lunch

And yes, it’s more than just the wildlife. With Noel you will be wined and dined. Noel’s traditional Sri Lankan family recipes, cooked with love. Served in a perfect outback setting. This is about as close as you get to fine dining in the bush.

Yala Safari noel food

Noel explains some of the essential ingredients that go into his curries

Although the selection is ever changing, the pork curry and the bitter gourd were my favourites from this feast. The bitter gourd is deep fried in coconut oil before being curried, giving it crisp texture and subtle coconut flavour.

Even the tents, while maintaining some wilderness authenticity, also feature many home comforts. A proper mattress. A western toilet and private shower for each tent – which the staff will top up with hot water, if desired, just in time for your post-safari shower.

Yala Safari sri lanka glamping

The bed in the compartment behind us was one of the most comfortable beds we had in Sri Lanka. Glamping!

We stayed in a standard tent. Super luxury options are also available to take safari glamping to the next level.

noel rodrigo honemooners

Cold towels as you get off the jeep after a hot and dusty off-road adventure. Sharing of stories, and cocktails, in the open sided lounge.

Even when you are out on safari, a cooler full of cold drinks and even beer is available for some post sighting celebrations, or as a sundown celebration.

Yala Safari sri lanka - lion lager

We didn’t see a lion, but we did drink one!


Beyond the Yala safari Sri Lanka camp experience, Noel’s commitment to conservation really impressed us. He’s implemented a number of strategies around the camp for water conservation, including using grey water from the showers to irrigate parts of the camp. Even going as far as to move various hand washing basins to different positions each week in order to rotate which plants and trees get extra water.

Outside the camp, an effort to promote re-planting trees. Also, commissioning some artificial watering holes to provide the animals a source of water that can endure the dry season.


The semi-luxury safari experience provided a great balance of food, fun and adventure. Your primary reason to safari might be the animal sightings. But having great food and drink as well as glamping made this a complete package. We really felt taken care of during our time.

Noel Leopards pic

3 Leopards, a mother with two cubs had been spotted the morning before we arrived. It was a shame not to spot some for ourselves, but that is only more reason to spend longer at Yala, rather than one night. But if a sloth bear is worth 5 leopards, then our 3 bear sighting was worth 15! Some may say we scored higher than the previous morning’s group.


Accommodation near Yala national park

Before you head out to Noel’s safari, you’ll want somewhere to stay outside the park.


Beddegama Ecopark 



Jetwing YalaJetwing Yala


 Cinnamon Wild Yala Hotel

Cinnamon Wild Yala 


Watch the short video of our safari experience:


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