Safari in Sri Lanka: Yala National Park with Leopard Safaris

August 3, 2018 8:30 am by Karla Ramos
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I don’t know if you’ve heard about glamping but this is one of the growing trends in the tourism industry today, and it gets better as it gets an upgrade through eco-friendly lodging like the Leopard Safaris Sri Lanka.

There’s glamour in a camping site when it is furnished with facilities almost similar to those you can find in your own home. Somehow, it takes off worries and fear, thus, giving people another option to experience outdoors without the need to fully leave one’s comfort zone.

You’ll get an added peace of mind and comfort too when you know that the lodging or camping site promotes ecotourism and uses sustainable materials. Chances are that you’ll only leave a light carbon footprint in the middle of a forest or a national park.

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Surreal to see these gentle giants. Photo Courtesy of Leopard Safaris (Dhanu, Park Manager)

Overview of Yala National Park

In the Yala National Park, a huge influx of tourists in Sri Lanka is welcomed every year. It is most popular for leopard sightings. It is also known for sightings of indigenous and migratory birds, elephants, sloth bear, wild water buffalo, crocodiles, and many more.

During our safari experience, we’re glad that we saw tons of wild animals. Some of which we encountered were a lone leopard, though only in a split second, colorful birds of different species, a herd of elephants and a rare encounter with a sloth bear along the road.

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To accompany us in this experience, we were hosted by the Noel Rodrigo’s Leopard Safaris. Noel Rodrigo’s Leopard Safaris is one of the luxurious camping site and service providers in the Yala National Park.

Further below, you’d find out how to reach the Yala National Park, how to book a safari, things to expect, our personal experience, and other things you need to know about the Noel Rodrigo’s Leopard Safaris.

 

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Fancy a playground?

The Leopard Safaris Camp

  1. Eco-policies and tourism

The Noel Rodrigo’s Leopard Safaris is one of many glamping tent and service providers in the Yala National Park. It acknowledges its responsibility over its visitors and the Yala National Park. This includes the animals living in it.

So, to do this, they’ve laid out to us beforehand what we need to know about the park and the policies. Some of these are that to stay on the path and don’t wander off at night.

The Noel Rodrigo’s Leopard Safaris uses solar panels for water pumps, for a water heater, and for safari jeeps. The safari jeeps are even equipped with the dual battery system. This means that while the jeeps are running on the fields, they are charging the second battery, which will be used in the campsite afterward.

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Our guide and park manager Dhanu offering us our welcome beer!

In the kitchen and for eating, they use stainless steel water cups, glass jars, clay pots, and other reusable materials. Meanwhile, in the bathrooms, they provide soaps and shampoos made with nothing but natural ingredients.

The Noel Rodrigo’s Leopard Safaris was built without cutting down even a single tree. In fact, tree planting activity is done by the end of every safari.

Another thing impressive is that the Noel Rodrigo’s Leopard Safaris supports projects for the benefit of the environment and local communities. Example of their projects are flood relief, sponsoring uniforms for children and leopard spotting project or simply the Leopard Project.

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2. General Facilities

The common area was so cool. It had bean bags and seats to lounge on. It was a good way to just chill. They even thought about kids ‘cause it has a game area.

Right in the middle of the camp, you’ll find an outdoor and eco-friendly pool. Here, they use saltwater on the pool to make your skin softer and to add up in making you relax under the shades of the green trees.

 

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3. Luxury Camp Tent at Yala

We had the luxury room with aircon and it was great. The tent was legit — even the porch, perfect for a private candlelit dinner. We had a swing and a coffee table outside.

I loved how everything worked. It really felt like I was staying in a typical hotel room under a tent. The room even had different kinds of universal plugs and it included a USB port.

The en-suite bathroom has his and her bathroom sink and flushable toilet. The shower cubicle has a separate tent. The shower was alfresco and had a water heater. The containers for soap, shampoo and what not are all organic and refillable. The company definitely does promote ecotourism.

The water bottles for drinking are not plastic but stored in stainless thermoses. They try to provide all the comforts guests will need while minimizing the use of plastic waste and such.

The staff was very helpful too.

Other camp tents available are a mobile tent for an individual, a couple, or a group of three. Then, they also provide a more spacious tent for a family of three to five persons.

 

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Dining area

We had lunch and breakfast by the tree house or the kids playing area. It was a cool little place. I really loved it. We had Sri Lankan food the whole time, which is lovely.

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Every time we ate, our guide Dhanu made it a point to explain what we were eating. He also taught us how to eat the authentic Sri Lankan way which is very good. Part of our glamping experience is also learning about the culture in Sri Lanka.

 

Our Yala Safari Schedule

Leopard Safari-Yala National Park Safari

Yala National Park Experience

Etiquette in the park

1. Listen to your guide

The guides at the Noel Rodrigo’s Leopard Safari are wildlife travel guide by profession and by passion. They are one of the best team you can get at the Yala National Park as they have been in the park for already more than 10 years.

So, in the park, guides will determine if there is any leopard nearby via alarm call of animals or the sounds that smaller animals create when they spot a Leopard. It’s interesting to hear the alarm call of animals. The second way is by tracing their paw prints on the ground.

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Photo Courtesy of Leopard Safaris (Dhanu, Park Manager)

2.Be Assertive

The driver and guides see the wild animals almost every day. Sometimes they’d continue driving and move into the next track despite seeing something that is interesting to you.

It is best to be vocal and assertive that you want to stop and take a picture. Then, give a go signal once you’re done. In this way, you’ll have good coordination and a smooth drive.

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Photo Courtesy of Leopard Safaris (Dhanu, Park Manager)

3. Be Quiet

The Yala National Park is a natural habitat of tons of wild animals. As a gesture of respect to their home, visitors should tone down or make no noise at all. Otherwise, you’d be scaring them off.

 

 

Leopard Safari Vehicle

Our Leopard Safari Vehicle seats four guests plus Dhanu and the driver. We all got our comfy seats.

Each person had a seat pocket where they put the water and binoculars. I think providing binoculars already merits an A for effort. I mean, it makes a lot of different seeing things up close. It’s fairly easy to use too.

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Photo Courtesy of Leopard Safaris (Dhanu, Park Manager)

Things we saw

The Yala National Park is home to a lot of different bird species. So, this is a good site for bird watchers.

By the side of the road, we saw a sloth bear which is truly rare. Other things we saw within our radar are Spotted Deer, Kingfisher, Stork, Hornbill, Jackal, Crocodiles, Water Buffalo, Green Bee Eater, Mongoose, Peacock, Junglefowl, Elephant, and Wild boar.

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Photo Courtesy of Leopard Safaris (Dhanu, Park Manager)

As for our leopard spotting, we only had an encounter in a split second. We first saw some leopard marks. Then, we waited a while and we saw him cross briefly. I guess he just wanted to say hi.

 

Things to Pack

  • Shades
  • Cap (but this might fly) or a safari hat with strap
  • Sunblock and insect repellant
  • Camera and batteries, or better yet, bring a zoom cam

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Candlelit Dinner. How awesome is that?

What I loved About Leopard Safari

The booking was spotless and easy. Noel and Claudia were both very responsive and even made it a point to ask about allergies and all that.

Leopard Safari has a quiet and isolated location. It is nestled around 15 minutes from the Yala National Park Block 1 entrance. This is the park’s north gate and the less busy side.

Often those coming from Tissamaharama, a majority of the visitors pass by the south gate. The traffic there is quite wild.

In the north gate, you get more peace. While on your way to the accommodation, you can even find scenic sightings without having to leave the vehicle. It was pretty cool. You can really enjoy the moment.

Another thing I loved most about Leopard Safari experience is the tree planting activity before you leave. The Leopard Safari is really true to their mission, particularly on ecotourism.

 

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Photo Courtesy of Leopard Safaris (Dhanu, Park Manager)

Best time to go to Yala National Park

Best time to visit the Leopard Safari at the Yala National Park is during the dry season. During this season, the Leopards are expected to be out in the fields. This often occurs every June until September. Usually, by October, Sri Lanka expects usual rainfalls and cyclones. The Leopards are expected to be taking cover inside the caves.

But, of course, the leopards will need to go out of the caves even on a rainy season at some point. All-year round, you have higher chances of getting a sight of leopards at the Yala National Park compared to other local national parks.

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Photo Courtesy of Leopard Safaris (Dhanu, Park Manager)

How to book Leopard Safaris

The booking process was easy. Noel and Claudia are responsive and make sure that guest will not leave out important details like allergies and such.

You may directly send them a message through their Facebook page or you may visit their website ADD WEBSITE LINK

 

Prices

Here is a quick look on lodging rate of the Noel Rodrigo’s Leopard Safaris:

Price range per night Tent Type Capacity
475 USD to 1,545 USD Single, Double, or Triple Mobile Tent Up to 3 persons
290 USD to 345 USD Children rate per night depending on the age range
1,350 USD to 2,230 USD Family Tent Family of 3 to 5 persons
725 USD to 1,600 USD Air conditioned Luxury Tent 2 to 3 persons
500 USD Extra bed Extra person

 

Note that these prices vary depending on the season. Generally, each accommodation package covers:

  • Two sets of a three-hour safari jeep ride;
  • National park fees including taxes;
  • All-day meals and drinks, some safari accessories (e.g. Binoculars, tripods); and
  • Other free-of-charge activities*

*E.g., guided nature walks, children’s game, cooking classes, basic photography sessions, simple celebration on a birthday or any, or private dining. In replacement of a game drive, you may opt to visit the Sithulpawwa Temple nearby. These activities though may require an advanced booking.

So, you really won’t have to worry about anything but look forward to a leopard safari experience.

You may also request an extra three-hour game drive which will cost at least 175 USD. When requesting Noel Rodrigo, the founder of Leopard Safari, to accompany you to 2 sets of game drives, it’ll cost 1,000 USD per day.

For an additional fee, you may also request from them to arrange for you a private car charter, helicopter, or seaplane service.

 

How to get to Leopard Safaris Yala

1. Taxi

Taxi fare rate from Colombo going to the Yala National Park may cost Rs. 25,000 (15.71 USD), or more or less. Travel time through highway or south coast may take about six to seven hours.

If you’ll pass through the central region (Kandy or Bandaragama) from Colombo to the Yala National Park, travel time may take about 10 hours or more. For this reason and to make the most of the trip, other people visit the nearest attractions or towns to Colombo first before heading to the Yala National Park.

2. Bus

From Colombo, take Bus No. 32 bound to Kataragama. This passes by most of the towns in the south coast of Sri Lanka like Galle, Weligama, Matara, Tangalle, Hambantota, Tissamaharama, and Kataragama. So, Kataragama is its last stop and the nearest town to the meetup point.

In our case, we came from Welligambay Villas in Mirissa Town (also in the south coast area) and took our bus ride from there. We paid for Rs. 218 (1.50 USD) per person.

Once you arrive in Welligambay town, you can then ride a tuk-tuk to take you to the meetup point. You can tell the driver to take you to the Buddha — here’s the location which Claudia sent me via WhatsApp.

In case you find it difficult, you can ask the tuktuk driver to speak via phone call with the camp manager to get the directions. As for us, our camp manager was Dhanu. We paid Rs 250 (1.57 USD) for a tuktuk from the town to the meetup point.

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