The Leopard Trails is an adventurous and exciting leopard-spotting safari in the Yala National Park of Southeast Sri Lanka. This was not my first safari, I have been to South Africa and I recently just did the Ranthambore National Park Safari, as well. However, when I was invited by the Department of Tourism in Sri Lanka to come and visit their amazing country, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to go for one of their safaris. After all, this particular safari is well-known for its leopard sightings and I haven’t seen a leopard in the wild – actually – I haven’t seen a leopard ever.
I was very eager to put this safari on my list but I got especially excited when I heard about the leopard trails. Not only that, but this safari isn’t like your typical, more rustic ones – you’ll be “Glamping”, a.k.a, “Glamour camping” in luxury tents all while on a safari – OMG!
12:00 – 1:30 PM: Arrival
1:30 PM: Orientation
2:00 PM: Lunch
3:00 PM: Depart for Afternoon Safari
6:00 PM: Park closes
6:30 PM: Back to camp, shower, refresh
7:30 PM: Bar or drinks in lagoon – I tried Arrak, Sri Lanka’s signature alcoholic drink which is distilled from coconut flowers. I also had social time with the other guests – which was good, since I got to bond with people.
8:00 PM: Dinner and Bedtime
4:45 AM: Wake-up call – This was a personal wake up call, not by phone or by alarm but by staff visiting your tend and waking you up with a polite, “Good morning, madam.”
5:00 AM: Coffee or Tea
5:15 AM: Depart for the Safari
6:00 AM: Gates Open
9:30 AM: Back to camp and Breakfast
10:30 AM: Check Out
I honestly loved our guide Warun. Prior to working with the Leopard Trails, he also worked at the North of Kruger and a park in Central India in the past. He was very knowledgable.
What I liked a lot about him is the fact that he wants to be the very first in the line the morning before the crowds arrive – he doesn’t want to be lining up, which is very, very good for someone who is eager for safaris like me.
For the afternoon safari, it can be very hot. He leaves slightly later than the rest of the safari goers so we didn’t have to get mixed in with the crowd.
When we got to the gates of Kataragama, he explained that we were entering the North Gate which was far less busy when compared to the South Gate. Again, another check mark for Warun!
Warun was very knowledgeable with the jungle in that he uses his instinct to get around. He hated being mixed in with the crowd and loves hunting for the best animal sightings on his own. I’ve seen him think very hard in order to fulfil the sightings we wanted. I told him I wanted to see a snake bird, a bear, and a leopard so that’s exactly what we aimed to spot.
We searched for leopards most of the time but alas, when we went it was the time of the pilgrimage. I was wondering why there were people walking around the park, but apparently this only happens every July for two weeks. Well, it was an unusual sight for me to see people walking around in a national park but then again, it was also nice to be able to witness a hundred – year long tradition.
Warun patiently explained each animal we saw on the safari – he even gave us some interesting facts about them. He told us the jungle and safaris are where he belongs and I could definitely see why. He tried his best to answer all of our questions and was able to name all of the animals, as well as explain the terrain of the safari.
Most people think they can just go to Tissa and rent any jeep available and go on a safari with ease, but Leopard Trails managed to show me the importance of having a knowledgeable ranger guide! OMG, it made such a big difference – it felt like cruising. The safari was great even during the time periods where weren’t seeing anything because of the exciting details the ranger guides had to share.
Just like in Ranthambore, the rangers tracked he leopards by watching out for paw marks, and with the use of alarm calls. We spent the whole afternoon looking around. We saw elephants, water buffaloes, kingfisher, deer, jungle foul, crocodiles and different species of birds – but we didn’t see the Big Cat yet, which is what I really wanted.
That’s another thing – you can’t always expect to find leopards. They can’t guarantee it, seeing as you’re out in the wild after all. They have to look, be patient, and think.
Warun showed us all of these traits, he was thinking hard and showed so much patience. In fact, I felt as if other people were able to mimic cues from him. He talked about wanting to find a leopard with less cars, and just have a sighting on his own.
He brought us to the usual animal and bird sighting spots, but then he also took us to this really beautiful lake! It was super beautiful – one of my fave stops! Good for us, it seemed like nobody goes there. Warrun also wondered why people don’t go there. Either way, it was so beautiful and I was very thankful he ended up taking us there.
He also explained to us the elephant rocks and more about the other rocks as well as trees. He showed which tree could be repurposed for rope strings (maila) and for boats and all that. It was all so cool, I felt like I was learning a lot.
Having a ranger along with you is really awesome!
Trained guides are the way to go. I see others booking their own jeeps with just a group of people and their driver – which might be cheaper, but there’s nobody there to explain anything about the safari. I definitely got the good end of the deal by booking a safari with a ranger.
Despite having good day in the park, we weren’t able to see any sloth bears or leopards – the two animals I had wanted to see. I was quite sad but it’s all part of the safari. Just was we were exciting, however, he finally spotted a leopard….and we got a good glimpse of it. Despite being a little hidden in the bushy area, it was right there and super near.
He immediately backed the jeep up to give the leopard some space to walk back to the road, and this is when the other jeeps all swarmed in, unfortunately scaring the leopard away. Sad thing.
Warun exhibited a lot of patience. I felt like we were very responsible animal safari goers. I also saw some people picking up trash that maybe the pilgrimage participants left behind, or were blown away by the wind. Either way, I loved how they cared for the park.
Again, that was a good way to end the day.
We headed back to camp and took a shower prior to eating dinner. The shower was even heated – can you believe? I loved it. I was initially worried since it was an alfresco or outdoor shower, but in the end it made showering after a safari even better.
How to get to Yala
- Taxi – If you booked a hotel close to the Yala National Park, you can get a taxi to your destination with ease.
- Bus – We took the bus from Arugam Bay. It was a straight and easy bus to our destination. Depending on your origin, there are multiple direct buses which will take you straight to Tissa which is your gateway city to the Yala national Park.
If you’re coming in from a far flung location, then a private vehicle might be the best way to go. Here are the travel times from different prominent locations in Sri Lanka:
Arugam Bay: 2 – 3 hours
Colombo: 5 hours
Galle: 3 – 4 hours
Kandy: 5 hours
Mirissa: 4 hours
Yala National Park Cost
The price of the safari varies depending on the tour company and package you choose to plan your trip with. Leopard Trails Yala is one of the most popular companies to book with and have excellent ratings across the board – because of the demand for their service, however, the price varies depending on the number of visitors as well as whether it is peak season or not.
Leopard Trails’ price ranges from $464 to $1406 depending on the date as well as the size of the tent.
If you want to go with a more budget-friendly option, you can DIY your trip and book a jeep at the Yala National Park visitor centre which costs $40 for a half day safari and $75 for a full day safari with jeeps that seat 6 people at most.
Animals to See
The Yala National park has a very diverse set of animals. They have as many as 215 bird species, 44 mammal species, and 46 species of reptiles. Some of the most popular or common animals around the Yala National Park are:
– Sloth Bears
– Indian Rock Python
– Water Buffalos
– Sri Lanka Grey Hornbill
– Lesser Flamingo
– Spotted Deer
– Toque Macaque
– Fishing Cat
– Sambar Deer
– Ceylon Junglefowl
– Mugger Crocodiles
– Sirkeer Malkoha
– Sri Lanka Green Pigeon
and many more!
Best time to Go to Yala
Leopards, the most popular attraction of the Yala National Park, can be seen throughout the entire year.
The most optimum time to visit for those who want to get the full experience and see most of the wildlife, however, is during the months from February to June during the dry season when the water levels are low and all the animals come out to drink, all competing for the same water source.
Yala National Park Safari Blocks
Since Yala National Park consists of a very large area, it is subdivided into 5 different blocks. All but one of the blocks are not open to visitors. The only block available to be entered by the public is Block 1. The rest is strictly a Natural Reserve.
Block 1 has the highest density of leopards among all of Sri Lanka’s different national parks.
The climate in the Yala National Park tends to be arid and dry, meaning it is necessary to bring appropriate equipment to ensure the most comfortable safari possible. Here are some of the must-haves when on a safari at the beautiful Yala National Park:
1.) Water – Since it tends to get hot despite all the lush greenery and grass, it’s best to bring along a bottle of water to cut down the risk of dehydration and heat stroke.
2.) Cameras – Preferably bring the ones with a good zoom feature since sometimes the best views of the animals are quite far from the jeeps since they are cautious of the visitors.
3.) Binoculars – Great for getting a proper view of the animals in the distance
4.) Comfortable, loose clothing – The safari lasts several hours and tight clothes are not recommended due to the heat.
5.) Sturdy, comfortable shoes
7.) Bug Spray/Repellant
9.) Moisturiser – The weather in Sri Lanka can get pretty dry during the hot seasons so this will help to keep skin moist and comfortable.
10.) Khaki/Nature clothes – It’s best to wear clothes that blend in with the environment as to not alert the animals in the vicinity
Why Choose Leopard Trails
- All inclusive with an authentic Sri Lankan food experience at their jungle kitchens.
- Great guides! You pay for additional knowledge about the park. You get more than you would with a usual safari booking company.
- Safari in style with their top of the line service and amenities
- Glamping in style – Leopard Trails has beautiful tents that will make you completely well rested for your safari.
Leopard Trails offers two different, but both of top quality accommodations to choose from.
The first one is the Air Conditioned Luxury Tents which feature:
– Air conditioning and fans to combat against the dry and arid weather of Sri Lanka
– Flushable toiler, showers equipped with both hot and cold water
– Complete sets of toiletries and a spacious interior.
Air Conditioned Classic Mobile Tents
– These tents are completely mobile and free to move around so you can find the perfect spot under the trees and stars to spend the night
– Come with air conditioning and fans
– Storage tables and desks
– Charging sockets
– Complete toiletries, toilet, and showers with both hot and cold water
– Larger interior
- You are touring around the less busy area of Block 1 (North Gate) which means less crowds, quieter surroundings, and an easier time taking pictures of wildlife.
All in all, with Leopard Trails, you get the full experience. You have luxury accommodations, amazing and authentic food spiced to perfection, good safari guides, and a socialising opportunity by the lagoon.
For me, the best part about booking with Leopard Trails is getting to be under the wings of their knowledgeable guides.
The camp is also very natural, you get to be in the middle of all the wildlife and flora during your overnight stays – I mean they even have a phone you can dial in case of emergencies but you can rest easy because the staff checks it twice a day.
SUPER LUXURIOUS, I would definitely do this again.
How to Book Leopard Trails
To book leopard trails, you can visit their website at http://leopardtrails.com and contact the staff about the available rooms. The Leopard Trails are a very popular choice among travellers looking to visit the Yala National Park, so be sure to book a slot early because they tend to run out fast.
Leopard Trails Prices
The prices (all in USD) at Leopard Trails vary depending on the season as well as the package chosen.
Prices for Classic Air-conditioned Tents
Prices for Luxury Air-conditioned Tents