Leopard safaris in Sri Lanka

Marco Polo described Sri Lanka as “undoubtedly the finest island of its size in the world”, and you’ll get no disagreement there with us, especially when it comes to the biodiversity of this teardrop-shaped island off the coast of southern India. There are some 86 species of mammal to be found here, let alone the reptiles, the birds, the amphibians and insects. Due to its breadth of climates, landscapes and altitudes, Sri Lanka is one of Asia’s preeminent destinations for wildlife holidays, and no itinerary would be complete without featuring Yala National Park in the southeast corner.

Yala has the highest concentration of leopards per square kilometre than anywhere else – and well done whoever counted them because the spotty blighters refuse to stay still. Leopards are naturally very shy creatures, but if you hope to see and photograph them then there is simply nowhere better than Yala. You might also see elephants here, sloth bears, water buffalos, wild boar, jackals, monkeys and crocodiles.
Tracking the leopards of Yala often forms part of a wider itinerary that might also include blue whales off the southern coast, bird watching in the Sinharja rainforest, and elephants in Udawalawe National Park, as well as time in Galle or on an idyllic beach.

As with other popular big cat safari destinations around the world, in Sri Lanka the problem of ‘jeep jams’, where several groups converge on the same animal at the same time, is commonplace. Our trips are run by responsible safari comanies, some ignoring reported sightings as far as possible in favour of tracking their own animals, while all of them use professional guides that abide by a code of conduct to keep a respectful distance from the wildlife, so as not to cause them discomfort.
Travel Team
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Leopard safari practicalities

Big cat safaris in Sri Lanka can be either tailor made or small group tours. With a tailor made trip you have a greater degree of flexibility when it comes to your travel dates and the crafting of your itinerary, while small group tours offer excellent value, a social structure and the peace of mind that comes from knowing all the logistics are taken care of on your behalf while you follow a tried-and-tested route.
In Yala National Park the best game drives tend to be those that take place in the early mornings, when the wildlife is at its most active. But you may also take full-day tours around different blocks of the park, and nighttime walks led by naturalist guides. You’ll stay in luxurious eco lodges tucked into remote areas, or tented safari camps where you can share stories of animal encounters with your fellow guests around the campfire.

The best time for Sri Lanka big cat safaris is between the main rainy seasons, from February to June. It’s important to remember that several blocks of Yala National Park are usually closed for six to eight weeks from early September to allow the wildlife some peace and privacy, limiting the chances of seeing leopards.

Yala National Park safaris

While Sri Lanka has some of the most impressive wildlife diversity in the world, if your passion is really for big cats then you may want to consider an itinerary that focuses solely on Yala National Park. The great advantage this gives you is, of course, time; rather than rushing from place to place you can remain in one spot waiting for the wildlife to come to you. With the assistance of expert guides you can be confident of a more holistic safari experience, and you can also stay in more isolated areas of the park, where the noise around you come from the sounds of nature, rather than other tourists.
Written by Rob Perkins
Photo credits: [Page banner: Rohit Varma] [Intro: Rohitvarma] [Leopard safari practicalities: nataliesirova] [Yala National Park safaris: Chris Shervey]