Sri Lanka is known for its ornate temples and white sand beaches, yet it is one of the most underrated safari destinations in the world.
Whilst travel writers have woken up this gem of a country, few are talking about the absolutely immense wildlife offering it has.
Yala National Park might be five hours drive from Colombo international airport, but it is entirely worth it. You will be rewarded with abundant encounters with elephants, buffalo, deer, monkeys, crocodiles and the elusive leopard. Although perhaps not so elusive in these unspoilt parts.. we saw three in two days! Sadly the bears did not come out to play.
I have been on safari many times in Africa and once in India. I have to confess, there have been times when I became bored. Hours and hours passed before I saw something of interest. Birds have never usually taken my interest. But not at Yala, it was a real feast for the eyes. In the park we found many earthly delights- pink skies at sunrise, and the imposing and aptly named Elephant rock, an estuary where the river meets the sea and even a beach where elephants come and frolic!
Given that Yala has only just come onto the radar, you would be forgiven for thinking there are limited options of beautiful places to stay. But there are! We stayed at a luxury tented camp called Leopard Trails. Luxury tents indeed. The rooms were big, air conditioned and certainly luxury feeling despite being in a tent; the bed was huge and very comfy. The bathroom was equipped with a hairdryer and toiletries and a large mirror and could be sealed off with a separate tent door. The powershower was just beyond the bathroom and that too could be sealed off. Take flip flops to wear in the shower as it’s outdoor nature meant a few creepy crawlies! There were carriers to lay out our suitcase and plenty of drawers to lay out our clothes. A communal lounge and bar complete with campfire and a restaurant serving hearty Sri Lankan dishes await.
Rates are all inclusive of food and drink, and most importantly guided safaris. A guide and driver will be assigned to you for your entire stay. Safari starts very early morning whilst still dark and you can choose to come back for a late breakfast, nap and lunch and head back afterwards or take a packed lunch and stay out all day.
Each of the guides were extremely talented, but I highly recommend our guide, Varun. He was deeply intuitive and patient. He listened and listened and stalked and stalked until we found a leopard that crossed the track right before us. –use as a highlighted sentence at side of page We were stunned, scared even, but Varun reacted instinctively to pull out his camera and he gifted us the most phenomenal photos.
The hotel offers an airport transfer but in Sri Lanka you can get a driver and car for £30 per day so this works out as much more cost efficient as then your driver can take you on to the beach or wherever you choose to go on to.
Since I booked Leopard Trails, another luxury tented camp has opened with beautifully curated rooms, swimming pools, spa and more called Wild Coast and comes with a Relais & Châteaux stamp of approval so I have no doubt about its credibility.
Consisting of 28 arching cocoon-like suites, with freestanding copper bath tubs, serious bed linens and plunge pools. Others will follow no doubt, but for now, there’s nowhere smarter in this national park to lay your head. But at $1000 a night, maybe it’s not for everyone. If you are going to see wildlife primarily, I would say a spa and swimming pool may not be required. Whether you choose Leopard Trails or Wild Coast, don’t overlook Sri Lanka as a phenomenal destination for wildlife. I haven’t even written about my whale-watching trip yet!