Travel Guide



Yala & Udawalawe

Yala National Park and Udawalawe National Parks are situated in the dry zone of Sri Lanka and the climate is hot and humid. The mean annual temperature is 27 degrees Celsius, although in the dry season temperatures can reach 37 Celsius during the hottest part of the day. Rains bring relief to the fauna and flora during the North east monsoon from November to January. The rain often comes in short and dramatic bursts before clearing up. Some of the best photographic opportunities present themselves when the jungle takes on a richer color palette during the monsoon with seasonal flowers and lush green vegetation. Unpredictable inter-monsoonal rains occur in March or April. This period from October to April can be the best time of year to view elephants and migratory birds. The birds fly thousands of kilometers to avoid the harsh winter conditions from as far north as Siberia to Yala, one of the most southern points of their migration.

The main dry season spreads from May/June to October. The park is particularly dusty during this time of year and many water holes dry up and others become concentrated with fish allowing the birdlife and crocodiles to make easy pickings. Leopards and other mammals with distinct ranges can be forced to come to specific waterholes to get a drink. This time of year is ideal to spot elephants, buffalo, spotted deer, wild boar, eagles, owls and kingfishers whilst you are on a safari.

Leopards and other wildlife can be viewed all year round in Yala and Udawalawe, we recommend visiting Yala or Udawalawe at any time of the year. Unlike parks in India and Africa it is possible to visit and travel around Yala or Udawalawe during the wet season. The possibility of rain should not dampen your spirits. During sunshine hours after heavy rainfall many animals such as leopards may come out into the sun to dry themselves.


Located in the lowlands of Hambatota district about 250 km southeast of Colombo, Bundala National Park falls within the arid zone where the climate is hot and dry. The average annual rainfall is relatively low, ranging from 9,000 to 1,300 mm, and the driest season is between May and September.

The park consists of five shallow, brackish lagoons; interconnecting channels, saltpans, marshes and beaches. The vegetation is mainly dry thorny shrubs, but the biodiversity is immense.

Travel Insurance

Clients are required and responsible for arranging a travel insurance covering illness, injury, death, loss of baggage and personal items incl. theft, cancellation and curtailment. By confirming your booking, you confirm to us that you have arranged such insurance. Shehan Safaris cannot be held responsible for any of the above.

Take Care of your stuff

Always keep your money and all important documents in a safe place (the best are special travel pouches/wallets which you can keep under your clothes). Never live your money in the hotel rooms, tents, cars, unless there is a safe box available. This applies for travelling all over the world. It is wise to have photocopies of all important documents which should be kept away from originals.


Sri Lanka - The unit of currency is the Sri Lankan Rupee - LKR

The best is to change the money upon your arrival to the airport in Colombo or Mattala. There are many Forex Bureaus, Banks there and they normally offer good rates. With this step you will release yourself to think on about where to change the money next. Away from the towns is more difficult to change money and the rates are much lower. There is just one think to be careful in case you will carry US$: Please don’t bring old bills (printed before year 1997) – many Forex Bureaus will not accept them at all! Also try to bring US$ 50 or 100 bills with you, not smaller ones – the exchange rate is much lower for the smaller bills. Credit Cards are accepted in big hotels and modern shops. ATM machines are found in all towns.


Tipping your driver/guide after your journey is normally part of the experience in Sri Lanka, particularly as they are trying very hard to make your trip memorable. This is all at your discretion. The average tips are from US$ 5-50 for driver/guide per day. This tip is dividable among the member of your group. Tipping is not a mandatory, but somehow expected and highly appreciated. For this purpose keep in the pocket some change. Small tips are also expected in the restaurants, as well for the staff in hotels and lodges.

Packing List

Soft, lightly colored clothing that blends with nature
Jumper for Morning drives
Good camera
Extra memory cards, batteries
Sun glasses
Sun hat or cap
Scarf or Dust mask for dust protection
Swimwear (For Full day safaris and choose to swim in the river)
Personal items


Any modern digital camera manufactured in the last several years is capable of taking excellent photos of wildlife and you do not need to buy the most expensive camera in order to take good pictures of your safari.   Getting good pictures is far more about thinking carefully about composition and using some of the techniques outlined below, than spending a small fortune on the latest top of the range camera.

In general terms, a dSLR (digital Single Lens Reflex) camera with interchangeable lenses is the best option.  The best lenses for wildlife photography are in the range of 200-400mm, while those wishing to take close ups (eg of insects), landscapes or shots of animals in their environment should if possible also bring wide angle lenses in the range of 24-100mm.  We do not advise you to bring cumbersome flash units or tripods but we do advise that at least one member of your group has a video camera available, although many dSLRs now have these built in.  Bring plenty of batteries and a charger so you don’t run out of power!  Cameras get dirty easily in dusty safari environments so bring plenty of cleaning equipment like cleaning cloths and a blower brush.  Finally bring plenty of memory cards – you will be surprised how many shots you may end up taking.

Each person should ideally have their own pair of binoculars as they are essential to see the birds and animals in the distance. The best size is 8/10 x 40 and, again, they don’t need to be the most expensive top of the range binoculars.


  • Camera
  • Telephoto lenses (ideally covering 24-100mm and 200-400mm range)
  • Lens cleaning equipment
  • Extra batteries
  • Battery charger
  • Memory cards
  • Camera bag
  • Zip lock bags (to protect equipment from dust)
  • Beanbag (to provide stability for your camera)
  • A notebook to record your day’s adventures while it’s still fresh!


Particularly if you have a new camera, or if you don’t use your camera frequently, try to spend some time before you depart for your safari familiarizing yourself with the camera, and taking some practice shots.  Any subject matter will do, such as birds in your garden, your pets, or anything else that moves.

Also, have you read the manual?  They are not great reads admittedly but when you get on safari it helps to quickly know how to operate the camera.  You will not have time to read the manual as animal behavior unfolds in front of you – the action will be over by the time you have found the right page and read it!

Ideally you want to be able to make key adjustments to your camera (eg. Exposure settings) without lifting your eye from the viewfinder.


When it comes to observing wildlife on safari no two days are the same.  Some days you will see very little while others there will appear to be animals everywhere.

Some people rush around trying to ‘tick off’ as many different animals as possible, taking a quick picture or two before asking to move on.
But unfortunately animals will not pose for you on demand, and professional photographers will spend many hours with a subject waiting to get a great shot.

On a typical safari this isn’t really possible but you will often find that if you show a little patience and stay with a subject a little longer, something more interesting might happen that you can get a shot of.

This advice is equally true for general game viewing not just photography.  Try and be patient, spend some time with and get to know your subject, and often you will be rewarded.  If nothing else it makes for a more relaxing safari!


The most atmospheric and inspiring nature photography tends to benefit from great light.  This is often referred to as the ‘golden light’ that occurs in the early morning or late afternoon when the sun is lower in the sky.

At this time your photos will benefit from a softer warmer ‘golden’ light. During the middle of the day the sun is overhead and tends to result in harsh shadows that rarely provide for flattering pictures.

During the ‘golden hours’ animals also tend to be more active as it is cooler, increasing the chances of not only seeing wildlife but catching them doing something more interesting than sleeping in the shade! 

Now you know why we get you up so early on a morning!


Composition – the “Rule of thirds”
A really important aspect of good wildlife photography is composition.  This relates to the position of the subject(s) within the frame.
The “rule of thirds” is a well known compositional technique that can make a big difference to the impact of your photos and require little if any technical skills.

If you think about your picture frame being broken down into thirds (both horizontally and vertically) so that you have 9 parts, the best wildlife photographers often deliberately place the subject at the points where the lines cross, or along the lines themselves.  Most of the time your photos become more aesthetically pleasing to the human eye by applying the rule of thirds.


Often when you have long telephoto lens the temptation is to fill the frame with your subject at every opportunity.  

This can provide for great portrait photos and you will see some wonderful wildlife photographs that use this approach.  

But sometimes, it is good to pull back a little on your telephoto lens and try to take in some of your subject’s environment. 

The Yala has some wonderful landscapes and trying to incorporate some of this into your photographs will enhance your photo collection and give your friends and family a sense of what the Yala actually looks like. 

If you always fill the frame with your subject they will never know! You can also be creative in the opposite sense, by getting really close up shots of a lion’s eye, or an elephant’s trunk, for example.


In addition to capturing portraits of your favorite animals try and add some variety to your photo collection by capturing some action.  Most African wildlife are social creatures and will spend some of their time playing, grooming each other or interacting in other ways.  Capturing these moments will make your photographs more interesting as you will be capturing their behavior. As explained above, while this often requires a bit of patience (particularly with sleepy lions!) the rewards can be well worth it.


One of the most underrated techniques for capturing great wildlife photography is to position yourself for a low angle of view.  

Many safari vehicles are fitted with pop up or removable roofs to allow people to stand up and see wildlife from a higher position.  This can be advantageous, for example when an animal is in longer grass. But taking a picture of an animal that is close by to your vehicle and sat down, while you are stood shooting downwards is generally not the most flattering. You will get a much more impactful picture by photographing sat down to get a lower angle of view – by getting eye level to your subject.


If you’re trying to capture a close up view of a single subject focus on getting the eyes pin sharp, and try and get a diffused (blurred) background. This requires careful use of depth of field – a shallower depth of field (helped by using a lower ‘f’ stop) will help blur the back ground and make your subject stand out in the photo.

The downside is that the shallower depth of field that helped blur the background will also narrow the area of sharpness often to just a few inches – hence be careful
to focus on the eyes as they may be the only ‘pin sharp’ element of the picture. On a related point, when looking at your subject through the viewfinder often we forget to look at distractions above,
below and to the side of the subject.  Odd looking twigs, other safari vehicles in the background and other ‘clutter’ can often weaken a picture but can often be avoided by moving very slightly the position
from which you take the picture.  Try and get as clean and uncluttered surrounding to your subject as possible so it stands out in the frame.


To freeze the movement of a moving animal you will need to keep the shutter speed high, ideally around 1/1000 of a second or higher depending on the speed of movement and the actual subject.
For example, trying to freeze a bird in flight will require much higher shutter speeds.  An alternative approach is to use the panning technique where you try to follow the movement of the animal so
it stays sharp in the picture but the background is blurred.  For this try somewhere between 1/8 to 1/30 second shutter speed.

And finally – try to take pictures in both portrait and horizontal orientation.  And to give the appearance of the animal moving, don’t centre your shots. Leave space left, right, above or below for the animal to move into.

General Information

Nearest town to Yala –
Tissamaharama is the nearest town to Yala and the distance is 22Km.

Driver from Colombo – 
It takes about 6-8 hours.

Park opening hours – 
6a.m to 6p.m

Mode of game drive – 
By Jeep

How we can arrange the transportation from hotels away in Yala?
We can arrange taxi for you. Don’t worry if you are staying far away from Yala, we can pick up from your hotels for safari. Our friendly drivers will pick you up and drop you off from air port, any hotel or anywhere inside the island. Please contact us for arrange taxi service.

Can we definitely see leopards? 
Yala Block 1 – Where we run our Yala safaris – has the highest density of leopards in the world, so there is no better place on earth to see leopards. This being said, there is no guarantee in the wild. We cannot promise you a leopard sighting, but your best chances of one are in Yala.

Is the Sri Lankan leopard a subspecies?
Yes, the Sri Lankan Leopard (panthera pardus kotiya) is a subspecies, and it is actually the largest leopard in the wild.

Why is it easy to see leopards in Sri Lanka?
Because in Sri Lanka they are the top predator (Because there are no tigers, lions or cheetahs they have to hide from).

Why don’t the Sri Lankan elephants have tusks?
Only 6% of male Asian elephants have tusks, which is why it is rare to spot a tusker in Sri Lanka

What should we wear on the safari?
Light clothing in natural colors is best for the safaris. A jumper for the early morning drive can also be useful as sometimes it can be a little chilly. Don’t worry too much about shoes, flip flops will do just fine since you will be in the jeep the whole time

I’m traveling with children; will it be too boring for them?
We find that children generally enjoy their safaris as much as adults. Experiencing the jungle can be a fascinating and educational experience for kids and we try to make it as fun as possible for them.

What is the maximum number of people in each jeep?
The maximum number of people in each jeep is 6.

Are there any do’s and don’ts whilst on safari?
Don’t wander off by yourself, don’t wear perfume or perfumed products as the smells can really affect the animals, do have fun!

Are we allowed to smoke at the Park?
No, smoking is prohibited inside the park.


Some of Sri Lanka’s charm is its slower, more relaxed pace of life. Local people are generally polite, hospitable and always eager to assist, however, may not always understand everyhting in your terms. If you always remember your patience and sense of humor, you will depart with wonderful lasting memories.