Yala (Ruhuna) National Park is the most visited and second largest national park in Sri Lanka. The park covers an area of 151,778 hectares comprising of five blocks, which includes a strict nature reserve. Currently only Block I, covering 14,100 hectares, is open to the public. It is situated in the dry semi- arid climatic region of Sri Lanka’s South East region which extends from Trincomalee to Hambantota. Topographically the area is a flat and mildly undulating plain that runs to the coast with
is a flat and mildly undulating plain that runs to the coast with elevation is 30 metres to the coast while rising in the interior to 100–125 metres. The best time of year to visit is February-July when water tables are Yala is located about 300 kilometres (190 miles) from Colombo. There are six national parks and three wildlife sanctuaries in the vicinity of Yala.
Yala contains the remains of a once-thriving human community. A monastic settlement, Situlpahuwa, appears to have housed 12,000 inhabitants. Now restored, it’s an important pilgrimage site. A 1st- century BC vihara (Buddhist complex), Magul Maha Vihara, and a 2nd-century BC chetiya (Buddhist shrine), Akasa Chetiya, point to a well-established community, believed to have been part of the – ancient Ruhunu kingdom.
Yala’s varying habitats, which consists of dry monsoon forest, scrub jungle and plains, rocky outcrops, fresh water lakes, rivers and beaches, provides home to many species of animals including Sloth Bear, herds of Asian Elephants, Buffalo, Monkeys, Sambar, Mongoose, Deer, Toque Macaque, Golden Palm Civet, Red Slender Loris, and Fishing Cat, Crocodiles and the endangered Leopard sub-species, Panthera pardus kotiya, which is found only in Sri Lanka. It is home to the greatest variety of Sri Lanka’s wildlife Yala West has one of the world’s densest leopard populations and is renowned as one of the best places in which to see a leopard in the world. The best time to spot Leopards, Asian Elephants and Sloth Bears is February to June or July, when the water levels in the park are low.
The dry season in the park is from May to September. Yala hosts a variety of ecosystems ranging from moist monsoon forests to freshwater and marine wetlands. Rain is received mainly during the northeast monsoon. It is one of the 70 Important Bird Areas (IBAs) in Sri Lanka. Yala has 215 bird species including six endemic species of Sri Lanka.From October to April during the Northern Hemisphere winters, Yala becomes home to many species of migratory birds and is a hot spot for bird watching. There are over 130 species of birdlife reported in the Yala National Park including the Crested Serpent Eagle and the White Bellied Sea Eagle.