Nestled beside the coast in the south east corner of Sri Lanka is a vast area of natural grasslands and dry woodlands complete with active troupes of monkeys, screaming peacocks, elephant herds and lots of leopards in the sunshine.
Yala National Park is the second largest and the most visited wildlife sanctuary in Sri Lanka. The park covers almost one thousand square kilometres and is about 300 kilometres (190 mi) from Colombo. It was originally a “Resident Sportsman’s” shooting reserve for the “sporting pleasure” of the British and was designated as a wildlife sanctuary in 1900. It has now been an important wildlife sanctuary for over a century. The climate is semi-arid and dry with scrub jungle unique to this area. The landscape includes rocky outcrops like Kotigala, Jamburagala & Patalungala (Pattangala) and several fresh and brackish water lagoons. It is an important habitat for Sri Lankan elephants, aquatic birds, and has one of the highest leopard densities in the world.
In earlier civilizations, King Ravana, a mythical Hindu anti-hero is believed to have established his kingdom here with Ravana Kotte, now submerged in the sea, as its boundary. A large number of ancient and ruined irrigation reservoirs (tanks) are evidence of an earlier agricultural period dating back to 5th century BC. Situlpahuwa, an ancient city in the region, was storied to be the home for 12,000 arahants (Buddhist monks). It is situated within the park area along with Magul Vihara – built in 87 BC – and Akasa Chaitiya, which dates to 2nd century BC. Agriculture flourished in the area during the period of Ruhuna Kingdom which began to decline by the end of the 13th Century AD.
Safari packages and good accommodation are available for tourists visiting Yala National Park – previously known as Ruhuna National Park.