Udawalawe or Yala National Park?

Udawalawe or Yala National Park?


If you are visiting the south east of Sri Lanka you are probably considering a trip to Yala National Park and on researching it, have come across Udawalawe National Park.  Now if you only have time for one, which do you chose?


Udawalawe was created to provide a sanctuary for wild animals which were displaced by the construction of the Udawalawe Reservoir on the Walawe River in the early 1970s.  From Tissamaharama it takes around an hour and a half jeep ride to reach the entrance of Udawalawe National Park.  Now, if you are a bird lover or have not seen enough elephants yet during your trip then this is the park for you.


For the twitchers there are a wide variety of birds which are resident to the park including the red-faced malkoha, Sri Lankan grey hornbill and Sri Lankan junglefowl.  Given its proximity to the reservoir, a variety of water birds also frequent the park such as, the spot-billed pelican and black-headed ibis.  Being an open parkland, you can also spot the white-bellied sea eagle and booted eagle.


There are Sri Lankan elephants a plenty in the park and so you are certain to catch sight of these mammals. Unfortunately, that is about where it ends.  Although Udawalawe National Park does have a number of other resident animals, the layout of the route taken by the guided jeeps through the park means that you are unlikely to see any other creatures.  There are those who are lucky and spot mammals such as the leopard and when they do, due to the quiet park and having less vegetation to see through, you will enjoy unrivaled scenes of your own.


Yala National Park was designated as a wildlife sanctuary in 1900 is actually made up of several smaller National Parks.  In total it is around 3 times the size of Udawalawe National Park, however tourists generally enter only one or two regions of the park.  If you visit Yala with a tour guide, you will likely visit block 1 (Ruhuna National Park) which is roughly a 40 minute jeep ride from Tissamaharama.


Given Yala’s expanse and high density populations of mammals such as the leopard it is a popular tourist destination and often favoured over neighbouring Udawalawe.  Due to its increased conservation efforts and lay out of the route around the park, you are much more likely to see leopards, sloths, monkeys, snakes, sea turtles and crocodiles at Yala.  You will also find a rich display of birds and of course, the Sri Lankan elephant.  That being said, you will also experience a high density of other tourists!  During peak times and dates, Yala can get unbearably busy and you will often find yourself jeep-jostling to view animals.  However, if you plan ahead you can really make the most out of your visit here.


Depending on your interests and location, you may wish to visit both parks!  If I was basing my decision on limited time available and I could only chose one park, then I would recommend Yala.


Whichever park you decide to visit, make sure that you book with a reputable, licensed tour operator!  There are several companies which you can find online before you travel which will charge you reasonable prices and provide a good service.

For itinerary ideas click here.

Featured Image – Sri Lankan elephant in Udawalawe National Park