Yala National Park, Sri Lanka

Between South Africa & Asia, we have witnessed countless wild animals being exploited by uneducated tourists (ourselves included at one time).  Having seen the horrific conditions that some of these animals are subject to & the abuse they experience in captivity, we have grown extremely leery of partaking in any activity based around wild animals.

After mass amounts of research, we decided that Yala National Park looked credible enough to visit during our stay in Sri Lanka.  Seeing animals in their natural habitat, mostly unaffected by tourism was exactly what we needed after seeing people stupidly riding elephants around the Angkor Wat complex in Cambodia just days earlier.  It’s easy to lose faith in humanity when you see tourists still naive enough to ride an elephant in 105 degree heat (or really ever, no matter the climate). (**see petition linked at end of this post)

While Sri Lanka in general presented us with many challenges, we both agreed that Yala National Park was one of our favorite activities during our trip to South East Asia.  If you ever find yourself in Sri Lanka, we highly recommend a Yala safari & also booking your stay at the Kumbuck River Tree House.  We thoroughly enjoyed both!

Yala National Park Safari

On the road en route to Yala, we came across a hungry roadblock.  This is slightly terrifying when you are traveling in a nano car hire.

Don’t mind us, little fella..
Not an illusion, this is as small as it appears.


Luckily the tuk-tuk in front of us had bananas on hand to throw to this majestic roadblock, so we were able to get out of the elephant’s path very quickly while he was distracted!

As we continued down the road to Yala, we saw the Tissa Dagoba.


Across the road from the Tissa Dagoba was a river where 100’s of locals were bathing.  Sharing this photos is hard, because we try our absolute hardest to not objectify the residents of countries we visit.  We are adamantly against slum tourism, but we also want to share the way other cultures live and thrive.  A very verbose way of saying this picture is not meant to offend, but to exemplify the culture shock we experience in other countries.


A few minutes down the road & 7 hours after departing our resort in Kalkudah, we arrived at the entrance gate of Yala National Park!


Not long after entering we were delighted to feast our eyes upon so many beautiful animals!












An interesting fact about Yala National Park emerged in 2004 after a massive tsunami hit the island, killing nearly 22,000 people.  There were virtually no animals found to have perished as a result of the deadly tsunami that pounded the Southern shores of Sri Lanka.  It’s widely believed that the animals could sense the impending wave and headed inland.  It’s hard to deny that animals have a sixth sense when you hear facts like this.


We had a really great afternoon spent amongst the animals & natural beauty of Yala National Park.  Things got interesting as the sun began to set and we were in search of an elusive tree house we had booked on Airbnb.  More on our search for & stay at Kummbuck River Tree House in our next post!

**Please sign this petition to support the ban of elephant riding in Angkor Wat!


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  1. Gareth

    November 21, 2016 at 11:03 am

    Another wonderfully entertaining post Sarah! I know what you mean about being lured in by tourist attractions that claim to have the best interests of the animals at heart but ultimately are only there to exploit them and I’m not proud to say that I also have been duped. But, as you state, it really is so much more rewarding and humbling to see them in their natural habitat. I also get what you mean about photography locals. Ultimately, it is they who are the heart of a place, the really interesting part of it but it can sometimes feel like a human-suffering safari when taking snaps of impoverished locals. But, as you also state, it is all about highlighting their culture and hopefully, an insight into their lives. As always, thoroughly enjoyed

  2. Ana

    November 21, 2016 at 11:34 am

    I haven’t experienced visiting a National Park where animals could roam freely. Isn’t it scary that some animals might attack tourists? I remember when I was still a child, I never thought those animals with horns hate red. I was wearing a red short that time. My brother and I were in a field. Afterward, my brother shouted at me and told me to run. Then, I saw a carabao running towards me. I ran very fast and glad that I was able to escape the carabao.

  3. Jen Morrow

    November 21, 2016 at 7:03 pm

    I am not surprised the animals survived the tsunami, they definitely have a sixth (survival) instinct. So many big animals! The elephants are still my favorite.

  4. Ashley Smith

    November 21, 2016 at 7:11 pm

    This place is awesome! What a great way to see animals in their natural habitats. And you’re right–people are naive but that’s just the thing. They see riding elephants as cool but they have no idea the consequences. You can’t always blame people for what they don’t know–there just needs to be more action by those of us who get it. I’ve worked at many animal sanctuaries and people are shocked to learn that keeping tigers as pets or swimming with captive dolphins in the Bahamas is NOT A GREAT IDEA.

  5. Naomi

    November 21, 2016 at 9:27 pm

    I understand your worries but this Yala Nat park looks like a really sustainable solution to still see some nature and wildlife. Good choice!

  6. Lydia@LifeUntraveled

    November 21, 2016 at 9:52 pm

    This is the only thing I missed when I went to Sri Lanka (well this and visiting the Northern Tamil Nadu region). I’m happy to know Yala Park still maintains its integrity towards the animals and doesn’t (seem to) exploit them. I’m still dreaming of encountering an elephant on the road!

  7. Katie

    November 21, 2016 at 11:23 pm

    Wow what a wonderful place! I love how casual the elephant is, just strolling across the road – fantastic! This has inspired me to get booking a trip to Sri Lanka ASAP!

  8. Mike

    November 22, 2016 at 12:08 am

    Thanks for sharing Sara! Its so sad that many places exploit the animal but I’m glad you found Yala National Park and it looks like you had an eco-friendly trip. Its so funny that bananas were the cure for a elephant road block! Let’s focus on animal friendly tourism and national parks to help those poor captive critters.

  9. neha

    November 22, 2016 at 12:35 am

    The park looks naturally very beautiful. I have been bookmarking posts on Sri Lanka since I plan a trip there soon. Yours is also going to go in my bucket. Would love to spend some time with the animals

  10. Kallsy P

    November 22, 2016 at 3:51 am

    I am a HUGE animal lover and elephants happen to be my favorite so I thoroughly enjoyed learning more about where I could experience interactions with them in an ethical way. We had a similar experience when visiting a monkey park in Kyoto, Japan. Many monkeys live on this mountain and the people there try to preserve their home all while making a way for people to experience them up close. Signing the petition pronto! Thank you, once again for bringing light to such an important issue and recommending an alternative!

  11. Ticker Eats The World

    November 22, 2016 at 4:12 am

    Beautiful photos first of all and i’m glad you caught the majestic elephant, an animal that is often overlooked for its beauty. I do have say that people are becoming more and more aware about the conditions animals are kept and so many of us travellers are writing about it that hopefully in the future all the malpractices will stop. Sri Lanka, even though it is right next door, is still on my visit list and I hope to go there soon.

  12. kathy (from walkaboutwanderer.com)

    November 22, 2016 at 11:32 am

    Such a great post with some amazing photos. I agree with what you say about exploitation of animals and people. I believe that photos such as the one with locals in the river can be used to educate people when taken tastefully like yours.
    Thank you for sharing a fantastic post.

  13. FS

    November 22, 2016 at 5:50 pm

    Great article. The photos are really beautiful. Thanks for sharing.

  14. Kristine

    November 22, 2016 at 7:21 pm

    Lovely post! Yala National Park looks amazing. It must have been a wonderful experience to see the animals up close like this. Sri Lanka looks like such an amazing country. It’s been on my bucketlist for a while 🙂

  15. Joe

    November 22, 2016 at 7:57 pm

    Ethical and responsible travelling is something we should all have at the forefront of our minds when we go on experiences such as this. Thank you for doing the work and finding such a trip, which will hopefully raise awareness too. And what a place to visit – beautiful wildlife, and great photos 🙂

  16. Eric || The Bucket List Project

    November 22, 2016 at 9:05 pm

    Yala National Park is going to definitely be on my Bucket List. There is a pic about midway up that you took from the right front side of the jeep at something crossing the road from the lagoon. Is that a croc? Hard to see it.
    Glad you found a way to witness nature without compromising your values and ethics.

  17. Carmy

    November 23, 2016 at 5:33 pm

    I had to let out a chuckle when you said you tuktuk driver had a BANANA to throw to distract the elephant! What a life it must be to be able to see these majestic animals so often that you have food on hand just for them! What a wonderful experience 🙂

  18. Anna

    November 24, 2016 at 10:10 am

    It’s always nice to come across thoughtful travellers who care about their impact on places they visit, so thank you for sharing this experience! The Park sounds like a great destination, I’ve love to go there if I’m in Sri Lanka. Oh and I totally believe that animals have a sixth sense.

  19. snigdha

    November 25, 2016 at 1:52 pm

    Amazing pictures .It must have been such a wonderful experience to see the animals up close .South of India and Sri Lanka have so many wildlife safaris to offer.Safaris are one of the best ways to enjoy the natural habitat and the wilderness of a country. Great post

  20. Brown Gal Trekker

    November 27, 2016 at 3:49 pm

    It’s always wonderful to visit places teeming with wildlife. I love that you are mindful of the ways human treat these places as many don’t seem to comprehend that as travelers who write and blog we should try to motivate others to travel with respect of other cultures, nature and wildlife. So, thanks for writing this post with all that in mind. I can totally relate to people swimming in the river – having lived in the Philippines- that’s the natural thing to do and truly a meditative experience!

  21. Julie Cao

    November 27, 2016 at 11:36 pm

    Yala National Park looks like a great place for wildlife safari. I understand your concern for wildlife and all the respect for you respecting other cultures and the habitation of wide creatures. If I go to Sri Lanka, I would love to visit Yala National Park. It is truly amazing to see animals roam free on the road instead of being held captive.

  22. Munchkin Treks

    November 28, 2016 at 3:30 am

    I really like your responsible tourism series of posts. I will definitely consider Yala National Park if I get a chance to go to Sri Lanka. When I was in Kenya, I witnessed irresponsible hyena feedings at a resort. You have inspired me to write about it.

  23. Gel

    November 28, 2016 at 3:44 am

    It’s just so nice to see animals in their natural home and are not bound by chains and boxed shelters. And look at those elephants walking freely in the wild. In my country, it is just heartbreaking to see them confined in one corner. 🙁

  24. Brianna

    November 28, 2016 at 7:02 pm

    Wow! I definitely want to visit this place! How much does the safari cost? Where in Sri Lanka should I stay if I want to visit this national park?

  25. Nikki

    November 30, 2016 at 8:13 am

    Sounds like an incredible park! It’s so important to travel responsibly. Some people tend to forget this and it’s so sad to see (I will be the first to admit that I have guilty of being very naive in the past). Thanks for spreading awareness.

  26. alcnaturals.com

    October 23, 2017 at 4:19 am

    Good news then; Yala National Park is now open to visitors after being closed for one month.

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