YALA NATIONAL PARK
BEST FOR: Leopards, Block 1 of the national park, also known as Ruhuna National Park, is believed to have one of the highest densities of these big cats in the world. This normally secretive animal has become bolder and easier to see.
DRIVE TIME FROM COLOMBO: 5 hours.
WHAT’S NEARBY? World-class surfing at Arugam Bay.
Located in the south-east of Sri Lanka, Yala is a beautiful area of lowland dry scrub sitting on a long stretch of coastline, punctuated by rocky outcrops. It is the premier national park of Sri Lanka, and arguably one of the best for mammals in Asia. The top draw is the Sri Lankan Leopard, a subspecies endemic to the country. In certain areas of the park, the average leopard density is as high as one cat to every square kilometre.
During the fruiting of the Palu trees in June and July, sloth bears are often observed. Other animals you might spot include sambar (a large deer), spotted deer, buffalo, wild pig, stripe-necked and ruddy mongoose, langur, toque macaque, golden jackal and Asian palm civet.
The combination of freshwater, marine, scrub and woodland areas ensures a high diversity of birds; over 200 different types and serious birders have recorded 100 species in a single day. Birdwatchers should also visit Bundala National Park (an hour away) or the Palatupana Salt Pans (ten minutes away), especially for migrant shorebirds.