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Organising a Leopard safari in Yala national park? The 3 most important questions you should ask

Posted in: Sri-Lanka


Organising a Leopard safari in Yala national park? Here are the 3 most important questions you should be asking

We live in an age where we can simply click on a button and book a Sri Lanka safari to see Leopards within minutes – but what have we actually booked? Have we asked the right questions of the travel agents to ensure that our trip of a lifetime will live up to expectations? We have been organising leopard safaris in Sri Lanka since 2002 and have seen the popularity of the country explode in the last 9 years since the terrible civil war ended. As with all developing wildlife tourism markets around the world; you have a wide range of Sri Lanka wildlife tours on offer in the market place and there is a huge difference in quality between the cheap and nasty Sri Lanka holidays at the bottom of the ladder and the more high quality bespoke tours at the top; organised by experts in the industry, who have vast personal experience. Rather than just tell you who to book with, lets instead look at the questions you should be asking your Sri Lanka tour operator before booking your Sri Lanka leopard safari.

Which national parks in Sri Lanka are you recommending to me and why?

Most of the travel agents will be shouting YALA, YALA and YALA at you; but is that really an informative or considered response? Have they really taken the time to explain the very real differences between a leopard safari in the very busy Yala national park, compared with one in quiet and slow paced Wilpattu national park? Have they been honest and truthful about what you can expect from a jeep safari in Yala national park; because at Wildlife Trails we like to tell it as it is; as you will see from this personal ‘expose’ on a Leopard safari in Yala during May 2017 – which is brutally honest and does not hold back about the down side of such a trip.

Our clients are all different and need to be treated as individuals when creating a bespoke Sri Lanka safari holiday. Some will only be focused on seeing a Asian Leopard in the wild and want to go to the best place to see Leopards in Sri Lanka. Whereas others will be a lot more circumspect about the wildlife experience they are likely to have at each of the best Sri Lanka national parks and then make a decision on that basis. Even if they know that the chance to see Leopards at Wilpattu is less than at Yala; they will still decide on Wilpattu, as they prefer a less crowded, more natural, leopard safari in this famous Sri Lanka park.

How do I know I will get a good vehicle for my safari in Sri Lanka
Unfortunately, the allocation of the vehicle for your wildlife safari in Sri Lanka can be a bit of a lottery. Think of it this way; there are hundreds of owners of jeeps in Sri Lanka; we can call then the Jeep Mafia – with vehicles in various states of disrepair – who all want their vehicle to be chosen by you to enter the park. From what we witnessed during our visit in 2017, there was no regulations with regards to the quality, emissions of the vehicle and suitability for photography. Therefore, it is likely if you book a last minute cheap Leopard safari in Sri Lanka you will end up in one of these type of vehicles. However, there is a way around this and the two best solutions are as follows. Pay the extra for a specialist camping safari in Yala national park (or Wilpattu) and chose their deluxe or luxury option; which not only gives you a better vehicle, but also, in general, a superior driver; who is familiar with the park and how to position the vehicle when you enjoy a good leopard sighting inside the park. Or, secondly, work with a company like Wildlife Trails, who can provide upgrades to a deluxe jeep and also include a specialist naturalist for the entire safari component of the trip, who will be able to guide the driver as you explore the national parks.

Which Sri Lanka wildlife lodge are you choosing and why?

Many people ask about which is the best wildlife lodge to stay in at Yala national park, without thinking too deeply about how that will affect the quality of their leopard safari inside the park. Which jeep operator does the hotel work with and do they have their own, fully trained naturalists? What I can tell you is that if you stay at the most well known wildlife lodes in Yala – such as Jetwing Yala, Cinnamon Wild and Wild Coast Tented Lodge – you will definitely enter through the main Palaputana entrance gate of Yala and this is also where all the cruise ship ‘traffic’ will enter. So, you really need to have a clear plan about how you can minimise the impact of a large number of vehicles and head off into the less busy zones as soon as possible. When we visited last year, we were always first in the queue outside the main gate (sleep is overrated!) and this at least meant we could negotiate the ‘long opening straight’ from the main gate (not the best place to have a wildlife encounter!) before taking the first opportunity to leave the main straight and head off into the extensive network of trails in Block 1. If you book with a company like Wildlife Trails, you will also enter the park with a packed lunch and this provides a big advantage over most of the visitors who will return to their wildlife lodges for dinner. When you consider it takes more than an hour to reach some of the best leopard viewing in Yala from the Palaputana gate – not including the additional time to reach your hotel – then clearly they are missing out on a lot of quality safari time inside the park.

If you want to make sure you have the best possible experience on your Leopard safari in Yala national park then we would recommend our 12 day specialist camping safari at Wilpattu and Yala – this can of course be shortened to just include Yala.

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