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Choosing the Best Safari Park in Sri Lanka: Yala National Park vs. Udawalawe National Park

During our holiday in Sri Lanka, we visited several natural reservations and many other interesting attractions from all over the country.

Sri Lanka is the perfect destination for people searching for a magnificent place to relax at the beach and spend some time in natural reservations spotting different animals in their natural environment.

Because many of us have limited time during Sri Lankan trip, we want to visit top attractions and experience the best things to do in Sri Lanka.

Your vacation plan must include visiting at least one Sri Lanka safari national park.

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Now you probably are wondering which is Sri Lanka best safari park, because there are many national reservations all over the country.

Sri Lanka best safari park Udawalawe National Park
Sri Lanka safari Udawalawe National Park

After a short research on the internet, you will probably find that Yala National Park is the best national reservation for a safari, but there are many other national areas in Sri Lanka with very diverse wildlife.

Yala National Park is so famous because of its high density of leopards, but the other national parks from Sri Lanka are equally beautiful and rich in wildlife.

Leopards, for example, could be seen also in Udawalawe National Park and this reservation as not as crowded as Yala National Park.

Short information about Yala and Udawalawe

Yala National Park is the most famous natural reservation in Sri Lanka and the biggest from the island.

It is the first national reservation created in Sri Lanka in 1938 together with Willpatu National Park.

The conservation area is divided into 4 blocks but only 2 of them are open to the public. The remaining two blocks are dedicated to scientific research and documentaries.

Yala Jeep Safari Sri Lanka Safari National Park
Yala Jeep Safari Sri Lanka

Udawalawe National Park is the third one in Sri Lanka and one of Sri Lanka best safari park, which has a great density of wildlife.

On this natural area, you can find one of the densest population of elephants from Sri Lanka.

The big advantage of this reservation is that it is not so crowded as Yala, so you will have a more relaxing and authentic experience.

Udawalawe National Park Sarafi Sri Lanka
Udawalawe National Park Sarafi Sri Lanka

Best time to visit Yala National Park and Udawalawe National Park

Yala National Park is open 10 months per year; September and October are the months when the area is closed because it is too dangerous to visit it.

Because of the heat and water shortage from the dry season, the animals are more violent and unpredictable, so the Sri Lankan authorities decided to close the natural reservation during these two months (September and October).

Yala National Park Elephant
Yala National Park Elephant

Udawalawe National Park is open 12 months per year, even in the dry season.

Animals can be spotted all year round during morning and afternoon safari.

Leopards, elephants, buffalo and many other wild animals can be seen during a safari in this natural reservation.

An interesting fact to mention about Udawalawe National Park is that it has the highest concentration of Asian elephants from all Sri Lankan parks.

This park is also one of the best places to spot baby elephants especially if you come from October to January.

How to visit these natural reservations?

To visit these beautiful natural reservations you need to rent a jeep with a driver.

Self-driving inside the parks is forbidden. So, you cannot rent a jeep and drive by yourself.

Inside tip on renting your safari jeep in Sri Lanka

When you will rent your safari jeep make sure that the driver speaks English because most of them speak a little to no English and it will be impossible to communicate during the safari.

The ideal situation is when your driver speaks English and has some knowledge about wildlife.

You will see many animals and you won’t know what are.

So, a knowledgeable driver could give you very good explanations.

Yala National Park road
Yala National Park road

Like this tour for Yala National Park: Private Safari at Golden Hours.

You will have not just your own private 4×4 jeep safari but a very knowledgeable guide who can show and explain you everything about the wildlife from the park.

Sunset ina Yala National Park
Sunset ina Yala National Park

There is a similar tour for Udawalawe too: Udawalawe National Park Safari. The tour is also with a private 4×4 jeep and a guide who speaks very good English and have extended knowledge of local wildlife.

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Most incredible scenery in Sri Lanka best safari park

In Yala National Park you can find a little bit of everything: forests, sandy beaches and grasslands.

Spread across the natural parks there are many waterholes in which buffalos and other wild creatures like to bath and come to drink.

Elephants playing in Udawalawe National Park
Elephants playing in Udawalawe National Park

Udawalawe National Park is equally beautiful with many types of landscapes.

Forests, wetlands, mountainous areas and grasslands are just a few examples. In my opinion, the grassland region is vaster than in Yala National Park so you will have a better view of the animals living in the conservation area.

Another good thing is that in the centre of natural conservation area there is a huge water reservoir where wild animals gather especially during the dry season.

So, I think both natural reservations are beautiful and have incredible landscapes.

Sri Lanka best safari park, wildlife perspective

Yala National Park Sri Lanka has one of the densest population of leopards in the world, so many tourists plan a visit in this natural reservation just to see these magnificent creatures.

Don’t forget that leopards are very shy animals, so spotting one of them is something very rare.

My advice is not to plan a safari just to see leopards.

You plan a safari to see wildlife and nature, and leopards should be seen as a bonus.

Leopard in Yala National Park
Leopard in Yala National Park

But Yala National park is not just about leopards. Inside the natural reservation live 45 species of mammals, lots of species of reptiles and about 220 species of birds.

Crocodile, buffalo, deer, monkey and elephants are usually seen during the safari in Yala National Park.

Yala National Park bird bee eater
Yala National Park bird bee eater

On the other hand, Udawalawe National Park has about 35 species of reptiles, 190 species of birds, 45 species of mammals and more than 140 species of butterflies.

Inside the conservation area could be seen also leopards, but encounters with this wild animal are very rare and should be treated in accordance.

Yala or Udawalawe, which one is more crowded?

As I mentioned earlier, Yala National Park is more famous and well known so it is more crowded. There are hundreds of jeeps waiting at the gate at the opening hours.

You can feel the tension in the air. It is not a very relaxing safari because of the large number of crowds. And everything goes mad when a leopard is spotted!

In a matter of seconds, dozens of jeep gather around the poor animal, all the drivers fighting for the best spot.

Udawalawe Elephants in the park
Udawalawe Elephants in the park

For a more authentic experience and to get fully enjoy your encounters with wild animals I strongly recommend Udawalawe National Park.

Because it is smaller and not that famous, the park is quieter and even more beautiful and because the number of tourists is not that high, you really can enjoy your experience.

You can get closer to the animals and get really good shots with wildlife.

So…which one is Sri Lanka best safari park?

Now that is a difficult question! If your safari is just about seeing a wild leopard in its natural habitat, then Yala National park is the best safari park in Sri Lanka.

If you are looking for a few hours to relax and admire the wildlife, then Udawalawe is the best national park Sri Lanka for you. Here you will get closer to the animals and get the perfect shot!

Can you visit both Sri Lanka National parks in a day?

The answer is yes. These natural reservations are located to close one to each other, so it is possible to visit both in one day. It would be a very tiring experience.

But, if you really want to see them both and you don’t have enough time, then you could try a tour which combines both natural reservations in one day.

For example this tour, 1-Day Tour of Both Yala and Udawalawe National Parks.

Udawalawe National Park Sri Lanka National Parks
Udawalawe National Park

In the tour is included a jeep and a guide who could answer all your questions during the safari and the lunch for that day.

The tour starts at 5 a.m with a morning safari in Yala National Park, followed by a very tasty picnic and then a late afternoon safari in Udawalawe.

This tour is really interesting but a little bit tiring. My advice is to reserve a day for each place. You will be more relaxed and enjoy better the scenery!

Accommodation near Yala National Park and Udawalawe National Park

There are some beautiful resorts near both natural reservations. Generally, the rooms are clean and big and some resorts offer breakfast.

Laya Safari sunset
Laya Safari sunset

The big advantage of sleeping in a resort close to the park entrance is that you are very close to where the action will happen and you don’t have to wake up very early for your morning safari.

A good accommodation near Yala National Park is Laya Safari , a beautiful hotel located right on the beach and just 10 minutes from the park entrance.

Most of the room has an ocean view and the breakfast is very tasty and plentiful.

This is where we stayed when we did the morning safari in Yala National Park and trust me, it was a very good option.

The only thing is that you have to book in advance because the hotel has a very good price-quality ratio.

Laya Safari Pool Facilities
Laya Safari Pool Facilities

About the accommodation near Udawalawe National Park we recommend you to sleep at Eliyanth Udawalawe , another beautiful and clean resort close to the natural reservation entrance.

The location is very good, the hotel is hidden in lush vegetation and from your balcony, you have a great view over the gardens.

Logistical tips and tricks for your trip

Book your accommodation
We always use as they have the best price-quality ratio and they offer a wide range of hotels, guesthouses, apartments, and villas to choose from.

You will find here all types of accommodations, from the cheapest ones to the most luxurious.

Don't forget travel insurance
We never leave home without HeyMondo Insurance or Safety Wings Insurance as they offer the best services and a good value for money.

When we go for longer trips around the world we get Globelink Insurance as it offers a good cover for an affordable price.

Travel insurance will always protect you against unexpected costs caused by medical events like illness, injury, theft, or travel cancellation.

We never go on any trip without travel insurance and there were many cases when we had to use it.

Renting a car
We like to explore a country on our own and a car gives us the mobility and freedom to do that.

We always rent our car from Discovercars as they have free cancellation 48 hours prior to starting date and a wide range of car rental companies and options to choose from all over the world.

Tours and attractions
When we are looking for some adventure or we simply want to break up the monotony and discover new places, we always use GetYourGuide.

We love it because we always find the most amazing experiences, with free cancellation and a large variety of activities and tours to choose from.

Airplane tickets and holiday packages
Expedia is our ally when searching for the best price for airplane tickets as it works as an aggregator for a huge number of airlines and we always find the best price for our flights.

Travel tip: use Expedia when you are searching for holiday packages as they have many last-minute offers and great discounts for hotels, flights, and even the whole holiday packages.