Udawalawe or Yala? Which national park is best for a jeep safari

Udawalawe or Yala

You are not alone if you are split between Udawalawe and Yala national parks. We receive at least half a dozen emails a month asking which of these national parks is best for a jeep safari.

I have been lucky enough to enjoy safaris in both Yala and Udawalawe. Also, working at Travellers Isle has given me the opportunity to assist many travellers with their jeep safaris in these national parks.

I do have a personal favorite between Yala and Udawalawe. However, my preference is irrelevant, as your interests and requirements might be different from mine.

In my opinion, the best way to decide the most suitable national park for your holiday is comparing the differences between Udawalawe and Yala national parks.

Let’s get started with an open mind. By the end of the article, you will know exactly which jeep safari to choose for your holiday.

Deciding whether to visit Udawalawe or Yala national park

Udawalawe national park is great if you are mainly interested in spotting wild elephants. It is also the better option for someone wanting a jeep safari in a less crowded national park. Yala national park is better if you want to see a wide range of animals with the possibility of spotting leopards.


Udawalawe Vs Yala: General information

Yala national park

Yala national park

If you are planning to visit Yala national park, book a night or two in Yala, Tissamaharama, or Kirinda. Those are the most convenient bases for this national park.

The Yala national park is divided into five blocks. Most jeep safaris in Yala take place in Yala Block 1, but visitors are also allowed in Yala Block 5. Yala Block 2, 3 and 4 are closed to the public. You need to have special clearance to visit those sections.

The best time to visit Yala national park is from February to August, when it is the dry season in Yala. During this time period animals can be easily observed gathering around waterholes and lagoons.

You need to visit Yala national park either early in the morning or late afternoon to see animals. The morning safaris in Yala national park take place between 6.00 am and 9.00 am. The late afternoon jeep safaris take place between 3.00 pm and 6.00 pm.

Note – Yala national park is not open to tourism in September. Authorities close the Yala national park in September to allow the animals to wander freely during the drought season looking for water. If the drought condition does not end by the end of September, the closure might be extended into October.

Udawalawe national park

Udawalawe national park is a very secluded national park in Sri Lanka, located about 230 km (143 miles) away from Colombo. The national park covers an area of 308 km2 (119), which is roughly a one third of Yala national park.

If you are visiting Udawalawe national park, I recommend spending a night or two in Udawalawe. You can also visit it as a day tour from some of the southern beaches of Sri Lanka, such as Tangalle and Mirissa.

Unlike in Yala, you can observe animals even in midday in Udawalawe (especially elephants). In our experience you have the best chances of seeing animals in Udawalawe national park during late afternoon jeep safaris (3.00 pm to 6.00 pm).

Udawalawe national park

Udawalawe Vs Yala: Landscapes and wildlife

Yala national park

A jeep safari in Yala national park will allow you to witness a great diversity. The landscapes in Yala range from dense forests, grasslands, lagoons to picturesque beaches.

People visit Yala national park mostly to see Leopards. However, there are no guarantees that you will spot leopards during your jeep safari.

I have had guests who got to see leopards multiple times in just one safari in Yala. I also have had guests who did not see a single leopard even after visiting the national park multiple times. It is all up to your luck.

Some of the other animals that you can see in Yala national park include elephants, Sri Lankan sloth bear, water buffalos, wild boar, peacocks, spotted deer, Jackal, mongooses, bandicoots, endemic toque macaque, crocodiles, and gray langur.


Udawalawe national park

Udawalawe national park is equal to Yala national park with its beauty. Grasslands are the most prominent feature of Udawalawe national, but it also has marshes (wetlands), scrublands, forests, and mountainous areas.

As mentioned earlier, elephants are the main highlight of Udawalawe national park.

You can also see water buffalos, wild boar, peacocks, spotted deer, jackal, mongooses, bandicoots, foxes, endemic Toque Macaque, crocodiles, and gray langur in Udawalawe national park. However, it is unlikely that you see all of these animals in one safari.

Udawalawe Vs Yala: The crowds

Yala national park

If you speak to someone that did not like the Yala national park, they will tell you the only reason that he/she disliked it was its crowds.

Most tour operators rave about leopards in Yala national park without explaining it is not a given that you see leopards during your jeep safari. This puts unnecessary pressure on the jeep drivers to show you leopards.

With the hope of showing you leopards, jeep drivers gather around the areas where leopards are most likely to be seen. This makes the national park look so crowded.

If you decide to visit Yala national park, tell your jeep driver not to join the other jeeps looking for leopards and to drive more slowly. If you are lucky enough, you will spot leopards as you drive around the national park enjoying the wildlife. Even if you did not spot a leopard this way, it will be a much better experience than joining a flock of jeeps chasing down the leopards.

crowds in Yala national park


Udawalawe national park

I would not be surprised if you had the whole national park all to yourself when you visit the Udawalawe national park. There are not many people visiting Udawalawe national park.

If you are looking for a beautiful national park that is not overrun by tourists, do not think twice. This is the national park that you are looking for.

Udawalawe Vs Yala: Accommodation facilities

I would not base my decision to to visit Udawalawe or Yala national park on accommodation facilities. However, you will notice your options are a bit more limited in Udawalwe compared to Yala. Also, accommodation facilities in Yala are generally more expensive than accommodation facilities in Udawalawe.

You can find guesthouses, star class hotels and luxury camping sites in both Udawalawe and Yala. If you are a nature lover, consider booking a luxury camping site in Udawalawe or Yala. It could be a highlight of your tour.


Frequently asked questions

1. Is it worth visiting both Udawalwe and Yala national park during my Sri Lanka holiday?

Of course, if you have the money and the time, go ahead and take both safaris. They are two very different safari experiences.


2. I am already planning to visit Minneriya national park during my Sri Lanka holiday. Should I visit Udawalawe national park or Yala national park for my second safari in Sri Lanka?

Both Minneriya national park and Udawalwe national park are famous for elephants. Even the landscapes of these national parks have some similarities.

If you have plans to visit Minneriya national park, visit Yala national park for your second safari. We use this combination of jeep safaris often in our Sri Lanka tours.


3. Where can I see Tigers in Sri Lanka?

There are no tigers in Sri Lanka. People often mistake the leopards in Sri Lanka for tigers. If you are interested in seeing leopards, visit the Yala national park. It is the best place in Sri Lanka to see leopards.


4. Is there any risk of snake bites when visiting Udawalawe or Yala national parks?

Since you are not leaving the vehicle during your jeep safari, there is no risk of having a snake bite in Udawlawe or Yala national park. It is also very unlikely that you have any bad experience with snakes during a Sri Lanka trip. Please refer to my article "Are there snakes in Sri Lanka?" for more information.



Both Yala and Udawalawe national parks are popular national parks in Sri Lanka for jeep safaris. You will not consider the time spent in any of these national parks a waste of time.

I hope this article helps you to choose the national park that is right for you. Feel free to drop us a message or leave a comment, if there is anything that you need to get clarified. I am more than happy to answer any questions that you might have.

By the way, I prefer Yala national park over Udawalawe national park.

Happy travels !

2 thoughts on “Udawalawe or Yala? Which national park is best for a jeep safari

  1. Hello, that was exactly the answer to the question that has been tormenting me for weeks! Thanks a lot for this! We’re visiting Minneriya or Kaudulla (we’ll be there in January – I think and hope we’ll see a lot of elephants then too!?) and I was wondering whether Yala or Udawalawe would be better. Well you gave me the answer – Yala. Can you recommend me a good tour operator for both national parks? Warm greetings

    1. Hi Jacqueline, glad to hear that you found your answer. I would recommend booking the safari jeep through the travel agent that you book your transport. If you are not using a travel agent, you may also get the help of your hotel to book it.
      Happy travels !

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