You simply cannot come to Sri Lanka and not go on a Safari. If you went to Africa to see the gorgeous animals that live on the Plains, you’d be looking at paying a small fortune; a friend of mine paid £1000/$1,400 for a 4 day trip there (which is still totally worth it if you ask me). However for a 1 day experience at Yala National Park, it was less than £20/$28😱 and DEFINITELY one of the best days of my entire trip.
There are many different parks to visit in Sri Lanka; Minneriya, Ridiyagama and Wilpattu to say the least, but Yala is the largest and most famous, mainly because it gives you the greatest opportunity of seeing leopards! Ben, Yas and I had our fingers and toes crossed that we should be so lucky🤞.
The owner of our hotel in Tissamaharama, White House, sorted out our Jeep and driver the night before and we were ready and raring to go, full of eagerness, at 5.30am. Our lovely driver, Mr Chinthama was itching to get on the road as soon as we showed our faces because we misunderstood that we should have been ready around 5 🙈…whoops!
But this was no problem for him; he caned it down the road in the darkness, peering back at my brother to ask; “Sir, okay if I go fast?” to which we all replied YES! We zipped past other Jeeps full of Chinese tourists and laughed as we jolted and flew over bumps. The reason for Mr Chinthama’s rush was that the park can get very crowded – but we were lucky to have him as our driver as he sped us nearer to the front of the queue, taking over a at least 10 cars that were waiting before us 🤣. We had also heard that mid-week is the best time to visit compared to a weekend when hundreds of Jeeps enter the park, so picking a Tuesday was a great shout! 🤙
It cost us 3000R/£13.90/$19.30 each for entrance which included Chitwana’s ticket and an extra 1,500R/£7/$9.70 for his services as our driver and guide for the day – however this is subject to change depending on how big your group is. Personally we liked that it was just the three of us because we could hop around the seats in the back to get the best view! The backdrop was amazing as we entered and we watched the sun come up over the greenland, greeting us into the park.
We had a cup of Chai (Indian inspired milky sweet tea) for 100R/,50p/60c and a free breakfast made up for us of sandwiches, eggs and sausages and a big bottle of water too.
The cheeky charisma of Mr Chinthama made him very popular among the other drivers and he explained to us how his friends would let him know if he saw anything special – but his eye for nature was some skill in itself. He could spot brown monitor lizards as they bathed in the sun against logs of the same shade and be even spotted a crocodile, mouth wide open, next to the lake in the far distance!
But it didn’t take a sharp eye to spot our first real exciting find…walking down the same dirt path as us was a huuuuuge Bull Elephant! His tusks large and powerful to show to tourists that he wasn’t f*@king about as they’re often known for their aggressive temperament. We were the closest to him, and wanted to get closer but our guide was so knowledgeable that he didn’t risk it and actually turned the Jeep around ready for a quick escape. When he did, the Jeep behind rushed ahead of us, getting waaaaaay too close to be Eco-friendly and the elephant humoured him for a while before charging with force!
It was a crazy moment of adrenaline and I screamed for Mr Chinthana to GO GO GO before the elephant crushed them for their stupidity… but luckily all escaped unscathed and our elephant friend went back into the brambles for a bit of peace and quiet. We felt blessed to see a tusked elephant (and so close) because they’re a rare sighting in Yala – and we all agreed that if we didn’t spot a leopard, we’d still be happy.
The thing to remember when visiting Yala National Park is that the sightings are random and unpredictable. The land is so big, with so much untouched by tourism that it is purely up to the animals if they want to show themselves. It is obvious, from the strictness of the park rangers that the animals are happy, protected (a Jeep driver can lose his job for getting too close) and free to roam and I’m sure that they can easily find privacy if preferred.
Mr Chinthana drove on, and soon stopped as he heard a crackling in the trees – another big elephant was feasting a few metres away. He turned his engine off and we sat quietly as he worked his way through the bushes right past us to continue upon his merry way. Then…we couldn’t believe our luck that a mother and baby were passing through on the opposite side of the pathway AND another elephant was enjoying a breakfast of leaves a meter or so from where we were sitting! We soon realised that we must have caught these hungry creatures in their favourite place to feast🐘🐘🐘. It was such a joy to see these perfect creatures in their natural habitat!
Suddenly Mr Chinthana’s friend made contact to say how he’d discovered a leopard sleeping in a tree and of course we zoomed off to the location, praying that we’d be lucky to see her. We kept our eyes peeled as we went and Mr Chinthana remained cautious as you can’t speed above 25km in the park incase an animal darts out – and with less than 30 leopards in the entire reserve, that really would be a disastrous event to occur 😱😩!
When we finally got there, a naughty elephant had apparently scared her away from her slumber spot – and we were GUTTED to say the least! But Mr Chinthana carried on, smiling as always, because he had heard that there was a family of elephants taking a stroll by the lake just around the corner. We remained positive as we edged closer, being thankful for any wildlife that we saw. When we arrived, there were numerous Jeeps waiting in anticipation. To the left there was the stomping herd of four, a little too far away to make them out clearly…but to the right…
THERE SHE WAS! A leopard so majestic, she effortlessly prowled from the bushes she was hiding in to enjoy a stroll in the sun. Slowly she went, but for no real purpose than to stretch out her legs. We all hung out from the front of the Jeep in awe, ever so quiet, our smiles speaking a thousand screams of elation – because when she walked back, she was so close that we could actually make out her individual spots!! It was an absolutely incredible and beautiful sight to witness 😍🐆❤️! We couldn’t believe it 😱 – our luck in Sri Lanka regarding wildlife has been fu*%ing unreal!!!
We also saw two wild boars with their baby following close behind, deer with antlers as large as their bodies, buffalo bathing in a muddy swimming pool and an array of colourful birds…
But the BEST birds we encountered flew close when Mr Chinthana took us on a pleasant detour back to our hotel through the Bird Sanctuary. Never before have I seen so many different species dancing in one place, all of different sizes and colors, Kingfisher’s so blue that their feathers actually glistened, peacocks dancing with their fan to secure a mate, and my new favorite; a purple heron, actually took my breath away. I never even knew this breed of bird existed before this day and as she spread her wings, the soft lilac tone of her breast reminded me of an exquisite wedding dress. My eyes became so greedy, I only wished I’d seen more than one!
When we got back at midday, we tipped Mr Chinthana for making our day special – it really wouldn’t have been the same without him as our tour guide. He exceeded our expectations and he shared his knowledge, expertise and love for nature with us with such passion that I can’t recommend him highly enough. If you are looking to book a Jeep with an honest, trusted guide with great English, contact him here: firstname.lastname@example.org/0718529890 😄
When we arrived back, we were greeted by our host with tea and biscuits and we thanked him whole-heartedly for organising our trip with a reputable chap! Being company friends, it’s no surprise that he also went above and beyond to make our stay in Tissamaharama comfortable. White House was the first place we had AC, so we all slept like babies in our comfy beds, shattered from our amazing day in the wilderness. The breakfast is included in the price of just £13 for a family-sized room (3 px) and was delicious, with filling portion sizes and tasty combinations. At such was reasonable rate with great service, you’d be silly not to stay here! 😊
And if that isn’t enough, the most popular place to eat in Tissamaharama is just across the road. At The Flavors, the family get so busy, that they sometimes put on a buffet spread for just 750R/£3.50/$4.80 a head! You can get chicken and rice and pasta and vegetables and fruit, and each section is cooked by the husband to perfection. The sticky sauces, sweet spices and juicy dressings compliment each other to give a great meal, where you can eat as much as you like 🙌 (which always appeals to me and my dustbin of a brother)! Also, I’m a great fan of the Lassi’s out here – a sweet drink containing buffalo curd as the main ingredient; the one’s created at The Flavors are the BEST I’ve had in all of Asia and they cost just 250R/£1.10/$1.60, so make sure you try one out!
There you have it…a great hotel, a cheap & cheerful Safari experience and delicious food all ready and accessible when you book your stay with Hotel White House on booking.com. Use this link here and get £15 back when you’ve completed your stay 🤙… you can thank me later!