Ruhunu (Yala West) National Park, or Yala as it is popularly known – is Sri Lanka’s most visited national park. It is situated 305 kilometres southeast of Colombo, 10 kilometres from Tissamaharama. Apart from being renowned for the variety of its wildlife, it has several distinctive physical features, such as extensive scrub jungle, patches of open country, and many tanks and lagoons. In addition, the park has a fine coastline on its eastern boundary with impressive dunes up to 25 metres high, broad sandy beaches and offshore coral reefs. Yala also features a number of scattered rock outcrops, some with caves.
Ruhunu National Park consists of five blocks, the first of which was established in 1938. The second block was established in 1954, the third in 1967, the fourth in 1969, and the fifth in 1973. Although the park is 97,881 hectares in extent, only the 14,101 hectares of Block 1 – Yala West – are open to the public.
Entry is by vehicle only – in reality a jeep and driver hired in nearby towns such as Tissamaharama. This mode of transportation and the African-looking landscape gives the illusion of an African safari experience. The park is closed during the dry season in September and October when the eco-system is most vulnerable.