This was one of the longest drives so far, and it was a bit boring every now and then. We came across some busy cities with traffic and long boring highways. But about 20 kilometers before entering the Yala area, the scenery changes and gets more pleasant. When driving around the area, we already saw some deer, monkeys and even a big bull elephant, and we weren’t even in the National Park! It always looks funny to see those traffic signs with 'be aware elephants crossing' or other exotic animals, and you never expect to see them. But here you better watch out where you drive/steer your tuktuk.
Kirinda Lodge is the place to be. We loved it here! After staying at the hotels in Colombo and Kabalana by Ceilao Villas, our expectations were high. And they topped that. The lodge is placed near the city of Kirinda which is just 12 kilometers from the entrance of Yala National Park.
Driving up there, already gives you a relaxed feeling. There isn’t that much in the surroundings except nature. Unfortunately the rain that fell in Tangalle, stayed in Tangalle and did not make it here. So it was a bit dry. When it has been raining for a few days, everything turns green and there is a big lake in front of the lodge.
As soon as we entered the Lodge, we felt at home. It’s cosy, has a warm atmosphere and is really open. The rooms are furnished in colonial style and the lodge has all you need. You won’t be spending much time in your room because you want to be outside. There is a nice refreshing swimming pool that we shared with some hot and thirsty Black Faced Langur Monkeys at one point. The lodge is fenced with barbwire because the elephants come really close sometimes. We waited outside the first night, hoping to catch a glimpse of them, but we didn’t see any. They did come later that night but we missed that, they can be really quiet apparently. At night, it is nice to just sit outside in a rocking chair, enjoy the sunset, the sounds of the animals and the silence. A great place to unwind.
When staying here, you will have your personal chef who cooks for you for the cost of the ingredients, a very cost efficient way of eating we think! You can choose from a menu but it is also possible to specify your own personal wishes, they are very flexibel with this. We even had the famous South Sri Lankan water-buffalo curd, which tastes great!
** You can find them on booking.com
Visiting Yala National Park is something we strongly recommend! We did a full day tour which means we got picked up at 5 am and were back at the lodge at 6 pm. You would think this is maybe to long, but trust us, it’s not.
We did some online research and ended up booking a tour at Sugathe’s Yala Jeep Safari. The price for the vehicle for the whole day was 9.000 Rupee which is a good deal. And it doesn’t matter if it’s just you or more people, the price for the vehicle stays the same. We were happy that it was just the two of us because we could move around the jeep to get the best shots of the animals.
After getting picked up at 5 am, we had to buy our tickets for the Park (which was 6.274,61 Rupee for 2 including al sorts of taxes and services charges and the entrance for a local adult which was probably our driver). The office opens at 5.30 am and here you get a first glimpse of all the jeeps that will enter the park with you. It was busy and it isn’t even high season yet. After getting the tickets, and entering the park, the adventure could begin. We were driving around, saw some peacocks, deers, birds, lizards and buffalos and even a sloth bear and we were probably on the other side of the park when our driver got a call that a leopard had been spotted. He turned around and we knew we had to hold on tight because he was driving as fast as possible on the bumpy dirt roads. Let the adventure begin! We had to get in line to get as close to the leopard as possible but our driver maneuvered the jeep on the second row and therefore we could stand stil for a long time without having to make space for other jeeps. The leopard was just relaxing in the shade of the rocks and didn’t really move that much. Because of that, a lot of jeeps left the spot and it became more quiet. The big advantage of a full day is that you’re not in a hurry so we just stood there for about 45 minutes, watching the leopards' every move. And after a while, it started to move! It started posing, yawning, stretching and left the rock. And as soon as it did that, all the jeeps started to move as well and tried to get the best spot to follow the leopard. We could see it walking around a bit before it disappeared in the bushes. Leopard, check!
We spotted some more small animals such as Black Faced Langur Monkeys, possums, rabbits, pigs before we saw a lot of crocodiles in a lake. There were some deers drinking from the water and it felt like watching National Geographic where you are waiting for the crocodile to catch a deer. That didn’t happen, so we moved on. At another lake, we saw a big elephant bull puddling in a lake filled with green and flowers and was taking it easy. Elephant, check!
Before 12 pm, we already saw the animals we wanted to spot so everything extra was a bonus. We had a nice lunch near the beach, took a nap, walked around a bit before we started part two of our adventure at 1.30 pm. And the afternoon was just as good as the morning! We saw another leopard, chilling in the bushes. He got fed up with the tourists staring at him after a while and took off. We saw another Elephant bull and even a small group of 4 elephants in the far distance. When the day was coming to an end, and we were on our way to the exit, we saw a jeep driving by in full speed. Our driver did not hesitate, turned around and followed the jeep. We lost it, but our driver did not give up. After a while we saw a lot of jeeps and knew we were gonna see either an elephant or a leopard. It was a leopard! We saw it walking around, and think it was even trying to hunt. It laid down in the grass, kept really low and still but his prey probably took of and he didn’t catch anything. After that, he took a sprint and that’s how our day ended. And it was a great way to end our day!
Back at the lodge, we were covered in sand and were tired and hungry. We had a beer, took a shower, they prepared a great diner for us and we went to bed with big smiles on our faces at 8 pm.
Note: check if the park is open when you are planning on going here between the 1st of September and the 15th of October. Sometimes it closes because of the dry period. Don't expect don't be the only one visiting the National Park. You will be surrounded by other jeeps, most of the time. However, we did not find this disturbing. But we were here during low season so we have no idea how this is during high season. We also visited Udawalawe National Park a few weeks later, but in our opinion Yala is (despite the higher costs) more interesting and beautiful to visit.