Saturday, January 25, 2014

Tissa and Yala National Park, Sri Lanka 12-13 Jan 2014

Matara is the end stop of the southern Sri Lanka rail line. From here we took a local bus to Tissa. Tissa is short for Tissamaharama. A small town south eastern of Sri Lanka. A gateway to Yala National Park. The bus journey was 3 hours but mostly along the coastline and small villages. This time we chose a seat far away from the speaker and at the end of the bus to avoid all the noise. It was much better. We have learnt to pack some food for the journey because you never know how long the journey will take.

SundaLanka Rest
We were approached by a local on the bus who was offering his guesthouse. It was 2km away from town, so we told him we wanted a place near to town. Then he said his brother has a place near town, he will bring us there. It was drizzling when we arrived, the bus station and the town was deserted, I guess everyone is off on Sunday. So we followed him to his brother's guesthouse, no harm anyway, the house is about 200m from town, tuck in the green coconut plantation. Surprisingly it was nice. Big room and close to nature. We like it and took it. Next is to book for our safari, of course he sells the safari package as well. We bargain for an acceptable price and sign up. :-) We are all set!
Tissa Buddhist Stupa

When the rain subsided, we went for a stroll, the town is basically dead. We walked out of town passing some paddy fields and stumble into a Buddhist Stupa. We follow the local and walk clockwise around the stupa, my brother did it 3 times. A monk came to chat with me, he told me he was a headmaster before but he fell sick. Some kind of lung disease, said he has to go Colombo for treatment and it was very expensive. Lastly he get to his point of asking me if I can give him some money. I didn't because first of all real monk do not ask for money. Luckily he wasn't pushy and left.

Yala National Park is the second largest in Sri Lanka but is the most visited. The park covers 979 square kilometres. 44 species of mammals are resident here and it has one of the highest leopard densities in the world and the Sri Lanka elephant. Yala harbours 215 bird species including six endemic species of Sri Lanka. I was very excited to finally get here, I hope I can see a leopard. :-)

The safari started at 5:30am with a pick up from the guesthouse. We were then join with others and swop around jeeps and regroup. We were in a 6 seated jeep with just 4 of us. The jeep is basically converted from Jeepney with 6 seats and a sheltered fixed at the back, both side are open. It took about 45 minutes to get to Yala National Park, the dawn and sunrise in the park was breathtaking. After getting thru the registration at the entrance, off we go. We didn't have a guide from the park nor seen any tickets issued, as written in the travel book. Maybe the driver cut corner but we got in the park anyway.

Elephant Rock at Yala National Park 
We were greeted with peacocks after peacocks, on the tree, on the road, in the bushes, they are everywhere. There were also herd of buffalos, soaking in water holes, resting in the mud or some were crossing the road. The driver was our spotter, every time when he see something he will stop and point to us. We saw fox, crocodiles, bambi, wild boar, and lots of birds - Indian Cormorant, Grey Heron, Black-headed Ibis, Eurasian Spoonbill, Asian Openbill, medium-sized waders, Egrets, Oriental Darter, Lesser Whistling Duck, Crested Serpent Eagle, Asian Paradise-flycatcher, the list is long... 

When a Leopard was discovered
We were not allow to get off the jeep at any point except for the beach stop and river stop. Drivers update each other what they saw when they cross each other on the road. An hour later, after spoken to another driver (in Sinhalese), he immediately reversed his car into a small path. There was a big traffic jam of jeeps behind us, we could not get close. With my binoculars, I saw a fade leopard tail hanging on a big tree. We were forced to move on as we were blocking the other jeeps behind us to pass, our driver has to take a big loop and queue at the end of line. after we finally got to the spot, the leopard has already gone. :-( disappointed!
Toque macaque


Sri Lanka Bambi
Sri Lanka elephant
Sri Lanka Leopard
We continue our safari, hoping to see another one later. At 10:30am, we stop at the beach spot for a break, I counted more than 50 jeeps were there. It was also a long holiday for Sri Lanka, so there were a lot more local tourist in the park. Their jeeps mostly packed up to 12 people in it. Probably they paid lesser. 

We continue our search and finally we saw a Sri Lanka elephant, moving alone in the bush not in a herd though. My first wild elephant, he was huge!! We continue to spot other animals like Sri Lanka Mongoose, Toque macaque, king fishers, etc. As our driver turn into another path, he stop abruptly and cut the engine. Yelled to us "LEOPARD!!" The moment of truth!! We saw a leopard 50m away walked out from the bush on to the path heading towards us, slowly taking his time, we kept our camera clicking, he came as close as 20m away until he disappeared into the bush. We were speechless for a moment with a big smile on our face. We finally saw our first leopard. I was still shock from that moment, could not believe what just happen. He was bigger than I expected. He was very beautiful with those spots on the body. We hung around for another 30 minutes to see if the leopard appear again. We were so lucky!!

Asian Paradise-flycatcher

The half day safari finished at noon, we had lunch, check out and left for Ella. We have to take 3 buses to arrive at Ella. First from Tissa to Thanawalwila, from Thanawalwila to Wilawaya and lastly from Wilawaya to Ella. All 1 hour journey each. The connections were actually smooth, we didn't wait more than 30min for the next bus. Everyone was so helpful and they make sure we got onto the right bus. The journey up to the highland was refreshing and scenic. That made the trip less taxing.

Water buffalo

Sundalanka Rest, Tissa Tel : 071 2244108 – 1500rp per room/night with fan, attached toilet with hot water

Local bus from Matara to Tissa - 150rp pp
Local bus from Tissa to Thanawalwila - 51rp pp
Local bus from Thanawalwila to Wilawaya  - 61rp pp
Local bus from Wilawaya to Ella - 61rp pp

Yala National Park half day safari - 5500rp pp incl park fees


  1. Hi,
    Its a excellent narration.

    I am planning for a Sri Lanka trip and is little confused about the Yala National Park entrance fees.
    As mentioned in your narration your expenses was 5500 rp:
    1. what is Rp? Is it sri lankan currency
    2. 5500 rp includes both Vehicle & park entry fees?
    3. Does it means the park entry fees is for the vehicle, but not per person?

    Can you please explain a bit.

    1. Hi Sujan,
      Here are answers to your questions:-
      1. Rp = Sri Lanka Rupee or LKR
      2. 5500 is per person (PP) including park fees and the jeep ride.
      3. Park entrance is for visitor, as I didn't drive my own car, I do not know if car fees is required.

  2. Hi, can you please tell me where did you book the tour safari in yala park? Or provide any contact of them.

    1. Hi Ana,
      The Yala Park safari can be book from any hotel that you are staying the night before. They will put you to a group of people to share a car.
      Hope that helps.

  3. hi
    i' am planning a trip to sri lanka in august and its hard to find an exact bus planning. i was wondering if you can help mi with the bus schedule from matara to tissa then from tissa to matara.
    thank you.

    1. There are regular local buses from Matara to Tissa, we hop on to one when we arrive by train from Galle, the train station is 20 mins walk to the bus station. It wasn't too long to wait. Estimate 3 to 3.5 hours journey.