Yala combines a strict nature reserve with a national park. Divided into 5 blocks, the park has a protected area of nearly 130,000 hectares of land consisting of light forests, scrubs, grasslands, tanks and lagoons. Two blocks are currently opened to the public.
Situated in Sri Lanka’s south-east hugging the panoramic Indian Ocean, Yala was designated a wildlife sanctuary in 1900 and was designated a national park in 1938. Ironically, the park was initially used as a hunting ground for the elite under British rule. Yala is home to 44 varieties of mammal and 215 bird species. Among its more famous residents are the world’s biggest concentration of leopards, majestic elephants, sloth bears, sambars, jackals, spotted dear, peacocks, and crocodiles. The best time to visit Yala is between February and July when the water levels of the park are quite low, bringing animals into the open.
Bundala National Park is an internationally important wintering ground in Sri Lanka for migratory water birds. Bundala harbors 197 species, the highlight being the Greater Flamingo, which migrate in large flocks. Bundala was designated a wildlife sanctuary in 1969 and redesignated to a national park on 4 January 1993. In 1991 Bundala became the first wetland to be declared as a Ramsar site in Sri Lanka. In 2005 the national park was designated as abiosphere reserve by UNESCO, the fourth biosphere reserve in Sri Lanka. The national park is situated 245 km southeast of Colombo.
Bundala is an important bird sanctuary. About 100 species of water birds inhabit the wetland habitats in Bundala, half of them being migrant birds. Greater Flamingo which visits in large flocks of over 1,000 individuals, from Rann of Kutch of India is being the highlight in the past. Other water birds which are present in large numbers include Lesser Whistling Duck, Garganey, Little Cormorant, Indian Cormorant, Grey Heron, Black-headed Ibis, Eurasian Spoonbill Asian Openbill, Painted Stork, medium sized waders, Tringa subspecies, and small waders, Charadrius subspecies. Black-necked Stork, Lesser Adjutant and Eurasian Coot are rare birds inhabit in the national park.
The forest is an important habitat for the endangered Sri Lankan Elephant, the largest subspecies of Asian Elephant. Sri Lankan SambarDeer, Sri Lankan Leopard, Wild boar, Indian Gray Mongoose, Sri LankanSloth Bear, Sri Lankan Axis Deer, Small Indian Civet, Golden Jackal, and Indian Crested Porcupine are the other mammals found in the park.
Kataragama is one of the few places in Sri Lanka which is worshipped by most of the popular religious people in Sri Lanka. According to the Buddhists, Katragama is one of the 16 places visited by Buddha (solos maha stana) during his 3 visits to Sri Lanka.
The current Kataragama Devale is thought to be built by the King Dutuganumu (161-131 BC) after defeating Elara, the Tamil invader. This is a plain building void of any decorations. There are no figures of gods or idols in the building. Only thing the people can see is a curtain with a painting of god Kataragama with his two consorts Valli Amma and Thevani Amma on his official vehicle, the peacock. Behind this curtain is the holiest object which is said to be a Yanthra in a relic container. Only two highest priests are ever allowed to access it, the maha-kapurala and the devini-kapurala. What it looks like and what kind of yanthra itself is totally unknown by the others. Some say this is a supposed to be a gold leaf and the yantra represent a six pointed star which is the symbol of god Kataragama.
The Kiri Vehera is situated a little away and the access is through the Devalue premises. This Stupa is thought to be built in the 6th century BC on the ground that Buddha meditated. The Bo Tree behind the Devalue is one of the saplings which the first eight fruits of Sri Maha Bodhi yielded (collectively called 'Ashta Phala Ruhu Bodhi'). This tree has been planted in the time of King Devanampiya Tissa in the 3rd century BC.
Katragama Esala Maha Perahera is one of the main events of the Kataragama Calender. This ritualistic possession is held on the Esala Full moon Poya Day which falls on July – August. This is Perahera is unique in the way it is held and the possession itself.
Kirinda beach is one of the most attractive beaches in the Southern coastal belt, is situated South of Sri Lanka close to Yala National Park. This is a popular beach venue for thousands of devotees who go on pilgrimage to Kataragama – The place of worship, South of Sri Lanka where all Sri Lankans visit so religiously regardless of their religion or creed.
There is a small temple in this place on top of a medium size rock outcrop facing the sea. As per the historical chronicles, a princess was sacrificed to the sea to prevent a catastrophic sea wave that destroyed the land in the Western coast of Sri Lanka more than 2000 years ago. To some extra ordinary reasons the sea wave was immediately suppressed and this princess survived and landed back at a remote beach South of Sri Lanka. People believe Kirinda is that historical place, where this princess landed safely. Subsequently this brave princess became famous as Queen Vihara Maha Devi.
Ruins of GalkanumandiyaThe small cluster of pillars you pass en route is all that remains of the Galkanumandiya, thought to be some kind of monastic building.
Tissamaharama is one of the most pleasant towns in the southern coast. The beautiful man-made tank (reservoir) in Tissa, Tissa Wewa with its remarkable bird life provides the scenic backdrop to the town. Tissa was the sanctuary in the deep south, where Sinhalese patriots fled to rally support against marauding Dravidian invaders from Southern India. Known by the name of Mahagama (great town), it was one of the principal settlements of the southern province of Ruhuna. Mahagama was founded in the third century BC by a brother of the King Devanam Piya Tissa of Anuradhapura, & later rose to prominence under King Kavantissa, father of the hero of the nation, King Dutugamunu of Ruhuna.
Modern Tissa is a bustling city with the main street lined with banks, shops & little cafes and kiosks. Refreshing breeze from the large reservoir sweeps the town. The town in turn is bounded by a beautiful expanse of paddy fields. In the midst of paddy fields stands most impressive of Tissa's dagobas (stupas). The combination of cluster of dagobas & two beautiful tanks lend Tissa a certain distinction & a sense of history making it in sharp contrast with the other towns of southern coast.
North of the modern town lies the beautiful Tissa Wewa, an expansive artificial lake built by King Kavantissa in the 2nd century BC of the ancient southern kingdom of Ruhuna. The shore nearest the town is often busy with crowds of people bathing & flock of aquatic birds including bitterns, herons & egrets skimming across the waters. A beautiful walk leads along the massive bund (embankment) which encloses the lake's southern shore, shaded by a procession of majestic old trees.
Yala National Park is famously known for its highest concentration of leopard in the world and it is the second largest national park in Sri Lanka. At the Yala national park visitors could spot leopards, elephants, sloth bears, Sambars and spotted deers, jackals, mongeese, wild boars, wild buffaloes, langurs and macaque monkeys.
Yala is also famous for its bird life. There are around 130 species of birds that have been spotted at the premises including black necked stork, sandpipers, pelicans, egrets, hoopoes, parakeets, peacocks, bulbuls and jungle fowls. Outside of the park are several other fascinating birding locations for ornithologists.