Yala National Park sprawls in the south-eastern corner of Sri Lanka. The land is rugged, with long beaches and a scudding shoreline. Sand dunes, rocky outcrops and low forests transport us into another world, far from the bustling towns along the southern coast. Trundling along the rough roads on the back of a modified safari jeep, we reverse and accelerate from one watering hole (wadi) to another, craning our necks for glimpses of birds, tiny reptiles and ever-elusive leopards.
There's even a leopard corridor at Yala, but no leopards were prancing up and down on the morning we were there. Our guide sadly surmised that the heavy rains of the day before (we were visiting during the monsoon) had kept the large cats indoors. But, there were plenty of other things to see for the goodly number of jeeps racing about. Apparently though, this congestion is nothing compared to the madness of the high season, when more than 200 jeeps could careen about at once for even a glimpse of a bewildered leopard.
But leopards aside, we fell in love with Yala, with its wide open vistas, surfeit of wildlife and a very friendly elephant who happily slathered himself in dirt not 30 metres from our jeep.
Nearest town: Tissamaharama (Tissa)
You can book a safari through your guest house or hotel or flag a passing jeep in the main town. Prices vary from as much as US$25 for just a driver to US$60 and up for a driver, guide and the entrance fee. Premium hotels are likely to have even more expensive packages.