Sri Lanka | Making your Yala National Park visit budget AND eco-friendly
Two things that are always very important to me when planning a trip, is keeping my trips both as budget-friendly and eco-friendly as possible. I’ll always be a backpacker at heart and while, of course, it’s nice to treat yourself every now and again, I’m much more concerned with traveling long-term and maintaining a lifestyle. This lifestyle has to follow my own ethics and values, and a big part of this is making sure that my travel is sustainable and environmentally friendly. I hate the thought that each traveler who is backpacking across the globe is constantly leaving tracks behind him/her and that these could have an adverse effect on the cultures and creatures left behind. What’s that phrase? “Take only pictures, leave only footprints, kill nothing but time.” If you ask me, it couldn’t be more accurate. As travelers we should be experiencing the world around us in wonder without actually leaving behind any trace that we were there.
When I went to Yala National Park in Sri Lanka, I was lucky enough to experience two very different styles of accommodation, but both sharing my own values when it came to protecting the incredible environment and all the creatures who lived there. You can read my previous review of luxury safari camp site, Yala Safari Camping, here. But for those who are looking for a bit more of a budget-friendly stay with a real family-run charm, read on for my review of Richard’s Cabanas.If you’re looking for somewhere with a little privacy and a touch of jungle paradise about it, Richard’s Cabanas offers a perfect stay for traveling couples or friends. Set on the banks of a small river, you wake up to the sounds of the water rushing through the forest and beautiful birds swooping through the lush canopy. These exclusive and secluded garden cabanas are set just down the road from the town of Tissamaharam, where a selection of restaurants is on hand should you fancy heading out for dinner. If you prefer to lose yourself in the serenity of the nearby jungle, there are a selection of lovely walks through the paddy fields to explore Tissa Wewa lake.
On arrival we were given the warmest welcome by young manager Amila Nuwan, who is running the accommodation on behalf of his family. Fresh juices awaited us on the veranda and inside we had the cutest little room with a huge bathroom. The rooms all came with air conditioning, hot water and even free wifi, everything you could ever need. The family are happy to provide home-cooked foods or even to order food in from the local restaurants for the guests, and their breakfasts were delicious. I loved waking up in the morning and hearing the rush of the water outside as we ate breakfast on the veranda and spotted birds and wildlife through the trees.We also spent quite a lot of time with Amila and his friends who were keen to chat about the safaris they offer and how visitors to the area can help protect Yala National Park. He spoke of how an increase in tourism in the area has led to a lot of touts targeting travelers arriving by bus and pressuring them to take safari tours that are less concerned with environmentalism and more with making money. With a significant area of Wilpattu National Park being used for land, Yala will soon be the biggest national park in Sri Lanka and Amila says it is very important to introduce the right tourism to the area so it remains protected. Working with his friends who have grown up in the area, Amila offers safari tours to four national parks around the area and other nearby places of interest such as temples. His focus is on providing the once-in-a-lifetime memories of spotting incredible animals in the wild, while protecting the animals and the environment.While we were there, we spent a day on safari in Yala which was incredible and gave us our first glimpses of wild elephants and leopards in Sri Lanka. We also spent a day exploring the local area, visiting nearby temples and exploring the beaches and fishing villages, there’s plenty to see and explore. I’d say that you need two full days in Yala National Park to really see everything, but a full day safari is plenty if you’re pressed for time. If you’re planning a stay, check out my guide to visiting Sri Lanka for everything I learned while I was there. And make sure you read this post about another safari experience I had while there – it explains why it is so important to look at environmentally friendly safari tours.
Top tips for a budget-friendly stay at Yala
- Be careful if arriving by bus, many of these will pick up touts on the way into Yala who will try to push tours and safaris on unsuspecting travelers for twice or three times the price. Often these ones are more inexperienced and will cause disruption to the animals while on safari.
- Choose an accommodation with food included as food options for the town are limited and a little on the expensive side, they can also be a bit of a walk from your hotel.
- Plan carefully and research safaris, try to book through your accommodation if possible or choose a company carefully to ensure they are environmentally friendly.
- Be firm and choose the safari YOU want, don’t be pressured into doing more than one safari if it is out of your budget. A full day safari is plenty of time in the national park but you can still see a lot in half a day.
- If you know several travelers who want to do a safari, book as a group, it will be cheaper than doing one individually, plus it’s more fun.
Have you been to Yala National Park – how was your visit? Where did you stay? Are you concerned with environmentally-friendly travel? How do you make your travel sustainable?
*I did receive free accommodation but as usual all views are my own.