A Review of My Stay with Leopard TrailsPhotographer : Laurel Robbins (Travel Blogger)
I loved my stay with Leopard Trails at Yala National Park in Sri Lanka! This was one of my top experiences and I can’t recommend it enough to wildlife lovers!
I only stayed one night, which gave me the opportunity to do an afternoon safari and an early morning safari. I loved it so much that I would highly recommend staying a minimum of two nights.
Your visit will start with a warm welcome from one of the rangers who pick you up at the agreed upon meeting place. If you’re lucky, like I was, you will also be greeted by a troop of resident Hanuman Langur monkeys! Curious they may be, but cautious too – they keep their distance.
The tents are amazing! Complete with all the modern-day amenities that make your stay comfortable, such as electricity, and a cool outdoor shower, yet still in nature, with the sounds of nature lulling you to sleep. Pure bliss!
There are a maximum of 8 guests at the Leopard Trails camp in Yala ensuring a friendly atmosphere, where you will dine and connect with other wildlife lovers over traditional and delicious Sri Lankan meals.
Before arrival, Leopard Trails has guests fill out a questionnaire so that they can personalize the experience for guests. During my stay, this resulted in two different jeeps for the safari in Yala. One group of guests was interested in bird watching, while another were the leopard seekers. I was in the latter. Yala has the highest leopard population density in the world and while I was also interested in seeing the other 43 species of mammals and at least giving a passing glance to the 215 bird species there, it was the leopards that excited me the most, as they have eluded me on my four previous visits to Africa. And see them I did!
On my first visit to Yala with Leopard Trails I got approximately 15 meters away from a mother and her two older cubs. We were fortunate enough to get a good position before the other jeeps arrived. Then we waited. We would occasionally see the brush moving, but no leopard! Then ever so slowly, almost as if in slow motion, a leopard cub came out of the brush cautiously for a few seconds disappearing into the thick brush again! I had finally seen a leopard!!!!! My heart filled with joy and gratitude. These stealthy creatures are truly magnificent!
The next morning, up before dawn, it rained like crazy. Our guides had given us fair warning that there wouldn’t be a lot of animals out, but our jeep went, with the other guests choosing to snuggle in their cozy tents until the rain let up. In the beginning we didn’t see much as predicted due to the weather, but Jerome our guide had my captive my attention. He is the most educational and entertaining safari guide I have ever had! He has worked as the field assistant on numerous projects including elephant and sloth behavior, human-crocodile conflict mitigation, and provides training to the Department of Wildlife Conservation on Jungle Survival Techniques and Animal Behavior to name just a few of his experiences that contribute to his incredible wealth of knowledge.
While the rain poured, he kept us entertained with pointing out what we could see and pointing out the less obvious stuff such as some of the medicinal properties of plants. While it’s easy to just focus on leopards, it’s also incredibly satisfying to learn about the less obvious plants and animals in Yala!
Finally, the weather cleared. And once it did? It turned out to be an INCREDIBLE safari! Once again luck was on our side and we were in the right place at the right time. We got a call about a leopard sighting and unbelievably we were just a few meters away. A large leopard cub was in a tree just a few meters from the road and we were one of the first jeeps to arrive. Despite being so close, he was still difficult to see as he was well camouflaged by the leaves.
A few of the jeep drivers got over excited and pulled in closer and closer revving their jeeps so that their guests could get a better shot of the leopard. The leopard soon decided this was too close for comfort and decided to move elsewhere. This meant he had to climb down the tree and cross the road… several meters from our jeep!!!! This resulted in a leopard viewing of a lifetime! I held my breath in anticipation and excitement as he meandered across the road and again into the bush! Joy! Joy! Joy!
While I relished my leopard viewing experience, I felt bad for the leopard at the same time. Jerome sadly shook his head and said; in 10 years it will be virtually impossible to see a leopard in Yala, we will have scared them all away. Unfortunately, I think he is right. While I loved my time in Yala, it was disturbing to see how little respect some of the drivers had for wildlife by getting too close and revving their engines. And it’s not just one or two jeeps; there are dozens of them, resulting in traffic jams along the road! Understandably everyone wants to see a leopard, but it shouldn’t be at the leopard’s expense where we are interfering with their natural behavior. Had all the jeeps stayed a bit further back, the leopard may have remained undisturbed in his tree for hours. Based on what I saw, I firmly believe it’s critical to visit Yala with a reputable company like Leopard Trails that employ experienced eco-minded guides like Jerome, who will let the drivers know if they are getting too close.
In summary, I highly Leopard Trails to nature lovers and for those who want to be in nature, falling asleep to the sounds of the jungle – while doing it in comfort. It’s an incredibly romantic place, with top-notch service and exceptional guides!
Laurel Robbins is an award-winning travel blogger at Monkeys and Mountains where she blogs about wildlife and outdoor adventures. This was her first trip to Sri Lanka, but hopefully not her last!