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Safari guide experience and advice in Yala (Sugathe safari)

Inverness, United...
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Safari guide experience and advice in Yala (Sugathe safari)

Hi, we went to Yala as part of our honeymoon and it was amazing.

Stayed at Chaaya Wild Yala which was wonderful.

I worked for many years as a wildlife guide in the Highlands of Scotland (Aigas Field Centre, if you want to check that I'm a real person,) and feel reasonably qualified to give some advice on the matter. (Though this is just my opinion based on my experience.)

Some of my personal feelings on guides:

A: I would not use the hotel safari service. I'm sure their guides are just as good as the local guides, but are outrageously expensive, and don't put as much back into the local economy.

B: The guides all seem good. The major issue I had beforehand was whether they were trustworthy or not. We booked with 'Sugathe' (which is the owner's name.) They were friendly and trustworthy. Also they did not ask for money until after we were back at our hotel. Don't be put off by the fact that their website is poor.

C: Leopards are the big attraction, and the guides will do all they can to find them. They visibly relax once a leopard has been spotted. (I know that feeling.)

D: .Unless you have kids with you, or have a bad back, don't bother with the 'luxury' option. The basic ones are comfortable enough, and the extra mobility you have is a real benefit especially for photos. (read on for anecdote.)

E: If you can afford it, go in more than once. (morn+eve or next morn.) It is a great place to be. If' you've already seen leopards, then you can concentrate on other things, but if you missed them first time, you can try again. I'd guess that almost all see leopards if they go in more than once.

My experience:

We booked with 'Sugathe' at our hotel the evening before our morning safari. (Nothing like leaving it to the last minute to make you stressed.) He was so calm and matter-of-fact on the phone that once I'd hung-up I wondered if I'd actually booked it.

A young guide (called Shireen,) duly turned up in the morning and we went in.

Safaris in Yala are initially a little like the wacky races, but it all adds to the fun. While we were going around Shireen showed us many things from birds to elephants, and even a brief glimpse of a sloth bear. (That kid has eyes like a hawk. He spotted a pair of tree-swifts (small, fast birds,) driving at about 30mph.) When we finally saw leopards (male and female together,) more of Sugathe's jeeps were there (mobile communications helps to find things.) He got me to clamber across all the basic jeeps to the closest one so I could get in a better position to take some photos.

The cost was 10,000 rupees for two of us, which was so much cheaper than the hotel cost that we were able to afford to go out again in the evening. We didn't see any leopards in the evening, (missed one by 30 seconds according to the jeep that was there,) but saw some great stuff including elephants and black-necked stork. The boss' son came along to offer his apologies for this when he found out, but as far as I'm concerned, that's wildlife, and if you want guarantees, go to a zoo!

The hit rate with Sugathe for leopards is quite exceptional though, having read the reviews and given the time limit of around 3-4 hours. (Park rules for morning entry and evening exit, plus avoiding the heat of the day.) The number of people who see leopards is very high.

If I could go back to Yala, I would certainly go with Sugathe, and would definitely recommend them to a friend.

Hope this helps

Donald Shields

Orange County...
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1. Re: Safari guide experience and advice in Yala (Sugathe safari)

Donald,

I am glad you had a great trip to Yala and were able to see leopards, and more. There are many that go in, and are disappointed when they do not see a leopard. Overall, it seems to have been a successful trip.

A few things to comment on....

Visitors are not allowed to get down from their vehicle, or jump from one vehicle to another. The only exception is the beach and the Menik ganga. Your jeep driver should have known better, instead of promoting it, and your tracker (a park employee) should have stopped you. Unfortunately, these incidents, which veterans to Yala refer to as a "circus" have reached a peak within the last year. Incidents of tourists standing on top of vehicles, hanging on the sides, and jumping from one vehicle to another, and even getting down from vehicles at the "leopard circus" aka "a leopard has been spotted" have been observed almost daily. I have seen drivers banned from the park when these incidents happen, and it happened last month too, when the the vehicle and the toursts were asked to leave the park....and their safari ended there. If you read the back of your ticket, the rules are stated there.

The rate for hiring a vehicle is between Rs. 4,000 and 5,000 per morning or evening safari. This is for a vehicle, and NOT per person. There are many jeep drivers that will charge you this rate irrespective of you being a local or a tourist. The hotel does charge around 5,000 more than the normal rate, and most times this is "commission" for a front desk clerk.

Once again, my comments are not to embarrass anyone or be nagative. Being a a visitor to Yala for over 30 years, and being involved in several projects in the past, my wish is to keep Yala for the animals the way it was.....preserved, for future generations to see.

I am happy that the two of you had a good safari, and hopefully return to Yala again.

Cheers.

Robbie

Inverness, United...
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2. Re: Safari guide experience and advice in Yala (Sugathe safari)

That's interesting about going across the vehicles being forbidden. I was unaware of this as all the guides seemed to be doing it at the 'circus''. I think there was about 7 vehicles there by the time we left. (None of the trackers seemed bothered either.) Given how all the rules are seemingly in place for the benefit of the wildlife, it seems a little disappointing that this one is not better enforced.

Yes when you do see a leopard and all the jeeps converge en masse it takes a bit of getting used to. (It was the same with the sloth bear and first elephant.) But I guess that's just the nature of the beast. To restrict entry times as they do in order to keep the disturbance down will inevitably have this effect. (In my opinion, this is a fair price to pay to make sure that people are not hassling the animals 24/7.)

The hotel I was staying at quoted 18,500 rupees for each trip. Both prices included all mandatory extras. Tracker, entrance fees etc.

Having been over that length of time, how has it changed since you first went there Robbie?

Donald

Orange County...
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3. Re: Safari guide experience and advice in Yala (Sugathe safari)

Hi Donald,

To answer your question, a lot has changed since 30 years ago, and sadly for the worse. There were very few visitors to Yala then, as Wilpattu was the haven for leopards. One could observe a leopard for up to 10-15 minutes without being disturbed or cut off by other. No, the situation has got so out of hand that several long time wild life lovers do not even want to come to Yala. There ere also more elephants at Yala, but due to the decrease in vegetation, many seem to have migrated to other areas.

On a positive note, the leopard population in Yala has increased, and poaching has decreased since the 70's and 80's. When I was there last month, two of the officials were getting ready to go to court as witnesses on a poaching charge on a local school principal!

Why aren't the park officials not doing anything to stop the offenders? It is mainly due to fear of retaliation. There have been threats of assault on park staff, and unfortunately the offenders get no punishment if they know a big wig. This was the case of two gross violations where animals died and a visitor suffered severe head trauma.

Yes, restricting the number of vehicles into the park will solve a lot of problems, and that has been my recommendation when asked to submit a report some time back, but unfortunately the heavy revenue generated from park entrance is too much of a gold mine to restrict anything!

Cheers,

Robbie

Colombo
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4. Re: Safari guide experience and advice in Yala (Sugathe safari)

Hi Donald

Being a wildlife and nature lover who has traveled extensively across all parks in Sri Lanka (and especially to Yala), I am truly horrified (although not surprised) by the costs charged by the owner of the jeeps and the behavior of the driver in allowing you to move out of the vehicle! Not surprising though as many of us regular visitors to the park are well aware of whats going and how the park authorities are turning a blind eye to the antics of a majority (not all) safari drivers simply because - as Robbie says 'the heavy revenue generated is too much of a gold mine to restrict anything".

Glad you enjoyed your safari but please do note though that this behavior to turn an animal sighting into a circus with tourists allowed to move out of their vehicle, is not condoned by large numbers of us - individuals or societies, who love the beauty of this island so much and are trying (desperately but in vain) to advocate for more responsible practices; especially, respect for wildlife.

Although this post is several months old, I'm writing simply to encourage visitors to Yala to become more responsible travelers when on safari and not alight from their jeep. Its almost ridiculous to expect a visitor to enforce a rule of the park where the safari drivers, official park trackers and park authorities fail. But that's how desperate we are to preserve our wildlife reserves.

Hope you get to enjoy a much 'saner' safari soon in Sri Lanka.

soton uk
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5. Re: Safari guide experience and advice in Yala (Sugathe safari)

Hi

My partner and i are going to Yala for a couple of days and i saw your review on the safari.

When you contacted Sugathe did he give you a price by email, how much was it all in for two? also would you do two morning safaris or one morning and one afternoon.

Any other tips whilst you are there.

Thanks

Fredericia, Denmark
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6. Re: Safari guide experience and advice in Yala (Sugathe safari)

The price for a half day (3 hours) safari should be approx. LKR 11,000.

Hans

Inverness, United...
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7. Re: Safari guide experience and advice in Yala (Sugathe safari)

H, I phoned Sugathe the night before we went and he quoted me roughly the same price as Hans has just said.

In terms of tips, make sure you use the toilet before you get into the land rover. Also, as I said before, unless you've got kids with you or a bad back, go for a standard vehicle rather than a luxury one.

Good luck and I hope you have a great time in there and see lots of wildlife.

Donald

8. Re: Safari guide experience and advice in Yala (Sugathe safari)

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