The mango-shaped island of Sri Lanka, nestled in the Indian Ocean, may be modest in size but it’s packed full of wonders for travellers.
Here’s our ultimate guide of things to do in Sri Lanka.
- Anuradhapura: The majestic remains of this ancient capital include palaces, stupas, temples and Sri Maha Bodhiya – the world’s oldest documented tree, grown from a sapling of the Buddha’s Bhodi tree.
- Central Highlands: Wander around this biodiversity hotspot, noting the extraordinary variety of flora and fauna that’s crucial to the endemic species that dwell here.
- Dambulla Cave Temples: Tucked beneath a rocky outcrop, these cave temples shelter over 157 statues, plus a number of delicate, intricate religious murals over the walls and ceilings.
- Galle Fort: The coastal ramparts, colonial villas and rambling streets in the Dutch fort of Galle make up one of Sri Lanka’s most atmospheric towns, and are a striking fusion of colonial and traditional architecture.
- Sacred City of Kandy: The picturesque town of Kandy is a cultural sanctuary housing the magnificent Temple of the Tooth and the Sacred Tooth Relic of the Buddha.
- Polonnaruwa: Sri Lanka’s second oldest kingdom, ancient Polonnaruwa houses an impressive collection of ruins and possibly the finest collection of Sinhalese art and architecture. Don’t miss the huge, reclining Buddha.
- Sigiriya: Sri Lanka’s best-known site, the stunning palace-fortress perches on a towering outcrop in the centre of the island. Visit the beautiful Sigiriya frescoes on the way up, and marvel at the spectacular water gardens at the top.
- Singharaja Rainforest: This biodiversity hotspot is a treasure trove for wildlife lovers, housing over 50% of the endemic species of Sri Lanka, including trees, birds, mammals, insects and reptiles.
- Adam’s Peak: Take a pilgrimage to Adam’s Peak in the Hill Country. This lofty mountain has a large footprint in the side, believed alternatively to be the footprint of Adam, Buddha, or even Lord Shiva.
- Tea Country: Sri Lanka is one of the most important tea producers worldwide and the Hill Country, with colonial houses dotting the lush landscape, is truly stunning. Take a tour, and get a free cuppa in the process and give it a try to feel the art of tea plucking.
- Colombo: Sri Lanka’s capital is the perfect place to experience city life. Eat in some of the island’s best restaurants, sniff out bargains in the colourful Pettah bazaar, and enjoy the blossoms in Vihara Maha Devi Park.
- St Anthony’s Church, Kochikade: Sri Lanka’s spiritual intensity comes from its multi-denominational society where 4 religions mingle. This is evident here, where people from all 4 religions come to pray to St Anthony and request his assistance.
- Kandy Esala Perahera Festival: Held in July/August, this is one of Asia’s most spectacular festivals, featuring elaborately decorated elephants, drummers, dancing, fire, acrobats and a water ceremony.
- Kandyan Dancing & Drumming: A Kandyan performance features a variety of different dance forms depicting Sri Lankan folklore, and is accompanied by exuberant drumming and finished with a breathtaking fire display.
- Kataragama Night Ceremony: Kataragama is one of the island’s most sacred sites with the temple complex housing a Buddhist and Hindu temple. Every evening they hold the Puja, where offerings of fruit are made to the Gods in a colourful ceremony.
- Yala National Park: The biggest national park on Sri Lanka and your best chance to spot the elusive leopard. Even if you don’t, there’s an abundance of animals and birds here to keep you entertained.
- Minneriya National Park: Elephants are the principle attraction here. In the dry season, they’re drawn to the Minneriya Tank to drink, bathe and play in the water, and graze on the surrounding fresh grass.
- Uda Walawe National Park: Rivalling the best safari experiences in Africa, this national park is home to herds of elephants, wild buffalo, sambar deer and leopards. It’s also home to an elephant orphanage and rehabilitation centre.
- Talangama Wetlands: A few kilometres from Colombo, these urban wetlands are home to over 100 species of birds, as well as butterflies, dragonflies, and a number of small mammals.
- Whale Watching: Mirissa is the hub for whale watching, with a number of whales, including the magnificent blue whale, and several species of dolphin, all frequenting these waters.
- Kosgoda Turtle Hatchery: Five of the seven sea turtle species visit the coast of Sri Lanka to nest, and there are a number of hatcheries dedicated to protecting them. Kosgoda is the most well known. Here visitors can help release the tiny hatchlings into the sea.
- Birdwatching: A birdwatcher’s paradise, Sri Lanka is home to over 435 species of birds, including 33 endemic birds. The Sinharaja Rainforest Reserve, Uda Walawe and Yala National Parks, Kalametiya Bird Sanctuary, Bodhinagala Sanctuary and Kumana National Park are all excellent spots. December is National Birdwatching Month as it’s the best time of year.
- Surfing: Sri Lanka is a surfer’s paradise. Beginners head to Hikkaduwa beach on the southwest coast where the waves aren’t too intimidating and the sandy break catches your fall. If you’re more experienced, head to Arugam Bay, one of the best surf beaches in the world.
- Diving: The waters off Sri Lanka are home to an array of wonderful marine life, from the blue whale to tiny nudibranch, and there are a number of amazing sites to explore, including some great wreck sites teeming with marine life. There are several excellent dive centres catering for the beginner to experienced divers.
- Snorkelling: If you prefer pottering around with your snorkel, there are plenty of options around the island. Hikkaduwa, Weligama and Kirinda are excellent spots to snorkel, but the premier spot is Pigeon Island off Nilaveli on the east where there are excellent coral reefs.
- Windsurfing: The beach at Bentota is a magnet for windsurfers, especially between November and April. If you fancy cruising over the azure blue sea while overlooking a postcard-perfect beach, this is the spot.
- Kite Surfing at Kalpitiya: The peninsula at Kalpitiya is the ultimate kitesurfing destination on the island, with flat water lagoons for beginners and some excellent wave-riding spots at sea for the more experienced. Come here to learn the basics or try out some new skills.
- Fishing: The Indian Ocean surrounding Sri Lanka has some of the most challenging marine game fishing locations, so if you’re serious about hooking the fish of your life this could be the perfect place. For a more sedate experience, there’s an array of estuaries, lagoons and coastal lakes, perfect for anglers.
- Kayaking & Canoeing: With 103 rivers, plus a variety of lagoons, old canals and swamps, Sri Lanka provides the perfect opportunity to explore in relaxation on a canoe or kayak.
- White-Water Rafting: For a more thrilling experience, head to Kelani River at Kitulgala for a range of white-water rafting options suitable for people of all abilities and experience. One minute you can hear the pounding rush of water, and the next only birdsong breaks the silence.
- Hiking & Trekking: The Highlands offer a multitude of hiking and trekking opportunities. There are sacred mountains to explore, as well as virgin rainforests, gurgling waterfalls, lush tea gardens and clear hill-country air. The temperatures here are perfect for walking.
- Waterfall Trekking: For a trekking experience with a difference, try waterfall trekking in the rainforests at Kitulgala. Here you get up close and personal with stunning waterfall scenery by walking beneath the falls. It’s the perfect way to cool off at the end of a trek.
- Waterfall Abseiling: A relative newcomer to the adventure sports scene, waterfall abseiling involves navigating your way down a rope while water thunders down around you. One for serious adrenaline junkies.
- Mountain-Biking: Being modest in size, Sri Lanka is perfect for exploring by bike, and there are a number of cycling trails, cutting through a variety of landscapes. The circuit at the Sigiriya rock fortress is particularly rewarding.
- Rock Climbing: The mountains around the Hill Country provide a spectacular backdrop for rock climbers. Climb to head-spinning heights while rocks crumble beneath your feet. With a range of terrain, there are climbs suitable for beginners as well as experienced climbers.
Beaches & Relaxation
- Negombo: The closest beach to the airport, Negombo is a magnet for travel-weary visitors seeking a quick beach fix. It’s a stunning spot for a romantic sunset stroll, and the nearby fishing village has some fantastic seafood.
- Mirissa: Famous as the hub of whale and dolphin watching, Mirissa is worth visiting for the beach alone. It’s a vision of tropical paradise with a perfect arc of sand fringed by palm trees.
- Hikkaduwa: Hikkaduwa beach is a popular all-rounder, with visitors flocking here for sun, sea, sand and lots of fun. Lie in the sun, take a boat ride, or go diving or snorkelling along the reef.
- Passekudah Bay: Due to the offshore reef, this bay is the perfect spot for sea bathing. The ocean waves are much calmer and you can swim a long way from the shore.
- Arugam Bay: Famous for its surfing points that draw surfers here from across the world with waves up to 5 or 10 metres high depending on the conditions. As you would expect, the beach has a very laid-back vibe.
- Unawatuna: This pretty horseshoe-shaped beach may have suffered a little coastal erosion in recent years, but that doesn’t stop it from luring visitors with the promise of tropical relaxation. The town remains popular for after-beach entertainment.
- Tangalle: Nestled on the southern coast, the beaches at Tangalle are fairly low-key compared to some, but they’re picture-perfect. Enjoy the wide sandy beach and deep blue ocean.
- Ayurveda Treatment: The ancient science of Ayurveda – using herbal medicines and traditional techniques to promote holistic wellbeing – are widely used throughout the island. If you fancy a little pampering, head to Bentota where there are a string of hotels and spas dedicated to this ancient practice.
- Keerimalai Springs: Situated west of Palaly, the Keerimalai springs are believed to contain healing waters, which flows down through carbonated rocks and mixes with seawater at this spot. Pilgrims bathe here prior to worshipping at the adjoining Naguleswaram temple.
- Hot Air Ballooning: Get a birds’ eye view of the cultural triangle by jumping in a hot air balloon and soaring over Kandalama, Dambulla, and Sigiriya. Trips generally begin in the early morning so you can take in the sunrise before celebrating with a glass of bubbly.
- Take a Train Ride: A train ride in Sri Lanka is like stepping back in time. Chug slowly through the lush hills and valleys on a charmingly decrepit old train, and enjoy the superb scenery.
- Watch a Game of Cricket: Cricket is a national pastime in Sri Lanka so take the time to kick back and watch a game, whether it’s kids playing on a rough piece of ground or a test match at the vast R. Premadasa Stadium in Colombo.
- Have a Cuppa: The delightful colonial village of Ella in the Hill Country is a focus for tea lovers. Roam the lush plantations, inhale the fragrant aroma of the tea factories and sip a cup of their finest.
- Snack on a Hopper: A hopper is a small bowl-shaped pancake made from coconut milk and palm toddy. Various ingredients can be added – one of the most popular is a fried egg. They’re a tasty snack, usually enjoyed for breakfast or dinner.
- Eat Rice & Curry: Sri Lanka’s staple dish, there’s a mouthwatering selection of different curries to sample. Sri Lanka’s role as one of the original Spice Islands is obvious in their flavours – chillies, garlic, coconut milk, curry leaves, cinnamon and a variety of fish.
- Take a Cookery Class: If you’re curious to learn more about Sri Lankan food and take a taste of the island home, enrol in a cookery course. With courses ranging from traditional dishes to spicy offerings and seafood fare, you learn the skills and techniques before enjoying your own creations.
To book your dream trip to Sri Lanka, contact Tropical Vacations today.