Making it big in travel world right now, Sri Lanka is brimming with adventure. Whether you’re looking to explore ancient cities, hit the surf at screensaver-ready beaches or hike through pristine hinterland, this island has an unforgettable experience for you. Not sure what to do first? We’ve found ten ideas that’ll kick-start your Sri Lanka getaway…
Related article: Sri Lanka: A perfect honeymoon paradise for any couple
Hike to Sigiriya Rock Fortress
Thrill-seekers and keen hikers, this is for you. One of Sri Lanka’s most treasured attractions, Sigiriya Rock Fortress in the Central Province is mandatory viewing. Built over 1,000 years ago by King Kasyapa, the UNESCO World Heritage-listed site went on to become an ancient Buddhist monastery. History aside, it’s the views that draws travellers from around the world.
Climb the fortress’s 1,200 steps and you’ll be rewarded with a breathtaking outlook, plus exquisitely colourful frescoes painted thousands of years ago. Our advice? This is a popular monument, so arrive early (Sigiriya Rock Fortress opens at 7am) to avoid the crowds.
Hop aboard the Kandy to Ella train
You’ve probably seen plenty of intrepid travellers admiring the passing views from the well-known Kandy to Ella train on Instagram, but it’s a popular experience for a reason. Arguably one of the world’s most beautiful train journeys, it navigates its way through emerald tea fields, lush jungles and rolling mountainscapes – amazing!
To avoid any hassles, definitely book early if you’re visiting in peak season (around Christmas and New Year) as tickets can go weeks in advance. Also, at seven hours long, it’s a fairly lengthy journey. To make the most of your getaway, catch the train for a little sightseeing and spend some time in either Kandy or Ella.
Visit Udawalawe National Park
An incredible natural wonderland, Sri Lanka is, unsurprisingly, home to seriously spectacular wildlife. Elephants, leopards, sloth bears, exotic birds – there are plenty of brilliant creatures to spot here.
A fabulous place for animal-lovers, Udawalawe National Park on the boundary of the Sabaragamuwa and Uva Provinces makes for an exceptional day-trip. Set within expansive grasslands and dense jungle, it’s where around 500 wild elephants live. There are also monkeys, water buffaloes, peacocks and rare jungle cats to spot, plus crocodiles and enchanting spotted deer. Join a guided safari tour and prepare to be mesmerised.
Go chasing waterfalls
If you’re seeking soul-stirring sights, fit in time for visiting Sri Lanka’s mysterious waterfalls. Spread across the island, there’s a slew of excellent options (over 400 to be exact) that seem straight out of an adventure novel.
Top waterfalls include the wide Baker’s Falls in Horton Plains, the 263-metre Bambarakanda Falls (Sri Lanka’s tallest) in Kalupahana, the mist-shouded Dunhinda Falls in Badulla (pictured) and the tea field-surrounded St. Clairs Waterfall in Tawalantenne.
Explore the tea fields
If Sri Lanka is known for one thing, chances are it’d be its extraordinary tea fields. Seeming to rise and fall in rippled jade-green waves, they’re well worth checking out before hopping back on the plane.
For a magical experience, head for Sri Lanka’s hill country and spend the day at one of the region’s many tea plantations. In Kandy, enjoy an insightful tour (complete with tea tasting, of course) at a local tea factory. Or, go all-out and treat yourselves to a luxe stay at Ceylon Tea Trails in Bogawantalawa (‘the Golden Valley’). Want to just take in some stunning views? Make your way to the Lipton’s Seat lookout (pictured) in the Badulla District. Where the Scottish tea baron Sir Thomas Lipton used to survey his tea empire, this heavenly spot looks out over to seven different provinces – impressive stuff!
Chill out in Mirissa
It’s not all tea fields and rugged hinterland in Sri Lanka. A tropical island just off the coast of India, this wonderful destination is also blessed with gold-sand beaches.
A winner for postcard-perfect scenery and terrific surf (surfers, add this beach to your itinerary), Mirissa Beach in Sri Lanka’s south promises a fantastic getaway. Chill out in its crystalline waters, watch cheeky monkeys snack on mangoes, relax with a cold beer under a swaying palm or feast on fragrant green curry on the beach after sunset – paradise found!
Marvel at Gal Vihara
You really can’t come to Sri Lanka without visiting its time-forgotten temples – the Matale District’s Dambulla Royal Cave Temple and Kandy’s Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic are local favourites.
To be truly stopped in your tracks, set your sights for Gal Vihara in the island’s North Central Province. A rock Buddhist temple situated in the ancient city of Polonnaruwa, this 12th-century monument features giant statues carved into the face of a large granite rock (one measuring at 14-metres long). Needless to say, it’s a sight that will leave you feeling humbled.
Wander through Galle’s streets
Culture-vultures and couples seeking a unique souvenir or two, make visiting Galle a priority. A UNESCO World Heritage-listed site, the historic coastal city in Sri Lanka’s southwest is a go-to for romantics.
The best way to see everything? Wander hand-in-hand along Galle’s winding laneways and discover charming Dutch-colonial buildings, ancient mosques, elegant mansions, cafes and boutiques. Once a trading port used by the Portuguese and, later, the Dutch and the British, the city is beloved for its museums and historical sites.
Admire the views at Nine Arch Bridge
The other Sri Lankan sight you’ve probably seen all over Instagram, Ella’s Nine Arch Bridge affords epic scenery. Rising 24 metres above palm-filled jungle, this iconic sight is the place to go for a happy snap – you know, if it takes your fancy.
Also worth seeing while in the area, Little Adam’s Peak will be a highlight for hikers. At 2,243 metres, the mountain isn’t exactly little but it offers up phenomenal 360-degree mountain views.
Try the food
It goes without saying that trying the local cuisine is a must-do while visiting a destination. Gourmands will be in their element in Sri Lanka, with so many enticing dishes on offer across the island.
Galle and the capital of Colombo are great for super-fresh seafood cooked with mouthwatering spices, belly-filling curries, delicious street-food and outstanding fine dining. In the central regions, expect fiery meat and vegetarian dishes with coconut roti – yes, please!
Dreaming of an adventure-packed getaway? Check out our ‘adventure’ travel stories here…