Top 10 Things To Do In Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka has 8 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, wonderful wildlife, stunning scenery and beautiful beaches. There are so many things to do in Sri Lanka – here are my top ten.
I was seduced by Sri Lanka when I visited a few years ago and have vowed to go back with my family to show them why. Although located in the Indian Ocean, it doesn’t feel like a paradise island such as Mauritius or Maldives. However, that’s not a bad thing, Sri Lanka actually offers so much more than white sandy beaches and year round sunshine – there are so many wonderful things to do in Sri Lanka.
There are a staggering eight UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Sri Lanka. You can climb a 660-feet tall rock fortress, marvel at 150 Buddha statues and frescoes inside five small caves, or visit the sacred Temple of the Tooth Relic. The wildlife is impressive too. Sri Lanka is home to the highest concentration of leopards in the world and it is one of the best places to see elephants – there are almost 6,000 of them in Sri Lanka. Of course no visit to Sri Lanka would be complete without some chill time on one of its amazing beaches.
Here are my top 10 things to do in Sri Lanka.
1. Climb Sigiriya
One of my top things to do in Sri Lanka is to climb Sigiriya. This massive rock fortress is located in the middle of a rain forest. What makes it even more extraordinary is that a palace was built on the summit in the 5th century! I struggled to climb it with a small backpack, I cannot fathom how people carried materials up 1202 steps in 35 degree heat, and built a palace!
The climb is manageable for most fitness levels, however the staircase is not the most secure I have ever seen, so it is suitable for the faint hearted or anyone with a remote fear of heights! When I reached the top, the views were spectacular and I felt a great sense of achievement. I would highly recommend to climb Sigiriya if visiting Sri Lanka.
2. Visit the Tea Plantations
Not only are Sri Lanka’s Tea Plantations a remarkable sight, but the scenic drive to get there is pretty impressive too. If your budget allows stay at the Ceylon Tea Trails, it is one of the best hotels I have ever stayed in. You can even catch a seaplane to your next stop! This may sound extravagant but it will save you valuable time to get to your next destination, and the views from the air are superb.
3. Visit some of the many temples
There are several extraordinary temples to see in Sri Lanka, deciding which ones to visit will probably depend on your itinerary. If possible visit Dambulla caves in the middle of Sri Lanka’s cultural centre. There are over 150 Buddha statues and frescoes, inside five small caves.
The Temple of the Tooth Relic in Kandy is probably the most well known, although personally I preferred Dambulla. However the Temple of the Tooth Relic is an authentic working temple with ceremonies taking place each day. If you can try to visit during the evening you will see the temple lit up and may even see a prayer ceremony. Polonnaruwa is another top temple to visit in Sri Lanka, although we were unable to see it during our visit.
4. Go on an elephant safari
An elephant safari is without a doubt one of top things to do in Sri Lanka – there are almost 6000 elephants here. Kaudulla and Minneriya National Parks are located in the cultural centre and thousands of elephants are able to roam freely between the two parks. No matter what season you visit, you are almost guaranteed to see elephants, but if you can go between June – October you will likely see 200 elephants gather at the watering hole in Minneriya National Park, a truly remarkable sight.
5. Stay in Colombo
Although not typically one of the top things to do in Sri Lanka, I think all good holidays in Sri Lanka should start with an over-night stay in Colombo. Sri Lanka’s roads are not its strongest selling point and regardless of where you are visiting you will probably have a long transfer from the airport. Why not rest your bones after your long flight and start fresh the following day. There are some super hotels in Colombo and prices are reasonable. We stayed in the Movenpick Colombo and it was superb. Colombo also has a cosmopolitan side, with modern shops, restaurants and cafes, but if you rwant to see the real Colombo, book a city tour with a local guide.
6. Visit Galle
Another of Sri Lanka’s UNESCO World Heritage sites, visiting the fort of Galle is one of the top things to do in Sri Lanka. Once an old Dutch trading port, Galle’s fort is a sight to behold. A walled city, surrounded by the ocean, you can not help but fall in love with Galle. It is easy to navigate and you will love exploring its quaint boutiques, stylish cafes and restored boutique hotels. If you wander a little further along the coast you may spot the iconic stick fishermen.
7. Take the train from Kandy to Ella
Unfortunately I didn’t have time to take this train journey myself, but if you have time, try to do this. Not only is it the best train journey to take in Sri Lanka, but arguably it is one of the world’s best scenic train rides. You will see unrivalled views of the tea plantations, rolling hills and pretty villages. You will also cross over Sri Lanka’s famous nine arch bridge.
You may have seen many images of people hanging out of the train doors, this may look cool, but the train journey takes seven hours! It is nice to have a seat, so make sure you book a first-class ticket to guarantee to get a seat.
8. Search for leopards in Yala National Park
There are more leopards in Yala National Park than anywhere else in the world. That being said, I didn’t see one when I visited! Yala is located on Sri Lanka’s south coast so it is easily combined with a beach stay. There is also a local airport close by so you don’t have to endure long bus transfers.
9. Go whale watching in Mirissa
Sri Lanka’s southern town of Mirssa is famous for its sightings of blue whales. It is rare to see the world’s largest mammal swim so close to shore. January to April is the best time to see them, but watch out, it can be crowded. Make sure to book your whale watching tour well in advance with a responsible tour agency.
10. Chill out at the beach
Sri Lanka has so many beautiful beaches, deciding on which one to visit can be difficult. However Sri Lanka has two monsoon seasons, May to December in the South West and October to January in the North East. Once you are aware of this you can choose the right beach location to suit your visit. Another thing to note is that some of the beaches on the south coast forbid swimming if the currents are too strong.
We stayed in the superb Jungle Beach Hotel on Sri Lanka’s east coast. The beach was empty most of the time, the water was the perfect temperature and the sunsets were sublime! I should also point out that I visited Sri Lanka during October, travelled the length and breadth of the country and saw no rain for my entire trip!