For a long time, Sri Lanka was a place travelers passed over on their way to India or Southeast Asia. The island has had its fair share of troubles, but recently it’s become one of the top travel destinations in the world. Although relatively small, the country is packed full of UNESCO World Heritage Sites and diverse landscapes. With its alluring natural beauty, exotic wildlife, fascinating cultures, and vibrant cities, there are plenty of adventures waiting for you in Sri Lanka.
This ancient fortress emerges from a massive rock column that stands over 600 feet high, and it’s one of the most dramatic landmarks in the country. The only way to get to Sigiriya is to climb to the top. Luckily, there are stairs you can take, but they’re so vertical they might as well be ladders. Although it’s a tough walk up, you’ll see beautiful art made by members of the ancient Kassapa Kingdom along the way. Sigiriya is also surrounded by lush jungle, small villages, and picturesque farms, making it the perfect place to spend the day exploring.
A trip to Yala National Park is a must while you’re visiting Sri Lanka. Apart from the beautiful native flora Sri Lanka has to offer, the park is also home to leopards, and there’s a good chance you’ll see one while you’re there! Take a guided tour of the park and enjoy close encounters with monkeys, monitor lizards, elephants, and crocodiles.
Sri Pada, also known as Adam’s Peak, is a tall mountain located in southern Sri Lanka. Sri Pada stands out as the highest peak in a mostly forested region, and it’s a place of pilgrimage from December to May. Start early and follow one of the many paths leading to the top of the mountain. There you’ll find the Sri Pada temple, but be warned that it may be closed if you make the climb outside of the usual pilgrimage months. Once you’ve climbed to the top and back, spend a few days in Nallathanniya, a small village at the foot of the mountain.
Polonnaruwa is Sri Lanka’s second oldest kingdom, and although it used to be a busy commercial and spiritual center, today it remains as an impressive archaeological park. Plan on spending an entire day exploring Polonnaruwa. With well-preserved tombs, stupas, and monuments, the ancient city is a great place to spend the day learning more about Sri Lanka’s history. Pay for a guided tour, walk around on your own, or rent a bike and explore the area on two wheels.
Another one of Sri Lanka’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites, Galle is a city with an atmosphere unlike anywhere else in the country. Built by Dutch colonizers in the 1600s, the city is a stunning example of east meeting west. Walking around Galle, you’ll find fantastic museums, imposing colonial architecture, and beautiful mansions. There are also plenty of cute boutiques and fine dining options to keep you busy during your stay.
Sri Lanka is famous for its tea plantations, and it’s one of the world’s leading tea producers. While you’re in the country, you need to hike through the tea estates surrounding the city of Nuwara Eliya. The lush green rolling hills and cool climate make it as close to paradise as it gets. Stay a few nights in Nuwara Eliya and spend your days hiking through the countryside, snapping breathtaking pictures, and sipping some of the finest tea in the world.
When you want to see some sleepy towns and super secluded spots, touring the small islands off the northern coast of Sri Lanka is the way to do it. Neduntivu is the largest of the islands, and it’s home to about 4,000 people and a bunch of wild horses. The main sights to see are the old Dutch fortress and the ancient Chola Dynasty temple built over 1,000 years ago. Another notable island is the much smaller Nainativu, which is where you can see the Hindu Nagapooshani Amman Temple.
Apart from Galle, Kandy is one of the most famous cities in Sri Lanka. The breathtakingly beautiful tropical city was once the capital of Sri Lanka and the home of the Sri Lankan monarchy. Surrounded by green hills and tea plantations, the city is a cultural and spiritual hub for Sri Lankans. One place you must visit is there is The Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic, one of Buddhism’s most sacred sites. Head into the Kandy palace complex to see Buddha’s tooth relic and the stunning temple that houses it.
There’s plenty to explore in Sri Lanka, but you should still plan on spending some time relaxing on its beaches and soaking up some sun. Arugam Bay is the beach of choice for younger tourists and backpackers. Chill out in the bars, meet some friendly locals, and swim in the pristine water. This is also where the best surfers come to catch some waves, and you can even take surf lessons while you’re there.
Another must-see Sri Lankan park is the Udawalawe National Park. Located next to the Udawalawe Reservoir, the park is an elephant rescue and rehabilitation center. Unlike other elephant orphanages, the Elephant Transfer Home cares for its elephants while giving them as little human interaction as possible. This way, the elephants can be successfully rehabilitated and released back into the wild. Although you won’t be able to meet the elephants, you can get pretty close and watch them being fed, which is adorable enough!