It doesn’t matter what you are looking for in a trip, Sri Lanka is sure to have it. There are endless beaches for the beachgoers, ancient ruins for those who are interested in history, and elephants for animal lovers. There’s surfing and watersports for the active ones among us and there’s tea, local drinks and delicious food for the foodies. All of this is cheap compared to a lot of other destinations, so it’s easy to see why it has gained popularity in recent years. Let me tell you the best places to visit in Sri Lanka, based on my experience.
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Places Everyone Should Visit In Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka is home to beautiful scenery, tranquil beaches, vast national parks, and some of the world’s most impressive wildlife. There are a number of guide books offering help and advice in Sri Lanka, giving itineraries and detailing where to go, when to go, and how to get there. However, that’s not where Sri Lanka stops. There’s actually a lot more to the country than the guidebooks say.
Before my trip, I made time to know more about the country as a whole and sourced out places that guide books often forget about. Not only did I want to see things that many other people hadn’t, but I wanted to ensure I got a real feel for the country. As a destination that’s relatively new to holidaymakers and travelers, a lot of it is untouched and has yet to be commercialized. Though I wanted to see the major sights and sounds of the cities, I also wanted to explore the more remote and unique areas. This is why I made it my goal to seek out hidden places, many of which I have listed below.
If you are looking for a backpacker vibe in Sri Lanka, Aragum Bay is the ideal place to head. Without being too crowded or too centered around tourists, Aragum Bay has a lot to offer anyone who is interested in chilling out and getting to know the locals. Time in Aragum Bay is spent relaxing in a hammock, drinking local drinks, and surfing. It’s a big stop for surfers and it’s one of the top areas to head, but that doesn’t take away from the chilled-out and relaxed vibe.
The Hill Country
A lot of people don’t realize that Sri Lanka is one of the world’s top tea producers and it’s famed for its high-quality leaves, so one of the tea regions should be a key stop for anyone visiting the country. The Hill Country boasts stunning backdrops and landscapes, filled with tea plantations and colonial towns. It’s a lot greener with more vegetation than many other areas in Sri Lanka, which makes it a unique find. The Hill Country is one area of Sri Lanka that doesn’t feel like Sri Lanka at all.
Adam’s Peak is considered to be one of the top attractions in Sri Lanka, but it’s still one that a lot of people miss out on. If you get the opportunity to check out the peak then you will not be disappointed. Adam’s Peak is the most sacred site in Sri Lanka, with thousands of pilgrims making their pilgrimage for two months of the year. It’s all about paying homage to the first place that Adam stepped on Earth, after being placed there from Heaven. Regardless of whether you are religious or not and regardless of whether you are familiar with the story of Adam, the experience of Adam’s Peak is one that you won’t forget. The Adam’s Peak climb is a workout, but it doesn’t require any special skills or training. Therefore hiking novices can certainly reach the top without too much trouble.
Yala National Park
You can’t go to Sri Lanka and miss out on Yala National Park. Though Sri Lanka is home to a tonne of fantastic parks and outdoor spaces, Yala National Park is one of the very few places in the world where leopards can be spotted in the wild. If you ask anyone who has visited Sri Lanka, they will tell you that Yala National Park is up there as one of the key things to do. There’s a tonne of wildlife to stop including elephants, monkeys, jackals, crocodiles, and lizards. You can enjoy four-wheeling and safari trucks, but it still feels very much like a hidden gem thanks to its tranquility and nature.
Udawalawe National Park
Similar to Yala National Park, Udawalawe National Park is also worth a visit. It’s a great way to get away from the busy towns and cities that Sri Lanka has to offer, offering an escape and hidden activities. Udawalawe National Park is home to a fantastic elephant sanctuary and impressive treks. Sri Lanka really does have an abundance of wildlife that you won’t experience elsewhere and so heading to Udawalawe National Park is worthwhile for anyone.
Sigiriya Rock Fortress
You don’t have to do too much research to find out that Sigiriya Rock Fortress is one of the most well-known and famous things to do in Sri Lanka, but that’s not to say that it isn’t somewhat of a hidden find. It’s an impressive archaeological site of great importance, something that you are sure to find out within minutes of being there. If you have seen any photographs of Sri Lanka, there’s a high chance you will have seen Sigiriya Rock Fortress. It’s extremely recognizable, even to those who have not yet visited the country. Sigiriya Rock Fortress is surrounded by jungle, villages, farms, and wildlife such as crocodiles and monkeys. You really get the feeling of traveling back in time, seeing Sri Lanka as it once was. It’s ideal for anyone who enjoys history and the great outdoors.
A lot of people head to Sri Lanka to hike and with good reason. Simply, there is no shortage of treks and hikes for you to choose from. One of which is Pidurangala. Pidurangala is ideal for sunset hikes and it offers fantastic views of the Sigiriya Rock Fortress. You’ll find yourself on top of a large mountain, looking down at spectacular views of the surrounding areas.
The town of Ella is a unique find in Sri Lanka, as it’s not like being in Sri Lanka at all. Rather than being adorned with what you would usually expect to find in a Sri Lankan town, Ella has more of an English feel including a country village, red phone booths, and horse tracks. There’s a popular trek in Ella, one that leads you to Ella Rock. Though the trek itself is located 5 kilometers outside of the town, it’s worth doing if you are there anyway. From Ella Rock, you will see beautiful views of the countryside and the tea regions. However, the hike is somewhat challenging.
As Sri Lanka’s second oldest kingdom, it’s easy to see why so many people head to this hidden spot. Polonnaruwa dates back to 1070, far earlier than many of Sri Lanka’s other historic sites. It has been recognized for its age and history, and it’s now a World Heritage Site. Interestingly, people still live on the land surrounding Polonnaruwa. There are many monuments still standing in Polonnaruwa and though it’s smaller than many of the other ruins around in Sri Lanka, it’s still extremely impressive.
A lot of people make the mistake of assuming that Sri Lanka is all jungle and farmland, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. In Sri Lanka, you will find a number of beautiful beaches and this includes the beach town of Una Watuna. As the major highway bypasses Una Watuna, you can access the town without the worry of traffic and without combing into any problems on the narrow lanes. It’s a prime example of a Sri Lankan beach town, with local fishermen working and fantastic beaches for you to enjoy.
Why Choose Sri Lanka as a Holiday Destination?
For a number of years, Sri Lanka was unheard of as a holiday destination. A lot of people travel through Sri Lanka on their way to other places. Until recently, it wasn’t a place where people took the time to specifically head to. Now, it’s come into its own. As a country, Sri Lanka has a lot to offer and therefore it didn’t take long for people to realize that it was a place worth visiting. Sri Lanka boasts a combination of history, culture, and beauty. Arguably, the three things that most people look for in a new place to visit.
Regardless of whether you are wanting to add another country to a long backpacking trip or you want to head somewhere different on a shorter holiday, you can’t go wrong with a trip to Sri Lanka. I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Sri Lanka and so I may be slightly biased, but I feel as though most people would agree with me on many points. Sri Lanka has a little bit of everything, it’s just a case of traveling around and knowing where to stop. Traveling in Sri Lanka isn’t as difficult as you may first assume, as it’s slowly learning to accommodate general tourism and backpackers. There are a lot of guide books and resources online, so finding out anything you need to know before you travel is easy.
Visiting and Planning a Trip to Sri Lanka
There are a ton of fantastic guide books and resources to browse before heading off to Sri Lanka, but it’s always helpful to think about recommendations from those who have already been. Before going to Sri Lanka, I had a rough idea of what I wanted to see and what I wanted to do. However, I added to things along the way. Sometimes a backpacker would recommend a ‘must-see’ site or a holidaymaker would recommend a beautiful beach. Though it is always good to have an idea of what’s in store when you visit somewhere for the first time, don’t be afraid to head off the beaten track. This is where you will find hidden places, rare finds and it’s where you’ll get a real feel for the country itself. After all, a lot of the main attractions are commercialized and popular with tourists. By making time for the hidden places, you will see another side of Sri Lanka.
The country is vast, meaning you may have to travel a fair amount to see everything you want to see. By noting down a vague itinerary, it’s a lot easier to make sure that you hit up everything you want to experience along the way. No one wants to get to a new destination, only to realize they missed something in the last one. By no means do you need to check out all of the best-hidden places I have mentioned above, but definitely take the time to see as much as possible. They won’t all be things that you have an interest in or the funds to do – or even have time for if you are in Sri Lanka for a short amount of time – but they all come highly recommended. Think about what you want to get out of your time in Sri Lanka and plan your stops accordingly.
For more information about Sri Lanka, listen to Travel to Sri Lanka – Amateur Traveler Episode 667