Taking out the top country spot on the Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2019, Sri Lanka is a lesser-known travel destination that should definitely be on your radar. Lush jungles, picture-perfect beaches, ancient temples and incredible treks are just the tip of what makes this country a must visit. Here are our pick of the top 10 things to do in Sri Lanka.
Visit Ancient Temples
Sri Lanka is home to six cultural UNESCO world heritage sites and many more ancients sites that just didn’t make the list. One of the most impressive structures in Sri Lanka, and beyond, is the Sigiriya Rock Fortress. Constructed for King Kasyapa around 477 – 495 CE the fortress is built atop an almost 200m high rock. The enormous rock was carved and decorated with colourful frescoes along the sides and the Ancient city of Sigiriya was built on top. It is one of the most impressive and best-preserved examples of ancient urban planning.
Go on Safari in a National Park
Like its ancient temples, Sri Lanka has no shortage of National Parks. Well-renown for its tropical forests and abundant wildlife, taking a safari is a must do in Sri Lanka. You’ll likely spot rare and exotic animals you’d otherwise only see in a zoo, like leopards. You can see them in a number of the national parks but the highest population of leopards, and where you’ll have the best chance of seeing them, is in the Yala National Park.
You can also head out on Safari in the Minneriya and Horton Plains National Parks, to spot elephants, crocodiles and a variety of bird and reptile species.
Get up close with Elephants (in a responsible way)
If you want a more up-close encounter with elephants, than what you get on a safari, why not visit an elephant sanctuary or orphanage. Remember that when interacting with wild animals it’s important that they are not being forced to entertain or interact with you. Instead of riding elephants for your pleasure you can look for mutually beneficial interactions, like feeding or bathing them while volunteering. One of the best sanctuaries is the Elephant Transit Home, here orphaned elephants are raised and aided until they can be released back into the wild.
A cultural UNESCO World Heritage-listed site, Kandy is as sweet a city to visit as the name implies. The last capital of the ancient kings’ era of Sri Lanka, Kandy is now the Capital of the Central Provence and serves as both an administrative and religious city. One of the biggest drawcards for the city is the Temples of Tooth. The temple is one of the most sacred places of worship for Buddhists. You can enjoy cultural shows, and if the timing of your visit is right, be part of the Esala Perahera Festival. After exploring the temples and streets of this ancient Kindom you can head into the surrounding hills to visit a tea plantation, another to do in Sri Lanka.
Visit a tea plantation
One for the tea lovers! Explore the vibrant green tea terraces of one of Sri Lanka’s tea estates. Take a tuk-tuk, taxi or, for the athletically inclined, a bike to discover these green fields. Watch the pickers go about their work and why not buy a few samples to take home with you.
Take a Polonnaruwa City Tour
Another fallen city is the Ancient City of Polonnaruwa. The second capital of Sri Lanka now lays as some of its most impressive ruins. The site is famous for its gardens, giant buddhas, carvings and stunning temples. The impressively high stone walls and perfectly carved giant Buddhas will have you believing the ancient kings were giants! The best way to discover Polonnaruwa is on a guided walking or bike tour.
Relax and Surf in Arugam Bay
This sleepy little surf town is one of the biggest drawcards along Sri Lanka’s South-East coast. Life runs at a different pace in Arugam Bay, a slower pace. It’s a place where you can relax and recharge at a yoga or wellness centre. Spend the day at the beach snoozing in a hammock or catching perfect waves. Close to ancient ruins and National Parks, it’s also a good place to set up base to explore the surrounds.
For more on Arugam bay check out our article on why Arugam Bay is one of Asia’s top destinations.
Trek to Ella Rock
For those who like to explore on foot, there are plenty of incredible treks around Sri Lanka to discover. One of the most photographed, and for good reason, is definitely the Trek to Ella Rock. Starting at a train station in the quaint little town of Ella, the trek leads through lush growth, along train tracks, over stunning bridges all the way to the top of Ella Rock. It’s a roughly four-hour trek but worth every minute for the rewarding views along the way.
Explore the Royal Botanical Gardens
Find some shade and take a leisurely walk through the stunningly colourful Royal Botanical gardens, Peradeniya. Less than 6km out of Kandy, the Botanical garden is renown for its collection of orchids. The origins of the gardens date back to the kings of Sri Lanka, and walking around these perfect grounds you’ll feel like royalty.
Surrounded by ocean, Sri Lanka is heavy on the seafood. And with the quality and abundance of such fresh seafood, it’ll be all you want to eat while you’re there! Crab curries, fish fry, squid, whatever your seafood-loving heart desires! With a cuisine not dissimilar to that of India, you’ll also find plenty of delicious vegetarian and meat options. If seafood isn’t your thing.
This is not Sri Lanka’s first top spot award, in 2017 it was given the title of the “Best Adventure Travel Destination” at the World Travel Awards Asia & Australia. To discover what makes Sri Lanka so incredible for yourself, click here to start planning your visit!
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