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Top 9 things to see and do in Sri Lanka



Top 10 things to see and do in Sri Lanka

Top 10 things to see and do in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka, the “Pearl of the Indian Ocean“, is experiencing a renaissance. Tourists have been flocking to the island since one of the luxury beach resorts was featured on Made in Chelsea earlier this year.

Although small, not much bigger than Wales, Sri Lanka has ancient cities, Buddhist ruins, hillside tea plantations, nature reserves and beautiful beaches.

We choose our 10 favorite activities.

Climb Sigiriya

The ancient rock fortress of Sigiriya near the town of Dambulla is a great example of an ancient urban enterprise. The ruins of the 5th century palace built by King Kaspaya are at an altitude of 200 meters. Visitors can climb to the top via a dizzying set of stairs that lead to a lion-shaped gate with huge stone legs carved into the rock. King Kaspaya’s palace, later used as a Buddhist monastery, is decorated with colorful frescoes depicting celestial nymphs (or possibly King Kaspaya’s concubines). The surrounding landscape with its water gardens and lush forests really adds to the drama and has made Sigiriya one of Sri Lanka’s World Heritage Sites.

Explore the ancient kingdom of Polonnaruwa

The ancient city of Polunnaruwa, now a World Heritage Site, was built in the 11th and 12th centuries AD. It was once a thriving metropolis with great buildings, beautiful parks and even a 25 km² lake, but in the 13th century AD. It had become irrelevant and was finally abandoned. Today, the ruins of the city are a popular tourist attraction and offer great photo opportunities. This includes the 13-meter high royal palace, which once had 50 rooms on seven floors. Today, most of the structure is an empty shell of crumbling walls, but it is still a very impressive sight. There are also numerous Buddha statues around Polunnaruwa, most of which are in different states. However, the four Buddhas of Gal Vihara, carved from a single slab of granite, are in almost mint condition.

Tip: One of the most enjoyable ways to explore the ancient ruins is by bicycle, which can be rented from nearby inns and cafes.

Attend a religious ceremony at Sri Dalada Maligawa

Sri Dalada Maligawa, also known as the Temple of the Holy Tooth, is a Buddhist temple in the city of Kandy in central Sri Lanka. Located in the royal palace complex of the former kingdom of Kandy, it houses the Buddha’s tooth relic, which according to legend was recovered by his disciple Khema shortly before his cremation.


The interior of the temple is richly decorated in white, red and gold and has several colorful murals depicting elephants in procession. In the evenings, you can watch the Kandyan dance, a ceremonial dance accompanied by drummers dressed in red and white.

By train from Kandy to Ella

The distinctive blue and red train that makes the daily journey from Kandy to Ella is a great way to experience Sri Lanka’s varied and dramatic landscapes. The express train takes about six hours (with many stops along the way), and along the way you’ll pass waterfalls, misty mountains, dense forests, and locals who enjoy the lush green pastures of tea plantations.

Although you can book a seat in advance, you’ll get more out of your trip if you buy an economy ticket on the day, which costs just 240 rupees (less than £2), and pop it into one of the bus doors. The views are worth sacrificing your seat for, and you can also experience a welcome breeze as you drive away from the incredible scenery.

Visit Udawalawe National Park

If you love elephants, Udawalawe National Park is one of the best places to see these majestic creatures in the wild. Sri Lanka’s elephant population has plummeted in the country thanks to a 2,000-year ivory trade. However, they are now a protected species and the approximately 200 elephants in Udawalawe National Park enjoy both freedom and protection. Located in the southern part of Sri Lanka, the park is also relatively small and significantly smaller than the neighboring Yala National Park. The park consists of a dense habitat of tributaries, forests and grasslands, a haven for more than 500 plant and animal species. In addition to elephants, deer and water buffalo, more mysterious mammals such as the rusty cat and sloth can be spotted.

Learn about Sri Lanka’s 150-year-old tea industry

Tea was first introduced to Sri Lanka during British colonial rule and today it has grown into a thriving industry with 28 varieties of Ceylon tea. Kandy is the birthplace of Ceylon tea, where it is grown at elevations between 2,000 and 4,000 feet, producing a relatively strong and richly colored beverage.


However, the best place to learn about the tea industry is not in Kandy, but in Nuwara Eliya, known for its cool climate, British colonial buildings and breathtaking landscapes. The area can be quite busy at times so it is best to visit Nuwara Eliya in the low season between June and February.

Several tea estates are open to visitors, including Mackwoods, founded in 1841. You can book a tour of the plantation, where you’ll learn about each stage of the tea-making process as you watch the workers in full swing. The tour itself is a bit disappointing, but the sights and drinks are worth the investment.

Practice yoga at a forest retreat

The forests of central Sri Lanka are home to Ulpotha Yoga & Ayurveda Retreat, which promises to transport you to a state of zen in the most stunning setting. The retreat is about a four-hour drive from the city of Columbo and covers 22 acres of woodland; home to macaque and langur monkeys. Different styles of yoga are offered (including Hatha, Sivananda, Iyengar and Astanga) and the locations range from an open-air ‘Yoga Shala’ to the top of Monkey Rock. The retreat encourages guests to relax, rejuvenate, and get close to nature, and there’s no pressure for yoga classes if you want some alone time. The retreat also has a warm heart: the Ayurvedic treatment center that serves paying guests funds a year-round free clinic for the surrounding villages.

Go dolphin and whale watching on the coast of Kalpitiya

Located in the less touristy north of Sri Lanka, Kalpitiya consists of 14 islands and is an excellent place to view dolphins and whales in their natural habitat. See huge pods of dolphins, sometimes thousands, surfing the waves in perfect sync. These curious and playful dolphins can often be seen swimming alongside boats and jumping out of the water to show off their acrobatic skills. As you move further offshore on your cruise, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to observe sperm whales as they swim to the surface and show off their distinctive tail fins as they return to the ocean’s depths. If you’re really lucky you might even spot a blue whale, a rarity as they usually avoid coastal areas.

Sail to tranquility in Arugam Bay

Arugam Bay on the southeast coast of Sri Lanka is one of the best surfing spots on the island. The moon-shaped bay draws a laid-back crowd eager to get a taste of the water playground of the Indian Ocean. Surfers flock to The Point, where the waves can reach six feet. However, there are many (quieter) areas where you can enjoy a surfing paradise, including Crocodile Rock and Pottuvil Point, a long, deserted beach dotted with huge boulders by the sea. If you’re not worried about catching the best waves, visit Arugam Bay in the low season (November to April) when the area is quiet and peaceful. Please note that some shops and restaurants may be closed at this time of year.

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