Sri Lanka is a country rich in cultural sites and areas of outstanding natural beauty. Driving a matter of hours, the landscape completely changes from dry dusty land to green tea plantations. Beaches give way to endless forests; flat planes change to mountainous horizons; Buddhist temples make way for numerous world heritage sites.
During my three week trip to Sri Lanka, I managed to explore over two-thirds of the island, experiencing a whole variety of culture and activities. It was hard to pick just ten of my favourites moments, but here they are:
1. Kaudulla Safari Park
If you want to see elephants in their natural habitat, Kaudulla is definitely the place to visit.
Entering the park in an open top jeep, our eyes were peeled for any signs of life. But without too much trouble, we found hundreds of elephants relaxing by an expansive water hole.
The elephants seem oblivious to the hundreds of eyes watching them, as they play, eat and fight seemingly as normal.
2. Sigiriya Rock, Dambulla
Sigiriya Rock is as mystical as it is picturesque, being a magnificent rocky outcrop in expansive flat plains. There’s also some great history to learn about how a king committed suicide here, making it an all-round attraction.
Unfortunately when we visited, the wasps that call Sigiriya Rock home were very angry and started to attack visitors. Twice we began ascending and were forced to climb back down to take shelter.
Dressed in green plastic suits, we made it third time lucky. Sweating profusely, we quickly enjoyed the views at the top before escaping to safer areas below. The views were breathtaking and definitely worth the exertion!
3. Eating Local
I couldn’t write a post about Sri Lanka and not mention the food. I got excited (almost) every meal time, dreaming of the spicy curries which always came in abundance, the delicious fried snacks, or just for the fresh fruit juices – avocado was the best!
Rice and curry is the go-to choice for all meals in Sri Lanka. Although this might sound monotonous, you’re offered several curries to try, making every meal a feast! Just when you think you’ve finished, they fill the bowls again to show their hospitality. Every place had their own take on the classics as well, so the food never got boring.
My favourite was Jack fruit curry. The fruit once cooked has a meaty texture and taste, and combined with all the spices it was a mouthwatering dish. All my favourite curries were in fact vegetarian, as they used such a perfect array of spices, coconut milk and fresh vegetables that meat really wasn’t missed.
Admittedly curry for breakfast was a bit of a struggle, especially when served fishy tuna curry! But once I discovered dal and egg hoppers (fried pancake baskets with an egg in the middle), I was more than happy!
4. Arugam Bay
On the East coast of Sri Lanka, a surfer’s paradise beckons, offering lazy beach days, world-class waves and a buzzing town with huge character.
You don’t have to be a surfer to enjoy Arugam Bay, as there are endless beaches, chilled beach bars and plenty of luxurious hotels.
Read my full blog post on Arugam Bay to find out more.
5. Dambulla Cave temples
Featuring 161 Buddha statues in five small caves, Dambulla is an ancient place of worship, as beautiful today as it would have been back in the 1st Century.
The walls of the caves are lined with Buddhas of varying sizes and poses. Illuminated by small beams of artificial light, the statues stare out at you from the half light. With every minute sound being echoed, making the hushed whispers sound like mantras, it’s hard not to feel moved in such a place!
All the roofs also have paintings around the rugged rock. They were amazingly detailed considering it was a rugged stone surface and they would have had to be painted upside down.
6. Adam’s Peak, Sabaragamuwa
Nothing quite compares to conquering a mountain in darkness and watching dawn arrive at the summit.
Adam’s Peak is one of the tallest points in Sri Lanka, making it a challenging hike – especially as you tackle it in pitch blackness. It was a magical experience and although fog marred the views at the top, the clouds parted halfway down and we were rewarded with spectacular landscapes, illuminated by the early morning sun.
Read my full report on Adam’s Peak.
7. Little Adam’s Peak, Ella
Smaller in size but by no means less impressive, Little Adam’s Peak offers a great reward for very little effort. Taking only 30 minutes to reach the summit, it’s definitely an easier hike than Adam’s Peak.
The views from the top are beyond spectacular, offering a 360 degree perspective of the beautiful town of Ella and the surrounding expansive countryside. It was a photographers dream and I eventually had to be dragged away!
8. Turtle Conservation Project, Bentota
Turtles are such adorable creatures! Being able to learn all about them and even getting to hold them was a truly wonderful experience.
The project we visited had several species of turtles of all varying ages. Everyday they released newly hatched turtles into the ocean, which they referred to as achieving “good karma”.
We were taught all about the different species of turtles, the importance of conservation and why protection is crucial. We also got to hold several tortoises – some of them were very heavy!
There’s numerous projects situated in Bentota, so just take your pick.
9. Lankan Village Experience, Palwehera
Visiting a local village and discovering how Lankan locals live was an eye-opening and thoroughly enjoyable experience.
From using traditional modes of transport to cooking up a staple dish, we really got to see how rural life used to be, and still is in many regions.
10. Galle Face Green, Colombo
Taking the short cycle ride into town from where I was staying was by no means an easy task. Traffic came at me from all angles and the humidity instantly turned me into a sweaty mess.
My effort was rewarded as I reached Galle Face Green. Hundreds of tiny food stalls sell fruit covered in chilis, strange tasting olives, battered fish snacks and my personal favourite Watti – fried lentil patties!
Asides from eating, there’s not really too much else to do at Galle Face Green, so just grab some food and watch the world go by.
I stayed at Hangover Hostels and they supplied the bike free of charge! What a great way to see the city for free.