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Sri Lanka is a wonderfully diverse country, with rugged beaches, welcoming locals, delicious food, ancient ruins, and bountiful wildlife.
Travelling Sri Lanka is easy as the island is relatively small with reliable public transport.
You can do the popular circuit from Colombo to the Cultural triangle, passing down through Kandy and into the hill country, taking a safari stop in Yala before meandering along the coastline back up to Colombo.
All of this can easily be done in a two week itinerary with diversions off to the lesser explored north or east coasts.
1. Climb Sigiriya or Pidurangala for a view of Sigiriya
Sigiriya is Sri Lanka’s most iconic landmark.
This historic fortress was formed from volcanic magma and rises dramatically to 370 metres above sea level from a vast plateau between Habarana and Dambulla.
Climb the steep staircases to view the ruins of King Kasyapa’s Palace and admire the incredible panoramic views from the top.
Originally carved into the shape of a lion, you’ll notice that only the remnants of the huge lion’s paws remain.
Combine your trip to Sigiriya with a hike up Pidurangala – a lesser-known rock located about a kilometre from Sigiriya.
The climb is a little challenging towards the end requiring a scramble over and between boulders, but the unobstructed, crowd-free views of Sigiriya is well worth it.
Tip: If you don’t want to stay overnight in Sigiriya you can book a full day tour from Kandy to Sigiriya.
2. Go on safari in Yala National Park
Located on the south east coast of Sri Lanka, a safari in Yala National Park can be perfectly combined with a beach stay.
The national park has one of the highest density of leopards in the world so if you’re going to see this elusive cat anywhere, it’s here.
There’s also the opportunity to see Sloth Bears, elephants, buffaloes, monkeys and crocodiles. Self-drive safaris are possible but your park entry ticket comes with a trekker who is experienced at tracking animals.
Take advantage of this or an organised safari as they have the best knowledge of the animals’ habits.
*Tip: Book a All–Inclusive Overnight Tour to Yala National Park including 2 game drives and one night in a luxury leopard’s nest treehouse.
3. Take a surf lesson
Weligama is the perfect place to learn to surf with a 2km stretch of shallow beach and clean surf being sheltered within a bay.
There is an abundance of surf schools along the beach front offering board rentals or lessons, so take your pick.
For experienced surfers, nearby Mirissa and Gurubebila offers larger waves and reef breaks.
For backpacking Sri Lanka there are some great hostels in Weligama and nearby Mirissa.
4. Climb Ella Rock
Ella is nestled in the hill-country of Sri Lanka surrounded by tea plantations, rugged mountains and waterfalls.
It’s a place to unwind for a few days and get back to nature hiking to impressive viewpoints.
The climb to Ella Rock offers up some spectacular views and navigating the unmarked route along train tracks, around farmland, and through forests is an adventure in itself.
A guide is not required but you’ll need good online directions for the Ella Rock Hike.
5. Take the train
No list of things to do in Sri Lanka would be complete without mentioning the epic train journeys to be had in this picturesque country.
The Kandy to Ella journey will have you whizzing through hill country and the many tea plantations that adorn the slopes. Book the observation carriage at least two weeks in advance for the best views.
The Galle to Colombo train also has stunning ocean views.
6. Visit a tea plantation
Demodera is the next village over from Ella and their Tea Factory offers guided tours for Rs 350 per person and is highly informative about the production process.
You’ll learn about how twenty types of tea grades are produced from the same tea leaves and how they are sold and exported around the world. You can then enjoy a delicious cup of tea!
7. See the elephant gathering at Mineryia
From July – October, the national park of Mineryia is home to around 300 elephants in search of water during the dry season.
They travel from far and wide to the man made watering hole as alternative sources dry up.
This makes for spectacular wildlife viewing as herds of elephants creep from the surrounding vegetation to enjoy a drink and a cooling bath.
8. Sunset views in Colombo
For most travelling to Sri Lanka, Colombo will be where the journey starts and finishes.
It’s worth spending a night to sample some of the great restaurants on offer or to take to the rooftop of Cinnamon Red Hotel to enjoy a cocktail during sunset.
9. Explore the temple village of Polonnaruwa
The ancient capital city of Polonnaruwa can be explored by tuk tuk or bicycle depending on how active you’re feeling (and the temperature).
The site houses impressive temple ruins, statues, and the remnants of the Royal Palace from the reign of King Parakramabahu (1153 – 1186). Polonnaruwa is also home to wild toque-macaque monkeys so keep your snacks closely guarded!
10. The Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic
Kandy is located in the central province of Sri Lanka so makes for a perfect stopover when travelling through the country.
An important ancient relic – a tooth of The Buddha – is kept here at The Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic and draws in thousands of visitors daily for offerings and prayers.
Tourists are welcome to witness this moving event where visitors queue to pass the tooth and offer lotus blossom and frangipani as gifts.
11. Whale watching in Mirissa
Set sail on the Indian Ocean in search of the largest mammal on the planet – the Blue Whale.
These impressive creatures, along with Sperm Whales, Pigmy Killer Whales and Bride Whales can be seen just a few nautical miles from the shore during a whale watching Tour in Mirissa. You will also have the chance to see various types of dolphins, turtles and whale sharks.
Raja & the Whales is a reputable family owned company that adheres to international whale watching regulations.
There are many that don’t and are overcrowded so chose wisely.
12. Climb Adam’s Peak for sunrise
Not to be confused with Little Adam’s Peak, Adam’s Peak is a place of pilgrimage for several faiths and a popular hike for tourists to watch sunrise.
Start the hike around 2.30am to allow enough time to hike the 5 kilometres in time for sunrise.
A reasonable fitness level is required to climb the steep 5,000 stair ascent but the magnificent view is well worth it.
This article was written by GapYearEscape.com, a gap year site that documents an eight-year, seven continent adventure.
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