Sri Lanka seems to have everything for the adventurous-minded. Amazing wildlife, lush mountain hikes, ancient ruins of past civilisations, colonial forts, cups of tea and relaxing beaches. But where to begin?
1. Hike the narrow staircases to the top of Sigirya
What is Sigirya? Think of a giant rock, like a butte from monument valley. A single massive standalone rock feature, two hundred metres high, looking out onto a wide, forested landscape. And you can hike to the top!
But Sigirya is not just a geological marvel; it has important cultural significance. The remains of an ancient kingdom are at the summit, with thousand-year old artworks painted on the stone, sculptures and water gardens.
2. Watch the picturesque train crossing at 9-Arch Bridge
This was a land of glossy-green tea leaf plantations growing across the rolling hills of Ella, in the mountainous centre. Women with wide brimmed hats and woven baskets on their backs picked tea leaves under the scorching sun, whilst trekkers huffed and puffed past them up the winding trails to summit dramatic rocky peaks.
At certain times of day, the old Sri Lankan trains cross the beautifully photogenic nine-arch bridge. It’s a humid walk through jungle to reach it, so arrive early!
3. Walk the sea fortress walls in Galle
Down in the south of the country, Galle swelters under the equatorial heat, the remains of a turbulent colonial past. An old Portuguese coastal fort, fortified by the Dutch and British, protected a grid of European-style mansions and antique cars. The quiet streets are shaded by soaring palm trees.
On three sides, the ocean lapped up against its strong walls, fragments of coral and shells mixed right into the masonry. For the best experience, visitors can walk the tops of the fort walls.
4. Find the Buddha’s tooth in Kandy
Kandy, famous for its ancient Buddhist sites, is home to the Temple of the Sacred Tooth, a Buddhist artefact believed to belong to the Buddha himself. If timed right, you might just see elephants dressed in full-length ceremonial blankets leading a musical parade down the street.
5. (Try to) Spot wild leopards on safari
Sri Lanka boasts several wonderful national parks. Minneriya National Park, about an hour’s drive from Sigirya is one of the premier spots to observe large elephant family groups.
Over on the east coast, Yala National Park is spectacular for bird watching enthusiasts. Both parks are also home to the most elusive and sought-after sights in Sri Lanka – the leopard.
6. Watch the surfers at Arugam Bay
Of course, you can take part yourself, taking advantage of the waves on the eastern part of Sri Lanka. But for those who havn’t yet mastered the surfboard, Arugam Bay is the perfect beachside town to dig your feet into the sand and enjoy a cold drink.
7. Admire the frescoes in Dambulla caves
Dambulla caves are decorated with beautiful frescoes and cave art. Buddha statues and murals cover ever inch of the walls and ceiling in this amazing UNESCO site. Half the fun is reaching this out-of-the-way place, located at the top of a mountain, and protected by hordes of macaques.
8. Catch a local bus, and see what craziness ensues
And between all of it, overcrowded red buses with garish decals honked and slalomed past the tuk tuks as they raced to their next destinations. Kings of the road, the old buses are the most prominent features on Sri Lankan roads. Crazy characters come and go on the public buses – don’t be surprised if a a sword swallower or a singer jumps on board!
Have you been to Sri Lanka? What sights (and there are a lot of them!) belong on this list? Comment below!