The measure of any great travel destination is the diversity of things to see and do. Sri Lanka is packed with great activities! In this post we will outline our top 4 highlights of Sri Lanka.
Sri Lanka is a fantastic travel destination for those looking for a bit of adventure and a bit of relaxation. The country is full of stunning beaches and national parks with abundant wildlife. The north is home to the beautiful ancient ruins of Sigiriya and Anuradhapura. The center is home to the city of Kandy the spiritual heart of the country. There are great train journeys snaking through lush tea plantations and you can trek Adam’s Peak, where you can join the pilgrimage at sunrise to climb the holy site. There are also some of the best wildlife safaris outside of Africa and the south coast is lined with beautiful beaches perfect to relax for a few days or for catching a few waves.
If you are interested is seeing the best that Sri Lanka has to offer, the following are our recommendations for the top highlights of Sri Lanka that should be included in any travel itinerary.
Highlights of Sri Lanka
Sigiriya or Lion rock, is a UNESCO World Heritage listed site and is a must-see destination for anyone interested in historical sights, archaeological wonders and natural beauty. King Kasyapa built his palace on top of this rock fortress around 400 A.D. This ancient site is located in a lush jungle approximately 7 km by the road east of Dambulla, in the central province of Sri Lanka. The site is surrounded by a giant moat and well-tended gardens. Sigiriya is a spectacular 180 m high granite rock standing alone in otherwise flat surroundings. Sigiriya is without a doubt one of the top highlights of Sri Lanka.
The rock can be easily climbed in a two-hour leisurely round trip while taking in the sights and enjoying the spectacular views from the top. We recommend starting early or climbing later in the day to avoid the heat and crowds. Gates open at 7.30 a.m. and last tickets are sold at 5 p.m.
Sigiriya is an easy day or half day trip from Dambulla or you may choose to stay in the village lining the main road to Sigiriya. From our experience, accommodation in the area can be of varied quality. Dambulla is a hectic Sri Lankan town. It is, however, located close to the Golden Temple of Dambulla which is the other UNESCO site in the area. It also has good transport connections to other destinations. For those looking for a more laid back stay with better accommodation and food options we recommend staying in Sigiraya Village, along Sigiriya road.
Buses from Dambulla run 6:30AM to 6:00PM daily every 30 minutes and cost approximately LKR40. The more convenient and fun alternative is to wave down one of the many colourful tuk-tuks found throughout Sri Lanka. These should cost around LKR 800-1000 but remember to bargain!
Considered the cultural heart of Sri Lanka, Kandy is the country’s second largest city. Far more manageable than Colombo, Kandy offers one of the best ways to get a taste for Sri Lankan urban life and culture whilst enjoying some cultural sights as well.
The main attraction for visitors to Kandy is the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and another one of Sri Lanka’s famous pilgrimage sites. Visitors can’t view the actual tooth but the casket containing the tooth can be viewed twice a day. The best time to visit the temple is in the early evening at 6.30pm. Make sure to cover up with pants and short sleeve tops to cover your legs and shoulders, otherwise you may not be allowed in.
The other highlight of Kandy is the opportunity to sample some of the best Sri Lankan food. We found delicious home made Sri Lankan curries, pastries and flat breads. Be sure to visit the Kandy Muslim Hotel, an authentic eatery serving delicious samosa, rotti and curries.
Udawalawe National Park
Sri Lanka has several high quality national parks perfect for wildlife viewing. We chose Udawalawe National Park because of the quality of elephant and bird sightings also due to the relative ease of access from Kandy and the southern beaches. Other national parks such as Yala, Wilpattu and Wasgamuwa would also be excellent choices for safari tours.
Udawalawe is a train and minibus ride from Kandy, allot at least a full day of travel if coming from Kandy. Or you can also reach the national park via a few hours bus ride from Tangalle on the southern coast. The village at Udawalawe junction services the park with accommodation, food and safari tours. There are several safari resorts located along the Pelmadulla – Embilipitiya highway.
Visiting the park in the early morning is recommended to catch the sunrise and for the best wildlife sightings. Organising a safari with a group reduces costs significantly. Costs are quoted per 8 seater jeep. With a group of 4 picked up from your hotel total jeep cost should be approximately 5000 LKR (30 USD). Cheaper jeeps can be hired from the park entrance. Park entrance fees are additional (3000LKR or 20 USD per person).
Once considered a secret alternative to the popular, overdeveloped and increasingly polluted beaches of Unawatuna or Tangalle, Talalla remains in the early phase of developing into a beach resort destination. If you are looking for a pristine beach with a tranquil setting, Tallala is an ideal choice. Do note that this recommendation is based on when we last visited Sri Lanka in 2016.
Nestled away from the main road between Tangalle and Matara. Talalla maintains it’s original fishing village charm. A handful of guest houses, budget hotels, and high end resorts hide (mostly) behind the jungle lined beach front and there a few restaurants servicing tourists to the area. Despite the limited facilities, Talalla beach is without doubt one of our highlights of Sri Lanka for its natural beauty and peaceful charm.
Talalla is best accessed by buses travelling between Tangalle and Matara and you will need to ask the driver to stop.
An excellent option to treat yourself for a few nights is a stay at the beautiful Talalla Retreat, Yoga and Surf Resort, an excellent way to finish any trip through Sri Lanka.
If you have any questions or would like some further advice about the our highlights of Sri Lanka. You can contact us here or leave a comment below. We would love to hear from you!