travel destinations in Sri Lanka
There is a variety of attractions Sri Lanka is famous for, sheer beauty of its scenery, well-kept national parks, restful beach holiday resorts, heritage sites of four major religions, colourful festivals and superb gems and handicraft traditions.
Compared to most parts of India, Sri Lanka is of eye-catching green colours throughout the country. But very distinct eco-region have their own characteristics.
The south-west of our island is crowded with palm trees. The dryzone area is a highlight for wildlife enthusiasts. The highlands are marked by tea plantations and offer some untouched moist forest areas, both Knuckles Range in the north and Horton Plains / Peak Wilderness in the south of the central hillcountry offer hiking and trekking opportunities. Haputale and Ella are well-known for their panoramic views.
Plenty of scenic waterfalls and lakes offer opportunities for refreshing baths or idyllic picnics. Some of them can be seen close to the roads. Many more are hidden in the jungles, but reachable for hikers or trekkers.
Sri Lanka is not as large as Africa. So do not expect the herds of the Serengeti in our national parks.
Nevertheless, Yala, also called Ruhunu National Park, in the south-east of the island is world-famous, the reason for this are not only its leopards, but the sheer beauty of the scenery. And with the exception of block 1, Yala has still areas undisturbed by mass tourism. The neighbouring Kumana National Park harbours more bird species than any other region in Sri Lanka. Bundala National Park, also situated in the vicinity of Yala, harbours huge flocks of migratory birds during the northern hemisphere winter months.
Wilpattu in the north-west is even larger and has more leopards. But it's much more difficult to observe them than in Yala, because Wilpattu ha less grasslands and clearings. Advantage of Wilpattu is, it is not as touristed as Yala.
Sri Lanka's third largest national park, Maduru Oya in the eastern lowland, has been reopened for jeep safaris, it's a remote area, until now completely untouristed, full of surprises, you will not regret a visit in case you love loneliness. Maduru Oya was a traditional settlement area and hunting ground for the aboriginal Vedda people.
Minneriya, with the neighbouring national parks Wasgomuwa to the south and Kaudulla to the north, is famous for the seasonal event of the elephant gathering of up to 200, sometimes even 300 wild elephants, a unique herd size in Asia. If you visit the Cultural Triangle area between Juli and October, don't miss this wildlife opportunity, you will never forget it.
Gal Oya in the east is special because it surrounds Sri Lanka's largest lake. So the most popular way to explore it is by boat. But visitors are still rare, so the authorities should be informed before you arrive, to asure you boat service will be available. Jeep safaris around the lake are still a very rare experience, even among regular guests who come for Sri Lanka's wildlife.
There are some smaller national parks and sanctuaries, too, offering opportunities to be engaged in local village life. On our websites we recommend Randenigala in particular. But Rasvehera, though not a national park, is such a special opportunity, too.
Most beach resorts are situated in the southwestern part of the island, between Marawila and Hambantota, the most popular ones between Mount Lavinia (Colombo) and Weligama (between Galle and Matara). High season in this south-western area is from Christmas till Easter holidays. This is dry season in the south-west.
Bentota is famous for fun activities. It's a renowned beach with perfect holiday resorts. But it's not the cheapest place in Sri Lanka.
Neighbouring Beruwila is recommendable, too. Hikkaduwa is famous for its coral banks, Unawatuna has the loveliest closed beach, Mirissa has become even more popular among backpackers.
The longest sandy beach in the north-east of the island is Nilaveli close to Trincomalee. It offers nice excursion opportunities to less frequented places in Tamil areas of our motherland.
Arugam Bay in the south-east is very popular with surfers from all over the world. The surfing season in Arugam Bay starts in April and ends in October. Arugam Bay near Pottuvil offers perfect one-day-safaris to the less crowded little brother of Yala, the Kumana National Park mentioned above.
The must-sees for lovers of ancient cultures are Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa, Sigiriya, Dambulla and Kandy, all of them are World Heritage Sites.
Anuradhapura is one of the largest archaeological zones is Asia and was the capital for one and a half millennia! Giant dagobas and splendid stone sculptures and carvings are the main attractions.
Polonnaruwa is younger and was the capital for one and a half centuries "only". However, it's structures are better preserved, and the archaeological park is more densely packed with attractions than Anuradhapura.
Sigiriya is sometimes called the "Machu Pichhu" of Sri Lanka. It's really a highlight in every cultural traveller's life. Scenery and man-made structures are almost indistinguishable, and the meaning and purpose of this exceptional work of art is still under debate among historians. Sigiriya really remains to be a mystery - not only called so in travel broschures.
Dambulla is a group of typical Sri Lankan cave temples crowded with ancient sculptures. Walls and ceilings were painted in the Kandy period.
Kandy was the hill capital of the Sinhalese during the times of colonial Portuguese and Dutch rule in the lowlands. It's the cultural centre of traditional Sinhalese people. Buddhists from all Asian countries hold the Sacred Tooth Relic in the Temple of the Tooth in high esteem. It's Sri Lanka's holiest place.
Beyond doubt, the World Heritage Sites are the largests and most impressive attractions. However, everone wants to see them, so be aware, they are crowded sometimes.
But Sri Lanka has many more heritage sites, "unknowns" . They will surprise you with tranquility. A characteristic feature of ancient Sri Lankan monasteries is: buildings are much fewer and smaller than in Indian temple towns, but they are always situated in delightful settings, becoming a part of the natural surrounding.
Some places we can recommend (a comprehensive list would be sheer endless and confusing) are Yapahuwa, Hatthikucchi, Pidurangala, Dimbulagala, Tantirimale, Medirigiriya, Pilikuttuwa, Mulkrigala, and Situlpahuwa. Believe us: Not many cultural tourists will ever come to know them, but nobody knows Sri Lanka's ancient culture without having seen them.
Sri Lanka is an island of spices. Tropical spices from India such as pepper and cardamom and from Indonesia such as cloves and muscat are grown in Sri Lanka, too. But the spice that is of Sri Lankan origin and lent its name to the island is cinnamon.
Sri Lanka has been famous for the best blue sapphires and other corunds since antiqitity.
The other favorite souvenir, tea, was introduced not before the 70th of the 19th century. But Ceylon tea became the landmark No.1 of our island during the 20th century.
A traditional handicraft is carving of masks used for religious and medical dance performances.
There are different dance styles, the highland Kandy dance was developped at the royal court. Villagers in the lowland have different rural dance traditions. Those daily performances on stages in Kandy are visited by most travellers during their stay in Kandy. They are recommendable indeed, showing you different styles in each of their programs. But if you want to see the more authentic perfect performance of locals, try to find them in Embilipitiya.
The processions during the last five nights of the Kandy Perahera festival can be listed among the greatest spectacles on earth. And though many tourists love to see it: Kandy Perahera is authentic and not at all a tourist fake! This is Sri Lanka at its best.
Other spectacular festivals take place during the same period of time (before Esala full moon in July or August) in other Buddhist and Hindu towns. The Kataragama festival is famous for practices of hook pierces in the back and lance stabs through the tongue. The less touristed festival in the Ratnapura area is even huge. Besides Esala, the major Buddhist event is Vesak Poya Day celebrated on a huge scale in Mihintale.
Many more festivals are celebrated by different temples and village communities throughout the year.
By the way, Sri Lanka is the state with most public holidays. The reason is: Celebrations of all four most important religions of the world, Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam and Christianity, are officially recognized as Sri Lankan national holidays.
On Poya Days (full moons) places of entertainment must be closed and liquor must not be sold. However, some hotels offer special arrangements for customers to order their liquor the day before Poya holiday.
Sinharaja rain forest
Kanneliya small rain forest
Pinnawela elephant orphanage
Dry zone south
Yala NP camping-safari
Bundala NP bird watching
Kumana NP birds and wildlife
Okanda village life and beach
Rufus Kulam remote lake
Lahugala NP with heritage site
Gal Oya NP lakeside wildlife
Udawalawe NP wild elephants
Ussangoda serpentine rock
Dry zone north
Minneriya NP elephant gathering
Kaudulla NP elephant gathering
Habarana oxcart excursions
Nelumpure authentic village life
Mihintale ancient sanctuary
Namal Uyana ironwood sanctuary
Rasvehera monastery and wildlife
Tabbowe lake near Wilpattu NP
Horton Plains trekking hotspot
Bambarakanda 240 m waterfall
Adam's Peak pilgrim mountain
Hakgala Botanical Garden
Kitulgala white water and birds
Peradeniya Botanical Garden
Meemure village life and trekking
Knuckles Range trekking highlight
Randenigala NP alternative camp
Private Cooking Classes
Anyone interested in small private introductory cooking classes will be welcome in Nelumpure. Learning Sri Lankan style cooking in a similarly familiar manner can be offered by Team Sightseeinglanka at many more locations, for example on Kalpitiya island in the west, which is well-known for water sports and dolphin-watching and within day-excursion-distance of Wilpattu National Park, or in Tissamaharama in the deep south of the island, close to Yala and Bundala National Parks.
Meemure village life holidays
We recommend truly authentic holiday stays among locals in the hill country village Meemure, far away from any tourism hurly-burly. The remote hamlet Meemure is situated in the breathtaking landscape of Knuckles Range, a perfect starting point for trekking. Read more...
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