15 AWESOME THINGS TO DO IN SRI LANKA: THE BUCKET LIST
The island country of Sri Lanka is known as the gem of the Indian Ocean. With diverse landscapes and cultures spread across the different regions of Sri Lanka, there really is somethng for everyone. This list is quite adventurous and involves a few hikes and all things action! The culture and food of Sri Lanka are incredibly unique and will captivate you throughout your adventures. During two trips to the tropical island, these are my favorite things to do in Sri Lanka.
You can click on the link to the full blog post for almost all of the adventures on this list below each description. I did them all personally and speak of the experiences I had at each location.
15 Awesome Things to do in Sri Lanka
Hike Little Adams Peak
Ella is a hiking hotspot in the mountain country of Sri Lanka. Some of the views from hikes in Ella are phenomenal with the region well known for its tea plantations and spectacular mountain ranges. If you want to enjoy some of the best views without needing to hike for hours, Little Adam’s Peak is the perfect trek, especially for an unforgettable sunset. It’s one of the top things to do in Sri Lanka if you enjoy hiking!
The trail begins with a moderate incline as it winds through tea plantations. It will lead you up to 1141m above sea-level although you already begin at a high elevation so you will only hike up a few hundred meters. The trail is marked the whole way with well-maintained paths and stairs to the first set of viewpoints. There are multiple platforms, rocks, and viewpoints perfect for photos once you hit the top of Little Adam’s Peak. Although, you can and should keep going along the ridge and the view only gets better.
As you continue along the ridge the trail gets a little wilder and you might get a little dirty, managing your way up and down to the final viewpoint.
We hung out at the top of Little Adam’s Peak with no one else around, taking in the mountains and the epic scenery of the 360-degree views. We probably waited a little too long to head back and ended up trekking back down in the dark. For just a short hike, Little Adam’s Peak gives you unbelievable views and is the ideal way to spend sunset in Ella. Stay safe and enjoy!
Read the full blog post: Little Adam’s Peak in Ella
Ride the Kandy to Ella Train
The Kandy to Ella train journey is said to be one of the most scenic, epic train journeys in not only just Sri Lanka but the world. So with a few days to spare in Sri Lanka, I decided to purchase a ticket for $1.50 and climb aboard for the 5-hour journey. Yes, the train really does cost just $1.50.
I have now taken the train in both directions. From Kandy to Ella and in reverse from Ella to Kandy. On both occasions, I just arrived at the train station and bought the cheapest ticket and walked on. I didn’t sit in a seat, I preferred to an open door and hang my legs over the edge for the entire journey.
During the Kandy to Ella train journey, you can walk around the carriages, go to the toilet, visit the food stand or purchase some snacks from vendors who wander about. I spent my time in the open doorway, watching as we passed by tea plantations, cruised through villages and crossed bridges with eerily huge drop-offs.
The views on both sides of the rail are breathtaking. The train winds through the mountains overlooking farms and villages and of course vast tea plantations. The scenery changes throughout the trip. Often at times, you are looking out at an entire green view than the next minute you are in the middle of a woodland forest.
Hanging out of the train gives you the best views and is an awesome feeling but be careful not to leave your limbs out of the train at the wrong time as there are trees and tunnels that come close to the train. Riding this train was definitely one of my favorite things to do in Sri Lanka.
Read the full blog post: Kandy to Ella – Most Scenic Train Journey in Asia
Trek through a Tea Plantation in Nuwara Eliya
Lipton Tea is a staple item in the cupboard of most families around the world. Never did I expect to be trekking with a 60-yr-old local Sri Lankan up and down the steep mountains home amongst the famous Lipton Tea and other highly lauded tea estates. If you are looking to gain historical context and perspective this is one of the best things to do in Sri Lanka.
The Royal Tea Trail begins innocuously by the roadside before beginning to the wind between steep tea terraces. Although unlike the rice terraces in Bali these are not tiered. There are no steps and the tea-pluckers must scale the sharp incline. The tea plants are scattered with no particular pattern although they are often layered creating a beautiful linear design on the side of the mountains.
Read the full blog post: Trekking through a tea plantation in Sri Lanka
Go on Safari in Kaudulla National Park
It is an unmissable experience to go on safari while in Sri Lanka. There are many national parks with great experiences. I ended up choosing Kaudulla National Park and I was amazed at what we saw. Our group got into an open-top jeep and began cruising through the jungle. We spotted an owl and several monkeys before our jeep rolled out into a clearing. Next thing we knew we were heading straight towards a herd of wild elephants. The herd was massive with more than 100 elephants relaxing near the edge of a huge lake. We cruised slowly, letting the elephants go about their business as we watched calves follow their mothers and males fighting.
It was truly an immersive wildlife experience and one of the best things to do in Sri Lanka for photographers!
Sunset at the Famous Rope swing in Dalawella
There are plenty of places around the world that have become viral travel hotspots overnight. A few popular Instagrammers or vloggers blow a place up and all of a sudden it becomes a must-do activity while you visit a region. The palm tree rope swing at Dalawella Beach is a prime example of a social media hotspot. Having said that it’s an awesome spot for a fun afternoon or a sunset and chill place to hang out whether you intend on getting that ‘Instagrammable’ travel shot or not.
The location of the swing is on Dalawella Beach, which is in the south of Sri Lanka near the popular town of Unawatuna. It takes about two hours to get to Dalawella Beach by train from Colombo and will cost a couple of bucks for the ticket. Once you are at Dalawella Beach the exact location is actually in front of a guesthouse called Dream Cabana.
The guys at Dream Cabana built the swing as something fun for themselves and it is evolved into one of the most talked about spots in Sri Lanka. It’s crazy how something a few mates built has become one of the most popular things to do in Sri Lanka.
Read the full blog post: The Palm Tree Rope Swing in Dalawella
Surf at Hikkaduwa
The south coast of Sri Lanka is a surfers paradise. Around each corner is a new break being enjoyed by only a handful. A searing sun, the warmest water and endless waves makes the south the perfect surfari destination. What makes it a surfari? No matter where you travel along the coast you are never far from the jungle, monkeys, peacocks and jungle bliss. There really aren’t too many places in the world that combine both the jungle and surf in such close proximity.
Hikkaduwa surf beach was one of my favorite spots to head out into the water. The town is pretty well developed having been on the tourist map for a number of decades. However, a chill vibe remains with bars and huts lining the beach, watching out over the surfers taking wave after wave. A reef sits below the break but the water is deep enough to make sure a bad landing is highly unlikely.
I headed out into the waves without a board. Normally I last less than an hour before getting cold. This day I lost track of time until the sun began to set and I realized I had been swimming in the waves for over two hours. Its one of the obligatory things to do in Sri Lanka to get out in the surf!
Read the full blog post: Sunset Surf Session at Hikkaduwa
Hike to the top of Diyaluma Falls
Diyaluma Falls is the 2nd biggest waterfall in Sri Lanka and is the perfect spot for a full day adventure. There are multiple falls and natural pools throughout this hike in the Badulla region. I could’ve spent days here.
The hike was almost entirely downhill and led us through the long grass but the trail was marked the whole way. It appeared that the trail wasn’t used too often as the trail was quite overgrown in many parts.
Go Hiking in Riverston
Hiking in Riverston Sri Lanka was an unexpected highlight of my journey throughout the island. Riverston is a region best defined by the popular term, ‘off the beaten path’. We drove for several hours, parked in the middle of nowhere and then embarked on a hike.
We headed across the river and through the rice fields and farmland. There is minimal signage but luckily we had our guide Lukobanda to guide us up. The hike doesn’t have a specific name according to the locals other than the Riverston Hike. The hike looks out over the Knuckles mountain range and the surrounding highlands. It’s one of the short day trip hikes in the area. The end of the hike ends with a sharp 300m drop, which made for some pretty epic photos. From here you can chill and take in the views of the Thelgamuwa Valley, the terraced rice fields, and the Knuckles mountain range. This spot is called ‘The Worlds End’.The hike is 5km long but not incredibly difficult.
Get a Tattoo in Galle
Getting a tattoo in a developing country is always an interesting experience. In Sri Lanka there are plenty of different tattoo studios to choose from. I was in Unawatuna in the south of the country and found a tattoo artist called Sajee in the nearby city of Galle.
I visited the studio to meet Sajee and check out some of his work. The studio wasn’t spotless but it was fairly clean and the photos of his previous work filled me with confidence. A few hours later I had a tiger on my arm. You might call it risky but this was one of my best memories and one of the epic things to do in Sri Lanka that I definitely don’t regret!
Explore the Markets
There are markets all over Sri Lanka, all of which will be great to explore. Try new fruits, taste some local dishes and of course meet the local vendors. I visited a small market in Nuwara Eliya and met some beautiful grocers and vendors who loved having their portraits taken as I wandered throughout the stalls.
Hike to the Top of Pidurangala Rock
While Sigiriya Rock is rich in history and has some pretty dramatic features such as the lion’s paw and the mirror wall, Pidurangala Rock has a much more natural feel, despite also housing a temple.
Pidurangala Rock is adjacent to Sigiriya Rock and is the best viewing spot of Sigiriya Rock as it is only slightly lower. Pidurangala is a popular spot for sunrise as you can enjoy 360-degree views of not only the valleys but also Sigiriya Rock.
There is no need to choose between the two. Many travelers wake up for the sunrise at Pidurangala and then head to sunset on top of Sigiriya Rock. This is exactly what I did and I highly recommend it.
Read the full blog post: Pidurangala Rock Hike
Climb Sigiriya Rock
Sigiriya Rock is referred to as the eighth wonder of the world. It is a truly astonishing feat of architecture. The fortress at the top has been subjected to many wars and invasions, making this a very historic site. It’s one of the most popular tourist things to do in Sri Lanka.
370 meters above sea-level and 200 meters higher than the jungle below is the top of Sigiriya Rock. The fortress is comprised of abandoned palaces, ponds, waterways, canals, stairs and walls. We climbed all the way to the top for sunset and witnessed Sri Lanka’s most popular site during one of the best sunsets of the year.
Visit Nine Arch Bridge in Ella
The Nine Arch Bridge in Ella is on the Demodara loop and spans 91 meters at a height of 24m. The beautiful nine arches make it a very picturesque spot especially as it is located in a dense jungle and agricultural setting. Behind the railway, a forest is booming and below, tea leaves are being cultivated.
The bridge was built at Gotuwala between the Ella and Demodara stations during the British Colonial period. Locally it is known as ‘Ahas Namaye Palama’ meaning nine skies bridge in Sinhala. The name derives from the visual experience. When you stand below the bridge and look up you can see the sky through the nine arches.
The unique part about this bridge is that it is built entirely from rocks, bricks, and cement with no use of steel or metals throughout the structure. The bridge was commissioned in 1941 and the story goes that as the bridge was being planned World War I broke out. The steel and metal materials destined to be used in the bridge were reassigned to be used for military purposes. The materials were then gathered in the form of rocks, bricks, and cement to make sure the bridge construction still went ahead.
There are a number of cafes in the hills with vantage points of the bridge but down at the bridge is where you want to be. The Nine Arch Bridge has a huge bend in it so in my opinion standing on the side the bridge bends away from makes for the best photos and accentuates the arch. Watching a train come around the bend on this bridge was one of my favorite things to do in Sri Lanka.
Read the full blog post here: Nine Arch Bridge in Ella
A road trip along the South Coast
From Unawatuna to Mirissa to Tangalle, the south coast of Sri Lanka is perfect for a road trip. You can grab a bike and cruise your way through each town stopping for a surf or a coffee at every new beach. Palm trees and epic beaches line the coast. There are so many awesome, tropical beaches along this coastline that it gets repetitive in a good way. So grab a bike and hit the road and enjoy one of the best things to do in Sri Lanka
Venture to Colombo
After all of your adventurous travels throughout Sri Lanka, a night in a hotel might be warranted in Colombo. During my trip with the tourism board,we were lucky enough to stay at the Movenpick, which had an infinity pool looking out over the city to the ocean. It was a perfect spot for sunset. Whether you like it or not, your trip is likely to begin or end in Colombo as that is where the airport is. Exploring the city with a tour or hanging out at the hotels is one of the relaxing things to do in Sri Lanka after your big adventure!