15 AWESOME THINGS TO DO IN SRI LANKA

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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.

 

Wondering what Camera and Photography Gear I take all my photos with while traveling around the world?  Click Here to view my detailed guide about all of the gear I use and recommend for travel photography.

What to pack for Sri Lanka?: After multiple trips to Sri Lanka, I know there are some items you NEED to pack. You can Click Here to view my recommended Sri Lanka Packing List.

 

WHERE TO STAY IN SRI LANKA

Sri Lanka is a huge region so it depends on where you are and what attraction you are visiting as to which accommodation will be best. For example, when you are visiting Sigiriya Rock, Hotel Sigiriya is clearly the best choice! Below I have recommended my favorite accommodation in each region.

 

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!

Organize a Tour

If you are in Ella and looking to visit Little Adam’s Peak but also want to see Ella Rock and the Famous Nine Arch Bridge, there is a great day-tour that packs it all in. It’s extremely good value considering you can tick off all three attractions in just one day for about $70. It is called the Ella Three Icons Day Tour.

Book this tour: Ella Three Icons Day Tour

 

Read the full blog post: Little Adam’s Peak in Ella

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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

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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!

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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.

After about 30 minutes we reached the top of Diyaluma Falls. Here you have a series of pools cascading towards the edge of the cliff. When the falls finally reach the edge they fall into one final pool before crashing 628 feet into the pool, far below. This is the 2nd highest waterfall in Sri Lanka and it is hard to get a good look from this vantage point but if you are game enough you can peer over the edge.
 
After chilling on the edge for over an hour we headed back up the track passing the upper falls and arriving at the top of the upper falls. This was a 15-minute hike and we just followed the track alongside the upper falls. Here we found more pools. It looked quite average until we explored further towards the edge of the upper Diyaluma falls and found a spot where we could jump. We checked the depth and found an area with no rocks and spent the next hour flipping through the refreshing water.
 
Read the full blog post: Hiking Diyaluma Falls – 2nd Highest Waterfall in Sri Lanka

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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.

If you would like to organize a tour there is actually a really cool tour that takes you from Kandy on a hike to see the ‘Knuckles’ at World’s End. The tour takes you along the ridges of the Knuckles mountain range as you enjoy the beautiful views during this full-day adventure that includes pick-up and drop off from Kandy.

Book the tour: Knuckles Hiking day tour from Kandy

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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!

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

Organize a Tour

If you are in Ella and looking to visit Little Adam’s Peak but also want to see Ella Rock and the Famous Nine Arch Bridge, there is a great day-tour that packs it all in. It’s extremely good value considering you can tick off all three attractions in just one day for about $70. It is called the Ella Three Icons Day Tour.

Book this tour: Ella Three Icons Day Tour

Read the full blog post here: Nine Arch Bridge in Ella

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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

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Explore Colombo City

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 Colombo, 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!

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WHERE TO STAY IN SRI LANKA

Sri Lanka is a huge region so it depends on where you are and what attraction you are visiting as to which accommodation will be best. For example, when you are visiting Sigiriya Rock, Hotel Sigiriya is clearly the best choice! Below I have recommended my favorite accommodation in each region.

 

THINGS TO KNOW BEFORE YOU TRAVEL TO SRI LANKA

Visa Application Process

Unlike many countries in Asia, you cannot just get a visa on arrival. You need to apply for an electronic visa before you arrive. It is a double entry visa that lasts for 30 days. The fee is $35 for most countries but only $20 for SAARC countries. You will need to apply a week in advance to be safe but I did get mine in a 24-hour turn-around. Don’t leave it too late! You can Click Here to apply for your electronic visa for Sri Lanka

 

Tap Water

Local tap water is not suitable for the western stomach. You may be the exception but most westerners will get sick from the local tap water. What you can do instead is to use a GrayL filter, which is what I use. Essentially you just fill up your bottle from the tap, press down the filter and then the water is safe. I’ve used it all over the world from India to Bali. This is how you can help our environment by not purchasing 5 bottles of water every day while traveling in Asia.

 

 

 

 

 

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33 Discussion to this post

  1. Thank you so much for this wonderful inspiration!

    Happy Tuesday,
    Anna

  2. cliftonllim says:

    Thanks for this great post about Sri Lanka vacation activities! We are going to Sri Lanka next month and I will enjoy all these crazy things. Please suggest me some more activities.

  3. Sarah says:

    Thanks for the blog, I have already been to Sir Lanka last year and loved it and was lucky enough to have experienced a tour all over the country which I will never forget.
    Am planning next years trip for my whole family of 10 and we have booked all our accommodation and how a good idea of where and what we are doing however I have incorporated into our trip a few of the things mentioned in your blog so thank you for this.

  4. Mani says:

    Thank you so much for visiting Sri Lanka and the lovely post! You have missed a lot from what i see. Sri Lankan do love a good night out and there are millions of places even in Colombo. Next time you visit i am sure you would have more fun and memories.

  5. Fong Yau says:

    Hey Jackson – fantastic blog. I am definitely planning a trip to Sri Lanka after reading this. I will be taking my children there – (14 and 12) – any advice when travelling with children? I probably won’t be dangling my feet over the open train doors though – I might lose a child or two!

  6. […] are so many places to visit in Sri Lanka and that includes visiting some of its pristine national parks, including Bundala, Yala National […]

  7. Agness says:

    Hello Jackson, nice tip about drinking safety water. Its good for the environment to just used filtered re usable tumbler. Lets take care of mother nature.

  8. Jorden smith says:

    Nice blog and picture.
    If you want to go on an adventure tour in Sri Lanka then you can visit GetGo Tours.

  9. Leila says:

    Thanks for the blog :)! My first read on Sri Lanka before starting our journey there soon and great to hear about all these tips and to increase my excitement for visiting. I enjoyed that there were so much great outdoors trips and pictures. I do agree with Dennis though that I was looking forward to your recommendations of staying for under 12$ a night and was a little disappointed and confused to only find more expensive hotels.

    ATTENTION: the link mentioned under “Visa Application Process” is NOT a good link to use (ivisa.com) and scams you and takes 20$ extra as “processing fee”. Instead use the official site of eta.gov.lk!

    • Juris says:

      I wish I had read your comment before. 🙁 That blog prick DIDN’T EVEN MENTIONED, THAT ivisa takes additional 20$ for just beeing an intermidiator. Fuckers. Shame on me to trust blogger without checking background. And you (blogger) are PRICK for that. Fucking clickbitters.
      ps. Blog is very nice though, but obviously it is focused on those actions, blogger has been paid to advertise. 🙁 That doesn’t mean they are not good, but seems that heart free advices with no background hooks awaiting.

      • Jackson says:

        Hey champ. I didn’t realize that link was more expensive. It is what I booked through. I’ve changed it to the better, cheaper link. No need to get your knickers in a knot about it. No-one is perfect but remember don’t judge a person until you find out their story. I don’t earn anything from that link so please take your profanity back because it isn’t something I accept . from ya 🙂 Enjoy your day

    • Jackson says:

      Hey how’s it going? I didn’t realize that and have changed it. I wasn’t earning any affiliates from that link so that’s not why I had it there. Also as I mentioned below, I was on this trip with the tourism board of sri lanka and then stayed with a friend. Therefore I didn’t experience cheap hostels on this trip but know there are many to choose from that are easily below $12. Thanks for the input aboput the link, I have changed it 🙂

  10. Dennis says:

    ” I’ve never spent more than $12 a night on accommodation and am always looking for real adventures…”

    you only recommand hotels over 100dollars…

    • Jackson says:

      Hey mate, this is a destination travel blog with readers from all categories of budges. I choose to travel on a budget but i give tips on the best places to visit. I never pay more than $12 but you can decide what is best for you. On this trip in Sri Lanka, I was actually on a press trip with the tourism board for half of these experiences. The other half i stayed with a friend. You can travel all through sri lanka on less than $12 USD a dayl. Good luck, have fun and remember don’t bring others down, rise up together with positivity.

  11. Sam says:

    Hi,

    First of all, love your post and has everything I envisage doing when visiting Srilanka!

    I am trying to get an itenary together and see you have been twice to accomplish the above!

    I will be landing at CMB for 7 days, how much of the above can I actually achieve in 7 days comfortably?

    Did you stay at one location or did you have multiple hotels throughout Srilanka?

    Your reply would be most helpful x

  12. Ugh, this is the best!

  13. ryan says:

    Amazing post!..Its looking like good & informative post

  14. Aya says:

    Just wanted to ask of February is a good time to visit Sri Lanka

  15. Laura says:

    Super helpful, thank you!

  16. ryan says:

    Good Post,
    Very useful Information
    Thanks for Sharing

  17. Joyce says:

    No worries Elena, Sri Lanka is actually kinda safe, just try not to walk alone in the street when there is no crowd at night. Follow the crowd. I have been here for a few months, yet have not encounter any drug issues.

  18. Anonymous says:

    im super exited to go this febuary , im only 14 and think it would be super cool on all of the hikes and that rope swing looks amazing!

  19. Maria says:

    Hey Jackson!! First of all, thank you A LOT for the loads of info you just shared with us on your amazing post! 😉 I am currently organizing my trip to Sri Lanka in November/December and I would like to ask you how did you manage to do the road trip along the south part of the island from Unawatuna to Tangalla on a bike with the big backpack? Did you leave it somewhere and then returned to that same point? If so, did you do the entire return trip on a bike as well? Or did you manage to take everything with you?! Plus, how long did you take doing it?

    Thank You so much in advance! 🙂

    Best,
    Maria

  20. Shihad Salim says:

    Hey, Found a website as well that does tours in Sri Lanka, came across a few blogs and insights on places to visit in Sri Lanka.

    https://www.soultrek.travel/blog/

  21. Jen says:

    I am off to Sri Lanka in August and found this blog really helpful!
    Thanks!!
    I have been before but sadly didn’t move much from my sun lounger! I intend to rectify this!!! ☺️

    • Fong Yau says:

      Hi Jen – how did your trip go? I am interested as I am planning to go there next year in August 2020, but have concerns about the weather. I will be going with my kids (14 and 12). Thanks Fong

  22. Christoph says:

    Next time you should visit us for a Stand Up Paddling trip through the beauties of Sri Lanka. Sunset paddling, lagoon trip etc. Especially our lagoon tour in HIkkaduwa is a great experience you should,not miss!

  23. Karolina says:

    Thank you, Jackson! I really like your article, very usefull <3

  24. Naren says:

    What about Panama on the south east coast…. a true hidden gem! Wild life, surfing, hanging out with real farmers….
    Amazing

  25. pam siddons says:

    You haven’t mentioned Cinnamon Air! Their seaplane taxi from Kandy to Walgama was the highlight of my holiday. Unbelievably exciting.
    Wrote a blog http://wearelifetravel.com/guest-blog-post-from-sri-lanka/

    • Elena says:

      Hey, guys! How did u find Sri Lanka when it comes to safety? We are 2 girls who want to travel and hike around. Until now, people told me that it is not safe and there are lots of drugs. What do you think? We want to go middle January. Thank you!

      • stefanie says:

        hei. since i work in sri lanka a lot and being an austrian do have an outsiders perspective. Lately i see a lot of girls travelling alone and it is quite safe ( safest compared to other south asian nations by far). This said you do need basic vigilance when there is a mixture of darkness, strangers and acohol. many beaches have notorious beachboys who are extremly friendly but also sticky and persistant unless they get clear signals that one is not interested. on the otherhand remote beaches in the east with dominant muslims populations do sometimes have groups of ogglers , who are harmless yet utterly annoying. all this definately should not avert you from travelling ceylon just be cautious.

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