Elephant safaris, tea plantations and rock climbing – top Irish travel blogger, Janet Newenham shares her ideas on fun things to do in Sri Lanka.
Sri Lanka is fast becoming a popular tourist destination for European travellers, as holidaymakers start to realise the incredible selection of beautiful hotels to spend the night, the wide range of adventure activities on offer and the stunning landscapes to be explored. Having just returned from my second trip to this beautiful South Asian island in less than a year, I have picked out my top seven things to do in Sri Lanka for the adventure-loving traveller.
1. Do an Elephant Safari
Probably the number one reason most people come to Sri Lanka is to see the massive herds of Asian Elephants that call the country home. National Parks such as Minneriya in the middle of the country and Yala National Park in the south are firm favourites where large herds of elephants can be spotted on a daily basis. There is something incredibly special about driving through a vast nature reserve only to stumble upon a baby elephant with its mama bathing in a river or lake, or simply following a herd across a path. It’s a sight you will never forget and can only be beaten by a trip to Minneriya at sunset when you’ll see up to 200 elephants at once all headed down to the lake to drink water.
2. Explore Sri Lanka’s Tea Plantations
One of the other unique things to do in Sri Lanka is to explore the country’s beautiful tea plantations. You’ll notice the sudden change in weather – temperatures in the hill country are similar to an Irish summer – and how the air feels cleaner and more crisp the higher you go. Driving the winding roads through the tea plantations is an unforgettable experience, with a sea of green in every direction. Be sure to book into one of the old colonial bungalows in Hatton and to visit one of the factories (and pick some tea to take home with you!) for a true tea plantation experience.
3. Relax by the Sea
Sri Lanka is home to some the most untouched beaches in all of Asia…a far cry from some of the overpacked resorts in Goa or Thailand. This is the beach paradise you always dreamed of, with beaches that stretch on for miles hugging the palm tree lined coast, home to small fishing villages, surfing hubs and cute little beach bars. While the South and West coasts are where all the most famous beach resorts are to be found, it is the East coast that has the most beautiful beaches and magical turquoise waters.
4. Visit Sri Lanka’s Most Famous Temple
No trip to Sri Lanka would be complete without visiting some of the country’s most famous and sacred temples. While there are many beautiful temples to choose from, the most famous of all is the Temple of the Tooth Relic, situated in Kandy. The entire town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and there is no shortage of cultural activities. A visit to the temple at night is a must, as it is draped in fairy lights and reflects in the water features that surround it. If you visit during July or the beginning or August, you can watch Esala Perahera, one of the largest and most famous Buddhist festivals and parades in the world.
5. Climb Sigiriya
Sigiriya is one of the most recognised sites in Sri Lanka, an ancient rock fortress where an ancient Sri Lankan king decided to build his fortress. A feat of architecture and nature, the views from the top are well worth the climb…even if it’s just to stand in awe and wonder how on earth they built a fortress at the top of this rocky mountain. There’s also a museum on site, famous water gardens and plenty of hiking to wear you out for the day.
6. Go Surfing in Weligama
As an adventure and ocean lover, the prospect of getting back on a board and catching some waves in Sri Lanka was high in my bucket list. Weligama and the surrounding coastal villages are a true backpacker haven with lots of reasonably priced hostels and guest houses, as well as surfing shops that offer board rental and lessons. It’s quite the adventure driving to the beach in a multi coloured tuk tuk, with all the surf boards strapped to the roof with some flimsy looking rope! For those not keen on surfing, this part of the country also has some great beaches to relax on and is home to the famous fishermen who sit on top of wooden stilts, perched high above the waves, an iconic image shared around the world when promoting Sri Lanka.
7. Wildlife watching in Yala National Park
While elephants can be found in Yala National Park, the leopards are the main attraction here. The park has the highest population of leopards in the world, with wildlife watchers and nature photographers from around the world travelling here with the hope of catching a glimpse of these majestic creatures. You can also see a vast variety of wild birds, crocodiles, wild pigs, water buffalo and peacocks roaming the park. It’s best visited just before sunrise as this is when you are most likely to see a leopard!
Regardless of your budget, you will find lots of things to do in Sri Lanka. Even if you are on a tight budget, you can still stay in some of the most beautiful hotels and resorts, some that offer private swimming pools to every guest or the chance to wake up and find an elephant wandering past your front door. Sri Lanka is the true gem of Asia, just waiting to be discovered.
For more travel inspiration from Janet, visit her travel blog JournalistOnTheRun.com