Also known as Lion’s Rock, Sigiriya is a rock fortress and palace situated in the Matale district. Visitors can climb up to the ancient ruins, which are surrounded by gardens, ponds, and magnificent frescoes. The UNESCO World Heritage Site is one of the best ancient sites in the country. Head to the top of Sigiriya to see wonderful, dramatic views of the rolling hills in the jungle below.
Located in a diverse biological site, Adam’s Peak is a tall, pointed mountain in central Sri Lanka. The 2,243-meter-tall ascent is a common pilgrimage route in the Buddhist religion, as it is said there is an impression of Buddha’s own footprint near the summit. Aim to arrive at the top of the mountain around dawn to see an unforgettable sunrise.
Visit the well-preserved colonial city Galle for a relaxing city break. The town is full of charming Dutch-era villas and delightful seaside views. Visit the Galle Fort, a Dutch-built fort that is now a World Heritage Site and the largest remaining sea fort in Asia built by European occupiers. Other good stops include the natural harbor, St. Mary’s Cathedral, and Galle International Stadium, which is widely regarded as the most picturesque cricket ground.
Yala National Park
Yala National Park is the place to go to see big cats in Sri Lanka. The park is home to the highest concentration of leopards in the world, and it is also an important sanctuary for Sri Lankan elephants and aquatic birds. Monkeys, crocodiles, and other critters run around the park’s grassy plains and forest areas. The park is located on the southeast coast of the island.
View fine examples of ancient Sinhalese art and architecture in Polonnaruwa. Numerous well-preserved ruins of tombs, temples, statues and other archaeological sites are located in the town. Hundreds of years ago, Polonnaruwa was a capital of the island as well as a busy commercial and religious hub. Don’t miss the historical treasures this World Heritage Site has to offer.
This coastal town has magnificent beaches, luxury hotels, and untouched beauty. Spend a day soaking in the sun at Bentota Beach, visit the nearby Kosgoda Turtle Hatchery, or find peace in the Galapatha Raja Maha Vihara Buddhist temple. Bentota is a tourist hot spot, so you’ll also be able to partake in activities like helicopter rides and water sports, too.
This large city is located on a plateau that is surrounded by the central highland mountains. Kandy, a World Heritage Site, is the place to go to get a taste of Sinhalese culture, especially if you can visit during the Esala Perahera festival in the summer. Visit the Temple of the Tooth, which was built in the 4th century and holds a very sacred relic – Buddha’s tooth.
Another plateau town surrounded by mountains is Nuwara Eliya, also known as Little England for its old British colonial buildings like the Queen’s Cottage and the General’s House. The area holds many natural beauties, like waterfalls, hills, tea plantations, and the towering Pidurutalagala, the tallest mountain in Sri Lanka. Nuwara Eliya is one of many tea plantation areas in Sri Lanka, but it is regarded as the most important spot for tea production in the country. Don’t forget to try a cup while you’re visiting.
Arugam Bay is located on the southeast coast of Sri Lanka, and the remote town attracts surfers from around the world. The beach is the perfect place to spend a relaxing day or catching quality surf breaks – the best place to surf is Main Point, located on the south side of the bay. When you need a break from the sun and sea air, visit the town’s historic temples or the nearby Kumana National Park.
This large town houses the largest and best-preserved cave temple complex in all of Sri Lanka, holding five cave temples containing a huge collection of Sri Lankan Buddhist artwork, including statues, shrines, and murals. The paintings and statues tell stories from Buddha’s life – there are a whopping 153 Buddha statues throughout the complex. Other statue subjects include Sri Lankan kings, gods, and goddesses. The amazingly crafted murals cover a total area of 2,100 square meters.
Lie back in a hammock under the sun or float in the clear, turquoise water of this small, beachside village. Beautiful hideaway beaches and a thriving nightlife scene make Mirissa a hot spot for tourists, but because tourism didn’t take off until the mid-1990s, the area is still quite down to earth. Mirissa is also world renowned for its fantastic areas for whale and dolphin watching.
Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage
Gaze at the adorable faces of baby elephants bathing in the river at Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage. The orphanage was founded in 1975 to feed and nurse wild orphaned elephants found abandoned in the forests of Sri Lanka. An elephant breeding program was launched at the facility in 1982, and as of 2012, there were 78 elephants living at the site. The graceful, intelligent creatures are a beautiful sight to see.