Sri Lanka has a huge amount to offer visitors in search of unique encounters, ranging from breathtakingly scenic routes, ancient sites with rich history, stunning wildlife, spectacular festivals and a huge variety of outdoor activities. At the end of a hectic day touring the country, you can savor the deliciously spicy cuisine, relax with rejuvenating Ayurveda spa, or simply soak up a scintillating sunset.
Take a train ride in the hill country
The most unforgettable and scenic way to travel around Sri Lanka is no doubt by railway. The train trip through the hill country (taking in must-see destinations of Kandy, Nuwara Eliya and Hatton) is one of the most beautiful in the world . The rail network was originally built by the British to transport tea, and opens a window to the cultural, historic and scenic sides of Sri Lanka. Passing deep green tea plantations, remote villages and mountain paths, the train journey from Kandy up into the highest corners of the hills often stands out as an experience to treasure forever.
Climb Sigiriya Lion Rock
Built 1600 years ago, the UNESCO World heritage site Sigiriya is an outstanding example of ancient Sri Lankan art and architecture. Probably the most well-known Sri Lankan monument, it attracts tourists and locals alike, who early each morning tackle the 60–90 minute climb to the top. Reach the Sky Palace (on top of 200-meter-tall rock), stopping on the way to take in the gorgeous gardens and frescoes, then continue on to the summit and be astonished by the panoramic view.
Watch “The Gathering” at Minneriya National Park
Believed to be the largest gathering of elephants at any one time in Asia, Minneriya’s nature event takes place every July–October. The dry season means decreased water supplies for mammals, so they come from far and wide to drink from the Minneriya reservoir. Enjoy watching elephants play, drink and munch on fresh green grass. Over 300 of them head to Minneriya from all over the North Central Province of Sri Lanka.
Surf at Arugam Bay
If you are into surfing, Arugam Bay is the place to visit on this paradise island. The bay’s waves are ideal for both complete beginners and experienced surfers. Don’t miss the picture-perfect Peanut Farm beach, which is a surfing hot-spot, as well as Panama Point, dotted with colourful fishing boats.
Snorkel at Pigeon Island National Park
An idyllic location, Pigeon Island is situated to the north of Trincomalee, and is one of the most beautiful sandy beaches in Sri Lanka. The National Park’s name comes from the rock pigeon which has colonized it, and you can spot them by climbing up the rocks on the nature trail. But the real treat for visitors is the chance to snorkel right off the beach and spot scores of tropical fish amid dazzling coral.
Experience the Kandy Esala Perahera
As darkness falls, the streets of Kandy jostle with spectators eager to catch a glimpse one of the most spectacular processions in the world. The Esala Perahera (also known as the The Festival of the Tooth) takes place every July or August (depending on the Full Moon Poya Day). This awe-inspiring event includes hundreds of whip crackers, flag bearers, fire-dancers, Kandyan drummers, and elephants in bejewelled capes. After the grand finale, the event ends with the ritual water cutting ceremony in the river, and Sri Lankans believe that this water is sacred and dispels evil.
Indulge yourself with an Ayurvedic treatment
Full-on activities and hot, humid weather can take their toll. Fortunately, weary travellers can call on Sri Lanka’s famous Ayurveda to help them recuperate. Yoga, meditation, herbal baths, dietary advice and massage are all essential parts of Ayurveda – one of the world’s oldest medicinal systems, based on the ancient wisdom of good living. One of the most famous Ayurvedic treatments is shirodhara, which involves pouring warm herbal oil in a thin, steady stream directly onto the ‘third eye’ area of the forehead. To further purify the mind and body, you can choose from a wide variety of massages, including full body oil, powder or hot poultice.