In past years, travelers have tended to flock to Asia to visit the white sand beaches of Thailand, the bustling cities of China, and the cultural sights of India. I’m happy to see, however, that other Asian destinations are becoming increasingly popular. From the temples of Cambodia to the vibrant cities of Taiwan, there are now so many countries in the continent that are worth visiting; however, I’m here to make a case for Sri Lanka! For a somewhat small island, the country has so much to offer that it can be hard to know where to start. I hope my suggestions help you to build your dream bucket list and make the most of your time on the island.
1 | The Kalpitiya Peninsula
North of the capital, tourists tend to skip the Kalpitiya Peninsula and head straight to the popular resorts on Negombo Beach. Please don’t make the same mistake! Check out the peninsula’s Alankuda Beach for incredible dolphin and whale watching opportunities, particularly between November and April. I also spent a day exploring Bar Reef, Sri Lanka’s largest coral reef. I was pleasantly surprised by how straightforward it was to catch a boat from the mainland and organize a diving experience among tropical fish, manta rays, turtles, and even sharks.
2 | Colombo
Despite its status as Sri Lanka’s capital, Colombo city isn’t particularly popular among tourists and that’s exactly what I loved about it. I think the most authentic experience was strolling around the streets of the Colombo 11 district. The city’s oldest area has tons of street markets, such as Pettah Market, where I ate some of the best food during my whole trip.
3 | Tea Plantations
One of my favorite things about going on vacation is having the opportunity to go outdoors and get away from my office desk. That’s probably why I instantly fell in love with Sri Lanka’s Hill Country. Exploring the region’s tea plantations was first on my bucket list. I’d highly recommend the Amba Estate for the chance to try delicious blends and enjoy amazing views over the Baddegama Hills. Red Dot’s Tea Estate, meanwhile, is an organic producer, not far from the town of Ella. The latter was definitely my favorite, and my pre-booked tour enabled me to visit the factory, try my hand at hand picking tea leaves, and take part in a delicious tasting session.
4 | Yala National Park
This 1,260-square-kilometer park is the most popular in the country, despite the fact that only around one fifth of the entire area is open to the public. Having said that, I found this was more than enough to keep me busy! I camped overnight and ate dinner around a barbecue, before spending an entire day taking in the most breathtaking natural beauty I’ve ever seen. It’s best to organize a safari if you want to see animals like leopards, sloth bears, and, my favorite, the Asian elephant.
5 | Hiking Routes
Some of my favorite, and the most challenging, hiking routes in Sri Lanka were in the center of the island. As the name “Hill Country” suggests, this region has a ton of treks to choose from. I personally didn’t take on the famous and sacred Adam’s Peak, but I heard great things! I instead chose to visit Horton Plains National Park, home to the country’s second and third-highest peaks. There’s also plenty of wildlife, including deer, leopards, bears, monkeys, and more. If you’re afraid of heights, stay away from the park’s main landmark, the World’s End. Here, the path comes to an abrupt end, followed by a sudden 1,000-meter drop!
6 | Galle
The walled city of Galle was perfect for a history buff like me. I really enjoyed walking along the 17th-century Dutch walls, before exploring the vibrant neighborhood around the Galle Fort. Once you’ve had enough of the city, you can easily reach beach areas like Unawatuna, which is particularly popular among surfers. However, there’s no need to take to the waves if don’t feel like it. There are plenty of bars and restaurants where you can simply kick back and relax, as well as lots of fantastic snorkeling opportunities.
7 | The Secluded North and East
Travelers tend to stick to the pristine resorts of the West, or the expansive national parks of the South. I totally understand their decision; with large hotel complexes, international restaurants, and English-speaking tour guides, these regions are easy to explore and pretty ideal for more cautious travelers.
Having said that, it would be a real shame to miss out on the incredible and peaceful beaches of the East coast, particularly around Trincomalee. The North, meanwhile, offers a ton of cultural sights. Jaffna, for example, hosts colorful Buddhist and Hindu temples, while the Jaffna Peninsula has incredibly tranquil islands.
8 | The Cultural Triangle
This fascinating area lies to the North of the Hill Country. I was truly fascinated by the range of cave temples, such as Aluvihare and Dambulla. The former marks the spot where Buddha’s teachings were first put into writing, while the latter was once used as a royal refuge. I was also stunned by the Sigiriya Rock Fortress, which was built on a huge rock in the fifth century. Although I know nothing about engineering, I could instantly tell this sight was really something. The way the ruins precariously sit on top of the rock, with such a sheer drop, is so impressive (and terrifying)!