A Snapshot Guide to Visiting Sri Lanka

06/03/2023

Heather Gosling recommends locations of interest from her recent visit to Sri Lanka.

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Image by Rashod Korala

By Heather Gosling

With its endless pristine beaches, lush tropical jungle, and a vibrant culture, there are a million reasons to visit Sri Lanka. An island located off the south coast of India, Sri Lanka is known as ‘The Pearl of the Indian Ocean’ due to its size and beauty. When I visited last year, I was instantly captivated by its charm.

The best time to travel to the island depends on when you are visiting: the south-western monsoon season occurs from May to September, whereas the north-eastern monsoon lasts from December to February. The cost of travel around Sri Lanka is affordable with local meals costing between £1-£3, and local transport equally as affordable. It can often be daunting travelling as far afield as Asia (especially if you are travelling solo), but I found Sri Lanka to be an incredibly friendly place and it is very easy to make friends in hostels. The guide below contains some of my favourite places when I visited Sri Lanka.

Kandy
The cultural heart of Sri Lanka, Kandy is home to The Temple of the Tooth. Located inside a former royal palace, the temple holds the sacred relic of Buddha’s tooth. The Royal Botanic gardens are also incredibly beautiful to walk around as the impressive gardens are home to over 10,000 trees spread across 60 acres.

Sigiriya Rock, also known as Lion’s Rock,  is an ancient rock fortress located outside Kandy in Dambulla. In 1982, UNESCO declared it a world heritage site, and it has continued to be a popular tourist destination. Despite the many stairs (1,200 +), climbing Sigriya Rock takes around 35 minutes, and the views are breath taking.

Ella
Home to Sri Lanka’s tea plantations, Ella is surrounded by green rainforest. One of the best ways to get to Ella is the Ella-Kandy train, arguably one of the most scenic train rides. Nine Arches Bridge in Ella is a famous example of colonial architecture in Sri Lanka, and it overlooks vast swaths of rainforest.

For more scenic views, look no further than Little Adam’s Peak, which is best hiked during sunrise. There are several waterfalls in Ella: Diyaluma Falls, Ravana Falls and Secret Waterfall. As the name implies, Secret Waterfall is hidden away and you may need some help getting to it. It is definitely worth investigating!

The tea plantations are a key attraction for tourists visiting Ella. There are many different tea factories that have tours available where they explain the complexity of the tea making process. Ella is certainly a must see when visiting Sri Lanka; the stunning scenery makes for an unforgettable trip.

Mirissa
Mirissa is located in the South West of Sri Lanka and its a multifaceted place, providing a laid back atmosphere for surfers as well as a party vibe with bars in the evenings. For example, Doctor’s House, a 200 year old Dutch ayurvedic hospital has been transformed into a bar, hotel and live music venue and it is a great place to spend an evening. Whilst the bar closes at 10pm, the venue serves amazing food all day and makes a great stop off during your travels.

The long stretches of beach in Mirissa are perfect for surfers and swimmers. Mirissa Beach is the most popular, but for a more secluded experience try Secret Beach. If you still want to enjoy the stunning views of Mirissa Beach but from a different perspective, Parrot Rock is a lookout point atop a large hill where you can see views of the entire bay.

Galle
Galle is a fortified old city, which was founded by Portuguese colonists. The beautiful whitewashed Dutch-style buildings and cobbled streets feel miles away from the other locations in Sri Lanka. Galle lighthouse is particularly beautiful. The UNESCO listed Galle Fort is also a key landmark. Walking along its  cobbled whitewashed streets, you will come across many cafés, boutiques and museums.

Unawatuna
A short tuk-tuk ride from Galle is Unawatuna, another coastal town and a home to several beautiful beaches. Dalawella Beach is an excellent place for swimming with turtles. If you are visiting during the right season, whale watching trips also take place in Unawatuna.

Another beach in Unawatuna is Jungle Beach, which requires trekking through some jungle to get to but is definitely worth it. A short walk from Jungle Beach is the Japanese Peace Pagoda, a peaceful Buddhist temple with views of the ocean. Ultimately, visiting these two locations would make more than a fantastic day out.