We are Bree and Dylan. Welcome to our guide on the best things to do in Sri Lanka. We both grew up in a small coastal town in South Australia.
After finishing university, buying and renovating our first home, and completing a 3-month trip to Europe – we decided we wanted to experience more of the world. So we booked a one way ticket to Bali in January, 2019 and planned a 12-month adventure through Southeast Asia.
Sri Lanka was on our bucket-list for a long time. After seeing photos and reading blogs, we realised Sri Lanka had a bit of everything we loved. The country offers amazing vegetarian food, surf beaches, lush highlands, majestic waterfalls, delicious tea, amazing wildlife, culture and history.
On arrival, we were immediately impressed with the friendliness of the locals. Everyone we met was willing to help us or have a chat. We also instantly fell in love with the food. If you are looking for one reason to come to Sri Lanka, then the food is the only reason you need.
Our Spectacular 30-Day Adventure in Sri Lanka
We spent 30-days in Sri Lanka and got around by local bus and train. From Negombo we headed north to Sigiriya for a night to climb Lion Rock at sunset and Pidurangala Rock for sunrise. We then headed south to the highlands and visited Kandy, Nuwara Eliya and Ella.
It was incredible to ride the famous and scenic blue train, visit waterfalls, tea plantations and enjoy spectacular views. We then headed to the coast to Arugam Bay, even though it was low season. There wasn’t any surf but the weather was fine to enjoy the beach and go for a scooter ride.
Our adventure continued to Yala National Park where we did a safari and saw elephants and leopards. The remaining two weeks were spent along the south coast between Hiriketiya and Hikkaduwa. We took surf lessons, relaxed under palms, rode the scooter to beaches and ate at cool cafes.
Favourites of Sri Lanka: Yala National Park & Hiriketiya
We enjoyed so many places in Sri Lanka. One of Bree’s favourite places was Yala National Park. Her favourite animal was the elephant. Seeing these creatures in the wild was spectacular. We also stayed at an amazing sustainable place called Gem River Edge who also organised our tour.
On the other hand, Dylan loved Hiriketiya. It was our first stop along the south coast of Sri Lanka. Hiriketiya offered some chilled vibes, great food and safe waves for beginner surfers. We explored the entire coast nearby, yet Hiriketiya Beach was still one of the most beautiful beaches in the area.
10 Best Things To Do in Sri Lanka
The teardrop-shaped country of Sri Lanka offers an incredible range of experiences in such a small geographical area. From the beaches and temples, to the food and train journeys – there is something for every traveler to enjoy here. Below are our top 10 experiences:
1. Safari Tour through a National Park in Sri Lanka
You can’t travel to Sri Lanka and not visit a national park. We visited Yala National Park and loved seeing elephants and leopards in the wild. There are other national parks to see such as Udawalawe National Park, Bundala National Park, Horton Plains National Park and Kaudulla National Park.
2. Climb Lion Rock in Sigiriya for Spectacular Views
Although a popular activity, the iconic Lion Rock of Sigiriya is an absolute must-do experience. This UNESCO World Heritage site is thousands of years old and was once the site of the Royal Palace of one of the country’s kings. There isn’t anything like Sigiriya anywhere in the world.
3. Explore the Pidurangala Rock at Sunrise
Whilst you’re exploring Sigiriya, we recommend climbing the equally impressive Pidurangala Rock. Here you can see some unique views of Lion Rock from another perspective. Sitting up there at sunrise, watching the beautiful colours form and revealing Lion Rock is truly mesmerising.
4. Ride the Blue Train Between Kandy and Ella
Despite its popularity and often overcrowdedness, this classic train ride is still just as scenic as the pictures show. The endless tea plantations, lush highlands, villages and waterfalls you pass by make it all worth it! You can easily break up the ride by stopping in Nuwara Eliya half-way like we did.
5. Explore the Majestic Diyaluma Falls of Sri Lanka
The Diyaluma Falls are the second tallest falls in Sri Lanka and to be honest they were one of the most beautiful waterfalls we’ve ever seen. The falls are located off-the-beaten-track about one hour from Ella. You can take in some amazing views of Diyaluma as well as swim in natural infinity pools.
6. Surf at the Chilled Out Hiriketiya Beach
Hiriketiya is one of the most under-explored and underrated places in Sri Lanka. Home to golden sands, swaying palm trees, sweet left-handers and funky cafes – Hiriketiya is quite literally hippie heaven. The main beach of Hiriketiya is the perfect place to learn how to surf if it’s your first time.
7. Hike to Jungle Beach in Unawatuna
Jungle Beach was a pleasant surprise for us. We hiked down through the jungle to find the “hidden beach”. It’s a safe place for swimming and snorkelling. There are technically two beaches here if you explore the area. You can also walk up the west end and find the viewpoint for a shipwreck.
8. Try Hoppers – Rice and Coconut Crepes
Hoppers, as they are known in Sri Lanka, are bowl-shaped pancakes made from fermented rice flour and coconut milk. These delicious creations are considered a staple of Sri Lankan cuisine. They were best served at breakfast with coconut sambal and dahl. We loved eating hoppers!
9. Visit the Lush Tea Plantations of Sri Lanka
While you’re in the lush central highlands of Sri Lanka, there are endless beautiful tea plantations to visit. The tea served here is regarded as some of the best in the world. Check out the plantations and related tours in Kandy, Nuwara Eliya, Uda Pussellaw, Uva, Dimbula and Ruhuna.
10. Wander around the Marvellous Galle Fort
Galle Fort is a UNESCO World Heritage site and is the largest remaining fortress in Asia built by European colonialism. We spent sunset on the Galle Fort one night. The colonial architecture makes you feel like you aren’t in Asia anymore. There are some great cafes and shops to explore too.
Favourite Memory from our Trip to Sri Lanka
Out of all the experiences we just mentioned, our favourite memory would be our safari in Yala National Park. There are only 40 leopards in the park and you’re not guaranteed to see them. We explored the park through a less touristy area from Kataragama and saw a leopard within 30 minutes!
Incredible Food Scene of Sri Lanka
We loved the food in Sri Lanka. It was so accommodating to different diets and super easy to find vegetarian dishes. Our favourite dishes were hoppers with coconut sambal and dahl, roti, kottu and the many curries.
In Hikkaduwa we enjoyed Bookworm Library Restaurant for a great local spread of 7 curries with rice, for 700 rupees. We also enjoyed eating at “Hoppa” in Galle where they have a selection of hoppers and curries.
Biggest Challenge from 30-Days in Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka is easy and affordable to travel around. The most challenging part were the long bus rides. We would save money by taking the local buses instead of getting a private car and driver. When taking the buses, there is no pre-booking or finding a timetable and the drivers drive erratically.
We ended up loving this local experience though. However, sometimes standing on a crowded bus for four hours with our luggage was tiring.
Feel the Warmth of the Friendly Locals
Travelling Sri Lanka wouldn’t have been as easy if it weren’t for the kindness of the locals. We always stayed in homestay accommodation and got to know the hosts wherever we stayed. Each host was always willing to help and give us advice and unique travel tips that really helped our journey.
Whilst navigating the bus system in Sri Lanka, there was always someone at the bus stop willing to hail down the bus for us or tell us which one to catch, as we often had no idea. That was much appreciated.
What you Need to Know Before you Go
Staying in homestays made our time in Sri Lanka a lot more authentic. We recommend anyone visiting Sri Lanka to stay in a local homestay. Everywhere we stayed was welcoming, clean, comfortable and affordable.
We found spending our money locally was the best way to give back to the communities we were visiting. Many families will offer to cook for you. We tried some of the best authentic Sri Lankan food in our homestays.
Don’t spend more than one night in Colombo or Negombo as a general rule. Get out into the countryside as soon as you arrive. The best of Sri Lanka is found amongst the tea plantations, national parks and beaches.
30 days was a fantastic amount of time to see the best of Sri Lanka. We recommend a one month trip to see all the highlights and really get immersed in the culture and meet the amazing people.