One of the best things about this island is the variety you get here. For such a small landmass, we’ve got everything from mountains, waterfalls, forests, plains, lakes, valleys, and beaches. The only landscapes we actually lack are deserts and snow. Really.
Yala National Park Safari
Kirinda – Palatupana Road, Yala
Home to the densest leopard population, Yala is the place for nature lovers in Sri Lanka. From herds of elephants to packs of frisky felines, sambhurs, sloth bears and spotted deer, you’d find as many as 44 different animal species and 215 varieties of birds. Its ecosystems include dry and moist monsoon forests, marshlands, grasslands, and sandy beaches, so you’d also find crocs in the area. Nearly 130,000 hectares, the land is divided up into 5 blocks out of which just two are open to the public.
Fun fact: ‘… the park was initially used as a hunting ground for the elite under British rule.’ This was before it became a wildlife sanctuary in 1900 and subsequently a national park in 1938.
Nine Arches Bridge (Demodara)
Known as Ahas namaye paalama in Sinhala, the Nine Arches Bridge is made completely of stone — as in, there’s no steel involved at all. From what I’ve heard, it’s known as the Ahas namaye paalama (the bridge of nine skies) because of the view you get when you stand beneath it: nine portals through which you can see the sky as you look upwards.
It’s set in Ella, so if you’re there for a holiday it’s the perfect time to put a small trek and check it out.
Casuarina Beach (Jaffna)
Casuarina Beach, Karainagar, Jaffna
Casuarina Beach is one of the nicer beaches just off Jaffna, with sparkling blue waters and bleached sands topped off with its namesake Casuarina trees. You can either wallow in the waters near the shore, or chat up a fisherman who has a boat (there are a couple of regular boatrides offered right there) and take it out to a reef a few kilometres out to sea. This in itself is a surreal experience because you’re out at sea with land far far away, YET the water is only as deep as your knees or chest.
The beach is situated on the Karainagar island, which is accessible from the mainland via the Ponnalai Causeway (AB17). The drive itself is lovely, with miles of saltpans and water on either side.
Hatton, Sri Lanka
A hop and a skip away from Laxapana, Aberdeen is a must-visit if you happen to be passing by the area. It’s also worth visiting if you’re going out of your way specifically for it, because the views from one of the main pools are absolutely stunning.
Standing 322 feet tall, it’s got two ‘pools’, the more picturesque one being the one right at the bottom. The pools are treacherously deep in the middle and the rocks leading down to it are incredibly mossy and slimy as well, so please exercise caution.
Also known as Sri Pada, this is not just a mountain for hikers to conquer: it’s a pilgrimage for many people. The ‘season’ for Sri Pada is from December to May, beginning and ending from each month’s respective full moons. It’s a long and arduous climb with thousands of steps along the most popular path — but you’ve six paths to choose from, a couple of those taking as long as a day and through a bit of bush.
It’s believed that the rock formation at the summit is the footprint of many a religious figure (okay, probably just two) with Buddhists believing it’s an imprint of the Lord Buddha, and Muslims and Christians believing that it’s Adam’s. Which is kind of self-explanatory given the name.
Sunrises over mountains (especially the ones in Ella) are nothing short of stunning: so we recommend a super early start to your day. Offering panoramic views of the Ella Gap and Little Adam’s Peak, the hike is an arduous upward climb where you’re guaranteed to lose yourselves among tea estates, hills, and tall shrubs if you’re without a guide.
Hantane Mountain Range
I hate to overuse the adjectives (though this happens whenever there’s a scenic mountain involved) but Hantane is one of the best easy-hikes you’d get. Only mildly challenging, you definitely feel like you’re out in the wilderness when you’re actually just a few minutes away from the chaotic urban mess that is Kandy; so you can get back to civilization pretty quickly. It gets cold and chilly towards sunset, so take a wrap along with to to stay cosy.
Idalgashinna – Ohiya Railway Trek
Rather out of the way and in the middle of nowhere so hordes of tourists haven’t ruined it yet, the walk between Idalgashinna and Ohiya is one of the most scenic rail hikes in the country. If I’m right, it’s known as the most scenic hike amongst backpackers and hikers. This is pretty straightforward, except the part where you get tons of tunnels to walk through because there’s a slight chance of a train coming through the same time you’re going through it. So… keep an ear out.
Oh also, there’s no mobile connectivity — so this isn’t for the social media addict.
Sigiriya Road, Sigiriya
A rock fortress in which one of our patricidal kings of yore holed himself up, Sigiriya is a work of art in every sense of the word. From its waterways and ponds that’s placed right at the summit, to the frescoes and mirror wall leading to it, it’s a local and international favourite.
Thanks to Indi, I learnt that ‘…the rock itself is a volcanic plug. This essentially means that it’s the core of an extinct volcano. Magma hardened inside a volcano, essentially stopping it up. Then the mountain around it eroded over millions of years, leaving this. Boom.’
Pasidukah’s home to one of the best places to get a beach sunrise in the country. It’s also immensely touristy, with plenty of luxury beach resorts dotting the bay. The main attraction is the sea, obviously, but if you’re keen on hobnobbing around, there’s that’s too. The Mari Amma Kovil is apparently close to six hundred years old, and is an understated temple which is very popular amongst the residents of the area.
Picking just 10 out of everything we have here is hard, especially when there are popular tourist attractions contending with more obscure and unknown areas. Mind you, there are plenty more places to visit and check out, but we hope this list does some justice to the plethora of sights Sri Lanka offers. Let us know what your favourite must-vists are!