Whittalls Travels creates bespoke luxurious journeys for travellers to Sri Lanka from all over the world. Rich and complex, Sri Lanka offers a diversity of experiences, from pristine beaches and deep blue waters to green capped mountains and lush rainforests soaked in ancient history and vibrant cultures.
Sri Lanka is renowned for its flourishing range of diverse Flora and Fauna spread throughout the island. Long has the country been a hotspot nestling majestic forests and exotic jungles, animal san...
Sri Lanka is a magical place. It is a paradise that nestles and nurtures many Cultural and Heritage sites strewn island wide. Sri Lanka is a nation with large and vast rich cultural diversity. The ...
Sri Lanka is a hotspot for adventure galore. Take your pick, from treks along picturesque and challenging terrain, embarking on journeys to extraordinary landmarks and clandestine monuments, travel...
Where were you the last time you fell in love with that special someone? Or the time you decided this love would last your lifetime - and there was nothing better than travel with that person to a ...
Sri Lanka promises adventure, leisure and a cultural backdrop laced in heritage and history like no other, but you would be remiss to not experience a fabulous range of wellness resorts located isl...
An enchanting tropical island set in the midst of the sparkling blue waters of the Indian Ocean. Here the sun smiles everyday; where lush greenery, blue skies and the sound of bird song marks the b...
Want an aerial tour of Sri Lanka’s mountainous inner region? Or perhaps you imagine spending the day exploring coral reefs and interacting with marine life? Or perhaps it is the culture and peopl...
Located just 1.2km northeast of Mannar Town, in Pallimunai, this Baobab Tree is thought to have been planted by Arabic traders around 700 years ago. When traders from North Africa and Middle East brought camels to Sri Lanka, they also brought the Baobab Trees to feed them. While camels are no longer present in Sri Lanka, the baobab trees are, though in small amount around Mannar, Jaffna, and Puttalam. These large trees are sometimes called “Elephant Trees” because of the resemblance of the bark to elephant skin.
Despite not being native to the country, the baobab tree has become an essential part of the biodiversity in Mannar, where the bulk of Sri Lankan baobab trees grow. It is well worth a visit, when in Mannar, to see this huge and historical landmark.
This ancient Hindu temple is located in Mannar, overlooking the ocean. Scholars disagree on the exact origin of the temple, but the earliest known record of the temple is from the 6th century B.C.E. Throughout its long history, the temple has been destroyed, rebuilt, and destroyed again. In the late 19th century, archaeological digs found some of the original Shiva Linga (representation of the Lord Shiva) and Hindu idols, which spurred local Hindus to advocate for the rebuilding of the temple on that site. The current temple was built in 1903, and since then the archaeological and historical discoveries about the area have shone even more light on the ancient significance of the temple.
In modern times, the temple has built a nearby water tank, and has a pond, both of which are of religious significance to the thousands of pilgrims that come to Ketheeswaram each year. Hindu temples close in the afternoon, so visitors are encouraged to go in the morning or evening, to have a fully immersive experience.
Nagadeepa Temple is located on the island of Nagadeepa, about 30km from Jaffna Town. This temple sits on the site of the Lord Buddha’s second visit to Sri Lanka, according to legend. Here, the Lord Buddha mediated an argument between two Naga kings, and prevented a battle between their armies. The ancient temple has been destroyed, and a modern temple and stupa has been rebuilt in recent years. Unlike many other stupas in Sri Lanka, the Nagadeepa stupa is painted silver, to protect the limestone stupa from the sea winds. The Nagadeepa Temple is one of the 16 holiest places in Sri Lanka for Buddhists, and attracts thousands of pilgrims each year.
Visitors to the Nagadeepa Temple will see a huge bazaar connecting this Buddhist temple with a nearby Hindu one, serving refreshments, souvenirs, and religious offerings to be used at the two temples.
Easily the most well-known beach in Sri Lanka’s northern coastal belt, Casuarina Beach is named after the lining of Casuarina Trees. Very popular on weekends, it is best experienced early on a weekday. Alternatively, visitors can pay the local fisherman to take you out to the fairly shallow waters - about 2-3 km away from shore - for a more secluded swim in the waters between Sri Lanka’s northern most point and India’s southernmost coast.
Located near the northernmost tip of Sri Lanka, on the Palk Strait, the Nainativu Nagapooshani Amman Temple is dedicated to the Goddess Parvati. This site has been mentioned in Tamil and Hindu literature since antiquity, but the current structure dates back to 1720 C.E. The temple rose to prominence after the 9th century Hindu philosopher, Adi Shankaracharya identified the temple as one of 64 Shakti Peethams (Goddess-focused shrines). The legend goes that Lord Shiva’s wife Gauri had sacrificed herself when she realized her family’s hatred of her beloved husband. Lord Shiva, consumed by grief, carried Gauri’s body on his shoulders and ran around the globe. In this act, Gauri’s body fell to 64 pieces in various parts of the world. It is said that Gauri’s anklets fell at the site of Nainativu Nagapooshani Amman Temple, which is why anklet imagery is so prevalent at this temple.
Nainativu Nagapooshani Amman Temple is a popular place for pilgrims and visitors alike. The temple sees around 1,000 visitors a day, 5,000 on holidays, and upwards of 100,000 during the annual Mahostavam festival. Many lesser-known holidays and festivals are celebrated at this temple, as it is a Goddess-centred site, and so visitors should go during the festivals to see a unique view on Hindu celebrations.
Wilpattu is a national park that borders Sri Lanka’s north western borders, and is best known for its collection of natural lakes - nearly 60 lakes form ecological clusters that sustain a number of species of flora and fauna. Its topographical landmarks include three distinct types of vegetation - salt grass bordering the beach, monsoon scrub, and a thick canopy of dense monsoon forests as you venture further inland.
Hiding in this vegetation and arid landscape is the most renowned resident in this park: the secretive leopard. But Wilpattu is also home to a large collection of migratory and endemic birds, and reptiles including the mugger crocodile and the Indian python.
Accessing Wilpattu is from Colombo via Negombo, Chilaw and Puttalam. You’ll require a permit to access the park.
The Jaffna Dutch Fort was at one point one of the largest forts in Sri Lanka. Built by the Portuguese in 1619, it was then expanded by the Dutch in 1680. The fort was further built up by the British in the 18th century, though the fort itself was built and the British contributions were mainly to buildings inside the fort.
Inside the fort, ancient relics, medieval pottery, Chola inscriptions, Roman coins, and temple remnants have been found. The fort is now in ruins, and it is only through the archaeological finds and obscure historical records that scholars have been able to piece together the history of the fort. Visitors should do a bit of research before visiting, to see just how immense the fort was in its heyday. With a little bit of knowledge, visitors can truly appreciate the scale and history of the Jaffna Dutch Fort.
Sitting on the Jaffna coastline, Dambakola Patuna is one of the key Buddhist sites in Sri Lanka. This is the site where King Ashoka’s daughter, Sanghamitta, landed in Sri Lanka with the sacred sapling of the Bo tree under which the Lord Buddha gained enlightenment. This sapling was later planted in Anuradhapura by King Devanampiyatissa, but this site still holds religious significance for the Sri Lankan Buddhist community. The original temple was destroyed over time, but the temple has since been rebuilt by the Sri Lankan Navy.
Dambakola Patuna now offers friendly navy guides to explain the history and the significance of the temple for Sri Lankan Buddhists. Visitors are welcome to come to the temple in order to learn more about the history of Buddhism, and appreciate the long journey of Sri Lankan Buddhism, and its artefacts from ancient India to the island. The navy also maintains the grounds around the temple, as well as a café, for visitors to enjoy the lapping waves and peaceful beach around Dambakola Patuna.
This ancient Buddhist temple is one of the few Buddhist sites in the northern Jaffna peninsula. While the temple no longer exists, the 20 stupas on the site are a walk-through history themselves. The stupas were excavated in 1917 by Paul E. Pieris, who claimed that there were at least 56 stupas, though only 20 have been excavated and are visible to visitors. In addition, excavations have produced the ruins of the shrine room, ancient tiles, ancient coins, and statues of the Lord Buddha. Some of these items have found their way to the Colombo National Museum, and others are in the archives of archaeological institutions.
Pieris’ claim that there are 56 stupas give credence to the legend that 60 Buddhist monks who left India due to persecution, to find refuge in Sri Lanka. These monks were given poisoned mushrooms, and they all passed away, and 60 stupas were built on that site. While scholars deny any credibility to the story, visitors will hear this, and perhaps a few more legends from the local guides.
Keerimalai Temple is dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva and brings devotees and visitors from all over the world to this northern area of the Jaffna Peninsula. The Keerimalai Temple and the adjoining springs is one of the oldest holy sites in the region. The precise age of the temple is unknown, but historical record shows that this temple was restored in the 6th century B.C.E. The temple was destroyed by the Portuguese in 1621, but then rebuilt in the late 19th century by the local community. It was again destroyed by fire in 1912 and was rebuilt. Keerimalai holds a special place in the community for its resilience, and mystic spiritualism that is attributed to Keerimalai Temple.
Next to the temple are the hot springs, long regarded as curative. Ancient tanks have been built around the springs, which sit just next to the sandy beach. Old stone steps lead visitors into the clear, warm pools of water below. The tanks are separated for men and women, and visitors still use the springs to cure small ailments or to just enjoy a swim.
Built in 1933, the Jaffna Library was at one point the largest library in Asia and held the largest collection of Tamil literature in the world. This included ancient manuscripts written on palm leaves. Rebuilt in 2001, the library has a host of programs for people in the community and has once again cemented itself as a community centre. Unfortunately, most of the collection is lost forever, but visitors will still find an interesting history and significance at the library.
Just a short walk out of Galle Fort, the gorgeous St. Mary’s Cathedral sits atop a small hill in Galle town. Built in 1874, this cathedral has been a landmark ever since. The cathedral is still very much in use, and mass still takes place daily in Sinhala and English and draws huge crowds. The gorgeous European-styled cathedral fits nicely with Galle’s eclectic architecture. The cathedral has documented its history very well, and visitors can see old black and white photographs of the cathedral inside, as well as learn more from local guides.
The northernmost tip of Sri Lanka, the town of Point Pedro is a tranquil beach area, where on clear days it is said that India can be seen from the sandy beaches. Point Pedro has historically been an important shipping and trading town, with a harbour used by ancient traders, the Dutch, and then the British. The Point Pedro Lighthouse is a famous site, and easily accessed from Munai Beach. The waters along Point Pedro’s beach are generally calmer than most beaches in Sri Lanka, making this an ideal place for a swim and the clear, sandy beach is an attractive place for families to have a day out.
Visitors to Point Pedro will see the effects of the long history of trade and travel, with both Vallipuram Hindu temple and the St. Lourdes church sitting in close proximity to each other. Driving from Point Pedro to Valvettiurai is a gorgeous, scenic drive along the northern coast, and regarded as one of the most beautiful drives in Sri Lanka.
A narrow, but crucial plot of land that connects mainland Sri Lanka to the northern peninsula, Elephant Pass is also home to Sri Lanka’s largest salt field. The name comes to modern parlance from the mists of the past: between the 3rd Century BCE and the 19th century AD, this strip of land was used to herd elephants on their way to India. Today, it is home to war monuments, military bases and by large wading birds that are attracted to the white sandy shores.
Elephant Pass is a brief stopover on the way to the Jaffna Peninsula.
The Nallur Kovil (temple), dedicated to the Hindu Lord Murugan, is one of the most famous Hindu sites in Sri Lanka, and a short 3 km from Jaffna town. Nallur Kovil adheres to a strict daily schedule, and visitors are encouraged to see the morning or evening prayer rituals, which are the most elaborate daily rituals.
The original temple was founded in 948 C.E., with many additions and changes made throughout history. The Temple’s fourth and current form was built in 1734 C.E. by Ragunatha Maapaana Mudaliyar, whose descendants continued to be custodians of the temple, a family legacy that has made Nallur Kovil one of the most significant Hindu temples in Sri Lanka. The red and white façade of the Temple has been replicated at Temples all over the world, and is an iconic visual of Northern Sri Lanka.
Nallur Kovil also hosts some of the largest Hindu festivals, including the famous Ther Thiruvulla (Chariot Festival). Visitors will see thousands of devotees flock to Nallur Kovil for this festival, full of colour and spectacle. This festival runs for 25 days, culminating in the procession of a statue of Lord Murugan in a huge wooden chariot, slowly carried around Nallur town by sarong-clad men. Holy rituals are performed by priests atop the chariot, and chants, songs, and devotional performances by the crowds on the street.
Mihintale mountain is one of the most revered sites for Sri Lanka’s Buddhists. Sitting 13km east of Anuradhapura, Mihintale is the site where the Buddhist monk Mahinda (son of the Indian King Ashoka) came to preach the doctrine of Buddhism to King Devanampiyatissa. This is commonly believed to be when Buddhism was formally brought to Sri Lanka, though debated among scholars. From that, Mihintale became a huge monastery, which at one point housed over 2000 monks.
Visitors can still see the remains of one of the oldest hospitals in the world, at the foot of the mountain. While the building is credited to King Sena II (853-887 C.E), it is thought that Mihintale had a hospital in that site long before. Venturing up the mountain, on the ancient stone steps, visitors can explore the rest of the monastery’s ruins. Visitors can also visit the many stupas (holy monuments) that dot the mountain, including the Sela Cetiya, which marks the spot of the historic meeting between King Devanampiyatissa and Mahinda. Following the legend, visitors can explore the cave known as Mihindu Guhawa, where Mahinda lived in Sri Lanka, and see the large nearby slab on which he would rest. Ponds and wildlife make up the rest of this enticing spot, with long, symbolic histories to guide visitors both up and down Mihintale mountain.
Just 16km from Sigiriya Rock, visitors can immerse themselves in a truly Sri Lankan experience by visiting Hiriwadunna Village. The village allows visitors a peek into agrarian life in Sri Lanka’s agrarian communities. A guide will take visitors on a trek through forests that lead to the small village of about 2,500 people. Visitors will meet locals going about their daily activities, and get a chance to talk to them about their farms and crops, and learn more about the predominantly barter system that the village uses. From there, a catamaran ‘taxi’ takes visitors through a lake filled with floating lily pads, with a view of Sigiriya rock in the distance. On the other side awaits fresh thambili, or coconut water to greet visitors. Here visitors will have a real home cooked lunch by one of the local farmers, and learn more about how they live with the elephants in the area, and what they do if an elephant threatens to destroy their much needed crops.
The village trek is finished by a ride through the fields on a traditional bullock cart. Visitors can see the farmers in action, as well as the children playing in the fields. Without any gimmicks, this is a true experience of a functioning Sri Lankan village with real people who live this daily life. There are no gift shops, and no cafes. It is truly a spectacular look into the lives of Sri Lankan Villagers.
There’s a place here where elephants gather in hundreds, attracted to the plentiful grasslands that grow on the surface of an ancient man-made reservoir - it is a sight from a postcard. Surely this can’t be a regular occurrence in these parts? But it is. For Minneriya National Park - built around 300 AD - has become a feeding ground just for the large but also the small, the winged, the scaled, and those living under water: over 20 species of mammals, 9 varieties of amphibians, 25 reptiles, 26 fish and over 70 species of butterfly are drawn to this man-made miracle.
The park is situated in the country’s dry zone, in the North Central Province, and can be accessed Colombo via the Habarana - Polonnaruwa Road. Visitors must obtain a permit in order to access the park.
Once upon a time it was among many ancient, man-made reservoirs, the Kaudulla National Park has since become a veritable eco-system for a variety of plants and animals. The area is now an Important Bird Area (IBA), attracting well over 160 distinct species including large water birds such as spot-billed pelicans and lesser adjutants.
The park can be accessed from Colombo via Polonnaruwa.
Spanning the Matale and Polonnaruwa districts, the Wasgamuwa National Park is home to abundant wildlife and endemic plants. Wasgamuwa, roughly translated, means ‘sloth bear woods’, and is characterized by a topography that is fairly flat, with the highest elevation of 500m at the Sudu Kanda Hill. This flat landscape, combined with two rivers acting as borders - the Mahaweli Ganga is the park’s eastern border while and Amban Ganga in the western border - makes this an ideal camping ground: camping sites scattered across the park give visitors an opportunity to experience the park’s grandeur up close.
Of the fauna, the park is host to many an endemic species including the purple-faced langur and the toque macaque; the park’s namesake, the sloth bear, meanwhile, is a rare sight.
The park can be accessed from several more popular tourist attractions including world heritage sites such as Kandy and Polonnaruwa.
Located within the Hurulu Forest Reserve, the Hurulu Eco Park offers visitors jeep safaris within the park. The park is home to a number of species endemic to Sri Lanka including elephants, leopards, rusty-spotted cats, Sri Lankan jungle fowl, and the Indian star tortoise. The park can be accessed via its nearest city, the World Heritage site Anuradhapura
Located just 11km west of Aukana, the Saseruwa site is home to an ancient unfinished statue of Lord Buddha. This statue is shrouded in mythology, some say that while carving the Saseruwa statue, a huge crack down the middle appeared, forcing the sculptors to abandon this site and start anew in Aukana. Another legend says that the Saseruwa and Aukana statues were carved by a master and his apprentice, as a competition to see who would finish first, which is why Saseruwa, the apprentice’s statue, was left unfinished.
The Saseruwa Buddha statue is carved straight into the large rock behind it and is thought to have once been housed in an image house. The nearby shrine, a monastery from the 2nd century B.C.E., and other buildings have long since been destroyed, but their ruins still give scholars and visitors a glimpse into the past. Since then, two caves along the path towards the Saeruwa statue have been converted into image houses, containing smaller statues of the Lord Buddha, as well as mural paintings. One of these cave image houses is home to a 12-metre-long reclining Buddha statue. Nearby, visitors can see an ancient Bo tree, a sapling from the Sacred Sri Maha Bodhi tree planted in Anuradhapura. Saseruwa is a unique mix of history, religion, and legend, and worth a stop for any visitor.
Medirigiriya is a tiny hamlet off the World Heritage city of Polonnaruwa and is best known for its imposing Medirigiriya Vatadage, an ancient temple that still stands today. This architectural masterpiece is almost two millennia old and was, at its pomp, much admired by ancient visitors from around the world.
The town and the Medirigiriya Vatadage can be reached from the closest city, the World Heritage site Polonnaruwa.
Though it is a modern city today, ask residents and they'll point you towards sites that reveal Anuradhapura's age - ancient and stately, it seems to reach out from the past, offering visitors a beguiling glimpse into some of Sri Lanka's earliest recorded history. Nowhere is this more tangible than at the Abhayagiri vihāra, an imposing monastic complex that was the first location to safeguard the Sacred Relic of the Tooth of the Buddha - before moving to the current location in Kandy's Temple of the Tooth. Its namesake museum hosts a large collection of artefacts that include jewellery, states, pottery, plates and other items that were part of the daily lives of kings, courtesans, priests and ordinary citizens during the Anuradhapura Kingdom between 377 BCE – 1017 AD. As a constant target of invasions, the city miraculously withstood armies for centuries before finally falling in 1017. With its fall came the rise of Polonnaruwa.
Polonnaruwa's reputation as a garden city is as old as it well earned. This is a city that was once the capital of Sri Lanka, rising to prominence as Anuradhapura fell into decline, and experiencing a golden era under the rule of King Parākramabāhu I. This golden era saw the city become a cultural, commercial and agricultural hub that was the envy of South Asia. Parākramabāhu I devoted much of his time to overseeing giant structures and reservoirs that still stand today: the Gal Viharaya (Rock Monastery) whose centrepieces are giant statues of The Buddha seated, standing and recumbent; the Kirivehera, a 'milk' stupa - essentially a hemispherical structure - that was built for meditation; and the magnificent Parakrama Samudraya, a giant reservoir whose engineering brilliance continues to beguile engineers and non-engineers alike today.
These - and other sites of historic importance - still survive today, making Polonnaruwa a hypnotic introduction to Sri Lankan history.
The significance of Yapahuwa can be seen throughout Sri Lanka, even when no one knows its name. Yapahuwa is an ancient rock fortress and later monastery built in the 13th century by King Bhuvenakabahu. This ancient site sits squarely between Kurunegala and Anuradhapura, chosen by the King to protect the Tooth Relic from invasion and battle. Yapahuwa sits atop a massive granite rock, surrounded by flatlands underneath. This is one of the most significant archaeological finds, in addition to the history of invasion, battle, and religion, the ancient Chinese coins found in Yapahuwa shone light on the cultural and trade relationships Sri Lanka had in ancient times. Probably the most famous feature of Yapahuwa are the two massive granite lions flanking the long stairwell to the top shrine. These statues are singularly unique in Sri Lanka, so much so that they were reproduced on the (now almost defunct) 10-rupee note. These magnificently preserved lions show a significant Chinese cultural and religious influence, and add to the history of multicultural influence in Sri Lanka.
Visitors are free to explore the ruins and shrine, while paying special attention not to disturb the few monks that still live and pray near the ruins. The trek to the shrine is an easy one since the stairs leading up have been reconstructed in recent years, using the original stone and cement to fill in the gaps. Due to its archaeological popularity, there is an archaeological guide on site, who can guide visitors through the history of this impressive rock fortress.
Another paradise for bird-watching, Anawilundawa is unique in that the park owes its existence to three different eco-systems crashing into one another - zoological residents of the coast, mangroves and freshwater lakes all call this ecological wonder, home.
Located between Chillaw and Puttalam, the Anawilundawa is among the best kept secrets among Sri Lankan bird-watchers. In here, visitors are likely to see exotic birds - endemic, resident and migratory - as well as larger mammals including the Slender Loris Fishing Cat, and the Indian Otter.
The park can be accessed from Colombo via Chillaw.
Built in 1667, the Kalpitiya Dutch Fort was a strategically placed fort by the Dutch to take control of the spice trade in Sri Lanka. As legend goes, the King of Kandy had only given the Dutch permission to build a church on the site, and so the fort has a yellow-bricked arch for an entry.
The fort was abandoned and in a state of disrepair for many years, until the Sri Lankan Navy took it over as a base and have become the caretakers of the fort. The old church that stands in the fort, with the surrounding graveyard has been abandoned, and many of the furnishings taken to close by churches for use. As this fort is a active naval base, visitors cannot enter without a Naval guide, who will show visitors around the fort and explain the efforts by the Navy to rebuild the fort to its former glory.
Kalpitiya has always had a magnetic appeal to visitors. During colonial times, the Portuguese first and then the Dutch saw the area as a key strategic point in safeguarding their territory. The Dutch conquered the area in 1659 and built a Church there that stands today.
The Dutch Reformed Church is another vestige of the profound influence of Protestant Christian thought on the part of the colonizers. The architecture – with its bold strokes of 17th century Dutch styling, including the towering tomb stone – is a mini time machine to a time when European powers of the time desired this Indian Ocean paradise.
Even though Sri Lanka is predominantly Buddhist, part of its timeless charm is its religious diversity. Catholicism and Christianity also play a major role in the social tapestry of the country. The St Anne’s Church in Puttalam is among the many Christian places of worship that inspire pilgrimages from all over the island.
Located 100 miles from Colombo, the church is home to a supposedly miracle statue that devotees say have provided much relief from burden. The annual feast during August attracts huge amounts of devotees and pilgrims from all over the island, as well as Sri Lankans living abroad.
The kite surfing capital of Sri Lanka is a storied place. Known in ancient times as Arasadi (the place of the Bo Tree) then Kalputti before its current moniker of Kalpitiya, this beach resort town was a favourite among colonial powers too. Dutch-era fort and church, and a Portuguese-era church bear testament to the town’s timeless appeal.
Today it attracts visitors from all over the world intent on surfing or kite-surfing. The season times sync with the island’s monsoon seasons – the south-west monsoon opens the summer kite-surfing season between May and October while the North-east monsoon creates a window between December and February.
The town is also another gateway into the miracle of marine life – from Kalpitiya, visitors can hire boats to go whale or dolphin watching, an opportunity that every tourist in Sri Lanka has to grab.
Being a very popular holiday destination, Kalpitiya now attracts hotels and accommodation options of all sorts, from rustic, beach-front properties to luxury hotels that offer stunning views and a touch of class.
The waters off Sri Lanka’s southern and south-western coast is feeding ground for dolphins and whales - and is a must-see for visitors who are enthralled by nature. These parts of the Indian Ocean are best explored via Sri Lanka’s southern coastal belt, especially Mirissa, Kalpitiya, Weligama and Trincomalee. Boat tour operators are available for day-time excursions into the sea.
Sri Lanka has long been famous for its plethora of spices. Ancient traders came from other parts of Asia, the Middle East, and Europe to trade for cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, pepper, and cardamom. So it comes as no surprise that the many Spice Gardens in Sri Lanka still have a pull for visitors from all over the world.
Some of the famous Spice Gardens in Sri Lanka are the Euphoria Spice Garden in Matale, the New Ranweli Spice Garden in Kandy, and the Ella Spice Garden in Ella. Visitors walk through lush, jungle-like, gardens, seeing and smelling the spice plants. Guides explain how each spice is grown and harvested, giving visitors an inside look into just how much care and effort go into the spices that end up in food, medicine, and beauty products. Some of the Spice Gardens have restaurants, where visitors can taste luxuriously spiced meals. At every Spice Garden, though, visitors have the opportunity to purchase the spices grown and harvested in the garden itself, allowing visitors to take a bit of the experience home with them. The various Spice Gardens in Sri Lanka each have their own unique styles, but they are all informative, calming, and a full sensory experience.
The Aluvihare Rock Temple is located 3.5km from Matale, in the ancient town of Aluvihare. Founded in the 3rd century B.C.E. by King Devanampiyatissa. as Buddhism was introduced to Sri Lanka under his reign, and so the Buddhist shrine and Bo tree planted by the king is one of the first Buddhist sites in Sri Lanka. Later, in the 1st century B.C.E, Buddhist monks first transcribed the Dhamma (Buddhist teachings) on palm leaves. As such, this site holds deep historical and religious significance for Sri Lankan Buddhists.
Aluvihare Rock Temple is also dotted with caves covered in inscriptions, painted with religious imagery, and housing statues of the Lord Buddha. Visitors can explore all of this, and the shrines and ruins of parts of the temple and adjoining Buddhist library, destroyed in the 19th century during the Matale Rebellion of 1848. The majority of Aluvihare is intact, and visitors can have a spectacular visit, not just through the caves and the cave museums, but through the shrine, and up to the top, where the view next to the stupa is spectacular.
Pidurangala is the lesser-known cousin of Sigiriya Rock Fortress. While the latter is steeped in history and beguiling art, Pidurangala is a more strenuous climb that is sure to attract enthusiastic climbers. The rock is only a few kilometres from Sigiriya and it isn’t unusual for visitors to catch the sunrise from atop Pidurangala before they climb the stairs of Sigiriya.
There is a rock temple during the ascent, hinting at the generations that have walked these very paths countless times.
Pidurangala, like Sigiriya, can be accessed from Dambulla and most cities within the Cultural Triangle.
Kandy is the home to the Temple of the Sacred Tooth, but there are many impressive temples in and around Kandy. Just 10 km outside Kandy, visitors can find the Lankathilake, Gadaladeniya, and Embekke Temples in close proximity to each other. These temples were all built under the Kandyan Kings in the 14th century and provide three very distinct examples of Buddhist architecture and design from that era.
Lankathilake Temple was designed by the South Indian architect Sathapati Rayar, based on Polonnaruwa era design, mixed with Dravidian and Indo Chinese elements. The temple’s image room is one of the most notable buildings, having been designed as a 4 storey mansion, only 3 storeys exist today. Nevertheless, the building and the outstanding design makes Lankathilake Temple a must see for any visitor.
Gadaladeniya Temple just 3km from Lankathilake Temple and is one of the largest rock temples in Sri Lanka. The main temple is built almost entirely of sculpted granite, in a traditionally South Indian style, and sits atop a huge rock slab. The main temple also houses a 2.5m tall statue of the seated Buddha. The temple has been home to some of Sri Lankan most celebrated Buddhist scholar monks, and it was handed over to the notable Buddhist monk Weliwita Sri Saranankara Thero in the 18th century. This intricate stone temple provides visitors with an insight into the way Southern Indian art and architecture influenced Sri Lankan design.
Embekka Temple is one of the most unique temples in Sri Lanka. The predominant materials used for building and decoration is wood, and there are architectural, engineering, and decorative elements unseen anywhere else. Visitors will see intricately carved pillars, as well as decoration in the roof rafters. The truly spectacular element is the roof structure, which does not have a central beam, but uses a giant catch-pin as the central roof engineering. This particular feat of carpentry is the only example of this kind in Sri Lanka.
These three temples, while built in the same era, are completely unique and are worth a visit while exploring the temples and spiritual design of Kandy.
Located in the city of Peradeniya, the Botanical Gardens was conceptualized and created by the British and officially commissioned in 1821. The garden is a treasure trove of botanical delights with over 4000 species of plants spread across 147 acres of land. It is located near the Mahaweli River which runs parallel to the gardens’ boundary.
Species of plants that visitors can marvel at include a wide array of orchids, medicinal plants, spices and palm trees. The garden has an avenue system that allows for easy planning of explorations; these include River Drive, Cook’s Pine Avenue, Palmyra Palm Avenue, Cabbage Avenue, Double Coconut Avenue, and Royal Palm Avenue. Some plants exude historical value - the Cannonball Tree was planted by King George V and Queen Mary in 1901.
For centuries, this forest reserve was the pleasure garden of Sri Lankan Royalty, but today Udawattakele Forest Reserve is an ecological marvel that attracts tourists and biologists alike. The forest is found on a ridge above The Temple of the Sacred Tooth and is home to a variety of flora and fauna. Its cocoon-like ambience is among the many reasons that Udawattakele continues to be a place of quiet refuge for meditating monks.
Avifauna that can be viewed at this forest reserve include Common Hill Mynah, the rare Three-Toed Kingfisher, Blue-winged Leafbird, and the Emerald Dove; while the non-winged include Indian boar, the Indian Giant Flying Squirrel, and the Greater False Vampire Bat.
The forest was then subject to British colonial control, the impact of which can be seen in walking pathways named after eminent personalities of the time: Lady Horton, Lady Gordon, Gregory Path, and Russell path are among the remnants that hint at Sri Lanka’s past as a British colony.
Close to the World Heritage city of Kandy, the Hanthana Mountain Range is a favourite among Sri Lanka’s mountaineering and hiking communities. It is a protected area, coming under the National Environment Act, and climbers - even relatively inexperienced ones - can climb to the top of the highest peak, Uura Kanda, and experience a panoramic view of the Sri Lanka’s hill country capital.
The British, upon viewing this distinctive range of mountains, likened it to a clenched fist; the peaks looked like the knuckles of this fist. The locals called it Dumbara Kanduvetiya or ‘The Mist-Laden Mountain Range’. The Knuckles is home to 34% of Sri Lanka’s endemic trees, shrubs and herbs - and found nowhere else in the island. The range is, therefore, of great scientific value in addition to its ecological importance and its aesthetic beauty.
When trekking the range, visitors can experience rapid weather changes, and brushes with exotic wildlife.
The Knuckles range can be explored via Kandy, the hill country capital.
The Hakgala Botanical Gardens are a stone’s throw away from Nuwara Eliya - arguably the most beautiful, idyllic hill town in the country – and is home to a wide variety of botanical species from around the world. The park’s history dates back to the early 19th century when it was constructed by the British. Local folklore also tells that it was in the surrounding areas that the Ramayana’s most incendiary incident took place - it was here Ravana had imprisoned Sita. Therefore, moulded as it is by myth, history and science, Hakgala offers something for everyone.
The cooler temperature of this mountain town is ideal refuge from the scorching temperatures of Sri Lanka’s dry zone and beaches. Here over 10,000 species of flora are displayed, including a wide range of orchids and roses.
Ever savoured a cup of Pure Ceylon Tea and wondered whence it came from? Scattered across Sri Lanka’s misty-top mountains, lies the answer in the form of tea estates. These tea estates are popular stopovers for tourists eager to know how their favourite brew was made. The most renowned tea estates to visit are Handunugoda Tea Estate, where the guides will be happy to explain the types of tea leaves, the history of the plantation sector in Sri Lanka, among other notable factoids. It is highly recommended that visitors to such tea estates try a cup or two along with a slice of home-made chocolate cake - simply divine.
Adam’s Peak is undoubtedly one of Sri Lanka’s most popular destinations. The large mountain is only 32 km southwest of Hatton, and 40 km northeast of Ratnapura, and is well worth adding to any Sri Lankan itinerary. This site draws thousands of tourists a year from all over the world, as well as local pilgrims, for the giant footprint shaped mark at the top. Buddhists believe it to be the footprint of Lord Buddha, Muslims and Christians believe it to be Adam (hence the name), and Hindus consider it to be the mark of Lord Shiva. In addition to those who make the journey for religious reasons, many trekkers make the journey throughout the night to watch the spectacular sunrise from the summit.
Adam’s Peak has multiple trails to the top, most of them are made up of stone steps, with lights to help with the trek, and small shops and roadside eateries to break up the 5-7 hour total trek. This is a trek that anyone can do, and visitors will see small kids and elderly adults on the paths as well.
This stone temple, located close to the hill country town of Matale (which is in itself located an hour away from Kandy, dates back possibly to the period between 8th and 10th centuries ACE. It is also an incredible testament to Sri Lanka’s multi religious fabric; the architecture here distinctly echoes the temple architecture of South India while fusing elements of Buddhist iconography in its stone carvings.
Located in a serene and quiet environment, it is a lovely stop-over for tourists.
Located in the midst of the magnificent Knuckles Mountain Range, Riverstone Mountain is a nature-lover’s dream come true. The mountain itself is home to cloud forests that are ideal for all-day hikes while the areas surrounding the mountains offer other spectacular experiences. Chief among the attractions are the waterfalls Sera Ella, Rathinda Waterfalls, Pathana Falls, and the mythical Meemure Village. From Meemure, locals have attempted to scale Lakegala, a large rock that gives the village its character.
Riverstone is best accessed through the Kandy - the World Heritage city, via Hunnasgiriya.
Everyone loves the sight and smells of a rampaging waterfall - seen from a safe distance, they are magnificent examples of the many dramas nature stages in front of us. Ramboda Falls may qualify among Sri Lanka’s prettiest as two tributaries combine to form a lovely Y-shape at the base.
To reach the falls, visitors will have to approach Ramboda Pass from the A5 Highway in the Pussellawa area near Nuwara Eliya. The Ramboda Falls roughly 100m in height, and ranks as the 11th tallest in Sri Lanka - therefore, depending on the weather and availability of local guides, it is possible to hike to a vantage point that gives visitors a better view of the spill.
Known as ‘Little Niagara’, St. Clair’s Falls is located close to Nuwara Eliya and often one of the most idyllic, picture postcard-perfect landscapes in Sri Lanka. The falls gets its name as a large pool runs through the St. Clair’s Estate, and is made up of two falls - Maha Ella (The Greater Fall), which is approximately 80m in height, and Kuda Ella - and is easily sighted from the road leading to Talawakele from Hatton, both in the greater Nuwara Eliya district. There’s a viewing point from which visitors can safely view this magnificent Water Fall.
Situated close to St. Clair’s Falls, Devon Falls is a 97m tiered water fall. Named after an English coffee planter named Devon - supposedly because his plantation was close by - Devon Falls is today the sight of the self-proclaimed The World’s Largest Tea Shop: the Mlesna Tea Centre. From this Scottish-inspired bungalow, visitors can admire the magnificent scenery while shopping for premium tea. The falls is situated on the A7 leading to Nuwara Eliya.
Mahaweli River, literally meaning the Great Sandy River, is at 335 km (208 miles) the longest river in Sri Lanka. From its beginnings in the little hamlet of Polwathura near Nuwara Eliya before joining the Hatton Oya and Kotmale Oya, the Mahaweli covers about one fifth of all Sri Lanka until it drains at the Bay of Bengal in the eastern coast near Trincomalee. The bay's connection to the Mahaweli, along with the many submarine canyons along its seaboard, is among the many reasons why Trincomalee is considered one of the world's great natural harbours.
The Mahaweli's journey from humble beginnings to epic meeting with the Indian Ocean is a journey is providing ecological and economic benefits to man and beast. The river is dammed in several places, including at the Victoria Dam, in order to provide for farm irrigational needs as well production of Sri Lanka's hydro-power electricity. Further, the Mahaweli is also the source of water for elephants and feeding grounds for large water birds migrating from colder climates.
Sri Lanka’s appeal to visitors stretches back to the first written records as well penetrating the mists of pre-history and even mythology. It is in Sri Lanka that the great Hindu epic of Ramayana most decisive battle between Ram and Ravana took place - and it was in this temple, legend tells us, that his wife Seetha was held captive. Here she prayed unceasingly for her husband to rescue her. History and mythology brims at this temple: near the streams are depressions made by feet, big and small, supposedly by Hanuman, Ram’s most loyal devotee and fiercest warrior.
Located close to Nuwara Eliya, the crown jewel of Sri Lanka’s hill country, the temple can be accessed fairly easily. Its location, nestled inside green forests and mist, is almost as evocative as the legends that inspired it.
Gregory Lake is a renowned man-made reservoir in the midst of Nuwara Eliya, the jewel of Sri Lanka’s hill country crown. Built in 1873, Lake Gregory is today an aesthetic delight - with its lush fields of green and cows grazing around it - it seems like something out of Middle Earth’s The Shire, but don’t be fooled; the waters are directed into a tunnel that hosts a hydro power station which in turn supplies electricity to the town to this day.
Towering over the World Heritage city Kandy, this huge statue of Lord Buddha seems to grace Kandy with a beatific quality. Built in 1972, the temple is today easily accessed from Kandy. From the temple at the top of the hill, visitors will be treated to a breathtaking panoramic view of Kandy below. The more adventurous can climb the stairs behind the statue and experience an even better view of the world below. Please note that it is important to remove footwear when entering the temple; modest clothing (trousers, long sleeve tops, long skirts) is also a must. The best time to visit is during the night - the view of Kandy’s twinkling night lights below juxtaposed against the mountains is a beautiful sight.
The legend of Robin Hood, the vigilante who stole from the rich and gave to the poor, has a Sri Lankan variant; Utuwankande Sura Saradiel’s bravery was a constant thorn to British colonial rule. Saradiel Village is located in Mawanella in Kegalle District and while it isn’t a historical or archaeological site, it still offers visitors a fascinating glimpse into the life of a man whose reputation has morphed from wanted criminal to national hero over two centuries.
The village was created by Dr. Gamage in collaboration with artist Kalbhushana Milton Jayapala, and unveiled to the public in 2012. Visitors entering the village will be greeted by a re-enactment actor Jayalal. The tour of the village, filled with intricate statues of life during the life and times of Saradiel, is a must for visitors to the area.
Sri Lanka’s proto-history stretches back to around 40,000 BCE before the island’s pre and recorded history began around 400 BCE. During this point an array of cultures lived in the island. The most famous is, of course, Balangoda Man (Homo sapiens balangodensis), hominins from the late Quaternary period. The Ibbankatuwa Megalithic Tombs have been carbon-dated to between 700 – 400 BCE, a period at the cusp of Sri Lanka’s recorded history; thus, this burial site represents a fascinating glimpse into Sri Lanka before it became Sri Lanka.
This burial site is located between Kurunegala and Dambulla, the latter home to World Heritage Sites.
In 477 BCE, King Kashyapa, having usurped the throne, was fearful of an attack on Anuradhapura by the rightful heir Moggallana. His solution towers today, a few kilometres from Dambulla. The rock fortress Sigiriya is among Sri Lanka’s most iconic travel sites. At its pomp, Sigiriya – originally referred to as Sīhāgiri, the Lion Rock – was King Kashyapa’s home for 18 years until 495 when his army was defeated. During those 18 years, King Kashyapa transformed the fortress into a gallery as well as a garden – the inside walls adorned with intricately painted frescoes while the Royal Gardens around the complex hint at an engineering ingenuity that must have astounded the ancient world.
Today, the site attracts large numbers of visitors, both local and foreign, eager to view the frescoes, wander among the landscaped gardens, and take in the view from the top of the fortress. All three will aspects of Sigiriya will astound the first time visitor.
Arugam Bay is Sri Lanka’s surf capital, but so much more. Walk up Elephant Rock, found in its namesake bay, and enjoy a panoramic view of the entire locale. From here, you’ll see the many hotels and surfing schools that have sprung up since 2005. During high season, you’ll discover why Arugam Bay has gained a reputation as one of the world’s best surfing destinations - it is why companies such as Red Bull have chosen to stage their extreme surfing competitions here.
Travellers who are looking for something beyond the surfing will find the village’s culture and heritage a charming escape from the waves. A lagoon safari, for instance, is a must; local fishermen will take travellers on 2-hour long safaris into the lagoons Kottukal or Urani where you can spot crocodiles, elephants and various bird life.
One of two national marine parks in Sri Lanka, Pigeon Island is a gateway to an underwater kingdom. Visitors coming to Pigeon Island via Trincomalee will have a chance to snorkel with a variety of marine life including turtles, sharks and other reef fish float around humans as pigeons circle above - a more idyllic sun-kissed, post card perfect moment will be hard to come by.
The park is made up of two islands, Large Pigeon Island and Small Pigeon Island, which can be explored in their own right.
Located in the Ampara district, and once known as Yala East National Park, Kumana National Park is an ornithological wonder. Avifauna species that can be seen here include the rare black-necked stork, painted storks, spoonbills, herons, egrets, and countless cormorants - well close to 200 distinct species - spread over the 80,000 acres of the park make this Sri Lanka’s favoured destination for bird-watching. In addition, large numbers of migratory birds also use the park as a temporary home.
The park is also a site of historical interest as rock inscriptions going back to the 3rd BCE can be seen. Access to Kumana National Park is through Panama ((not to be confused with the Central American nation) but visitors in the Southern Coastal Belt can also access the park through Hambantota.
One of the jewels of Sri Lanka’s eastern coast, Trincomalee has long been sought after by navies around the world. This deep natural harbour is one of the world’s largest and is characterized by terraced highlands, two headlands, and an entrance channel that is 500m wide.
Visitors to Trincomalee find themselves drawn to the harbour and the harbour’s beautiful surroundings - within short walk is the famous Koneswaram Temple; perched on a cliff, the temple is overflowing with architectural, archaeological and mythological history. From the temple, one can view the entire city of Trincomalee, its harbour and the magnificent Indian Ocean.
The Trincomalee War Cemetery is about 6km north of the town of Trincomalee and is dedicated to the soldiers of the British Empire who fought in World War II. It is one of only six Commonwealth war cemeteries, and thus is an important part of Sri Lankan as well as military history. Today, visitors can walk through the immaculately kept cemetery, and speak to the caretaker, whose family has been entrusted with the upkeep of this site. His knowledge of the people and events from this time period will help visitors learn more about how the war played out in this region. Trincomalee was an important military station during World War II, and the cemetery allows visitors to understand more about Sri Lanka’s role in world modern world history.
Located 47km north of Trincomalee lies the first Buddhist temple and stupa in Sri Lanka, and some even claim the world. Locally named Girihandu Seya, Thiriyaya Temple’s history is difficult to trace. According to legend, the temple was founded in the 4th century B.C.E by two merchants who heard the teachings of the Lord Buddha shortly after he attained enlightenment, and with a lock of his hair, came to Sri Lanka to build a temple to the Lord Buddha himself.
Currently, Thiriyaya Temple is one of the most complete examples of ancient Sri Lankan Buddhist architecture, known as Vatadage. This style is based on circles and half circles, built around stupas. As Thiriyaya Temple is one of only ten remaining vatadages, and is the first Buddhist temple, it is a popular site for pilgrims and visitors alike. The vatadage is located at the top of a mountain, with 300 large stone steps allowing the visitor an easy climb to the top. The mountain is also shady and spacious, allowing visitors and pilgrims to take breaks during the climb, or enjoy a meal in the shady clearings near the steps.
Among Sri Lanka’s most scenic beaches, Marble Beach in Trincomalee is a cloud-soft, white sand beach that will bedazzle with its clear blues. Start early and watch the sun rise from behind the ocean horizon, a truly beautiful occasion at the right of the year. One can laze around on the beach, and swim in the calm waters undisturbed by anyone – save for the occasional passing ship in the distance.
The shoreline too is interesting with a nest-like forest covering the beach, providing a natural buffer from the outside world. A truly lucky traveller can laze around in the crystal blue waters, fish swimming around her, and – were she to turn around and look at the forest – see peacocks swaggering while monkeys play on the trees.
A number of accommodation options are available including chalets built and maintained by the Sri Lankan Air Force – clean and comfortable, visitors should go stay here for the incredible views of the ocean.
Being one of the largest cities in Sri Lanka’s eastern province, Trincomalee has a coastal belt of its own that, while not the most secluded, is still charming in its own right. The beach is easily accessible from Trincomalee town and is renowned for its white sand and blue waters.
In the mornings, it is a great place to catch the sunrise from while listening to the city wake up in the background. In the evening, it is a social gathering of the local folk that will surely charm visitors.
Kanniya Water Springs have a history that is lost in the mists of time, but visitors today can still experience the ritualistic draw that brought - and continues to bring - thousands to experience a sense of cleansing. Located near the incredible natural harbour Trincomalee, Kanniya Water Springs is a short half-day excursion. Those visiting are encouraged to go early and to take a change of clothing.
Fort Fredrick is originally a Portuguese built fort, taken over by the Dutch and then the British in Trincomalee. The fort sits atop Swami Rock, the site of the original Koneswaram Temple city. Now the temple is rebuilt at the top of Swami Rock, but the remnants of Fort Fredrick exists still. Due to its placement, around the middle of the elevated rock, Fort Fredrick is an ideal place to view the azure sea from above, and the woods around the fort provide a home for the beautiful, sable-coloured semi-tamed deer that Trincomalee is famous for. Visitors to Fort Fredrick have lots to see, from the natural beauty surrounding the fort, to the preserved British military bungalows, and the famous Koneswaram Temple.
A burst of colour in Trincomalee town, the Pathirakali Amman Temple was originally part of the Koneswaram temple-city. The temple is dedicated to the Hindu goddess Kali, and while the founding of the temple is unknown, an 11th century inscription describes how King Rajendra Chola I expanded the temple from its original state. Like Koneswaram Temple, the Pathirakali Amman Temple was destroyed by the Portuguese in the 17th century but was later rebuilt.
Today, the Pathirakali Amman temple is one of the more colourful temples in Sri Lanka, with intricate work both inside and outside of the temple. It is known for its detailed and hypnotizing ceiling, made up of carved figures, animals, designs, and idols. Visitors are welcome to visit the temple, and the temple workers are happy to explain the meaning of the various carvings and designs.
Passikudah meaning Green Algae Beach in Tamil is among the calmest and most inviting beaches in Sri Lanka. With one of the lengthiest stretches of shallow reef, the adventurous have ventured a couple of kilometres into the sea, with the water level barely going over chest level.
Sunrise with the glowing ball juxtaposed against this calm blue sheet of water is a truly spectacular site that should be experienced by all who visit Sri Lanka. Due to its rural roots, the accommodation options aren’t the widest but they are universally clean, comfortable and hygienic.
Lankapatuna is an important site for Sri Lankan Buddhists. This area, 52km south of Trincomalee, is where the Prince Dantha and Princess Hemamala brought the famous Tooth Relic from India to Sri Lanka in the 4th century. Visitors to Kandy will be familiar with the relic and may have even seen the paintings of two people, dressed like ancient Brahmins, with the Princess’ hair coiled on the top of her head, a halo around it. This is because according to legend, the Prince and Princess had to smuggle the Tooth Relic out of India, and so they disguised themselves as Brahmins, and Princess Hemamala hid the tooth in her hair.
Over time, the original shrine on the site was destroyed, and even the ruins decimated. Now visitors who go to Lankapatuna will see a modern stupa, raised on 3 arching pillars, in a beautiful white colour against the light blue sky. There are two ways to get there, by bridge or by local boat. The bridge is new, having been opened in 2017, but visitors are encouraged to take the local boat. The view is beautiful, the boat ride serene and slow. Visitors will also see a snapshot of daily life, kids on their way to school, adults having a nice day out, or just running errands, as the local boat is one of the main transportations in the community.
Dating back to the 3rd century B.C.E., Dighavapi is an ancient Buddhist shrine and an archaeological site. Located 20km east of Ampara, Dighavapi has a long mythical history, and much of it has been refuted by scholars. But it is still believed to be a site of historical and archaeological importance. The shrine at Dighavapi was built to commemorate the Lord Buddha’s third visit to Sri Lanka, where he meditated in Dighavapi. While there is no proof for that, archaeologists have found a plethora of ancient artefacts that illuminate the prestigious history of the Dighavapi shrine.
Visitors to Dighavapi will still be able to see the remnants of the ancient stupa, said to be over 300 metres wide, and almost 60 metres tall. The surrounding archaeological sites are available for viewing, and any local guide or site worker will be happy to guide a visitor through the history of Dighavapi.
One of the smaller forts in Sri Lanka, the Batticaloa Dutch Fort was originally built by the Portuguese in 1628 but was captured by the Dutch just 10 years later. Because of Batticaloa’s location in a lagoon, the fort was constructed to primarily be a lookout. After Independence, the Batticaloa Dutch Fort became the offices for the District Secretariat in Batticaloa, though there has been talk of converting the fort into a museum. The imposing structure sits right at the end of the bustling shopping area of town, and just next to the Mahatma Gandhi Park.
Thoppigala, literally translated means ‘hat shaped rock’, is a bio-diversity hotspot that has enjoyed a renewed interest since being reopened in the last decade. From the peak, visitors can enjoy a panoramic view of the surroundings, which are achingly beautiful.
This 17th century Dutch colonial-style building is believed to be the oldest building in Colombo’s Fort neighbourhood. Built in 1681, the Dutch Hospital served Dutch sailors and merchants that sailed into Colombo. After independence, the Dutch Hospital briefly served as a police station, and was completely revamped in 2011 as a shopping and restaurant district.
The Old Dutch Hospital Complex hosts cafes, upscale eateries, bars and lounges, and various shops to buy anything from clothes to toys made by Sri Lankan brands. The Old Dutch Hospital Complex is also home to a variety of street fairs and festivals. The Jazz Festival is the most famous, where the outdoor seating for the restaurants and cafes help visitors enjoy the old world charm and enticing jazz music played outside. The Street Food Fair invites small restaurants and chefs to cook on the cobbled streets, and adds a party atmosphere with performers and musicians dotting the various corners of the complex. There is always an event underway at the Old Dutch Hospital Complex, so visitors would do well to spend a leisurely evening there.
Sitting in the middle of a sprawling green lawn, the Colombo National Museum is housed in a huge 19th century Italian-style building. Founded by the British Governor of Ceylon, Sir William Henry Gregory in 1877, the museum was dedicated to the preservation and display of Sri Lanka’s cultural and natural heritage. This legacy continues today, as the museum continues to house large collections of Sri Lankan regional cultural artefacts and archaeological finds.
Visitors can walk through a pre-Colonial history of Sri Lanka on the ground floor, mapping out the various kingdoms on the island through many historical and archaeological items. On the second floor, visitors will be able to explore the regional culture of Sri Lanka through exhibits on arts & crafts, theatre, and paintings. Visitors can finish up the trip with a quick trip to the gift shop, which sells an array of books on the history and culture of Sri Lanka, as well as reproductions of famous paintings and pieces in the museum.
One of the most unique Buddhist temples in Sri Lanka, the Gangaramaya Temple is located around idyllic Beira Lake in Colombo. The Gangaramaya Temple is a mix of Sri Lankan, Thai, Indian, and Chinese architecture. This mix of Buddhist traditions has drawn visitors from all over the world. Visitors can see an impressive mix of old and new, traditional and modern, including a collection of classic cars that have been gifted to the temple over the years.
Close by, situated on Beira Lake itself, sits Seema Malaka, another part of the temple. Designed by the renowned Sri Lankan architect, Geoffrey Bawa, Seema Malaka is a place for meditation and reflection. The serene temple is a distinct departure from the main Gangaramaya Temple, without intricate design or colourful facades. Visitors are encouraged to visit both, to fully appreciate the multiple ways Buddhists in Sri Lanka celebrate and practice their religion.
The Gangaramaya Temple hosts the festive Nawam Perahera in February each year - a magnificent site for all those who attend.
A hallowed religious site, the Kelaniya Temple sits just 11km from Colombo, in the town of Kelaniya. According the Buddhist belief, this temple sits where the Lord Buddha visited Sri Lanka after his enlightenment. This history means that this site has been considered holy since 500 B.C.E. According to the Mahawansa (ancient Sri Lankan text), the stupa that sits at the temple enshrines a gem-studded throne from which the Lord Buddha preached on his last visit to Sri Lanka. Due to its long history, the ancient temple and its murals no longer stand. After centuries of destruction and rebuilding, the current temple was built in the 18th century, and refurbished in the first half of the 20th century. As such, the murals in the temple are paintings by renowned Sri Lankan artist, Solias Mendis.
Visitors during January can see the Duruthu Perahera (procession), a large procession of devotees and holy performances that attract pilgrims from all over Sri Lanka, as well as visitors. These processions feature traditional musicians, fire performers, whip crackers, decorated elephants, and dancers. This sight only makes a visit to Kelaniya Temple even more alluring, mixing tradition, history, and celebration.
Negombo is a famous fishing town, just 37 km north of Colombo. As such, the Negombo Fish Market is an authentic look at the huge variety of fish and seafood that made Sri Lankan seafood famous the world over. Walking along the beach near the market, Visitors will see huge sheets laid out in the hot sun, covered in various types of fish and sardines in the drying process. The men manning these sheets diligently turn the thousands of fish every hour, to ensure an even drying process.
The fish market itself is a sight to behold, it is an open market, with 4 walls and no roof, letting the bright sun in and letting the smells of freshly caught fish out. The market caters to both wholesale and retail, so the sheer quantity of fish and seafood can be overwhelming. Not only does the Negombo Fish Market sell the types of fish and seafood that is regularly found in restaurants and grocery stores, fishermen bring in a host of exotic catches like barracuda or shark. Visitors should be prepared to go early, to watch the fishermen bring the catch in on their boats, as well as to get a look at the fresh seafood and fish before it all sells out.
Hamilton Canal has been one of the major waterways in Sri Lanka, connecting Puttalam to Colombo through Negombo. Early uses of the canal were to transport spices like cinnamon and clove throughout the area. Recently, Hamilton canal went through major reconstruction. With the addition of large, colourful walkways, the construction of a glass overhang for an overhead view of the canal, and the planting of trees, the canal is now a go-to spot for a leisurely stroll in Negombo. The newly constructed pedestrian bridge is impressive, adding a colourful dance of lights to the water at night-time. Visitors can watch the colourful fish boats go by, or even take a tour boat, to get a true experience of the way the town lives in harmony with the water. The Hamilton Canal is constantly changing, with new conservation efforts adding back precious flora to the canal, so the landscape of this site will be ever-evolving, preserving the history and nature of this historical waterway.
‘The Swamp of Royal Treasures’, Muthurajawela is a marsh that begins in southern region of the Negombo and measures around 7500 acres, earning a reputation as the country’s largest saline coastal peat bog. It is an area of astonishing bio-diversity and is one of the 12 priority wetlands in Sri Lanka, granted sanctuary status by the government of Sri Lanka. Muthurajawela is home to 192 distinct botanical species as well as 209 species of fauna.
Visiting Muthurajawela requires being accompanied by staff at the office in order to ensure that visitors don’t unintentionally harm eco-systems that are dependent on the marsh.
The marsh can be reached via Negombo Road. A two-hour boat tour with the guide is recommended.
Independence Square is a popular stop for Sri Lankans and tourists alike. Located in the heart of Colombo, Independence Square is home to the Independence Memorial Hall, built in commemoration of Sri Lanka’s Independence from colonial rule. The Memorial Hall is a collaborative effort between 9 of the most highly respected Sri Lankan architects, basing their design on the Celebration Hall of the Kingdom of Kandy. It sits next to a public garden, where school children on class trips can be seen playing, or young people enjoying their lunch hour.
Visitors can learn more about Sri Lanka’s journey to independence through the Independence Memorial Museum, located at the base of Independence Memorial Hall. Here, visitors can find busts of Sri Lankan Presidents, as well information and exhibits about the men and women who helped forge the path to an independent Sri Lanka.
Named by the Dutch, who mistakenly thought the roaming jackals in the area were wolves, this church sits in what is now the heart of Pettah. When Wolvendaal Church was built in 1757, it was in the uninhabited swampland outside of the city walls. As the city sprawled out, Wolvendaal Church became a part of the Pettah neighbourhood, in a triangular plot of land among the crisscrossing streets.
The church is an essential stop for any history buff. The original organ is still used for services, and services, weddings, and baptisms still hold the old charm of this colonial era church. The tombstones around and inside the church have helped people from all over the world trace their lineage back to or through Sri Lanka, and connected families across continents. The church sexton is always happy to greet visitors and guide them through the church and its history.
Colombo’s most scenic location, next to the Galle Face promenade, is Viharamahadevi. Named after the mother of the legendary King Dutugemunu, but also called ‘Victoria Park’ by the British colonial rulers, it is a respite from Colombo’s metropolis mayhem. It’s located in the centre of the city’s most prominent neighbourhood, Cinnamon Gardens, and is in front of the City Municipal Council building.
The park is home to an open air theater, children’s playground and amusement park while grazing elephants and ponies (kids can hire a ride on a pony around the park) provide a unique Lankan flavour to the ambience.
Designed and donated by the wealthy Sri Lankan entrepreneur Charles Henry de Soysa to the city of Colombo during British Rule, it has since become the city’s favourite place to spend a lazy weekend. On such days, families come for picnics, students come to study in peace, while others jog and exercise.
Colombo’s western oceanfront is spectacularly opened up close to its commercial hub. This promenade is about a half a kilometre in length and 12 acres in size, and is the most popular public park in Colombo. On any given evening, the park is filled with Colombo residents, tourists and school kids from outside the city taking a walk, breathing in the fresh ocean air, and helping themselves to the assortment of food and drinks being sold there. Early mornings are a great time for a jog from one end to another while night time is a good for trying out hot, fresh street food. Some visitors do go swimming though it isn’t recommended as some parts the water contain strong currents.
Across from Galle Face Green sits the Old Parliament Building. Built in 1930 by the British, and opened by the Governor at the time, Sri Herbert Stanley, the building now houses the Presidential Secretariat of Sri Lanka. The Old Parliament Building was used as the main parliament building until 1983, when a new parliament building was built in Sri Jawardenapura, just outside of Colombo. The impressive building is built in the neo-Baroque style, with large bronze statues of Sri Lankan leaders on the large lawn outside. Visitors to the Old Parliament Building can walk through Sri Lanka’s post-independence political history, among the new buildings flanking this historic site.
Sitting high about the Colombo Harbour, looking precarious on two interlocking arches, is the Sambodhi Chaitya. This Buddhist shrine is in the shape of a stupa, but visitors are able to enter to see the mural paintings and Buddha statues inside. It is worth the 300-step climb in other to see the beautiful panoramic views of Colombo, the harbour, and the ocean. Visitors must take their shoes off for the climb, as a show of respect for the temple. The area around the structure is made for relaxing and picnicking, dotted with small pools for self-reflection. This is an idyllic space overlooking the busy streets below, and a great stop for any visitor to Colombo.
Nelum Pokuna means lotus pond, and the Colombo-based theatre is built to resemble the famous eight petaled lotus pond in Polonnaruwa. The Nelum Pokuna theatre is the modern centre of the performing arts, and has 3 theatres within the building, including the front stairwell that can be converted into an outdoor stage. Nelum Pokuna has hosted huge, elaborate events, from musical TV shows, international touring stage shows, and local cultural shows. The Nelum Pokuna is one of the most modern theatres, having been built in 2011.
Next to the theatre is the famous Art Street, where local artists sell paintings on the sidewalk. The many artists sell anything from modern art to traditional Sri Lankan folk art and is a colourful meander down the street. Visitors can meet the artists as they buy the affordable artwork and learn more about the art they have picked up.
While technically named Jami Ul-Alfar Mosque, it is also referred to as the Red Mosque. The name is derived from the striking red and white candy-striped exterior. The mosque was built in 1909 and was at one point the landmark seen by sailors coming into Colombo Harbour. The original most was a multi-cultural effort, which is evident from the architecture – a mix of native Indo-Islamic, Indian, Gothic Revival, and Neo-Classical styles. This makes the Red Mosque a very popular tourist spot. In its original form, the mosque held 1,500 people, and has since gone through a series of expansions and retro-fittings to hold 10,000 people and include an elevator to more easily reach all 6 storeys.
The Red Mosque is a unique design landmark, and worth visiting for any tourist. As this is still a religious space, visitors should arrive dressed appropriately and ready to observe the rules of the mosque.
No animal in Sri Lanka is as loved, as essential to the country’s psyche, as crucial in moulding its culture, and as essential to carving the landscape for the benefit of its entire people as the mighty elephant. These great creatures have faced many challenges as a result of deforestation - thus the necessity for a sanctuary dedicated to safeguarding elephants.
Pinnawala was established in 1975 and has since then become a focal point among tourists and locals alike. Over 90 elephants spanning three generations can be seen playing, eating and bathing. Find a guide who will explain to visitors how a herd’s complex social structures work - it is well worth the insight into how these magnificent creatures live.
Pinnawala can be accessed by travelling approximately 7km on Rambukkana Road via the Colombo - Kandy road.
The center opens at 8:30AM and closes at 6:00PM daily. Bottle feeding is at 9:15AM, 1.15pm & 5pm and bathing times at the river is at 10:00AM and 2:00PM. The bathing hours are followed up by the feeding hour at the main center of the orphanage.
A truly distinctive looking waterfall, Bopath Ella is named after the leaf of the sacred Bo Tree whose shape it seemingly takes. The falls has been mentioned in written and oral folk lore, as well as in history texts - Gods, Goddesses, Royalty have all flocked here to experience its supposedly healing waters.
The Bopath Ella Falls is closest from Ratnapura, Sri Lanka’s gem capital.
A prime example of early Sri Lankan architecture, the Maduwanwela Walawwa is located to Ratnapura, the city of gems. This family home can be traced to the Sri Lanka between 1687 and 1707, under the reign of King Wimaladharmasuriya II. Built by the patriarch of the family, Maduwanwela Maha Mohottala at the time, the house had been expanded numerous times by his descendants until 1905.
At its pomp, the Walawwa was said to have over 100 rooms, 21 inner court yards, and was in the midst of 80,000 acres of land. Today, having been transferred to the state under the stewardship Department of Archaeology, it survives with 43 rooms while some of its courtyards are still viewable.
A visit here is akin to travelling back to a time when parts of Sri Lanka was still relatively free of colonial influences.
Another vestige of colonial times, the Katuwana Fort, however, is unique in that it was among the handful inland forts built by the Dutch. The fort is found 40km inland from the southern coastal town of Matara, at the start of the hill country towns. Back in the 18th century, this fort was used by the Dutch to safeguard against attacks from the still-free Kandyan kingdom in the centre of the island.
It is located on a sloping hill, with ramparts that are 5m in height (16 ft), a single gateway, and a walkway on top. A must visit to those intending to go to Kandy from the southern coast.
One of the most archaeologically important sites in Sri Lanka, the Belilena is a large cave that houses evidence of pre-historic civilization from as early as 30,000 years ago. This anthropological delight requires effort to get there, however; situated deep inside the Kitulgala jungles, the trek is slightly challenging, and requires protective clothing from insects and leeches. But the sight of the cave is truly worth the endeavour to get there.
Inside, you’ll find examples of ancient tools and even a few skeletal remains.
Even if this is a visitor’s first time in Sri Lanka, there is a likelihood he has seen the Kitugala Bridge before; it was here, the director David Lean filmed his WWII epic The Bridge on the River Kwai. Visitors in the Kitulgala area for white-water sports can use a guide to take them to the bridge, which is a kilometre inside this forest town.
Ratnapura, the city at the foot of Adam’s Peak, is also a hidden gem - quite literally! This city’s name when literally translated means ‘City of Gems’, and is the focal point of Sri Lanka’s gem trade. Naturally, this entails that there be the presence of a Gem Museum - and for those who love jewellery, you will not be disappointed. The museum is a good repository of information around the extraction and polishing of precious stones. While in the city, why not go shopping for gems?
The transit home for orphaned elephant calves was set up with the intention of rehabilitating and releasing them back into the wild. Dozens of elephants have been looked after and released back into the wild once they were deemed strong enough to survive. Visitors to the Elephant Transit Home can enrol themselves on a Foster Parent Scheme, set up by the Wildlife Conservation Department, which would enable them to name the elephant and be present at the time of its release into the wild.
It isn’t surprising that Sri Lanka, upon first sight, comes across as something out of a fairytale - much of the island is referenced throughout the Ramayana, the ancient text that speaks of the God Ram’s quest to free his wife from Ravana. The latter, myth tells us, was a Lankan demigod king who had styled the island to his vision.
The modern hill town resort of Ella - like much of Sri Lanka’s hill country - carries a lot of this Ramayana/Ravana heritage to this day. A short drive from Ella is Ravana Falls - it is a majestic site for those who stop from their journeys to bask in its cool surroundings. Closer to Ella are the Mythical Ravana caves. Visiting the site requires a hike to get to the entrance of the cave - travellers should wear appropriate hiking clothing as the final bits of the climb require some degree of fitness.
Some have likened it to a fantasy world, but Gal Oya, we assure you, is very much real. Located close to Ampara, the Gal Oya National Park attracts visitors wanting to experience an unspoilt natural wonderland. The park is characterized by its three mountains, and the year-round gathering of wild elephants that roam around its surroundings.
The park is also a window into Sri Lanka’s past - the Dighavapi stupa found in the park was built in the 2nd century BCE, and is believed to have been where The Buddha meditated during his visit to Sri Lanka.
When in Ella, a climb up the welcoming Little Adam’s Peak is highly recommended. A kilometre or so down Passara Road in Ella, the little hill is a fairly easy-moderate climb - even for inexperienced hikers. When climbing, visitors will walk past tea estates or indeed have a bird’s eye view of tea estates and plantations across the area. On a good day, the view will stretch all the way to the southern coast. At the peak, there’s a charming lone tree, under which visitors often have a morning picnic while watching the sunrise.
Ella Rock is a more challenging, steeper climb in comparison to Little Adam’s Peak. It requires a guide though it is possible to find the walking path that will let you scale the peak. The path is within Ella town limits and requires climbers to follow a rail track for a distance. The final climb is somewhat strenuous but completely worth it.
At the peak, one can view a panoramic view of the Ella’s magnificent surroundings - entire mountain ranges, cloud forests, towns, and even the southern coast – and laze around. The peak is spacious enough to have a tiny Buddhist shrine that looms over tester slope of the rock.
Buduruvagala is located just 6.5km southwest of Wellawaya and is home to the largest statues of Lord Buddha in Sri Lanka. Including 6 more awe inspiring statues, this site is considered to have been founded in the 9th or 10th century C.E. This site, surprisingly, is not mentioned often in historical record, so much of what is known is through modern research. These statues are all carved into a massive rock, and portrays not only the Lord Buddha, but also various Buddhist mythological figures, including Tara, considered to be the Lord Buddha’s consort. The remnants of faded colours suggest that at one time these statues were brightly painted, and the remains of the structures around have led scholars to believe that this site was one a hermitage for Buddhist monks.
Buduruvagala never ceases to amaze visitors. The sheer scale, which surprises visitors who walk through the woods to get to this site, makes Buduruvagala an unmissable stop for any visitor.
Kataragama Temple is one of the only religious sites in Sri Lanka that draws Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, and Vedda pilgrims. The temple is dedicated to the Buddhist deity Kataragama deviyo and the Hindu god Murugan, there is a nearby mosque and Muslim graveyard, and the nearby mountain is said to be the abode of the Vedda god Kande Yakka. Despite its popularity, the history of Kataragama Temple is one of the most obscure. Scholars suspect it was built between the 12th and 15th century C.E., and while the temple houses idols worshipped by both Hindus and Buddhists, the daily ritual and prayer practice in Kataragama are based on Vedda forms of veneration. Kataragama has popped up in various historical texts, but it is near impossible to trace its history chronologically, especially with the site being claimed by the four different religious groups.
Just 15km from Yala National Park, visitors should stop at Kataragama to witness the perahera (parade and festival) in July, where religious rituals and prayers take place amidst fire performers, kavadi dancers, and ritual body piercings. This is a site to behold, both flamboyant and reverent, an almost hypnotic symphony of sights and sounds.
Another one of Sri Lanka’s lesser known national parks, Lunugamvehera is renowned for being home to a variety of migratory birds, its layered vegetation, and for being the corridor that elephants use to cross from Yala National Park to Udawalawe National Park.
Commonly sighted fauna at this 58 acre national park include the Sri Lankan elephant, buffalo, Sri Lankan Sambar Deer, Grizzled Giant Squirrel, Mugger Crocodiles, Grey Heron, Asian Openbill, and the Spot-Billed Pelican; while the arid landscape, meanwhile, is home to numerous grass species, and large trees including Teak and Eucalyptus.
The park is located in the South West part of Sri Lanka, and can be accessed from the Southern Coastal belt via Hambantota.
World War I was raging away in Europe and steel was of utmost importance to the British’s war efforts. Meanwhile, their Indian Ocean colony had plans for expanding its railway systems, including building access through the island’s dense mountains and tropical forests. A bridge had been planned over Demodara, a sleepy outpost, and its close neighbour Ella. How does one build a bridge without metal and steel? The locals switched to concrete, rock and cement. Today, the nine arches span 91 m, reaching a height of 24 metres. One of the little joys of approaching the bridge is to time your arrival with a training passing over the bridge - beautiful and timeless, you’ll be sharing the same feeling locals have had viewing the same scene countless times.
Badulla is among the larger cities in Sri Lanka’s famed hill country. Though it isn’t a traditional tourist spot, Badulla does provide easy access to a large number of Sri Lanka’s most beautiful waterfalls. One such is Dunhinda Falls. Situated about 5km away from Badulla town, the falls is named after the misty ambience it creates (Dun means mist in Sinhala).
The falls measures approximately 64 metres and is a beautiful sight on sunny days.
The tallest waterfall in Sri Lanka is a 240m (709ft) can be accessed from the hill town havens that are Haputale or Kalupahana and is best visited during the months of March and April.
At 220 m (720 ft) in height, Diyaluma is among the most picturesque and inviting. Located in Kosalanda, close to Badulla, Diyaluma is derived from the Sinhala phrase Diya Haluma or ‘liquid light’. What an apt name for this gorgeous natural wonder. With the help of a guide, visitors can traverse up the steep rocks to reach the top of the fall. The trek up is incredible as Diyaluma treats its visitors to natural infinity pools along the way - each with an outstanding view. This is best experienced during the dry season in March and April as the rocks leading to the ledge are known to be very slippery.
Home to an astonishing diversity of flora and fauna - 94 species of plants, 21 fish, 12 amphibians, 33 reptiles, and 43 mammals - Udawalawe National Park is a scenic sanctuary, and one of the most popular destination in the country for wildlife-viewing. Spread over 120 square miles, the Udawalawe National Park was set up in 1972 to provide sanctuary for animals that had been displaced by the construction of the Udawalawe Reservoir. Today it attracts countless visitors hoping to catch glimpses of iconic Sri Lankan mammals including leopards and elephants, but also Asian Water Monitors, the crested serpent-eagle and axis deer.
The park can be reached from Colombo via Ratnapura, and usually takes a four hour drive.
Tissamaharama Raja Maha Vihara is one of the preeminent temples for Buddhists in Sri Lanka and across the region. It is one the four major Buddhist monasteries, is home to one of the largest stupas in Sri Lanka, and was at one point the foremost centres for Buddhist education in Sri Lanka. The Tissamaharama Raja Maha Vihara is located only 32km from Hambantota, gifted by various kings between the 3rd and 5th century C.E. Thought to be a site consecrated by the Lord Buddha, King Kavan Tissa built this Vihara in the 2nd century C.E.
Due to the magnificent scale, and the religious significance there is never a lack of pilgrims at Tissamaharama Raja Maha Vihara. Visitors will see devotees with colourful offerings of flowers and fruits, making their way around the temple and surrounding areas.
Arguably one of the most important parks in Sri Lanka - especially when it concerns diversity of bird life - the Bundala National Park is a beautiful expanse of forest that migratory birds fleeing from winter weather, briefly, call home. It is why UNESCO has declared this area a Biosphere Reserve.
Accessed from the southern coastal city of Hambantota, the Bundala National Park is characterized by five lagoons and dry-zone temperatures that extend between May and September. This landscape is a hive of activity during this period as birds - both resident and migratory - bask in the warm weather. The attention of visitors will surely be drawn to the large flocks of Greater Flamingos - standing almost five feet in height, their incandescent pink plumage glowing in the bright sun, is a sight that is for sore eyes.
The Bundala National Park is in Sri Lanka’s south eastern parts and is accessible from the Southern Coastal Belt.
The seas off Sri Lanka’s southern coast are teeming with life - whales and dolphins attract large number of tourists who are interested in getting up close to these magnificent aquatic mammals. But it is another marine resident who ventures closest to the shore, waddling in the sandy beaches to perform an aeon-old ritual: laying their eggs. Marine biologists haven’t quite figured out why turtles come to these specific coastal areas to lay their eggs, but laymen - both residents and tourists - continue being hypnotised by this biological act.
Much of Sri Lanka’s coastal beach resorts are now home to turtle hatcheries. Whether you are in Kosgoda, Hikkaduwa, Unawatuna or Mirissa, you can watch these tiny little miracles hatching from their eggs before making their way, instinctively, to the sea. It is a wondrous sight to behold, and one every visitor to Sri Lanka’s southern coastal belt has to experience.
Located in the city of Peradeniya, the Botanical Gardens was conceptualized and created by the British and officially commissioned in 1821. The garden is a treasure trove of botanical delights with over 4000 species of plants spread across 147 acres of land. It is located near the Mahaweli River which runs parallel to the gardens’ boundary.
Species of plants that visitors can marvel at include a wide array of orchids, medicinal plants, spices and palm trees. The garden has an avenue system that allows for easy planning of explorations; these include River Drive, Cook’s Pine Avenue, Palmyra Palm Avenue, Cabbage Avenue, Double Coconut Avenue, and Royal Palm Avenue. Some plants exude historical value - the Cannonball Tree was planted by King George V and Queen Mary in 1901.
Martin Wickramasinghe is one of Sir Lanka’s most well-known authors and considered the father of modern Sinhala literature. His books delved into the lives of real Sri Lankans, exploring their everyday lives, folk-lore, and culture. His novels have gained worldwide acclaim and have been translated in many different languages. So it is only fitting that Wickramasinghe’s childhood home should be turned into a museum detailing the folk traditions and culture of the region.
The museum is made up of the restored childhood home of Martin Wickramasinghe, including some of the original furniture and personal effects. In addition, there is the Hall of Life, which details Wickramasinghe’s life and work through photos, letter, and manuscripts. From there, visitors can walk through the Museum of Folk Culture, where a collection of cultural, theatrical, and religious artefacts are on display, bringing Wickramasinghe’s words to life. In addition, this museum houses folk technology that contributed to the agricultural communities in the region. The final section of the museum is the garden, a large 7 acre sprawl that visitors are encouraged to explore, relax, and picnic in.
This mythical mountain, another supposed remnant from The Ramayana, offers Galle’s most panoramic view. The Rumassala Kanda (Kanda is Sinhala for Mountain or Hill) is home to a variety of bird and plant life, as well as an important cultural and religious hub.
Located in the Tissamaharama District in Sri Lanka’s southern coast, the Sandagiri Vehera Temple is a monastic complex whose history dates back to 200 BCE. It is now restored to its former glory. Visitors can get a glimpse of how central religion was to the ancient Sri Lankans.
Also located in Tissamaharama’s monastic complex, the Yatala Shrine is an ancient stupa built 2300 years ago by King Yatalatissa. Surrounded by sculpted elephant heads & large moonstones, it continues to attract worshipers from around the island.
This rock temple, located in the Yala National Park, is an important Buddhist site for pilgrimages to this day. Built in the 2nd Century BCE, the temple boasts a history of over 2000 years, and is renowned for the amazing view from atop the rock temple. The site is also home to a complex of caves that serve as living quarters for monks. Visitors in Yala National Park, typically, spend half a day visiting the temple and enjoying the astonishing view from the top.
The Southern Coastal Belt of Sri Lanka is renowned for its incredible beaches, and abundant marine life that venture close to these shores. One of the best ways of experiencing the rich marine bio-diversity is via Hikkaduwa National Park, one of Sri Lanka’s three national marine parks.
Visitors to Hikkaduwa travel to its National Park for scuba diving among the coral reefs, and for an opportunity to interact with marine life from a safe distance.
This 30 m tall statue of Lord Buddha facing the ocean is a memorial in the name of the more than 2000 victims who died during the 2004 Tsunami.
When in Hikkaduwa or visiting the southern coast of Sri Lanka, it is hard to imagine that it was the sight of unprecedented damage in 2004. When the tsunami hit these coastal areas on the 26th of December 2004, most of the community had never heard of the word Tsunami. That changed that day; fast forward to 2018, it is a testament to the resilience of the people here that these resort towns are operating at full capacity now. But visitors in the area are encouraged to visit the Community Tsunami Museum to remind themselves of the destructive power of nature, the resilience of a people, and the importance of memorialisation.
Located inside the southern town of Matara, the Matara Star Fort was constructed by Dutch in 1765 and was originally called Redoute Van Eck. Built in the shape of a six point star, the fort was built to resist attacks from the mainland Kandyan kingdom. The outer wall is 7.5 m high (25 ft) and is surrounded by a deep moat that is 6 m wide and 3 m deep. Once the Dutch lost control of the island to the British, the latter converted into an administrative office, a role it played well into the 1960s, at which point it was briefly converted into a library. Today it is home to a museum that showcases the history of Matara.
Located in Tangalle, an important coastal outpost for the Dutch keen to protect their strategic interests from other European colonial powers, this fort is unique in that it lacks ramparts like most Dutch-built forts of the time. Today, the fort is used mostly as a prison by the Department of Prisons.
One of the oldest bird sanctuaries in Sri Lanka, the Kalametiya Bird Sanctuary is home to around 150 species of birds. Visitors going to Kalametiya Bird Sanctuary can enjoy bird watching via a boat safari, hike through jungle paths, and climb rocks - a truly tactile experience that isn’t typical of most safaris that ask you to stay inside a vehicle at all times.
Kalametiya Bird Sanctuary is located in the deep south, after the southern resort town of Tangalle.
This is an ancient rock temple that has been deemed an archaeological site by the government towards the end of the 20th century. Located in the southern province, the Mulkirigala Raja Maha Vihara can be reached from either Tangalle or Dickwella and is a 200 m (673 ft) high natural rock that is surrounded by four other rocks. Its resemblance to Sigiriya inspired a loving nick name Punchi Sigiriya (or little Sigiriya).
The temples layout has five sub-divisions, each serving a different purpose. The lower levels comprise the museum, lower temple while the upper decks house a stunning array of murals (hence its comparison to the Sigiriya rock).
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Galle Fort has an ancient history. The first known mention of Galle is from 125-150 C.E., when it was a large trading hub in the ancient spice trade. The fort as is stands now traces its history back to 1541, built by the Portuguese. In 1640, the Dutch captured Galle fort, and the large stone fortifications were added. Galle fort has been completely re-vamped in recent years, and now hosts a plethora of shops, restaurants, bed & breakfasts, churches, galleries, and museums. This quaint part of the larger Galle town is a delightful walk through the history of Galle, as well as an experience of modern Sri Lanka. Each year, the fort hosts the Galle Literary Festival, with local and international authors alike. With its sunny weather, eclectic ambience, and artistic heritage, Galle Fort is a must-see for any visitor.
Galle Harbour is one of the oldest natural harbours in Sri Lanka, and is still a favourite among the international yacht societies who recognize Galle Harbour as one of the world’s best attractions for yachting. Inside the Galle Fort, the Maritime Archaeology Museum charts the history of the harbour and lays out the current preservation activities for the harbour and the many sunken treasures that have accumulated at the bottom over the centuries. Visitors are encouraged to visit the museum, to see how the layout of the harbour has changed over time, and then take a walk to the harbour, to appreciate the long history Galle has had with international trade.
Located in the south eastern part of the island, with one border acting as a shoreline to the Indian Ocean, the Yala National Park is a zoological treasure chest that attracts thousands of visitors every year. The park sprawls two provinces and administrative districts - the Monaragala District in the Uva Province and the Hambantota district in the Southern Province - but accessible via an entrance between Tissamaharama and Kirinda.
Yala National Park is home to an astonishing range of wildlife. From the ornithological - including migrants such as Lesser Whistling Duck, Garganey, Cormorants, Grey Heron, Black-headed Ibis, Eurasian Spoonbill, Asian Openbill, and Painted Stork among others - to the mammals large and small - including leopards and elephants - as well as Herpetological delights in the form of the Sri Lankan krait, Boulenger's keelback, Sri Lankan flying snake, painted-lip lizard, Wiegmann's agama, and Bahir's fan-throated lizard.
Visitors are required to have a permit and a guide to explore the park while those wanting to stay in one of the five bungalows and camping options will need to make reservations in Colombo.
Galle - like Colombo and Nuwara Eliya - openly shows its colonial past. And the Galle Fort is perhaps Sri Lanka’s most well-known remnant of colonial rule, being built initially by Portuguese before the Dutch fortified it and the British modified it after they had captured a large portion of the country. The evidence can be seen on inscriptions on the fort, through the many passageways and catacombs, and even on the streets within the fort - many of which continue to be referred to by their Dutch names. In addition, the Galle Fort is host to a Dutch Church, the Galle National Museum (itself a repurposed Dutch colonial building), the Historical Mansion Museum that is privately run by current Galle resident and gem merchant, and the National Maritime Museum.
Today, Galle is a vibrant modern city that is home to modern hotels, an international cricket stadium and is the main base for beach-dwellers from around the world wanting to explore the sandy beaches around this historical southern city. But step inside the Galle Fort and you, traveller, will briefly be transported to a different time when this city and its harbour were considered essential to colonial powers.
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