10 Experiences You Should Not Miss Out While In Sri Lanka
Updated: May 10, 2022
Sri Lanka is a fascinating country full of natural beauty, historical architecture, culture and amazing food. There is a huge range of things to do, see and experience. Here is our pick of the 10 best experiences:
View of the forest at sunrise from the tree house at Dehigaha Ela
1. Staying in a Tree house at Back of Beyond:
Back of Beyond is a privately run company specialised in eco-lodging. They run beautiful eco lodges in five different locations in the lap of nature around Sri Lanka. We stayed in one of their most unique retreat located in Dehigaha Ela. Located deep inside the forest around 45 minutes drive from Sigiriya this property only has handful of treehouses and a rock pool of Dehigaha Ela stream - which is an all-natural fish spa. Our stay at Dehigana Ela was an unforgettable experience for us and our little traveller as not only were we in the most natural surroundings possible - but also without any internet or modern technology.
Tip: It is useful to know that you will need to leave the car at a pre-arranged location-a small village near Sigiriya and from there you get picked by the Back and Beyond Vehicle, a 4X4 as the dirt road leading through forest is not suitable for any other type of vehicles. So you need to call the lodge when near Sigiriya. Also bear in mind that picks up are not done after sunset as wild elephants often stroll in the area leading to the lodge. Read in here about our experience of staying in Dehigaha Ela tree house retreat in more detail.
Jungle camp at Yala National Park
2. Staying in a jungle camp in one of Sri Lanka’s national park:
There are many beautiful national parks around Sri Lanka, teeming with wildlife-elephants, leopards, water buffalo, deer etc. to name a few. Around most of these national parks in small towns there are many lodges that host travellers. However we chose to stay in a jungle camp at the edge of Yala national park. Staying inside a real canvas jungle tent in the midst of nature and wildlife, made our experience special. And staying overnight in such tented camp in the jungle takes the morning and evening safari from ordinary to extraordinary! Add to that atmosphere created when darkness engulfs the surroundings, and the sounds of insects become the music and the flickering lantern adds to the drama. You also get to eat under the open sky and around a bonfire. Read here about our jungle camp experience and our encounter with illusive Yala leopard.
Sri Lankan cultural dance - Kandy Traditional Dance
3. Kandy traditional Dance performance:
Sri Lanka has a long history of rich heritage and culture and the Kandyan dance is a testimony to that. The rhythmic and acrobatic performance by dancers in striking costumes is a feast to the senses. Even our 5 year old travel companion sat through the entire performance! There are many companies that run regular evening shows in Kandy, though most are similar in terms of the types of dance performances they stage.
Tip: Try to book your seats in advance as in most places the first 2 to 3 rows with the best views do get booked early. Read here about our itinerary and what to see in Kandy.
Releasing baby turtle back in the ocean at sunset, Galle
4. Releasing Turtles in the sea:
Sri Lanka is home to 5 species of sea turtles and throughout the south costal part of Sri Lanka many local rescue and hatchery centres are present that work with non-profit organisations to carry out vital conservation work. These centres not only rescue injured turtles, but also collect sea turtle eggs to give them some chance to hatch into baby turtles before they get stolen or eaten. You can pay a small amount (we got 10 baby turtles for £10) to ‘buy’ baby turtles and then release them back into the sea at sunset. The timing of this makes it very special - watching the babies disappear into the vastness of the ocean while the sun sets. Our trip to one such hatchery near Galle in the evening just before sunset has since been on our little one’s top 5 experiences list. It always brings a smile on his face.
Essential and staple Sri Lankan food - Rice and Curry
5. Eating rice and curry:
Rice and curry is undisputedly the ‘national dish’ of Sri Lanka. It is everywhere - from humble kitchens at homes to fancy restaurants. Rice is served with three to five curry dishes (vegetable curries, chicken and fish/seafood curry), poppadum and sambal make it a nutritionally well-balanced meal. During our stay in Sri Lanka we ate rice and curry left right and centre, but due to the variety of the curries and wholesomeness of this dish, it didn’t really feel repetitive. On the contrary we enjoyed the difference in each meal. Read here for more on rice and curry and many other Sri Lankan dishes that we tried.
Sunset point at Galle fort area
6. Spending an evening in the Galle fort area:
Built in the 16th century by Portuguese and then fortified by the Dutch during 17th century, Galle fort area is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The fort area which is inhabited by locals also houses many boutique shops and restaurants ranging from expensive fine dining to rustic rice and curry restaurants. The atmosphere during the evening is quite relaxing as the cool breeze from the sea fills the air. A stroll through the small streets to soak in the atmosphere sets you into the mood for a nice dinner. A lot of restaurants offer outdoor seating, but a good meal at a tiny shack is also an experience in its own right.
One of the many 150 spectacular Buddha statues
7. Dambulla Cave Temple:
Sri Lanka is home to many iconic historical landmarks and architecture like the Sigiriya rock, Temple of Sacred Tooth Relic in Kandy, old city of Anuradhapura and others. If we had to choose one, it would definitely be the Dambulla cave temple. Situated on a top of a hill near the town of Dambulla, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is one of the largest and best preserved cave temple complexes which houses around 150 spectacular Buddha statues spread across 5 caves. The walls of the caves are adorned with spectacular paintings that have been made over hundreds of years. These have been well preserved and thoughtfully restored over the years. We highly recommend a visit during early morning or late afternoon to beat the crowd and better appreciate the beauty of this place.
The sonic ride through tea gardens from Haputale to Ella
8. Take a train ride from Haputale to Ella or beyond:
The rail network system that was built during the British colonial times criss-crosses the length and breadth of the country. Among the many rail routes the most notable and famous one is the scenic train ride from Kandy to Haputale through the central hills of Sri Lankan tea growing countryside. This train journey from Kandy to Haputale is considered to be one of the top 10 most scenic train journeys in the world. If you have time you can enjoy the entire route between Kandy to Haputale during your travels, but if you are stretched for time, you can opt for ride en-route Haputale to Ella - as this bit of the Kandy – Haputale journey is considered to be the most spectacular. This 90 minute leg takes you through some beautiful tea growing mountainous landscapes. We took this shorter route of Haputale to Ella during our stay in the town of Ella. We drove to the town of Haputale to catch the afternoon train that then brought us back to Ella by 5 pm in the evening.
Tip: Check the train time table with local station in advance as the trains on this route mostly run way outside the schedule on the timetable.
Tea tasting season at Uva Halpewatte Tea Factory, Ella
9. Visiting a tea factory and tea garden:
Cylon tea is considered as one of the best tea in the world. Introduced by the British, the tea gardens of Sri Lanka continue to make a big contribution to the country’s economy and attract many tourists for tours and tasting sessions. There are many tea factories spread around the central hills of Sri Lanka, some of which offer in-depth insight into the process of tea making, while others are more ‘touristic’. We opted for Uva Halpewatte Tea Factory near Ella which was most likely a lesser known place because of the limited number of people. The factory was packed with colonial charm, and the landscape and breeze added to the experience. We toured at a relaxed place guided by a very knowledgeable and passionate person who explained in detail every steps of the tea making process. The tour ended up with tasting season with various types of teas on offer. Our little explorer was fascinated much to our surprise and was the most enthusiastic taster in the room!
Tip: Do your research if the tour is what you wish to do. We visited more than one factory and from our experience we can say it’s best to avoid the big and famous ones as they tend to be too crowded and commercialised.
Open air bar on the beach by Vijaya road, Tangalle
10. Spending an evening in the open air bars on Vijaya road in Tangalle:
Vijaya road, the most famous area of the Tangalle area is located just next to the sea beach. This small road runs across the sea beach and houses many open air bars and restaurants along its way. This area is very famous among the backpackers due to cheap accommodation and very easy access to the beach. After sunset the bars come to life, with lit up outdoor seating and Reggae music!