11 essential Sri Lanka experiences

For a small country, Sri Lanka is jam-packed with opportunities for really special travel experiences, whether you're a foodie, a culture vulture or in search of some pampering on a luxury break. Here, we select the top 11 unmissable things to do on your Sri Lanka holiday
Sigiriya Lion Rock fortress and landscape in Sri Lanka. Photo: Shutterstock
Sigiriya Lion Rock fortress and landscape in Sri Lanka. Photo: Shutterstock


1. See elephants in the wild

The area around Polonnaruwa is one of the best in which to spot Sri Lanka's legendary elephants, with Minneriya being the best place to head for. The park is centred on an extensive tank where elephants congregate in increasingly large numbers towards the end of the dry season, particularly during the famous "Gathering" where up to 300 elephants converge on the retreating waters. Witness this incredible sight for yourself on Insight Guides' Sri Lanka: Culture and Coast holiday.


2. Pay homage to the tooth

Time your visit to Kandy’s Temple of the Tooth right and you’ll be rewarded with a glimpse of the golden casket containing the Buddha’s Tooth Relic, at this most important of pilgrimage sites in Sri Lanka. The day trip to Kandy on Insight Guides' Perfectly Sri Lanka tour can be planned to coincide with one of these unmissable pujas (processions). Although, the temple tends to get absolutely overrun with tourists during the mid-morning and evening ceremonies (at 09.30 and 18.30); the early morning puja (at 05.30) is a lot quieter.  


3. Sample hoppers

A Sri Lankan breakfast staple, also found at most street cafés, these delicate little bowl-shaped pancakes are great on their own, eaten with curry or cooked with an egg in the centre. Trust me, they are hard to track down outside of Sri Lanka, so indulge whenever you can here. Top tip: honey hoppers are a lesser-found, but delicious, version. Discover more of Sri Lanka's best culinary experiences here


4. Climb to the top of Sigiriya

Ascending this unforgettable rock-fortress, one of Sri Lanka’s most dramatic natural sights, gives you incredible views over the surrounding plains. Try to time your visit with a clear day. Tour the site's pleasures gardens before taking on the 1,200 steps to ascend to the rock fortress on Insight Guides' Sri Lanka: Culture and Coast trip. Alternatively, escape the crowds and watch the sunrise over Sigiriya on a hot air balloon ride on Insight Guides' Wildlife Discovery holiday


5. Hit the beach

Sri Lanka’s coast is fringed with sun-soaked golden beaches and luscious palm trees; if you’re short on time, head to Negombo, just half an hour from Colombo airport. Alternatively, plan your itinerary around Sri Lanka's best beaches, or let us take you there on our Luxury Sri Lanka and the Maldives tour


Leopard in the wild on the island of Sri Lanka.Leopard in the wild on the island of Sri Lanka. Photo: Volodymyr Burdiak/Shutterstock


6. Catch a Kandyan dance show

Spectacularly costumed dancers perform acrobatic choreography to an insistent accompaniment of high-octane drumming. The most impressive of all the Kandyan dances is the ves. Performed solely by men, this is the pinnacle of the Kandyan dancer's art, featuring limb-contorting feats of athleticism, back flips, high kicks and pirouettes combined with carefully stylised hand and feet movements. Shows usually end with fire-walking, so no leaving early! Insight Guides' local experts can direct you to the best performances: submit a trip request today


7. Visit a tea plantation

Travel past spectacular waterfalls, verdant hills lined with tea terraces and roadside fruit sellers to reach Sri Lanka’s working tea plantations, where you can have a brew and learn all about the process from plant to cup. Insight Guides' Sri Lanka Deluxe holiday takes you to a working tea estate, where you can tour plantations and factories too. 


8. Catch a cricket match

Join the crowds at a test or one-day match for an insight into Sri Lanka’s other major religion: cricket. Test matches are usually played at the Sinhalese Sports Club in Colombo 7, at the Asigiriya Stadium in Kandy and at the cricket club in Galle. Tickets are easily available from the individual venues. Alternatively, add a cricket game (either watching or playing) to any of Insight Guides' Sri Lanka trip itineraries with the help of our local experts.  


9. Take in the view at Ella Gap

Don't miss the staggering view from Ella Gap found in a charming hill country village, which takes in miles of peaks, valleys and – on a clear day – the southern plateau all the way to the coast. On an island that is full of unforgettable panoramic views, this is one of the finest. See it for yourself on Insight Guides' Unforgettable Sri Lanka holiday


10. Learn about Ayurveda

Sri Lanka's ancient medicines are more popular than ever, whether in treating diseases or maintaining health and fitness. Ayurvedic wellness centres are found everywhere and even if you’re not looking for a specific cure, the natural science behind it is fascinating to discover. The aim of Ayurvedic treatments is to reestablish the three doshas in their correct balance, focusing on detoxification, rejuvenation, mental hygiene and spiritual healing. Oil massages, herbal remedies, and prescribed diets are the most common therapies in use. 


11. Spot leopards

Tracking down this elusive big cat at Yala National Park is an experience even if you don’t manage a sighting, with elephants, wild boar and more to keep you diverted. Saving the best until last: Insight Guides' Unforgettable Sri Lanka holiday will take you to Yala National Park and beyond.


This article was originally published on 6th March, 2017


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