Top 10 things to do in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka is one of the most tantalising places in the world for a beach holiday, but what about when you want to be more active? Luckily, there are plenty of things to do, whether you're travelling solo, as a couple, or in a family. Be tempted from your sun lounger by sports and activities in the sun – or try something gentler at an Ayurvedic spa, the choice is yours...
Sri Lankan surfing.
Sri Lankan surfing. Photo: Shutterstock

1. Cricket

Cricket is a national obsession in Sri Lanka, and the national team’s exploits are followed religiously. The cricket season begins in September and ends with the finals in April. Visitors can enjoy the benefits of temporary membership at the Colombo Cricket Club (31 Maitland Crescent, Colombo 7; tel: 011-269 1025). On a local level, boys playing cricket on village greens and on the beach are often delighted if you join in – though don’t expect an easy time!

2. Diving and watersports

Underwater Safaris offers wreck- and reef-diving expeditions at Hikkaduwa on the south coast, and there are also a number of PADI-licensed dive centres in Hikkaduwa, Bentota, Unawatuna and elsewhere around the coast. Bentota is the island’s main watersports centre, with various places offering windsurfing, jet-skiing, tubing water-skiing and more. The west coast, including Negombo, is good is good for kitesurfing and wakeboarding, and is included on Insight Guides' Unforgettable Sri Lanka itinerary.

3. Swimming and snorkelling

There are many places around the coast which are safe for swimming, although equally there are many other places with dangerous currents and other marine hazards – always check locally. Our local experts can help you plan a safe trip around Sri Lanka's best beaches: review our Sri Lanka: Culture and Coast itinerary online or speak to a local expert today. Snorkelling is possible at various places including Hikkaduwa, Unawatuna and Pigeon Island, near Trincomalee in the east.

Turtle in the wild on the island, Sri Lanka.

Turtle in the wild on the island, Sri Lanka. Photo: Shutterstock

4. Surfing

The island’s main surfing destination is Arugam Bay, with waves best from May to October and a variety of breaks suitable for novices and experts. Hikkaduwa on the west coast is best from November to April and has centres with equipment and instruction. Midigama on the south coast also has good waves. 

5. Whale-watching

One of Sri Lanka’s major new attractions is whale-watching, with trips running out of Mirissa on the south coast. Reputable operators include The Whale and Dolphin Company and Mirissa Watersports. Alternatively, our Sri Lanka experts can add whale-watching experiences to your itinerary with Insight Guides: submit a trip request today

6. White-water rafting

This is popular at Kitulgala, on the southern edge of the hill country, where the choppy Kelani Ganga river provides boulder-strewn stretches of rapids. Check for details of this and other adventure sports. 

7. Golf

Sri Lanka boasts several beautiful championship-standard golf courses, at the Nuwara Eliya Golf Club in the Hill Country, at the Royal Colombo Golf Club and the Victoria Golf Club, Rajawella, Kandy. All welcome temporary members – and green fees are a bargain by the standards of most other countries. A stay at any of these resorts can be added to your holiday with Insight Guides: review all suggested Sri Lanka itineraries online now

8. Horse-riding

Horse-riding can provide an alternative way to see Sri Lanka's best beaches or explore its impressive hill country. There is a school attached to Heritance Ahungalla for riding along the west-coast beach. Alternatively, add a horse-riding experience to one of Insight Guides' suggested Sri Lanka itineraries

9. Spas

Most major hotels boast a spa facility, with treatments ranging from the basic to the exotic. Many spas also offer traditional Ayurveda treatment. This traditional system of holistic health care (named from the Sanskrit, meaning ‘the science of life’) has been practised in India and Sri Lanka for centuries. According to the Ayurvedic system, all bodies are made up of varying combinations of the five basic elements (ether, fire, air, earth and water) and governed by three doshas (pitta, vata and kapha). Rather than treating illnesses and symptoms in isolation, Ayurveda aims to treat the whole patient, to encourage a more balanced lifestyle. Several resorts on the west coast provide Ayurveda therapy to alleviate medical problems, while others practise ‘soft’ Ayurveda to inspire well-being. Ayurveda practitioners have to be licensed by the government, and the treatment is a soothing adventure in natural wellness therapy.

10. Walking

The island’s hill country is a walker’s paradise, with stunning scenery and a pleasant temperate climate. Many of the island's major tour operators can organise walking trips, including Insight Guides' local experts for Sri Lanka

A massage in one of Sri Lanka's world-famous spas.

No list of things to do in Sri Lanka would be complete without a mention of the country's world-famous spas. Photo: Shutterstock

Ready to take a trip to Sri Lanka?

Browse suggested itineraries available online or talk to a local expert today

Looking for more things to do in Sri Lanka? 

When to go to Sri Lanka

11 essential Sri Lanka experiences

Top 5 beaches in Sri Lanka

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This article was originally published on 22 May, 2016.