Swathed in lush rainforest, rice paddies, and tea plantations, Sri Lanka is a tropical island gem that captivates visitors with its idyllic beaches, abundant wildlife, verdant hill countries, and wealth of ancient Buddhist and Hindu architecture. But what exactly is Sri Lanka famous for?
History and Archaeology
Kandy: A Delightful City of Culture and Spirituality
The last capital of the Sinhala monarchy, the delightful city of Kandy is a blend of modernity and spirituality. At its heart lies the Sri Dalada Maligawa, also known as the Temple of the Tooth, which is one of the most impressive Buddhist sites in the country. Enclosed by the jungle-fringed Mahaweli River, Kandy’s sacred old city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that houses historic landmarks, including a quartet of ancient shrines, colonial edifices like the Hotel Suisse and Queen’s Hotel, and the Royal Botanical Garden.
Kandy is home to one of the most impressive Buddhist sites in the country. © Claire, Shutterstock
Galle Fort: A Slice of Colonial History
Protected by ramparts dating back to the Dutch and Portuguese eras, Galle Fort is an atmospheric UNESCO World Heritage Site. It showcases timeworn colonial architecture, informative museums, and restored restaurants and boutique hotels. The history of Galle is woven into its sombre grey walls, which dominate the coastal city, guarding the harbour and creating a captivating old-world charm.
The sun sets over Flag Rock Bastion at Galle Fort. © Ariadne Van Zandbergen, Africa Image Library
The Cultural Triangle: Ancient Splendors Amidst Tranquil Landscapes
The Cultural Triangle is home to half of Sri Lanka’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites, including the Dambulla Cave Temples, Sigiriya Rock Fortress, and the ancient cities of Polonnaruwa and Anuradhapura. Beyond these popular landmarks, the region boasts numerous lesser-known sites that offer a serene and unexplored experience. The Cultural Triangle is also a gateway to excellent safari destinations, such as the ‘elephant reserves’ in Minneriya and Wilpattu National Park.
Isuruminya Temple at Anuradhapura is one of Sri Lanka’s most venerable Buddhist sites. © Ariadne Van Zandbergen, Africa Image Library
Nature and Wildlife
Wilpattu National Park: A Wildlife Enthusiast’s Paradise
Wilpattu National Park, the largest and one of the oldest national parks in Sri Lanka, encompasses a vast wooded interior with seasonal sand-rimmed pans (villus). Its network of sandy roads and well-maintained camps provides an excellent safari experience. The park is known for its sloth bear sightings, as well as significant populations of elephants and leopards.
Green bee eaters sit on a branch in Wilpattu National Park. © bobby20, Shutterstock
Gal Oya National Park: A Unique Boat Safari Experience
Gal Oya National Park stands apart from other non-marine national parks in Sri Lanka. The undulating terrain around the Senanayake Reservoir can be explored through thrilling boat safaris, providing close encounters with elephants. The park’s creation was a result of Sri Lanka’s first major post-independence development project, the construction of a hydroelectric dam, which led to the formation of the Senanayake Reservoir.
Gal Oya is one of Sri Lanka’s lesser-known national parks. © Ariadne Van Zandbergen, Africa Image Library
Udawalawe National Park: A Haven for Elephant Lovers
Udawalawe National Park offers the most reliable year-round elephant viewing in Sri Lanka. It is renowned for its exceptional birdwatching opportunities. The park’s landscape comprises dry-zone grasslands, wooded scrub, abandoned teak plantations, open water, and riverine gallery forests. A visit to Udawalawe is often combined with a trip to the Elephant Transit Home, a center for orphaned and injured elephants.
Udawalawe National Park is centered around the reservoir of the same name. © Lee Dillon, Shutterstock
Sri Pada (Adam’s Peak): A Sacred Mountain
Considered the most sacred mountain in Sri Lanka, Sri Pada, also known as Adam’s Peak, holds great religious significance. It is believed to be the footprint of Adam, according to Muslim tradition. Summiting Sri Pada is a popular pilgrimage, with two main trails leading to the top. A nocturnal ascent is recommended to witness the breathtaking sunrise from the summit.
Adam’s Peak is Sri Lanka’s most famous mountain. © Anton-Romanov, Shutterstock
Bentota: The Quintessential Beach Resort
Situated 65km south of Colombo, Bentota offers a 10km stretch of pristine coastline. It is renowned as one of Sri Lanka’s most developed beach resorts. The area comprises four major population centers: Beruwala, Moragalla beach, Aluthgama, and Induruwa. Bentota’s allure lies in its beautiful beaches, coastal activities, and a thriving tourist industry.
Bentota is the island’s most developed beach resort. © milosk50, Shutterstock
Arugam Bay: Surfer’s Paradise and Backpacker Haven
Arugam Bay is a world-renowned surfing destination and a favored spot for backpackers. Its wide, sandy coastline stretches south from Pottuvil Point, offering excellent waves and a relaxed atmosphere. While Arugam Bay rose to prominence in the 1970s as an undiscovered beach getaway, it has since become an iconic destination for surfers and travelers seeking a laid-back beach experience.
Sri Lanka’s top surfing destination and one of its most popular backpacker chill-out venues. © Matt-Deakin, Shutterstock
Kirinda: Where Legend Meets Natural Beauty
Kirinda holds a special place in Sri Lankan legend as the place where Viharamahadevi, a castaway princess, washed ashore. This coastal village boasts a beautiful beach that is ideal for swimming. The Kirinda Temple, with its boulder-top dagoba and stunning views, is said to date back to ancient times and offers a glimpse into the region’s rich history.
Kirinda’s beach is good for swimming. © Ariadne Van Zandbergen, Africa Image Library
Don’t miss the chance to explore the wonders of Sri Lanka, a destination that combines fascinating history, breathtaking wildlife, and stunning beaches. Plan your visit with DHPL Travels to make the most of this tropical paradise.