Tuk Tuk in Colombo City

Sri Lanka - where spirituality and relaxation meets adventure

February 05, 2015

Sri Lanka is a country that is on the verge of becoming one of Asia’s top tourism destinations. Situated south of the Indian subcontinent, the island nation of Sri Lanka is beloved for its spirituality and culture as much as its beaches and wildlife.

Most tourists land in the city of Colombo, the nation’s commercial capital (nearby Sri Jayawardenapura Kotte is the official capital). Located on the west coast, this bustling city is a great place to start your Sri Lankan adventure. Some of the more notable attractions within Colombo are Beira Lake, the Fort district, Gangaramaya Temple, Jami Ul-Alfar Mosque, Galle Face Green, the chaotic Pettah market, and the long-standing historical buildings from Colombo’s colonial past — Portuguese, Dutch and British. One of the great things about Colombo is how easily tourists can get to Sri Lanka’s famous places of interest. The only question is where to start?

Spiritual and nature tours

Adam's Peak aerial view
This sacred mountain, Adam's Peak, is one of Sri Lanka’s foremost pilgrimage sites.

If it’s a bit of spiritual enlightenment you seek, 3 hours drive from Colombo gets you to Adam’s Peak, situated at the far end of Horton Plains National Park. This sacred mountain is one of Sri Lanka’s foremost pilgrimage sites. The summit bears the impression of what is said to be the Buddha’s own footprint (although different faiths have their claims over it too). To the Hindus, the footprint is considered to be that of Lord Shiva, and to the Muslims and Christians, that of Adam, who set foot on the summit after being exiled from the Garden of Eden. No matter what faith you belong to, one thing you are assured of is spectacular views from the peak — if you can make the arduous climb.

Tea plantations fields in Nuwara Eliya
Nuwara Eliya is the most important region for tea plantations in the country.

Not too far from Adam’s Peak is the district of Nuwara Eliya, in the central province of Sri Lanka. Nuwara Eliya is the most important region for tea plantations in the country. Tea being one of Sri Lanka’s most famous exports, tourists make a beeline to Nuwara Eliya to walk amongst the lush green, hillside tea plantations and to sample some of the most fragrant varieties of tea in the world. Visitors can also get a glimpse of Pidurutalagala, the tallest mountain in Sri Lanka. Something smaller, yet equally majestic, are the two famous waterfalls of Nuwara Eliya — St. Clair's Falls and Devon Falls — the former being the broadest waterfalls in Sri Lanka.

Temple of the Tooth
Temple of the Tooth houses one of the most sacred Buddhist relics — the Lord Buddha's tooth.

Another popular region known for its tea is Kandy. But Kandy offers tourists a lot more than just tea. It is considered to be the cultural capital of Sri Lanka, and this historic city is rich in Sinhalese tradition. The most grandeur display of this culture is the annual Kandy Esala Perahera — a truly spectacular festival featuring lights, large processions of beautifully decorated elephants, troupes of Kandyan drummers, dancers and acrobats — all dressed the part. Held in July or August (dates are set based on the full moon), this world famous Buddhist festival has been taking place in the Kandy since 300 AD. Much of the celebrations center around the Temple of the Tooth, which houses one of the most sacred Buddhist relics — the Lord Buddha's tooth.

Cultural tours

Golden Rock cave temple
A massive 660 ft high solid rock fortress, Sigiriya is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

From Kandy, just over an hours drive will get you to Dambulla, famous for the Golden Rock cave temple, a well-preserved ancient cave temple complex built on top of a hill. Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the temple has been a sacred pilgrimage site and Buddhist monastery for 22 centuries. It is home to some of Sri Lanka’s finest collection of Buddhist murals. A short drive from Dambulla is something even more astonishing — Sigiriya (also known as Lion Rock). A massive 660 ft high solid rock, Sigiriya once saw the palace of King Kassapa build atop it. Abandoned after the king’s death, the palace was turned into a monastery. Nowadays, Sigiriya is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most visited places in Sri Lanka. If you succeed in climbing the 1200 stairs up, Sigiriya offers panoramic views of the jungle all around, elaborate water gardens, and adorning its cave walls are ancient rock paintings that are truly fascinating.

Temple in Polonnaruwa Stupa, Sri Lanka
What is left of Polonnaruwa now is Sri Lanka’s finest collection of ancient Sinhalese art.

Lessons in Sri Lankan history and culture continue as you journey further north to Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa. Anuradhapura is a sacred city established around a cutting from the Bodhi Tree, the revered 'tree of enlightenment’ in Buddhism. This mysterious ruined city now remains hidden away in the jungles of North Central Province of Sri Lanka. After the destruction of Anuradhapura in 993, Polonnaruwa became the second capital of Sri Lanka when King Vijayabahu defeated the invading Chola invaders. What is left of Polonnaruwa now is Sri Lanka’s finest collection of ancient Sinhalese art and architecture comprising of Chola monuments, Buddhist rock sculptures, 13th century wall paintings and other archeological marvels.

Wildlife tours

Leopard in Yala National Park
Yala National Park is home to animals that include the nation’s largest population of leopards.

If you have had your share of history and spirituality by now, then why not enjoy a wildlife safari? Home to one of Asia’s richest biodiversities, Sri Lanka promotes eco-tourism but keeps preservation of its wildlife paramount. Most nature lovers land up at Yala National Park, the island’s most popular national park, home to animals that include the nation’s largest population of leopards. Bird watchers on the other hand prefer Bundala National Park for the hundreds of species of birds found here. If you would love to see herds of Sri Lankan elephants in their natural habitat, visit Uda Walawe National Park. Not too far from Kandy is the Pinnawela Elephant Orphanage, where baby elephants are cared for, nurtured and raised. It’s also a great spot to watch these adorable elephants enjoy bathing in the waters of Oya River.

Beach tours

Bentota Exotic Luxury beach
Bentota has world-class luxury resorts and is also famous for its watersports offerings.

Being an island, one cannot ignore the beautiful beaches and coastal regions of Sri Lanka. Hikkaduwa is renowned for it coral sanctuary, and being quite close to Colombo, also means it is convenient to get to. If Hikkaduwa feels crowded, then head up to Bentota for a bit more upscale beach experience. Bentota has world-class luxury resorts and is also famous for its watersports offerings. At the southern edge of Sri Lanka lies Mirissa, a laid-back beachside village, more popular for being one of the best spots to go whale and dolphin watching. Sri Lanka’s waters are home to magnificent blue and sperm whales, alongside a variety of dolphins, more commonly the spinner dolphins.

Arugam Bay on the east coast is one of the best surfing destinations in Sri Lanka. With thrashing waves and a chilled-out atmosphere, Arugam attracts hordes of tourists — both foreign and locals alike.

Adventure tours

People doing river rafting in Kitulgala
If you love the thrill of white river rafting, Kitulgala, just a few hours from Colombo is a must visit.

If you have the stamina for it and love the thrill of white river rafting, Kitulgala, just a few hours from Colombo is a must visit. As one of the wettest places in Sri Lanka, challenging river streams are for everyone to endure. For classic movie buffs, Kitulgala is where Oscar award-winning The Bridge on the River Kwai was filmed. Some say the submerged train cars from climatic bridge explosion can be found at the bottom of the Kelani river.

Sri Lanka, a Wonder of Asia

If all the above activities seems like a lot, then it is proof that Sri Lanka has a lot to offer with its tourism. The famous explorer Marco Polo described Sri Lanka as the “finest island of its size in the world”. The island nation has maintained its spiritual and cultural history while ensuring the fun and excitement of its beaches knows its place alongside it. So whether it’s the unspoiled beaches lined with coconut trees, the holistic ayurveda treatments that rejuvenates your soul, the wildlife that amazes — or the rich ancient history that enlightens — Sri Lanka truly lives up to its tagline as a “Wonder of Asia”.

Explore Sri Lanka with us!

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