11 Top Rated Tourist Attractions in Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka is often overlooked when visiting Southeast Asia, but this is a mistake; the country is packed with marvelous sights and monuments.
Although most people come here to enjoy the beaches, Sri Lanka's true charm lies in the lovely old gems like the Sinharaja Forest Reserve. The abundance of wildlife, including the giant crocodiles, hill country, tea plantations, and surf are also unique.
There's not a bad time to visit; in fact, you'll experience excellent weather all the year round. Enjoy all Sri Lanka has to offer with our list of the top places to visit in Sri Lanka.
One of the few South-East Asian countries to resist the growing might of Buddhist China, Sri Lanka is the gem of the Indian subcontinent. It boasts a heavenly climate and some of the world's finest architecture and sculpture. And a visit to the Sri Lanka's Temple City, Kandy, is an incredible experience. First built during the 11th century, Kandy's centerpiece is its breathtaking Temple of the Tooth, Sri Lanka's most famous landmark, holding an enameled relic said to be the human tooth of the Buddha himself. The tooth is held in a silver shrine. There are two main routes into Kandy. The first is the Way to the Temple via the Mahaweli River. The second is via Galle Face Green and the Welimada Yana or Railway Line. Kandy is located on a central plateau of the island in the center of Sri Lanka, accessible by air or train. It is a one-hour drive from Colombo. Kandy is considered one of the country's most picturesque cities, with its charming streets packed with shady trees and plenty of fascinating architecture. There are fantastic views of the surrounding hills, with the snow-capped peak of Ruwanweliseya in the background.
Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage
Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage (Weligama) is Sri Lanka's first orphanage and home to more than 100 hand-reared elephants. The orphanage, which sits beside a small lake on a lush green hillside, was founded by conservationist Anna Van der Poorten and began caring for animals in 1989. Van der Poorten helped rescue elephants from the cruel practice of begging from tourists in Kathmandu, Nepal. She then brought them to the orphanage where they can enjoy a peaceful and comfortable life in the jungle. Guests can visit the two houses, each of which was once a typical Nepali house, where volunteers from the hospital's ward for sick and injured elephants live. They can also take a day out to a coffee plantation where they can learn about the cultivation process.
Sri Lanka's highest mountain at 2,092 meters is not one of the country's most famous sights but it is certainly one of its most spectacular. The views from the top are awesome, especially when the weather is clear, as the 360-degree panorama from sea to summit takes in an entire mountain range, the Sinharaja rainforest, the Indian Ocean and the nearby jungles and plains of Elephant Pass. But to reach the top, you need a good level of fitness and to be sure you have the time to spare as the trek can take three or four days (or more if the weather conditions are bad) with overnight stops at a few monasteries along the way. But the scenery is amazing: the trek winds through the lush green tea plantations of Kandy, passes a sacred cave full of Sri Lanka's protector deity Ganesha and traverses the mountain range that separates Sri Lanka's central highlands and the island's southern peninsula.
Dambulla Cave Temple
At the foot of a great mountain range, and surrounded by dramatic vistas, Dambulla lies in a jungle-clad valley in central Sri Lanka. About 2,000 Buddhist monks reside in the region, and the sacred Cave Temple (Buddhayana Path), the setting for all its ceremonies, is the only major religious site in the region. The Cave Temple is renowned for its extensive array of Buddha images, most of which date back to the 7th century. Its 32 chambers house sculptures of dozens of historical Buddha's, both in the long hallway leading up from the entryway and in the main body of the temple. Monks conduct daily worship services in the temple and as a result the inside is very crowded. Outside the temple visitors can see a number of stone cave dwellings, some of which are at least 10,000 years old and include the oldest living wood structures in the world. The town is also the home of the formidable Buddhist university, which runs one of the best Buddhist schools in the world, The University of Kelaniya. It attracts students from all over Sri Lanka to study Buddhist philosophy, mathematics, science, engineering, architecture, history, archeology, linguistics, medicine, and business. The university also boasts a number of world-class institutions including the International Buddhist College, Colombo Institute of Buddhist Studies, International Institute of Buddhist Studies, the Maharajah's Sanskrit College, Pallegama Sanskrit College, and the Sri Raja Maha Vihara College.
Hikkaduwa is a popular tourist destination in the country of Sri Lanka with a variety of natural attractions and cultural heritage sites. Its colonial history and edgy resort atmosphere make it a unique and enticing travel destination. From the enchanting coastline and rocky cliffs of Hikkaduwa's west coast, which is home to the remains of three monasteries, to the rugged north-east coast, you can explore this destination at your leisure, while waiting for the perfect balance of calm and serenity. The best places to start an exploration are the beachfront fishing villages. You can taste the best of local foods and do some indulgent shopping in Hikkaduwa. Take a boat trip to one of the offshore islands, such as Mirissa, where you can find a pristine beach and a calm atmosphere. Other activities include hiking in the jungle reserve, or even climbing the Parakrama Samudra Mawatha, the world's longest dry-stone wall, which stretches 1,721.5 meters. You can make sure to leave a little time to visit the Jaffna Heritage Village, a UNESCO Heritage Site.
Sri Lanka's most impressive historical site is this vast, rambling, well-preserved fortress town, now a World Heritage Site. The best time to visit Galle Fort is during the Galle Fort Festival, which takes place in January, when musicians, dancers and boat-race troupes perform for packed-house audiences in the fort's small theater. The area's unique architectural style, with its austere yet imposing white-stoned facades, high ceilings and arches, belies its more than 700-year history, a tale of war and strife in this narrow sliver of land between the Indian Ocean and the Bay of Bengal. Exploring Galle Fort's crumbling, ancient streets is a wonderful experience and allows travelers to see the changes that have occurred in the 17th century fortress. That said, note that the city is much smaller than you might expect and the information provided at the site and nearby hotels is limited. Galle Fort is served by a bus from Colombo, along with local buses.
Sigiriya Rock Fortress
The island of Sri Lanka boasts a great range of scenic and historic attractions, including the celebrated Sigiriya Rock Fortress, dating back to the 6th century BC and once the home of the renowned King Kalinga Magha, who reigned from India to Sri Lanka. The now crumbling rock fortress has been featured on the television show Game of Thrones, as well as in the Disney film The Jungle Book, and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The semi-circular fort, about 40km from the city of Kandy, is a spectacular, enigmatic structure with stone walls up to 3m thick and a temple-like top adorned with statues. In good weather, when the mountain mist clears, the views from the top of the rock fortress are stunning. To reach Sigiriya, take a minivan from Kandy's Mahamaya Gate or take a trek through the jungle to the impressive sight.
Yala National Park
Yala National Park lies along the southeastern coast of Sri Lanka, within the rainforests of the Yala and Ampiti regions. Inhabited for thousands of years by Sri Lankan hunter-gatherers, it is the oldest protected area in the country and one of the best-preserved natural communities in the world. Yala National Park preserves one of Sri Lanka's oldest and richest cultural remains, including the town of Rajarata, which was destroyed and buried beneath lava flows from a volcano, probably between 1500 and 600 BC. Today, archaeologists are able to excavate the old city. Highlights of the park include a series of nine lakes and a lake-fed river, and a series of caves that run parallel to the coast. These natural shelters were extensively used by the ancient Sinhalese as a place of meditation and asceticism, while the nearby Pallegama caves were originally used for Buddhist meditation. Yala National Park is a popular destination for wildlife watchers, as there are over 300 species of birds and over 100 species of mammals, including the rare Sri Lankan leopard, which was declared extinct in the wild in 1981. Sadly, illegal hunting is a big problem in this part of the country. The Department of Wildlife Conservation and Yala's closest rangers were formed to ensure the safety and well-being of the animals. A number of Sri Lankan cities such as Matara and Negombo, along with international destinations such as Colombo and Kandy, are located within easy reach of Yala National Park.
Pigeon Island (also known as Lighthouse Island) is one of Sri Lanka's best-known natural sights and can be seen from the hills inland from Kandy on the road to Dambulla. At approximately 400 meters long, it was once a lighthouse, and is now a beautiful island, lush and hilly. The island's current lighthouse is about 125 years old and is still in operation. Along with the Kandy dry-zone market, other sites in the area include the sacred Bherunda Hermitage and the town of Dehiwala-Mount Lavinia.
Capital of the island of Sri Lanka, Colombo's streets teem with life as everyone is in a hurry to get to and from work, school, university, shopping centers or a movie. A hectic place with very little authenticity, it's worth a visit if you want to get a sense of the culture and local life of the country. A city of new things and big changes, Colombo's sites of interest include its grand colonial buildings, bustling street life, and numerous museums.
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Galle Face View Point
Dramatically set on the coast of the Indian Ocean, Galle Face View Point (also known as Point de Galle) is the highest point in Sri Lanka. At 1,166 meters, it's just a few meters below the summit of Gunuwa, Sri Lanka's highest mountain. Because of its popularity with tourists, expect to find several signs that mark the path to the Point. Although the official opening hours for the viewpoint are between 8:30 am and 6:00 pm, the signs leading there are always illuminated. The view at this location is truly outstanding and the walk to the top is steep but never difficult. An optional alternative is to hike to the bottom of the Seven Arches, which are built into the face of a sheer cliff. The Seven Arches is a network of caves that date back to AD 378. There are several cafes along the path leading to the viewpoint, serving tea, coffee and snacks. There are also some rooms available to rent in the coastal village, although there are no hotels along this section of coast.