5 Fun Experiences For A First Time Traveller To Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka is a backpackers’ paradise; the size of the country makes it very easy to traverse through the different regions. If you’re visiting the island for the first time there are certain things you must include in your journey to truly experience the best attractions: its exotic wildlife, interesting history, rich culture, beautiful nature and of course some fun outdoor activities. Here are the top 5 experiences for a first time traveller to Sri Lanka.
Sri Lanka is home to the world’s two largest mammals: elephants and blue whales. When you visit the island you must try a whale watching safari or an elephant watching excursion. For a complete experience, we highly recommend you embark on both safaris.
- Whale Watching – The #1 location for whale watching is, Mirissa, a small town on the south coast of the island. The season runs from November to March and you will get to different species of whales including blue whales. On your safari, you will also see dolphins swimming alongside your boat who playfully leap in and out for the water. Planning a safari? Here are 5 things to know first!
- Elephant Watching – There are a number of places in Sri Lanka to go elephant watching – here are 4 of our favourites. However, the one that takes the cake is the stunning Minneriya National Park. Visit between June to August and you’ll be blessed with seeing between 200-500 elephants around the Minneriya Tank. This is known as The Gathering, and should be added to your bucket list.
Sri Lanka has a long and rich history. To learn more about it head to the Cultural Triangle, an area in the Central Province that is dotted with numerous UNESCO World Heritage Sites stemming from the island’s pre-colonial era. Here are two sites in particular that you should visit.
- The Ancient City of Polonnaruwa – Polonnaruwa is Sri Lanka’s second ancient capital city, its predecessor was Anuradhapura. The archaeological park holds many interesting structures, but a few highlights are the Palace of King Parakramabahu and the Gal Vihara. To make it even better, cycle around the grounds and watch the sunset from the banks of Parakrama Samudra, a large ancient reservoir.
- Dambulla Cave Temple – this temple is an ancient Buddhist temple which dates back to the 1st century BC. The temple is built around 5 caves, making it the largest cave temple complex in Sri Lanka and is home to beautiful statues and cave paintings.
To experience Sri Lankan culture you MUST try the local cuisine. The island is home to many different religious and ethnic groups, and each has its own unique dishes. One of the most popular street food dishes is Kothu Roti which is essentially shredded roti, stir-fried with diced vegetables, egg, a meat of your choice and doused in a flavourful curry! Here’s a list of 6 dishes you must try during a culinary tour.
Sri Lanka is ridiculously beautiful. It has palm-fringed golden beaches, tall verdant peaks, thick jungles and murky lagoons. If you have time, sample a bit of everything to your holiday for a holistic experience of paradise.
- Beach – The southern coast beaches are beautiful but it tends to get crowded with other beach lovers. Looking for your own stretch of honey sands? Head to the northern or eastern coast beaches of Trincomalee or Jaffna. The beaches are largely untouched and pristine. Trinco is also home to Sri Lanka’s largest marine national park, Pigeon Island National Park, so don’t forget your snorkelling gear!
- Hills – The misty mountains are perfect for hikers and mountain explorers. Covered in a thick carpet of tea bushes or lush forests, the hills of Sri Lanka are a wonderful place to get away from the hustle of city life. If you want to experience a combination of nature and myth, visit Ella, which is home to sites associated with the epic Ramayana – here are a few places to add to your list.
- Lagoons – Near the picturesque beach town, there will always be a lagoon. Pottuvil Lagoon near Arugam Bay is a great place to spot birds (and occasionally elephants). Cruise along these brackish waters surrounded by mangrove forests.
- Jungle – The jungles of Sri Lanka hold many wonders, visit Yala National Park to see ‘Sri Lanka’s Big Three’, elephants, sloth bears and leopards. Or if you prefer a quieter safari experience, Gal Oya National Park and other uncrowded nature reserves. There are 22 national parks on the island that you can visit, and if you’re feeling overwhelmed with the choices, read our guide to find out what each of the reserves are best known for.
Sri Lanka is like one big adventure camp as there’s a variety of activities on offer. Here are a few watersports that a first time traveller to the island must partake in.
- Kitesurfing – Although Sri Lanka is a world-renowned surfing destination, not many people know that it’s also an excellent kitesurfing destination. Head to the west coast town of Kalpitiya for an amazing kitesurfing experience. The season for this activity is from May to October and December to March. Need more info on planning a kitesurfing excursion? Here’s everything you need to know.
- White Water Rafting – Kitulgala, a small town on the west of Sri Lanka on the outskirts of the Kitulgala Forest Reserve is the country’s premier white water rafting destination. The Kelani River runs through this forest, so the town has many rapids suited for any level of rafter.