Sri Lanka is an often-overlooked country in Southern Asia—passed over for more well-known destinations like India and Thailand, Sri Lanka actually offers some of the most interesting and pristine wilderness and cultural institutions in Asia. Read below for my top 5 “can’t miss” destinations in the country.
Sigiriya: Sri Lanka is home to seven UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and Sigiriya is one of the most popular. The Lion Rock Fortress was built in the fifth century AD and has served as both a royal palace and a Buddhist monastery. Regarded as one of the most important urban planning projects of the first millennium, Sigiriya offers some of the oldest landscaped gardens in the world. While you’re here, be sure to keep your eyes peeled for the “mirror wall.”
Arugam Bay: Regarded as one of the world’s best surfing destinations, Arugam Bay offers picturesque views of the Indian Ocean complete with coconut palms and solitude. Though many of the area’s buildings were destroyed in the 2004 tsunami, the Government’s Ministry of Defense Coastal Conservation Department has worked to recover and repair the bay.
Visit the Leopards in Yala: Sri Lanka is known for its diverse wildlife, but there is no creature more iconic than the leopard. Most easily spotted in Yala, located off the island’s southern coast, visitors can book day-long safaris to see these magnificent cats. Yala National Park is Sri Lanka’s most populated leopard sanctuary; you are almost certain to see one.
See Blue Whales: Sri Lanka’s southern tip is close to the continental shelf—an area frequented by groups of Blue Whales. Nowhere else in the world do these creatures swim so reliably close to land. If you want to see one for yourself, visit Dondra Head; from January to April, Blue Whales pass here on their way from the Bay of Bengal into the western part of the Indian Ocean, feasting on krill and squid as they go.
Sample Tea in the Haputale Mountains: Sri Lanka is never far from its colonial English past. The country is full of terraced tea estates, where you can try samples of freshly-picked herbs and spices. The launching place of the Lipton tea empire, visitors should head out early in the day to view the Hill Country’s gorgeous overlooks; afternoon fog often cloaks the surrounding mountains.