For a teardrop-shaped island, formed millions of years ago as a result of a humongous explosion in the Earth’s belly, Sri Lanka is an anomaly to the average island offerings. Packed within its limited boundaries, though, are sights, sounds and tastes that will evoke a sense of awe from any visitor.
From sandy beaches, cave temples, and wildlife safaris to ancient monuments, whale watching, and tea factory visits; this tiny island nation indulges every kind of traveller, making it a trendy must-visit travel destination.
You would be forgiven for thinking that Sri Lanka is packed with tourists wanting to tick it off their bucket list. While that may be somewhat true, if you are looking for an offbeat and immersive experience, there is still a part of the country where you can discover untouched countryside, unhurried locals and unrestrained wildlife.
Here are some suggestions, must-visit places in Sri Lanka, that let you soak in the pristine vibe of the island, one region at a time.
A bastion of Hindu tradition, art and culture, Jaffna has been off the tourist radar for far too long. Decades of civil war, emigration and loss of life & property have affected this historic northern town of Sri Lanka economically, politically and aesthetically. There are reminders of a long civil war, but also colonial-era suburbs and beautiful temples and churches.
The most prominent among them is the Nallur Kandaswamy Kovil, dating back to 1734. It is one of the most significant Hindu religious complexes in Sri Lanka and is dedicated to Lord Murugan.
The other famous sights in Jaffna, which make more must-do activities in Sri Lanka are the 3rd century BC, Naga Vihara Buddhist temple. Then there is the Jaffna Fort – built around the 1680s. It was at that time, one of the most significant Dutch Forts in Asia. And Jaffna Public Library, rebuilt after the 2002 ceasefire retaining the elegant original neo-Mughal design from 1959.
To sunbathe on untouched beaches, interact with warm locals and come face to face with friendly mammals out in open waters, you ought to look to the east of the country. Located on the northeast coast, Trincomalee is an unhurried and charming place to visit in Sri Lanka that attracts laidback travellers.
The few tourists who visit Trincomalee head straight to the nearby beaches of Uppuveli and Nilaveli, for quiet beach time and whale watching (seasonal). However, the town itself retains a lot of its intriguing history, boasts one of the world’s most beautiful natural harbours, and is an eclectic mix of cultures that is unique to this part of the country.
Kandasamy Kovil, one of the five historical temples dedicated to Lord Shiva lies close to the Swami Rock, notorious for a story of a Dutch woman jumping to her death from here, but offering a high vantage point for whale watching. Fort Fredrick is another historic landmark that has changed many hands, from the Portuguese, Dutch, and British to now the Sri Lankan military thus retaining most of its colonial-era architectural structures.
Just a short drive away from the voguish and upmarket Galle is this quaint and laidback surfers paradise. While many make a beeline towards the boutique hotels and famous restaurants of Galle, the coast of Unawatuna is perfect for a romantic seaside getaway.
Many beaches line the coast in and around the town, each with its uniqueness. While some like Dalawella beach is perfect for solitude, surfers prefer others like Sahana. Also, a must-visit here is the Japanese Peace Pagoda atop Rumassala Hill, which is an ideal place to soak in glorious views of the sea.
If too much relaxation is not your thing and a bit of history beckons you, then Galle is only a 20min drive, making it a comfortable day trip from here. Galle boasts a majestic Fort complex built by the Dutch in the late 1500s, which is now a Maritime Museum. The Galle Lighthouse is another prominent, must-visit destination in Sri Lanka that lies within the Fort.
For a bona fide wildlife experience in Sri Lanka head to the Wilpattu National Park located in the northwest of the country. A distinctive feature of the park is that it is peppered with at least ten sand rimmed lakes, which serve as watering holes for the wildlife here and thus a vantage point for wildlife spotting. It is highly recommended to bring a pair of binoculars for this reason.
It is the largest and the oldest National Park in Sri Lanka, and apart from wildlife, it is also a canvas for many legends. It is said that an Indian Prince Vijaya landed here with his followers some 500 years before the birth of Christ and went on to lay the foundations of the Sinhalese Kingdom.
Although the main draw here is the sloth bear and leopard, there are also chances of spotting the barking deer. Given the thicket of the forest, wildlife spotting is not as easy as some other parks in the country, but fewer crowds give you ample space and time to do justice to its beauty.
Sometimes overshadowed by two of its more famous neighbours, India and the Maldives, Sri Lanka still manages to retain its unique cultural identity. It is this search for the extraordinary that draws numerous travellers to its shores, thus setting a tone for an experience unlike any other. And Sri Lanka does not disappoint.
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