Seducing travellers from all around the world, Sri Lanka is a magnificently poised island in the balmy Indian Ocean waters famed for its natural beauty and palmed fringes. In addition to this, with more than two thousand years of recorded history, the place has a certain historic charm too as denoted by the ruins and old cities located all over the island. There is a certain magical charm to the place too with the island holding centre stage in many a legends and stories. Some of the popular attractions of this place are listed as follows:
Sigiriya: Located in the Matale district of Central Province Sri Lanka, Sigiriya is a massive rock column that is over 200 metres high. According to ancient Sri Lankan chronicles, the place was used by King Kasyapa during 477- 495 AD as his capital. His palace was built on the top of this rock along with a gateway on a small plateau about halfway up the side of the rock in the form of an enormous lion. It is from this structure that the name of the rock has been derived- Sihagiri, the Lion Rock. Though the place was later abandoned after the death of the king, it was used as a Buddhist monastery till late 14th Century
Yala National Park: Covering a total of 979 square kilometres of which only 141 square kilometres is open for the public, Yala national Park figures among the most visited parks of Sri Lanka. Originally established as a game sanctuary in 1894, the reserve has parklands, jungle, freshwater lakes, beaches and scrublands. It is because of this range of habitats that the place is home to a large number of animal and plant species. Counted among the 70 Important Bird Areas of Sri Lanka, the place has over 44 species of mammals as well as the highest leopard densities in the world.
Adam’s Peak: Containing the sacred ‘Sri Pada’, Adam’s Peak is a 2243 m tall conical mountain standing right in the centre of Sri Lanka. Also known as the butterfly mountain, the place is sacred to all religions. This is because ‘Sri Pada’, a rock formation resembling a footprint is considered sacred in Buddhist tradition to be that of Buddha, in Hindus that of Shiva and in Islam and Christianity, that of Adam. Most often scaled from December to May, the mountain is accessible by only 6 trails. Apart from the dominating and outstanding profile of the mountain, the mountain is a pilgrimage site for Buddhists who walk up to the summit through thousands of steps taking several hours. In fact, many climb the mountain at night as with stars overhead and lights leading up, it is an unforgettable experience.
Pinnawela: Located halfway between the current capital Colombo and the ancient royal residence Kandy in central Sri Lankan hills, Pinnewala Elephant Orphanage was built in 1975 by the Sri Lankan Wildlife Department. Originally built to provide care and protection to orphaned elephants found in jungle, Pinnewela is quite popular among both local as well as foreign tourists. Tourists can interact with the elephant herds while they are playing and bathing at the river bank. Most of the elephants at the orphanage are healthy and are either sold or donated or even retained for future breeding once they attain adulthood. Visiting families can enjoy by observing various aspects of elephant life at this place as well as take rides on them.
Sinharaja Forest Reserve: This biodiversity hotspot of Sri Lanka is a popular National Park of international significance due to its status as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Though the reserve is only21 kms from east to west and 7kms from north to south, yet it is a treasure trove of various endemic species of plants, amphibians, insects, birds, reptiles and mammals. Because of the dense vegetation prevalent in the area, the place is not so popular as Yala yet there is no refuting the animal and plant diversity that prevails in the area. With its name translating into ‘Kingdom of Lion’, the place is home to leopards, elephants, as well as the Purple faced langur. This hilly virgin rainforest is a part of Sri Lankan lowland rain forests ecoregion and has been saved from the commercial logging due to the region’s inaccessibility.
Dambulla Cave Temple: Also known as the Golden Temple of Dambulla, this is also a World Heritage Site located in the central part of Sri Lanka. Said to be the largest and the best preserved cave complex in the country, this cave temple is a major attraction spanning over 5 caves that contain statues and paintings related to Lord Buddha and his life. There are a total of over 153 Buddha statues, 3 that of Sri Lankan kings as well as 4 of Hindu gods and goddesses. The 5 caves have now been converted into shrine rooms and are by far the most impressive of all cave temples found on the island. The three main caves of these five are the Cave of the Divine King, Cave of the Great Kings and the Great New Monastery. Conservation efforts are always in progress at the site to make it more accessible and maintain the integrity of the original temple complex.
Temple of the Tooth: Housing the sacred relic of the tooth of Buddha, Temple of the Tooth is located in the royal palace complex of Kandy, Sri Lanka. The relic has played an important part in the Sri Lankan ancient political history as it was believed that whoever holds the tooth holds the governance. Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Kandy is the last known capital of Sri Lankan kings and thus houses the sacred temple. Daily rituals are performed at this temple till date with a symbolic bathing of the sacred relic every Wednesday with a special herbal preparation said to contain healing powers. This water is then distributed among those present. Some of the associate buildings and structures that you can visit while visiting the temple are the Royal Palace, Audience Hall and Mahamaluwa along with several other ancient royal meeting places.
Horton Plains National Park: Also known as ‘Maha-Eliya’ in Sinhala, Horton Plains National Prak is central highlands protected area at a height of more than 2000 m covered by montane grassland and cloud forest. The place is a popular tourist attraction due to its apparently cooler atmosphere than the coasts while also being the headwaters of the three main Sri Lankan rivers- Mahaweli, Kelani and Walawe. Interspersed with vast forests as well as several endemic woody plants, the place is also an Important Bird Area as well as being home to Sri Lankan sambar deer herds. Some of the main tourist attractions of the park include the Baker’s Falls, Slab Rock Falls and the sheer precipice of World’s End that will just leave you gasping for breath.
Royal Botanical Gardens: Situated in Peradeniya, located just a few kilometres away from the royal city of Kandy, Royal Botanical Gardens is a popular tourist hotspot attracting nearly 2 million visitors every year. Globally renowned for its orchid varieties, the garden has over 4000 species of plants on its area that include medicinal plants, spices, orchids, and palm trees. Attached to the Garden is the National Herbarium for the further research and development regarding new plant species and their growth. There is a specially significant tree located right in this garden that goes by the name of Cannonball Tree. Planted by King George V and Queen Mary of United Kingdom in 1901, the tree is laden with fruits that look like mini cannonballs.
Ruwanwelisaya: This sacred stupa located in Sri Lanka is revered by Buddhists all around the world and is considered to be quite a marvel when it comes to architecture. Built by King Dutugemunu, the place also goes by the name of Mahathupa, Rathnamali Dagaba as well as Swarnamali Chaitya. Counted among the 16 places of veneration (Solosmasthana) as well as one of the 8 places of veneration in ancient Anuradhapura (Atamasthana), this stupa also enjoys the distinction of being one of the tallest monuments of the world standing at a height of 338 feet. In fact, it is said that the Kaunghmudaw Pagoda in Myanmar has been designed on the looks of this stupa.
Ravana Falls: Currently ranking as one of the widest falls in the country, Ravana Falls are a popular tourist attraction of the country. Cascading down from an oval shaped concave rock outcrop, the falls are accompanied by an equally popular Ravana Ella Cave that lies 1370m above sea level on the foundation of a cliff. According to popular Hindu legend, Ravana hashad kidnapped princess Sita and had hidden her in these caves that lie behind the waterfall. It is also popularly belived that Ravana’s wife used to bathe in a pool that was formed by accumulating the water from these falls. If you happen to visit the place during rainy season, the waterfalls looks like an areca flower with weathering petals whereas during the dry season, the water level reduces greatly thus altering the shape of the waterfall too.
Anuradhapura: This popular ancient capital of Sri Lanka is internationally famous for the well preserved ruins of the ancient civilization of the country. Now listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Anuradhapura is situated on the banks of Malvathu Oya and was the third capital of Kingdom of Rajarata after Upatissa Nuwara and Tambapanni. The place is also famous as the oldest continuously inhabited cities of the world as well as being one of the eight Sri Lankan World Heritage Sites. Served well by railways and highways, the city is well connected to the rest of the world. The place is also considered sacred by Buddhists all around the world for the monasteries and veneration places established all over the city. It is also quite an attraction for the hindus too as the place is said to be the fabled capital of the Asura king Ravana in Ramayana. Other popular structures present in this ancient city are Isurumuniya, Queen’s Palace, Vessagiri, Dakkhina Stupa, Sela Cetiya and others.
Bentota: Famous for its golden beaches, Bentota is the perfect family destination located right on the southern coastal tip of Galle in Southern Province. Deriving its name from a legendary mythical story stating that the place was ruled by a demon named Bem, the place is quite popular both among the international as well as the local tourists. This has resulted in mushrooming of various world class hotels in the area along with a range of water sports activities. Another famous distinction of the place is it being the hosting land for the Sri Lankan jeweller Aida. However, once there, do not miss ‘Toddy’, an alcoholic beverage made from coconut nectar for which the place is known internationally.
Ella: Blessed with some of the most beautiful views of the country, Ella is a sleepy little town located in the beautiful countryside of Sari Lanka’s Hill country. With the town being used as a base for many a trekking expeditions, the town offers a slice of breathtaking sceneries. Just walk into the garden of the famous Grand Ella Motel and you will feel as if you are standing at the edge of the world with everything around just disappearing beneath you. To experience another feeling altogether, visit the Ambiente Hotel where the wide doorway opens up to the mountain thus leaving you feeling surreal. The place is a little treasure house of attractions what with Ella Gap, Little Adam’s Peak, Ravana Ella Falls and Bambaragala Peak, just a pleasant walk away from your cottage.
Kalpitiya: Located in the western peninsular region in Puttalam District of Sri Lanka, Kalpitiya is small little naturally beautiful coastal gem that has remained quite untouched with the recent onslaught of tourism. Yet, for those who visit, the place is bursting at seams with activities and attractions that they can indulge themselves into. Get a real insight into the lives of the fishing communities that dominate the area. In fact, prepare your evening meal from the fresh catch offered in the fish markets dotting the area. For those more interested into getting to know more about Sri Lankan history, visit the famous St Peter’s Kerk Church and the Dutch Fort that are a living example of the rich colonial past of the country. Indulge yourself by hopping onto a leisurely boat rides to the lagoon where you can watch one of the beautiful evening sunsets of your life.
Bambarakanda Falls: Popularly known as the Bambarakele Falls, these falls enjoy the distinction of being the tallest waterfall of Sri Lanka while ranking 299th in the whole world. Located in Kalupahana of badulla district, it is directly visible from the national A4 highway surrounded by pine trees forest. The waterfall, formed by Kuda Oya, is a beautiful sight for those love water and love to see and feel water created attractions.
Galle Face Green: Located in the heart of the financial district of Colombo, Galle Face is popular promenade stretching along for a distance of over half a kilometre. Originally laid out for the erstwhile British Ceylon, this green ribbon strip of land was also used for horse racing and golf and earlier went by the name of Colpitty Race Course. In fact, running across the Indian Ocean, this narrow strip is said to be the largest open space of Colombo. On weekends and national holidays, you will find the place full of teenagers, children, lovers, kite flyers as well as various other merrymakers indulging in their favourite pastime under the open sky. The place is replete with some of the oldest and most popular hotels of Sri Lanka thus bringing some old world charm along with regular picnic fun.
Pidurutalagala: Also known as Mount Pedro in English, this ultra prominent peak of Sri Lanka is also the tallest in the country. Home to the central communications array of the Sri Lankan Government, the summit of this mountain serves an important role in the radar system of the country. Designated as the ‘Ultra- high security’ zone, the place is easily visible from most of the Central Province areas. Though strictly off limits to the public, you can easily get a better look and feel of the mountain from the nearby Nuwara Eliya city located at a height of 1868m in Central highlands. The town is an important tea production centre for the country and offers some beautiful scenic moments.
Knuckles Mountain Range: Located in central Sri Lanka,Knuckles Mountain Range takes its name from the series of folds and peaks in the western area of massif resembling the knuckles of a clenched fist when viewed from certain areas of Kandy. Named by the British surveyors, the mountain is also popularly known as Dumbara Kanduvetiya meaning ‘mist laden mountains’ by the local Sinhalese residents. Various striking landscapes form the character of the region with thick layers of clouds adding to its aesthetic beauty. The mountain harbours flora and fauna of almost all the climatic zones of the country making it a complete climatic microcosm in itself. In fact, there are many forms of vegetation unique to the mountain range itself hardly found anywhere else in the world. This has made the place quite popular with scientists and people enamoured by the natural beauty and sceneries.
Kandy Lake: Located in the heart of the city of Kandy, Sri Lanka, Kandy Lake is a protected lake with various legends, stories and folklores surrounding the place. Though the lake has reduced in size over the years, its protected status has helped in the flourishing of fishes as fishing is banned in the lake. It is also said that there is a small island right in the heart of the lake that was used by the King for bathing and is connected to the main island with a secret tunnel. The lake itself is a man made lake created in 1807 by the Sinhalese king on a paddy field. It is considered as a symbol of how the ancient kings used to waste national resources to create such ornamental pieces at a time when the kingdom was under a serious threat. However, today the lake is a place for a quiet stroll or peaceful walk offering a shady view of the surrounding hills and town. Located right by the side of the Temple of Tooth Relic, the island is the prettiest objects of the lake followed by the ‘Walakulu’ or the Clouds wall and the Queen’s bath.