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Top 5 – Must-do’s in Sri Lanka

Do not forget these activities when you're on the beautiful Resplendent Island

Sri Lanka is a beautiful island country located in South Asia, known for its stunning beaches, lush green forests, and ancient ruins. One of those big reasons why to visit this proud island is due to its natural beauty. Sri Lanka boasts of a diverse landscape with a variety of natural attractions ranging from beaches to mountains, forests to wildlife sanctuaries. It is home to several national parks and reserves, where you can spot elephants, leopards, and other exotic animals. In addition, the country contains a huge history and culture. Sri Lanka has a rich cultural heritage that dates back over 2,500 years. You can explore ancient ruins and temples, such as the Sigiriya Rock Fortress and the Temple of the Tooth in Kandy, to learn about the country’s history and religion. In this article, as part of the Top 5 Series, I highlight for you the Top 5 – Must-do’s in Sri Lanka. It contains all of the above-mentioned aspects of the country. Beautiful beaches, a hike, animals, culture as well as history. Hence the reason I think this cannot be missed once visiting this stunning country. Discover my Top 5 here!

#1 Udawalawe National Park

Witness the most beautiful elephants up close

4/5 stars because:
Elephants walking right next to you
Very big
Several tour guides available who know a lot
Most animals of all NP's in the country
In the center of the country and therefore relatively easy to reach
Udawalawe NP, Must-do's in Sri Lanka

Udawalawe National Park is a popular wildlife reserve located in the southern part of Sri Lanka. It was established in 1972 to provide a sanctuary for the many wild animals that were displaced by the construction of the Udawalawe Reservoir. The park spans over 30,000 hectares and is home to a variety of wildlife. Udawalawe is one of the best places in Sri Lanka to see wild elephants, with an estimated population of around 500 individuals.

Visitors to the park can take a jeep safari to explore the park and see the wildlife up close. The best time to visit is during the dry season, which runs from June to September, when the animals congregate around the water sources. However, outside of these months it perfectly possible as well. Udawalawe National Park is a must-visit destination for nature and wildlife enthusiasts visiting Sri Lanka.

Prices for safaris
Prices for accommodation around the NP
Half day around $35-$40 per person
Minimum = $25 per night for cheap guesthouse
Private, full day tour = $90-$120 per person
Mid-range = lodge or villa between $50-$100 per night
Which animals can you spot in the NP:
  1. Elephants: Udawalawe is one of the best places in Sri Lanka to see wild elephants, with an estimated population of around 500 individuals.
  2. Water buffalo: These large and impressive animals can be seen grazing in the grasslands and near water sources.
  3. Sambar deer: These beautiful deer are the largest species of deer in Sri Lanka and can be seen in the park’s forests.
  4. Crocodiles: Udawalawe has several water sources, including the Walawe River, where you can see these prehistoric creatures.
  5. Leopards: Although rare, leopards can occasionally be seen in the park.
  6. Sloth bears: These shy animals are also present in the park but are elusive and hard to spot.
  7. Various species of birds: Udawalawe is a paradise for birdwatchers, with over 200 species of birds recorded in the park, including several endemic species such as Sri Lanka Spurfowl, Sri Lanka Grey Hornbill, and Sri Lanka Junglefowl.


Check out available hotels, villas and guesthouses! My personal recommendation for a guesthouse: La Casa Udawalawe. Offering several tours, they have a bar and breakfast is included

#2 Climb up Adam's Peak

The best and most beautiful hike in the country

5/5 stars because:
Best Buddhistic experience!
Best challenging hike in the country
Beautiful sunrise
Safe and free of charge
UNESCO World Heritage site

Adam’s Peak is a mountain located in the central highlands of Sri Lanka and is considered a sacred site by Buddhists, Hindus, Christians, and Muslims alike. It stands at 2,243 meters (7,359 feet) tall and is known locally as Sri Pada, which means “sacred footprint.” The mountain is famous for this footprint, which is said to be the footprint of the Buddha by Buddhists, of Adam by Muslims, of Shiva by Hindus, and of St. Thomas by Christians. Every year, thousands of pilgrims as well as strong and experienced hikers climb the mountain to pay their respects and leave offerings at the summit.

The view from the top is breathtaking, and the spiritual significance of the site makes the journey well worth it for many people. In addition to its religious significance, Adam’s Peak is also an important biodiversity hotspot and home to a variety of plant and animal species. It has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage site and keeps being a popular destination for nature lovers and hikers as well as pilgrims.

The length of the hike

The length of the hike up Adam’s Peak can vary depending on the starting point and the pace of the hiker. The most popular route, which starts from the town of Dalhousie, is about 7 kilometers (4.3 miles) and typically takes 3-4 hours to complete.

The trail consists of around 5,500 steps, and the ascent can be quite steep in places, particularly toward the top. The best time to start the climb is in the early morning. Do this if you want to reach the summit in time to see the sunrise.

It’s a good idea to be in relatively good physical shape and to take plenty of breaks along the way. Additionally, it’s important to dress appropriately, as the temperature can vary significantly between the base and the summit, and to bring plenty of water and snacks. 

#3 Visit Galle and the south

Chill surfing vibe next to great history in the Fort

5/5 stars because:
Different options around Galle itself
The fort itself has a beautiful architecture with a mix of styles
Beautiful beaches in the south of Sri Lanka
Thriving city with good nightlife options

Galle was originally a small fishing village, but it became an important port city during the 16th century, under the rule of the Portuguese, who built a fort there in 1588. The city later fell into the hands of the Dutch in 1640, who further fortified the city and built many of the beautiful buildings that can still be seen today. Galle’s colonial heritage is reflected in its architecture, which includes a mix of Dutch, Portuguese, and British styles.

One of the main attractions in Galle is the UNESCO-listed Galle Fort, a 17th-century Dutch fortification that surrounds the old town. The fort is a maze of narrow streets and alleys, lined with historic buildings that now house boutique hotels, cafes, and shops selling handicrafts and souvenirs. Other attractions in Galle include the National Maritime Museum, the Dutch Reformed Church, and the lighthouse.

Galle is also known for its beautiful beaches, including Unawatuna, which is located just a few kilometers from the city center. Check out some other cool, chill surfing towns down here!

Usefull information
Nice design, good air-conditioning and good prices for its location
Amazingly cheap and nice staff. Excellent breakfast
Best beach
Amazing combination of things to do as well as being laid-back and chill
Nice towns and beaches near Galle:
  1. Unawatuna – This beach town is located just 6 kilometers south of Galle and is famous for its pristine beaches and turquoise waters. It is a popular spot for swimming, surfing, and snorkeling.
  2. Mirissa – Located about 34 kilometers east of Galle, Mirissa is another popular beach town known for its laid-back vibe and beautiful beaches. It is a great place to relax, enjoy the sun and surf, and go whale watching.
  3. Hikkaduwa – This town is located about 22 kilometers north of Galle and is known for its long stretches of sandy beaches, coral reefs, and colorful marine life. It is a popular spot for snorkeling and diving.
  4. Bentota – Located about 65 kilometers north of Galle, Bentota is a picturesque coastal town with palm-fringed beaches, calm waters, and lush greenery. It is a great place for water sports and beach activities.


Satori Beach Hostel Merrisa. This hostel changed my life personally. I can only propose you stay there!

#4 Kandy

Visit The Temple of the Tooth

4/5 stars because:
Options to stay longer in this city due to its good living conditions
A lot to do both cultural and recreational
Nice hostels with amazing people to meet and hang out with
Temple of Tooth is a must-see for Buddhistic culture experience
Although it is in the center of the country, it takes still a bit too long it reach it

The next on the list of the Top 5 – Must-do’s in Sri Lanka is the city called Kandy. This city is located in the central part of Sri Lanka. It is the second-largest city in the country after Colombo, the capital city. Kandy is a major cultural and religious center in Sri Lanka and is considered a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

One of the most popular tourist attractions in Kandy is the Temple of the Tooth, which is believed to house a tooth relic of the Buddha. The temple is located in the heart of Kandy and attracts thousands of visitors every year. Other popular attractions in Kandy include the Royal Botanical Gardens, the Kandy Lake, and the Bahirawakanda Vihara Buddha Statue.

In addition, Kandy is known for its annual Esala Perahera festival, which is a grand cultural pageant held in honor of the sacred tooth relic. The festival is usually held in July or August and features traditional dancers, drummers, and a parade of decorated elephants. Overall, Kandy is a beautiful city with a rich history, making it a must-visit destination for tourists traveling to Sri Lanka.

A bit more about the Temple of Tooth

The Temple of the Tooth, also known as Sri Dalada Maligawa, is one of the most revered and sacred Buddhist temples in Sri LankaThe temple is believed to house the tooth relic of the Buddha, which is a sacred object of worship for Buddhists. The tooth relic is said to have been brought to Sri Lanka in the 4th century AD and has been enshrined in various temples throughout the country over the centuries. The tooth relic is considered to be a symbol of Sri Lanka’s sovereignty and a source of national pride.

The temple complex consists of several buildings and structures, including the main shrine, which houses the tooth relic. The shrine is adorned with intricate carvings, gold and silver decorations, and colorful paintings. Visitors can view the shrine from a distance but are not permitted to enter it.

Maximum prices upfront
Amount of days to stay in Kandy
Accomodation = max. 15 euro a night for a dorm in a hostel
Minimum = 3
Cheap local beer = max. 1 euro
Best impression = min. 7 days
Temple of the Tooth, Kandy, Sri Lanka
Kandy Lake, Sri Lanka

More things to see and to do in Kandy

  1. Royal Botanical Gardens: The Royal Botanical Gardens in Peradeniya, located just outside Kandy, is one of the largest botanical gardens in Asia. It boasts a huge collection of plants and flowers from all over the world, including an orchid house, palm avenues, and a giant Javan fig tree.
  2. Kandy Lake: Located in the heart of the city. This is a picturesque artificial lake built in the early 19th century by the last king of Sri Lanka. You can enjoy a leisurely stroll around the lake, take a boat ride, or simply relax on the lakeside benches.
  3. Bahirawakanda Vihara Buddha Statue: This iconic statue of the Buddha is located on a hill overlooking Kandy. It is one of the largest Buddha statues in Sri Lanka, standing at 88 feet tall.
  4. Kandy Cultural Dance Show: The Kandy Cultural Dance Show is a nightly performance showcasing traditional Sri Lankan dance forms, such as Kandyan, Sabaragamuwa, and Ruhunu. The show is held at various venues in Kandy and is a great way to experience the local culture.
  5. Udawattakele Forest Reserve: This nature reserve is located on a hill overlooking Kandy and offers a tranquil escape from the city. It is home to a variety of plant and animal species, including monkeys, birds, and butterflies.
  6. Tea Plantations: Kandy is surrounded by lush tea plantations, and taking a tour of one of these estates is a must-do activity. You can learn about the tea-making process, sample various types of tea, and enjoy stunning views of the surrounding hills.

#5 Pinnawala elephant orphanage

The countries animal up close

4/5 stars because:
Shows the best of the country by taking care of the elephants threatened by hunting and handlers
Getting up-close to the animals
Cheap ($1 for adults)
Learn more about the elephants from the staff. They are very friendly
Elephants from all ages
Sri Lanka

The Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage is an elephant sanctuary located in Pinnawala, Sri Lanka. It was established in 1975 by the Sri Lankan Department of Wildlife Conservation as a refuge for orphaned and injured elephants.

The sanctuary is home to over 80 elephants, including both adults and calves. One of the reasons why it is on the list of must-do’s in Sri Lanka is because visitors can watch the elephants being bathed in the river. You can also feed them with milk bottles and can even take an elephant ride. The sanctuary also has an elephant breeding program that aims to increase the population of elephants in Sri Lanka.

The Orphanage is considered to be one of the top tourist attractions in Sri Lanka. However, there has been some controversy surrounding the sanctuary in recent years, with some animal rights activists questioning the welfare of the elephants and their treatment at the hands of their handlers.

Despite these concerns, the sanctuary remains a popular destination for visitors to Sri Lanka, providing an opportunity to see these magnificent creatures up close and learn more about their behavior and care.

How to get there
  1. By car/taxi: You can hire a car or taxi from Colombo to Pinnawala. The journey takes approximately 2-3 hours depending on traffic conditions.
  2. By train: You can take a train from Colombo to Rambukkana, which is the closest railway station to Pinnawala. From Rambukkana, you can take a tuk-tuk or taxi to reach the orphanage.
  3. By bus: There are regular buses from Colombo to Kegalle, which is the closest town to Pinnawala. From Kegalle, you can take a tuk-tuk or taxi to reach the orphanage.
A bit more about the Asian Elephant. How are they special?

Asian elephants are one of three subspecies of elephants, with the other two being African forest elephants and African savannah elephants. The Asian elephants are found in 13 countries throughout Asia, including Sri Lanka. 

In Sri Lanka, the Asian elephant population is estimated to be around 7,000 individuals. The elephants in Sri Lanka are smaller than their counterparts in other countries, such as India, and have a darker skin color. They are also known for their distinctive forehead shape, which is concave instead of the convex forehead found in other Asian elephants. The elephants live in a variety of habitats, including dry and wet forests, grasslands, and scrublands. They are social animals and live in family groups led by a matriarchal figure. They are herbivores and eat a diet of grasses, leaves, bark, and fruits.


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