Sri Lanka - 8 Exotic & Attractive Local Experiences You Should Not Miss
Though tiny in size, the tropical island of Sri Lanka has a huge amount to offer tourists in terms of ancient sites, scenic routes, stunning wildlife, spicy cuisine and exciting outdoor activities. For those in search of blissful and unique experiences in Sri Lanka, here is a list of top rich local encounters you should included on your bucket list to see the real Sri Lanka and even its unseen side.
1. Take a scenic train ride in the hill country
Taking a train ride is the best way to travel around Sri Lanka and also the most budget-friendly option for backpackers. The rail network connects most must-see destinations through the hill country like Kandy, Nuwara Eliya, and Ella, and many enjoy it as one of the most beautiful in the world. The trail winds through misty mountains, forests, bridges, villages and close enough to vast green tea plantations where you can even see Sri Lankan women in colourful sarees plucking tea leaves. During the train journey, you can wander around the carriages, purchase some snacks from vendors, sit in the open doorway for breathtaking views or have small talks with friendly locals. It’s really an experience to treasure.
2. Witness “The Gathering” at Minneriya National Park
Sri Lanka has around 25 national parks with great experiences that make it a heaven for all wildlife enthusiasts. But for first-time visitors, you may feel spoilt for choice at the first search, so we suggest a unique option: the largest gathering of elephants in Asia at Minneriya National Park. This special nature event takes place in the dry season, between July–October when over 300 of these giant creatures from the North Central Province roam the jungles to the Minneriya reservoir to drink. From an open-air jeep, you’ll see the elephants drink, play in the water, and munch on green grass, and immersive wildlife experience for photographers. You can also find exotic birds, big lizards, deer and crocodiles in this park.
3. Climb Sigiriya Lion Rock
When you search the internet for Sri Lanka, the first image that jumps out is Sigiriya Lion Rock – a huge rock rising dramatically from the surrounding plains of green forests and containing the ancient fifth-century ruins of fortress and palace on its top. There is no doubt that this UNESCO World Heritage Site is the most well-known and visited Sri Lankan monument, which is always busy with tourists and locals alike. To reach its secrets, you’ll have to climb passageways cut into sheer walls between a pair of colossal lion's paws. On the way you'll pass a series of quite gorgeous frescoes, then at the summit, enjoy the panoramic view and historic stories of the short-lived kingdom of Kassapa.
4. Experience the Esala Perahera procession in Kandy
Located in the heart of the tropical island, Kandy is the cultural capital of Sri Lanka with plenty of medieval Buddhist temples, and there is no better way to experience the rich Kandyan culture than joining its most famous festival - the annual Esala Perahera procession (the Festival of the Tooth). The night historical event takes place every July or August in which the highlight is the sacred tooth relic of Lord Buddha paraded through the streets, together with majestic elephants in glittering clothing, Kandyan drummers, local dancers and fire plays. Another awe-inspiring event is the ritual water cutting ceremony by the Mahaweli River that people believe the holy water can dispel evil.
5. Learn about the traditional art of fishing
When you’re in several Sri Lanka’s beach town, it is not uncommon to see local fishermen perching on a vertical pole with an attached crossbar embedded into the shallow seafloor and fishing skillfully in the light of dawn, noon or dusk. That is Stilt Fishing – a special traditional fishing method of Sri Lanka which is believed to appear just after World War II. From afar, the fishermen look comfortable and easy to catch fish with a rod, but the action requires much skill and balance. If you’re into this activity, Hikkaduwa Beach, Unawatuna Beach or Mirissa Beach is the place to be. Some locals can teach you how they fish and there are also opportunities to join in the activity if interested.
6. Hit the beaches and surf
Surrounded all sides by the blue ocean, Sri Lanka is a tropical paradise for beach lovers and holidaymakers alike. There is a multitude of amazing beach towns that you can unwind, but for those into surfing, Arugam Bay in the Eastern Province is the place to be. The bay offers several point breaks which are suitable for the beginners and experienced surfers, such as Main Point, Pottuvil Point and Elephant Rock, Peanut Farm, and Panama. They are all within a 45-minute drive between north and south of Arugam Bay that you can hire a tuk-tuk to explore. The best time of the year for surfing here is between May and September or the dry season when predominant winds are typically offshore in the morning.
7. Witness the typical Sri Lankan village life
Living in a Sri Lankan village for a day is certainly the best way to experience the true essence of this tropical island and get out of the bustling city vibe. Get to the rural towns like Habarana or Hiriwadunna, you will encounter the daily life of local community amidst scrub jungles, see how they earn a living from fishing or farming and learn about their culture and traditions. From trekking through the dense forest, hopping into a catamaran and sail through the lake, riding on a bullock cart alongside paddy fields to seeing how to prepare an authentic meal using traditional Sri Lankan methods of cooking, this adventure will be an unforgettable experience for your holiday in Sri Lanka.
8. Have fun with whales and dolphins watching Mirissa
Located in the southernmost point of the country, Mirissa is one of the best places in Sri Lanka where you can watch the biggest known mammals on Earth, blue whales and dolphins playing freely in the azure waters. The highest chances of spotting these creatures take place from November to April when they migrate from the southern hemisphere to warmer feeding areas in the Bay of Bengal. The local boats will take tourists to the sea early in the morning, then the engines are switched off to not disturb the whales and dolphins, you will watch their pods swim along. Though the experience is not 100% guaranteed as you are going to see wildlife, you can expect to see Bryde's whales, sperm whales, fin whales, spinner dolphins, striped dolphins, and spotted dolphins.
There are hundreds of things to do and see in Sri Lanka to feast your senses, but here are some of our suggestions for something special. Don’t stress yourself to do all, pick some that fit your interest and itinerary. If you need a little bit of help in planning a dreaming trip in Sri Lanka and Asia, our Asia Private Tours experts are always delighted to help you create a perfect holiday.