By Janani Vithanage
With the Avurudhu holidays coming up in less than a couple of months, it’s time that we Lankans start planning our next great adventure! After almost 2 pretty tedious years of being cooped up at home with quarantining and travel restrictions, it’s time we remembered that we have an enthralling island to explore and exciting lives to live. As you brush off your post-curfew blues, we’ve compiled a list of 11 super-fun things you can do in Sri Lanka.
1. Climb Sigiriya
Now, we know this sounds rather cliché, but this is something that you really should do at least once in your life, especially if you’re enthusiastic about historical architecture. Sigiriya’s beautifully landscaped gardens, pools and the remnants of the rock-top fortress date back to the fifth century AD. Other features to look out for include the mirror wall with its millennium-old inscriptions, the stoic “Lion’s Paws”, carved out of the rock itself and the world-famous, almost hauntingly beautiful Sigiriya Frescoes, said to be painted by King Kashyapa himself. And even if you aren’t really one for ancient castles and intimidatingly large stone lions, you’ll find that the climb itself is uniquely satisfying. As for the 360° view from the top; the lush greenery surrounding the rock, the blue hills and mountains in the distance and the fresh breeze billowing around your clothes and hair, is nothing short of breath-taking.
2. Go on a National Park Safari
This is another one that we hear a lot about, but like Sigiriya shouldn’t be missed out on. Sri Lanka’s National Wildlife Parks are rife with exciting fauna, ranging from our majestic elephants and enigmatic leopards to our gentle deer and stunningly-plumed peacocks. Head out to Yala, Wilpattu or Udawalawe for the best experiences. Don’t forget to take along your cameras, but always keep in mind that these animals must be treated with respect; it’s their home, not yours!
3. Whale Watching at Mirissa
The ocean surrounding our little island thrives with krill and shrimp, which is great, because this makes Mirissa the perfect feeding ground for whales as they migrate from the northern to southern hemisphere. What’s more, you’re in luck, because we’re smack in the middle of the whale spotting season, which lasts from November to April, with a 98% percent chance of a whale siting! Most often spotted is the awe-inspiring blue whale (the largest creature on Earth), with sperm whales and fin whales coming in at a close second and third. It’s quite common to spot dolphins jaunting around as well!
4. Take a trip down Madu Ganga
If you’re someone who really enjoys the stillness of nature in its most undisturbed forms, this will be your cup of tea. One of the last completely untouched mangroves in Sri Lanka, the Madu Ganga estuary, located in the Galle district, is a complex world of swamps and tiny islands. With the over-hanging, tangled trees on either bank and the calm, silent water, the monitor lizards gliding effortlessly through the shallows and the many endemic birds flitting about the trees, a boat-ride here is bound to give you an unmatchable sense of mystery and adventure.
5. Surfing at Arugam Bay
With its warm water, sandy, palm-fringed beaches and amazing surf spots, Arugam Bay is a surfer’s paradise renowned not only as possibly the best surf spot in Sri Lanka, but in the whole of Asia. It caters to any preference, with reef breaks, beach breaks and point breaks. In addition to this, you are guaranteed a fun-filled vacation regardless of your level of expertise; the gentler swells of Peanut farm are perfect for beginners or intermediate level surfers, while Arugam Bay Main Point, with its rushing waves, is sure to give more seasoned surfers the time of their lives!
6. Take a train to Nuwara Eliya and explore a tea estate
It’s no secret that even we hardy Sri Lankans get tired of the blistering sun and sweltering heat of the country’s lower regions. This forms part of Nuwara Eliya’s appeal; the coolness is a refreshing change from what we’re used to. We’d say your best option would be to take a train from Kandy to Nanuoya (the closest stop to Nuwara Eliya) because this trail is said to be one of the most scenic in the country. As the train winds along steep rail paths, including the famous Nine Arch Bridge, you’ll be able to feast your eyes on the green-cloaked landscape and mist-veiled mountains. Once you arrive in Nuwara Eliya, we suggest you explore the Mackwoods tea estate, with its unending tiers of immaculately grown tea trees dotted with the vibrant colours of the sarees worn by their employees. They’ll even take you on a free tour of the estate and explain the tea making process to you!
7. Hiking Across Katusu Kondha
If you’re a seasoned hiker looking for something that’ll really challenge your abilities and push you out of your comfort zone, this is the perfect trek for you. This peak, found in the Hanthana mountain range in Kandy, is characterized by its long, knife-edged top’s resemblance to the back of a lizard (hence the name). The dangerously steep slopes on either side of the peak can look extremely daunting, but the hike is guaranteed to be an incredibly rewarding experience for the more hardened variety of adventurer.
8. Scuba diving at Hikkaduwa
If you’re a marine enthusiast, we assure you, Hikkaduwa will not disappoint! What’s more, we’re right in the middle of the southwest diving season, which typically lasts from November to April. Scuba diving here is sure to be a truly unforgettable experience. Home to the country’s most gorgeous coral reefs, you are bound to come across a plethora of exotic sea creatures ranging from turtles and splendidly coloured fish to manta and even whale sharks! The shallows are also home to quite a number of wrecks, which count as interesting ground for exploration as well.
9. Hot Air Ballooning in Kandalama
Guaranteed to bring you a totally unforgettable experience, the hot air balloon rides at Kandalama are not only exciting, but safe as well. If you are staying at a hotel in either Kandalama, Habarana, Sigiriya or Dambulla, you will receive a complimentary pick up from your hotel to the location of take-off. Prepare yourself for the exhilarating feeling of pushing off the ground and into the air, followed by the indescribable serenity and peace offered by the complete silence you will experience as you idyllically drift over a patchwork of vast paddy fields, glistening lakes and cozy villages.
10. White water rafting at Kithulgala
Brave the thundering waters of the Kelini River as it powers through the rocky gorge at Kithulgala! The water hitting the rocks creates grade 2 to 3 rapids that’ll please every adrenaline junky out there. The ride is typically one and a half to three hours long (depending on how long you want to stay out in the water). The rapids have really interesting the names too; imagine telling your friends of how you defeated the swells of the “Killer Falls” and survived the “Head Chopper” completely unscathed! Don’t let the names intimidate you though. Rest assured that you’ll always be accompanied by a trained professional and will be provided with all the safety gear necessary.
11. Kite Surfing at Kalpitiya
Kalpitiya has been the country’s kite surfing hub for over a decade, has seen the likes of legendary professionals like Ruben Lenten and Mikaili Sol and has even hosted international events like the Kiteboard Tour Asia. The best spot by far is the Kalpitiya lagoon, with its shallow, flat waters, reliable wind season and almost constant stream of 25+ knots. If you’re an experienced kite surfer, you’ll find yourself easily cruising across the waves and if you’re feeling bold, you could even try riding on the edge of the lagoon, pulling in your bar and popping up hard enough to send you sailing across the sandbar, into the Indian ocean! But never fear, even if you’re new to the sport, there are tons of excellent beginners’ courses to set you on course.