Sri Lanka; best known for its world class waves, palm fringed beaches, stick fisherman and wild elephants. Already sounds dreamy right? But it gets better. Because Sri Lanka also happens to be an adventure lover’s paradise. It’s a bucket list destination for most and since the civil war came to an end in 2009 tourism in the country has really boomed. And although a lot of tourists come to enjoy the white sandy beaches, adventures in Sri Lanka should not be overlooked; from rafting to hiking, camping to surfing… if you love adventure you’ll LOVE Sri Lanka.
This post will set you up to plan your adventures in Sri Lanka, plus get a little off the beaten path. Whether you try all or just a few, these should get you adventurelusting for this little adventure paradise island.
Here are 12 awesome adventures in Sri Lanka you’ll love!
#1 Stick Fishing
Paying for the privilege of taking photos of fisherman? That went out of fashion AGES ago. So ditch the idea of just trying to get that famous shot of stick fishermen on – well- their sticks, and get fully involved! We booked our sunset fishing session with the guys at Hangtime Hostel and their actual fisherman friend Eddie (who at times I think must have lost all hope for me as my hook got stuck in rocks a lot – obvs every time that happened I thought I’d caught a fish..!).
#2 Rafting at Kitulgala NP
There is one place you can go rafting in Sri Lanka, and that is Kitulgala National Park. The Grade 3 rapids are not too scary and there’s only 3 relatively big drops which are sure to have you smiling the whole time you’re drifting down the river! After the big rapids you reach the designated swimming area, meaning you can jump in the water and let the flow of the river do the rest. All while being surrounded by a jungle that’ll make you feel like you just shacked up with Tarzan.
There’s a fair few companies to choose from in Kitulgala, but we went with Adventure River Expeditions – they are awesome guys, have great safety procedures and offer really great prices.
#3 Canyoning at Kitulgala NP
Kitulgala National Park is not only home to rafting adventures, but also to a little canyon hidden inside the jungle where you can slide and jump your way from waterfall to waterfall. Unlike canyoning in Goa, India canyoning in Kitulgala NP doesn’t involve rappelling and abseiling. You’ll just need to wear clothes you can get wet, trainers or Teva sandals and then you’ll be given a helmet and a life jacket. No harnessed of wetsuits are involved but it’s still seriously good fun! Be sure to take a GoPro with you to capture those beautiful views over glassy waters and into the jungle below.
Surfing in Sri Lanka is not only accessible to all levels of surfer, but it’s also a year-round activity. Between June and October you can enjoy the breaks on the east coast in and around Arugam Bay. Between November and May, the south west coast of the southern province is where it’s at with copious breaks and surf spots to go around. Weligama is a great beach break for beginners and intermediates and generally has a cool vibe with trendy guest houses, hostels and cafes popping up. Try Hiriketiya if you want something even more dreamy… trust me!
#5 Safari with Wild Elephants in Wasgamuwa NP
Getting off the beaten track with Mother N is easy in Sri Lanka. It’s a beautiful country with a LOT of national parks on offer which are all equally incredible. If you want to visit somewhere that few other tourists venture to see wild elephants, you MUST go to Wasgamuwa NP. It’s close enough to be accessible from Dambulla, Sigirya and Kandy and you’re sure to have a unique experience minus the rest of the world being there too! We saw a couple of other jeeps with tourists while we were there but it wasn’t over-run. Stay in Wasgamuwa village for an authentic experience (you might even see elephants outside the National Park like we did!).
#6 Hiking Pindurangala Rock
AKA Little Sigiriya, this uphill walk offers just as good a hiking experience as the main attraction in Sigiriya but at a fraction of the price and with just a fraction of the visitors. The best bit… you get banging views of Sigirya. What’s not to love? Get your rock scrambling pins at the ready, this is an adventure you won’t want to miss. You can check out my guide to doing Sigirya a bit differently here.
#7 Camping with Banana Leaf Hikkaduwa
If you want to experience this little slice of adventure, you’ll first need to book a few nights in this jungle respite, Banana Leaf, Hikkaduwa on air b’n’b. Co-founder and local boy Amila is an explorer in his own right, he’s popped off all over the country to find exciting adventures to be had, and he will gladly offer these to his guests. Our favourite is the camping adventure. Amila takes you to a secret camp south of Arugam Bay, you’ll eat fresh local food, sleep in hammocks and maybe even see wild elephants! You’ll be hard pushed to find this kind of experience locally, even if you want to try to book something similar in Arugam Bay (trust me I’ve looked around there for something similar too!).
#8 Hiking in Ella
Perhaps one of the most well known parts of the hill country in Sri Lanka, Ella is home to several great little hikes including Ella Rock, Little Adams Peak and Nine Arches Bridge. You’ll find all kinds of tourists here, from huge groups to solo hippy travellers and adventurous holiday makers. Rarely is Ella overlooked by anyone visiting Sri Lanka. Due to its popularity, you’ll want to do most of those activities early morning to avoid the crowds, but it’s still worth at least spending 2 days in Ella to check them out.
#9 Climbing Adam’s Peak
As with Ella, climbing Adam’s Peak is perhaps one of the top activities locals and travellers alike will do. It is a pilgrimage site, meaning that hoards of people climb to the peak including pilgrims and tourists alike. On a clear day, I hear it’s amazing as you watch the sunrise above the clouds, witness the famous triangle shadow and have endless views of surrounding jungle-clad hills. On a cloudy day? You’ll just have really sore legs. The best time to go is January to March, which is also the busiest time to go.
#10 Snorkelling at Pigeon Island, Trincomalee
*WARNING Sharks operate in this area*
Jokes. But really, they do (don’t worry they are friendly sharks). Pigeon Island National Park is about 2.5km off the coast of Nilaveli Beach in the Eastern Province of Sri Lanka. It’s home to a protected reef and some of your favourite tropical fish… including reef sharks. I’ve been reassured by the rangers in the NP that it’s totally safe to swim with them, and it’s sure to make you feel pretty hardcore too right? You won’t need more than 2 hours here and be sure to go early (7:30am) is possible. If you stay at Theepan’s Homestay you’ll definitely get the best price. We paid 3,500 LKR per person for boat, snorkel rental and NP fee.
#10 Chasing Waterfalls
TLC say don’t do it. But I’m telling you DO do it. Although Sri Lanka has copious amounts of coastline, travel deep inland and you’ll find rolling hills and winding roads that seem like they go on forever. And where there comes hills and rich verdant jungles come waterfalls. Loads of them. Try chasing Diyaluma Falls in Ella, Laxapana Falls or – my favourite – Moray Falls (it needs to be dry season to be a success) which is in the Nallathanniya area close to Adam’s Peak.
#11 Beach Exploring
All this Pinterest and Instagram stuff means we’ve kind of become a bit robotic even when it comes to travelling – we just want to head to THAT spot and get THAT shot. But wait, as inspiring as social media can be, can we just take a minute to sit back, rent a scooter and get totally lost in our own adventures? There’s kilometre after kilometre of untouched beaches in Sri Lanka and there’s usually a main road running alongside or close to it. So jump on a scooter and just EXPLORE. We loved the south coast which was dripping in palm trees, but we also found some stunning turquoise waters and deserted beaches in Jaffna and the Northern Province. You can see my 9 fave beaches here.
What you find, whether it’s a palm tree swing (not the Instafamous one guys – you have to pay to go on that one) or turtles bobbing around in the shoreline, it’s sure to be bigger and better than anything you ever saw on the internet… because YOU discovered it!
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