When you’re looking to holiday in Sri Lanka, now acclaimed as one of the hottest travel destinations in the world, you may think that escaping the tourist trail can be hard, whether you are headed to the sunny beaches, national parks or lush hills of the tea country. But, if you are seeking to escape the crowds, there are many lesser known delights in Sri Lanka undiscovered by most who visit this teardrop island. These hidden gems rarely fail to satisfy the adventurous, thrill-seeking traveller – here’s a rundown of some of our favourites:
Yapahuwa, the ancient ruins of a short-lived capital of Sri Lanka, dates back to the 13th century and is framed by an enormous rock similar to that of Sigiriya. Atop this rock you will find remains of a stupa, an enclosed Bo tree and a cave which once housed meditating Buddhist monks. This boulder was a citadel, a military stronghold of which some of the defences are still visible. The highlight of Yapahuwa is the beautiful stairway leading to the rock: at the doorway are two carved lion statues, which are believed to have some Chinese influence due to links there are supposed to have been between the nations at that time.The climb up to the rock will take roughly an hour or so with a few breaks, but the views you get from the top are well worth the effort!
This isolated beach is located in the very north of Sri Lanka, on Karaitiva Island which is accessed along the lovely Ponnalai Causeway which stretches from the Jaffna mainland. Named after the Casuarina trees which line the shore, this beach’s shallow waters and secluded setting make it a great spot for a morning dip. Enjoy a delicious lunch at the Fort Hammenhiel Resort and Restaurant nearby.
This tranquil location is enclosed by a small but sufficiently lush wooded area a few kilometers away from the city of Kandy. Unlike the eerie, Gothic monasteries you find dispersed across western Europe, the Ampitiya National Seminary is a place of serenity. Walking through the sprawling lawns and soaring chapels will instantly put you at ease and quieten your mind. There is also a secret hideout on top of the hill here which overlooks the majestic Kandyan foothills: walk up for a view that will take your breath away.
Gal Oya, which means ‘river’, is the 16th longest river in Sri Lanka and houses Gal Oya National Park on its shores, a unique national park centred around the Senanayake Samudraya, the largest reservoir in the island. This park, hidden in the remote east of the island, offers visitors the option of a boat safari as well as a jeep drive, as elephants can be seen swimming between islands on the reservoir at sunset – a truly magical sight. Having been closed to the public for two decades due to Sri Lanka’s civil war, which ended in 2009, the park now allows visitors to see its myriad of flora and fauna, which includes many rare herbal plants, more than 150 species of birds and 32 terrestrial mammals including elephants, leopards and sambar.
Sinhagala, or Lion Rock, lies deep in the heart of Sinharaja Forest Reserve, Sri Lanka’s last surviving stretch of virgin rainforest. Trek through this enchantingly mysterious landscape listening to nothing but strange bird call and your own footsteps, and search for endemic flora and fauna whilst marvelling at some of the creatures which have made their home here, from colourful butterflies to the strange tree crabs. The trek from the Kudawa entrance to the base of the Sinhagala will take roughly 3 hours, and the climb itself another hour, but the stunning vistas of the rainforest canopy are so enthralling that you will forget your fatigue.
Check out our ‘Adventurous Sri Lanka’ tour which takes you away from the tourist trail and includes the best of Sri Lanka’s secret hidden gems.