Go on a safari in a National Park
A huge attraction for Sri Lanka is being able to witness the wonderful wildlife in the National Parks. There are a number of parks that you are able to visit, and pending your route there should be at least one that will be a good stop on the way.
For us, Minneriya national park was a highlight of our trip! Seeing herds of elephants in the wild with their babies and families, well there isn't anything quite like it. We had originally planned to visit Kaudulla national park while staying in Sigiriya, however when the guide came to pick us up he told us that there had been more elephant sightings in Minneriya, and so went with his recommendation. Other popular parks include Yala and Udawalawe, both great areas for spotting elephants, leopards, water buffalo and many birds species.
Hike to the Nine Arch Bridge
It's a bit of a hike down but oh so worth it to visit the famous Demadora nine arch bridge whilst visiting Ella. This 24 metre-high bridge is possibly one of the most photographed spots in Ella, and for good reason. Located among working tea plantations and dense forest, the bridge dominates with it's towering arches. If you time it right, you can experience the colourful trains passing and the waving locals on their way home.
Make a stop at Dalawella beach
Dalawella beach is located in Unawatuna area and has become one of the most photographed spots with the famous rope swing! Take a walk early morning or late evening for some spectacular sunrise/sunset views over the ocean. This area is becoming busier but is still pretty sleepy as far as restaurants go, take walk down the beach and pick one to enjoy a cocktail or two. You can also find the famous rope swing here if you want that killer shot at sunset!
Try a Sri Lanka hopper
It's the new pancake! Edible bowls that are made up of a thin pancake mixture, usually made from coconut milk and rice flour. Often served with an egg in the middle for breakfast, or try one for lunch/dinner and enjoy it with curry! We recommend Hoppa restaurant which is located in the heart of Galle forte. Service was great while we enjoyed two hopper curry bowls costing 1,000lkr each - around $7-8 aud.
Explore Galle fort
For a moment we were questioning whether we were in Europe or Asia? Narrow cobbled streets and small shop windows line the Galle fort, or old Dutch fort area as it is also known. With the fort moving through a number of European hands during it's history, it's not surprising that this has influenced the feel of the architecture. Take a walk and admire the local hand crafts that are available in some of the local shops. Galle is easy to get to from Unawatuna - a 20 min tuk tuk journey.
Wander through the markets
There are quite a few markets in each area, we recommend asking your hostel/hotel if there are any close by and just take a walk. Fabrics, colour and the smell of food fill the street, no doubt you'll pick up a bargain or two. Our favourite spots were Galle and Dambulla markets.
Spend time in the Hill Country
In our opinion, Sri Lanka's hill country is the heart and soul of this beautiful Country. The greenery is jaw dropping, and there are enough activities to fill your boots for days. From tea factory visits, to stunning hikes, delicious food and national park visits. If you're looking for adventure it has it all.
Enjoy a Sri Lankan sunset
Some of the best sunsets we have seen in Asia were during our travels through Sri Lanka. Spectacular sunsets over the ocean, in and around Weligama and Unawatuna area were incredible! Head down to Dalawella beach, or Dikwella beach for front seats on the sand.
Enjoy an incredibly scenic train journey
This train journey has pretty much been rubber stamped as the most scenic train journey in the world.... and we couldn't agree more! If there was ever a time during our trip that we couldn't put the camera down, this was it. Travelling through the rolling hills is nothing short of stunning. It was so wonderful to see the local workers collecting tea from the plantations, and viewing daily life even aboard the train.
Boarding the train in Kandy, we headed straight for Ella on the scenic 6-7 hour journey. This journey-length may sound crazy but it flew by in a flash while staring out of the window and enjoying an open door the entire way. If you feel this may be too much in one hit, you can easily break up the journey by stopping at Nurawa Eliya which is about half way to Ella.
Visit a tea making factory
We are both English and will never say no to a tea, this really was a must visit. We recommend Uva Hawalapthe tea factory in Ella. This tea factory supplies black tea only, there are other factories should you want to see green and other teas. A knowledgeable guide with good English explains the process, combined with a great tour throughout the factory to get a full see, feel and smell of the tea that is produced in this region. Tea tasting in the café/shop was a great touch at the end and resulted in us buying quite a few packets of the delicious Ceylon tea! Note that most factories are closed on Sunday and it is probably cheaper to buy the tea in town rather than at the factory.
Try the local food
The Sri Lankan cuisine is always packed full of flavour and spices, no matter if you're eating at a road-side café or a fancy restaurant. You absolutely cannot visit Sri Lanka without tasting one of their gorgeous curries! If you are looking for somewhere extra special, we highly recommend Jetwing hotels - there are a number throughout Sri Lanka. You don't have to stay there to experience their restaurant, the cuisine was more than divine, with interiors that are so 'grammable it will be hard to put the camera down! For a great budget eat, Chooti in Sigirya was the best vege roti we tried at only 350 rupee - $3 aud.
Visit Sigiriya rock
Amongst one of the most popular things to do in Sri Lanka, Sigiriya Lion's rock comes a slightly heftier entrance fee ($30 USD) This impressive site is now referred to as the 8th wonder of the world. You'll find locals making the pilgrimage to the top of the rock, a walk not to be taken lightly in the heat! Unfortunately we were not feeling too well on this day, and in the midday sun we decided to have a walk around the bottom instead, still able to soak up the atmosphere.