Sri Lanka attractions – best highlights of my trip

My highlights in Sri Lanka – diversity makes it all

On a trip to Sri Lanka – formerly Ceylon – there is much to discover. The country is just as big as Bavaria, but still far too big to have seen all the highlights and sights in two weeks.

I was traveling on my Sri Lanka tour for 16 days. In this article you will find my itinerary and places I visited. I emphasize my personal highlights, the lowlights can be found at the end of the article, as well as places that I would like to visit on my next trip.

Note: Due to my travel time at the end of December in the beginning of January, I traveled from Colombo to the Highlands and Cultural Triangle to explore the south coast. I did not visit the probably more original north and east of the island, because at my travel time the north-east monsoon brings a lot of rain to this region.

TIP: The best credit cards to withdraw money without foreign fees:
With the 1plus Card of SantaClick Herender Bank As in the past, DKB Bank will reimburse you for all foreign fees in cash.

Backup credit cards: The Visa Card of the DKB Bank (with regular cash receipt is also this credit card for free) or the comdirect VISA credit card (also without renewal fees). With these you can also withdraw cash worldwide, without having to pay foreign fees.

Is Sri Lanka a destination for you?

Hardly any other country has as many UNESCO world heritage sites on such a small area as Sri Lanka. The country, with its millenary cultural history, has a large number of ancient religious sites, such as the temple and monastery complexes just waiting to be discovered by you.

But not only for culture lovers Sri Lanka has something to offer. Active vacationers, nature lovers and art lovers will get their money’s worth as well.

No matter if you like gorgeous beaches, discover rare animals on a safari in one of the numerous national parks or if you are looking for great surfing spots or diving spots. Impressive landscapes and bright green tea plantations can be discovered on a leisurely train ride through the highlands or on a hike. Every corner smells of delicious food, served by the hearty Singalese.

What are you waiting for? Off to Sri Lanka!

The Cultural Triangle

Ancient royal cities and ancient capitals, ruins, innumerable temples, sanctuaries and dagobas at Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa, Dambulla, Sigiriya and Kandy.

An absolute must during a Sri Lanka tour is the visit of the Cultural Triangle between Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa and Kandy. Originally, I only wanted to spend two days here and fortunately, I was retuned. For the old monasteries and impressive Buddha statues you should plan at least three days. As an ideal starting point, I recommend you Dambulla.

The starting point for many tourists is Kandy. I recommend you in Dambulla or Habarana to spend the night in Kandy and make a separate stop in the south, if you do not want to waste your time with hours of travel.

Sigiriya Lion Rocks

In Sigiriya he is waiting Sigiriya Rock (Lion Rocks), a fascinating mystery, on your visit. In 1982, the rock was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. When you lift your gaze at the entrance, you catch your breath at the sight of the 370 m high rock.

There are two reasons to go up: The monolith offers fantastic views of the surrounding countryside from above, as well as the remains of a fortress on top.

Directly after the entrance you first pass through the symmetrical park with the pleasance and the Felsengarten at the foot of the mountain. Followed by the terraced garden through which the steps lead upwards.

On the way up you pass first the Mirror Wall. The name Spiegelwand was therefore created when the sun shines on the polished surface, consisting of protein and wild honey, begins to shine.

Via an iron spiral staircase you will reach a rock cut and the most famous murals of Sri Lanka: the colorful rock frescoes of the Wolkenmädchen. These are filigree paintings of floating women from the 5th century, in which many visitors wonder aloud whether there were already silicone breasts. No joke.

Of the original over 500 frescoes, only 21 paintings have been preserved today. The rest was destroyed by vandals.

Then you reach the Lion Terrace, with the Lion’s Gate and your `s Löwenpraken, the the Entrance to the royal palace and thus flank the last steep stairs all the way up. The paws are the only thing left over from the once 14m high lion. Shooting a photo here is difficult as a stream of visitors pours up and down.

The Lion Gate with its huge lion paws

For many, these last steps up to the fortress are not so easy to master, and many a visitor clinging to the railing during my visit. You should be free of dizziness, but everything is very well secured.

On the descent you pass the Cobra Hood Cave which is so called because over the grotto a rock looks like a raised cobra.

Kobrahauben cave which has the shape of a cobra

The climb to the summit looks more exhausting than it is. The entrance is unfortunately illegally high. It’s still worth it.

Info and tickets for Sigiriya:

  • The facility is open daily 7 am – 5.30 pm
  • Admission is $ 30 for adults (or $ 3960) and $ 15 for children aged 6-12
  • Tickets are available at the entrance and at the Sigiriya Museum
  • In summer it is recommended to climb the rocks early in the morning. We waited due to rain and clouds and drove off at 9 o’clock
  • For the visit you should plan about 3 hours
  • Take enough water with you and do not forget the sunscreen

Pidurangala Rock

Only 1 km north of Sigiriya is the 200 m high rocky Pidurangala. The “golden rock” used to be a retreat for Buddhist monks, and is frequented by many tourists for whom the $ 30 entry fee for Sigiriya is too expensive. The entry here costs only Rs 500, but has been increased twice in recent years.

At the foot of the mountain is a monastery. From the top you have a great view of the Sigiriya Rock.

important and most visited in Sri Lanka.

The archaeological ruins in Polonnaruwa are spread out and are perfect for exploring by bike. Here are huge stupas, extensive parks

and imposing temples that testify to the former importance of Polonnaruwa. All this you can still visit today.

At the heyday of the 12th century, even Buddha’s Tooth Relic was in Polonnaruwa. You can find them today in the Temple of the Tooth of Kandy. In the old royal city ruled several kings. Since 1982, the old facilities have been listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Today’s and new Polonnaruwa with its 13,000 inhabitants has nothing special to offer and is hardly noticed by tourists.

During our visit, it always rains a lot. The monsoon and its foothills in the north can also be felt at the beginning of January.

In the museum, where the tickets are available, you get a very good overview of the history of Polonnaruwa.

Information and tickets for Polonnaruwa:

  • The facilities are open daily from 7 am to 5.30 pm
  • Admission is $ 25 for adults
  • Tickets are available at the museum near the Royal Palace
  • For the visit you should plan about 4 hours
  • Take enough water with you and do not forget the sunscreen here

Cave temple of Dambulla

In Dambulla wait a rock temple with numerous cave Buddha on a visit. In a total of five cave temples are numerous Buddha figures. The plant was built when King Valagama Bahu 104 BC. Was forced to leave the capital Anuradhapura. The king fled into the rock caves of Dambulla, which today are among the main attractions in the Cultural Triangle.

At the foot of the granite rock is the Golden Temple, on which a 30 m high golden Buddha perched. Inside is a museum, which I leave out.

To the left, a path leads to the 110 m high temple. The granite rock itself is about 170 m high. The ascent is sweaty and I recommend putting on sturdy shoes. The path leads partly over mirror-smooth rock. A slippery affair with flip flops.

Once at the top you have to get rid of your shoes first, cover shoulders and legs and remove your headgear. Then you may enter the facility of the cave temples.

The largest of the five caves is 60 meters long and 30 meters wide and contains 53 man-sized statues and over a hundred smaller figures. The walls and ceilings are painted with scenes from the life of Buddha and the history of Sri Lanka.

To be honest, I found that many statues just looked the same and I wondered how crazy you must be to collect so many Buddha statues in five cave temples?

Info and tickets for Dambulla:

  • The entrance fee is 1500Rs for adults
  • Tickets are available at the entrance to the museum from 7.30 am to 12.30 pm and after a lunch break again from 1 pm to 6 pm.
  • For the visit, you should plan about 1.5 – 2 hours
  • Sturdy footwear is an advantage when climbing over the bare field before the steps start


Anuradhapura divides into the modern new city with over 55,000 inhabitants and the ancient district, once the first capital of Sri Lanka. Because of the revered there Bodhi tree Anuradhapura is considered a holy place. Since 1982, the city is also on the list of UNESCO World Heritage.

The sights are very spread throughout the area. Therefore, I advise you to explore Anuradhapura by bike, tuk tuk or private driver. This time we have renounced the bike. We are too tired from the sightseeing of old temple ruins of the last days. Even the onset of rain does not increase the desire for cycling.

Only on foot, all sights in a day can not be overcome. We therefore rely on our driver, who brings us everywhere.

Countless ruins today bear witness to a proud city. Our highlights in Anuradhapura were some stupas and the Sri Maha Bodhi (“Revered Lord Bodhi”), an offshoot of the tree of Bodhgaya in India, under which Siddharta Gautama became a Buddha and was said to have attained enlightenment. Many pilgrims are drawn to the holiest tree in Sri Lanka, so you can experience a very lively Buddhism here. Only very few tourists we meet here.

Of the Bodhi Tree (Tree of Enlightenment) itself is so obstructed that you can hardly see any more of it. Except of course “the” branch.

You do not see much of the holy Bodhi tree

I recommend a trip to Anuradhapura only if you have enough time in Sri Lanka or you are extremely interested in the culture of the country.

Info and tickets for Anuradhapura:

  • Admission to the temples is US $ 25 for adults, admission to Bodhi Tree (Rs 200) and Issaramuniya Vihara (Rs 200) must be paid separately
  • Tickets are available at the entrance to the Archaeological Museum at Jetavanarama and dre Abhayagiri Dagoba
  • For the visit, you should plan at least half a day

Ruwanwelisaya Dagoba in Anuradhapura Jetavanarama Dagoba

Sight in Sri Lanka: Tea plantations in the highlands

Until the British arrived in Sri Lanka, that existed Highlands (Hill Country) at Nuwara Eilya from rainforest and jungle. The British cut everything off and turned Hill Country into a large tea plantation. The landscape is beautiful. Even if some people go through the narrow serpentines, the view is wonderful.

Take your time and visit a tea factory to learn more about growing tea plants in Sri Lanka. I have Mackwoods visited. Here are the guides very entertaining and very superficial.

Since I’ve already visited a tea factory in Uganda, it was not tragic for me and more authentic in Africa because it was less focused on the masses and the machines were running there and I could watch everything “live”. A visit is worthwhile anyway. Also because you are right on the spot cheap tea shopping and try can.

Dreamlike beaches in Sri Lanka

Before my trip, I asked many friends and acquaintances which beach is the most beautiful in Sri Lanka. Everyone recommended a different beach. If Mirissa (absolutely hyped and unfortunately dirty and crowded), Unawatuna (Party beach), Hikkaduwa, Arugam Bay (Surf spot) and Tangalle. The selection is not easy.

Some beaches are spacious and clean, others only “small” but spacious, as the tsunami has brought back a large piece of land.

You will find lonely spots on the sea but also completely overcrowded and dirty by tourists and garbage beach sections. Unfortunately. On some beaches you can swim, others are more suitable for surfers and a strong current makes it difficult to come into the water and sometimes dangerous.

I went for the trip during the trip Tangalle instead of Mirissa decided. After being praised by many last year as the most beautiful beach Mirissa, the small once so cozy place is totally overcrowded. The beach – loud travelers I have met in Sri Lanka – totally dirty.

The place Mirissa has triggered when driving through me no enthusiasm. The choice fell on Tangalle, where I not only had the cheapest accommodation on the trip, but also got to know the friendliest locals and every day the fishermen could catch their nets.

Private beach in Dikwella of our Ayurveda hotel Underneath the Mango Tree:

Private beach in Dikwella beach area in Tangalle. Several times a day you can interpret the fishermen at the nets and catch up watch – or help.

Whales are watching in Mirissa

In the south at Mirissa You can take the boat out to sea in the early morning with one of the numerous boaters Whale watching drive.

Unfortunately, there are far too many providers (I counted 15 boats) that offer tours. The tours start in the early morning – all at the same time. The distance to the animals was kept. Of course, it happens that a blue whale suddenly appears in front of or next to the boat. We too were lucky. Nevertheless, in my opinion there are too many boats going to the animals at the same time.

The Coast Guard was also on the road watching the behavior of the boats. So it does not matter which provider you book. I could not make any differences.

We have the Whale Watching Tour in Mirissa with Geeth made. There were snacks and drinks before the departure and the crew was in a good mood and we finally got into conversation with locals.

Blue whales whale watching in Mirissa

Top sight in Sri Lanka? Yala National Park

Of the Yala National Park in southeastern Sri Lanka is especially known for its leopards. Even bears, elephants, crocodiles and many other animals are at home here. The park is popular and unfortunately often overcrowded. Almost all tourists enter the park through the main entrance at the same time. Therefore, a real traffic chaos arises as soon as an animal is spotted.

In Yala National Park, you generally have the option to book a morning safari or afternoon safari before sunset. Since, unlike in Africa, no one here says that the better time is in the morning (the main thing is to book and pay for it), we opted for the safari in the afternoon.

Unfortunately it is like in Mirissa: Many providers and everyone wants to earn something. Jeeps are not made full and therefore there is a real traffic jam as soon as an animal is spotted. We have taken a safari and taken from another distance.

Animal welfare is unfortunately different

We have sensed very few animals spotted here, which is probably because just too many tourists at the same time in the park are left. If you really want to see animals, take one Trip to Africa. Here the animals are treated fairly and protected. At least in the places where I have been.

Nevertheless, we were lucky enough to see a leopard:

Sea turtles in Tangalle

In the south of Sri Lanka you can visit the Turtle Conservation Project on the beach of Rekawa at Tangalle sea ​​turtles observe during egg-laying.

The bay is located about 7 km from Tangalle. Here, in contrast to other turtle farms, the newly hatched turtles are not kept in basins. But let the turtles follow their instincts and crawl directly into the sea. Unfortunately, you wait here at the visitor center until a turtle is spotted on the beach. If no one appears, you do not have to pay a fee. If it does, 1000 Rs will be due, a breeze unlike my turtle tour in South Africa.

Again, I stopped counting 50 people and we left the place before a turtle was found. Too many people would not be in control of a find.

Ella Rock

From the cozy village of Ella in the highlands of Sri Lanka, you can take a hike to Ella Rock. It leads you over railway tracks, through tea fields and you come past a waterfall.

Many guides offer you their help or run ahead of time without being asked to tip. Pretty annoying and exhausting. You’ll be fine on your own, and like many other hikers, we’re sure to find the way up. The view is worthwhile. Unfortunately, a few clouds have clouded our view of the valley.

Train driving in Sri Lanka

Driving in Sri Lanka is an absolute highlight. The trains have opened the doors while driving, so you can sit in the door while driving and let the legs dangle out.

The tickets are especially popular on the route from Kandy to Ella. Tickets must be booked early. Here you can enjoy the beautiful landscape with tea plantations and tea pickers.

Top sightseeing in Sri Lanka: Cultural Capital Kandy

Kandy – you love it or hate it. Here opinions differ. The cultural capital and last royal city of Sri Lanka is Kandy. The main shrine, the Tooth Temple with the Sacred Tooth Relic, allegedly containing a tooth of Buddha, is here. For Sinhalese, this is the holiest place on the island. The rest of Kandy does not offer much, at least one night you should stay here anyway.

The centrally located Lake Milky Way (Kandy Lake) invites you for a leisurely stroll to escape the hectic city for a brief moment.

Tip: Many use Kandy as the starting point for the Cultural Triangle. I find this back and forth annoying and recommend you to choose Dambulla or Habarana as the starting point for tours in the Cultural Triangle.

Feel the healing power of Ayurveda

Sri Lanka is especially known for Ayurvedic cures. The more than 2,500-year-old healing method of Indian culture is based on the inner balance and a holistic healing.

Ayurvedic cures enjoy a growing popularity with us. I too have myself three days long in one Hotel with ayurvedic spa and yoga rented to test this healing method. Followers swear by the effects of the therapies, in which herbs, oils and spices are used externally and internally to balance your body. Many tourists only come to Sri Lanka for a several-week Ayurvedic treatment.

I was so relaxed these days and really enjoyed that experience. Our luxury resort, the Underneath the Mango Tree in Dikwella had a very extensive Ayurveda offer and was an absolute dream.

Bile Fort

The charming old town of Galle Fort in the south of Sri Lanka is another place that has thrilled me. The Dutch once built the streets and buildings, the Sinhalese gave them the color. The mix that came out of it is wonderful. After the tsunami, where large parts of the old town were damaged, almost everything has been restored. Only the uneven cobblestones were replaced by flat paving stones.

Small shops, galleries, restaurants and accommodation invite you to linger. First of all you can do in Galle: Shopping! Not just souvenirs, but also spices, clothes and retro postcards and posters. Here no tourist runs past.

On my next Sri Lanka trip I would like to visit the following corners:

  • Travel north to Jaffna
  • Horton Plains National Park and World’s End
  • Climb to Adam’s Peak
  • Hike through the Sinharaja Rain Forest and also in the Knuckles Range
  • Snorkeling on the coral reef of Pigeon Island
  • From mass tourism to find undiscovered beaches in the north and east

Further reports on Sri LankaTravel:

TIP: The best credit cards to withdraw money without foreign fees:
With the 1plus Card of Santander Bank As in the past, DKB Bank will reimburse you for all foreign fees in cash.

Backup credit cards: The Visa Card of the DKB Bank (with regular cash receipt is also this credit card for free) or the comdirect VISA credit card (also without renewal fees). With these you can also withdraw cash worldwide, without having to pay foreign fees.

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Christina Cherry
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