Vote! Purple Dragon's 24 Destinations in Sri Lanka

Our Sri Lanka Destinations

Map of Sri Lanka

These twenty-Four Places You Will Love in Sri Lanka are the building blocks of your personal travel adventure one one  of the most astonishing islands in Asia.

Colombo ▸  The capital city and Sri Lanka's main commercial hub is where it all begins for most visitors, although if this is not your first trip to Sri Lanka or time is short, you can often skip the bit city  in favor of treasures of the countryside.  You probably need to spend at least one night here, depending on your arrival flight time. The earliest flight from Bangkok arrives around 11:00, which will give you time to see a bit of the city. You'll have time to visit Asokaramaya Buddhist Temple, National Museum, historic colonial sites left by the British and Dutch, Wolfendaal Church, Devatagaha Mosque and the open-air Pettah Bazaar on the seafront Galle Face Green Promenade. If you are not tempted by the big city and to chill instead, spend the night in beach-front bliss in Negombo, instead. (See below.)

Anuradhapura ▸  Located in north-central Sri Lanka, Anuradhapura is one of the country's former capitals. The city itself dates to the fifth century, although Buddhism in the region dates to 250 BC. The city was invaded, sacked and burned by a Hindu emperor and the site was eventually swallowed by the forest  Ruins of the city were eventually discovered by the Dutch in 1850. Today, the city is a UNESCO World Heritage site and is surrounded by significant archaeological digs that include prehistoric habitation and early Buddhist and Hindu temples, and other structures. Anuradhuapura is also the jumping-off place for visitors to Wilpatu National Park.

Arugam Bay ▸  This little fishing village has some lovely beaches that are among Sri Lanka's favorites for surfers.

Dambulla ▸  The "Golden Temple of Dambulla" is a 2,200-year-old monastery and UNESCO World heritage site near Sigiriya. It is actually a complex of five different temples built within an extensive cave network that includes standing, seated and reclining Buddha statues, chedis, and extensive murals that the most striking and best preserved in Sri Lanka.

Ella ▸  Ella is a place to literally "chill" in the high elevation tea-belt of central Sri Lanka. It's almost the final stop on the scenic train that takes visitors through the magnificent scenery southward from Kandy.

light house

Horton Plains ▸  Horton Plains National Park is a nature preserve in south-central Sri Lanka that includes grasslands, marshlands, and coniferous forests and cooler moutain cloud forests. It's considered the coldest park in Sri Lanka, and filled with nature trails on a gently-rolling plateau. You are not going to see the quantity and diversity of wildlife that Yala National Park offers. There are hundreds of species of indigenous plants, birds, and small reptiles. If you are an avid hiker,  bird watcher or plant enthusiast you will want to spend a couple of days here. The spectacular vistas of "Lands End" must be appreciated early in the morning before the hillsides are cov ered in mist.

Galle ▸  Galle (the "e" is silent) is one of the most visited places in Sri Lanka. Near the southern tip of the island, the Dutch kicked the Portuguese out of what would eventually become Galle in 1640, and built a pentagonal fortress around the walled town that already stood there. Today it is a UNESCO World Heritage site that is full of history and charm. The town within the fortified walls remains home to many Sri Lankans who live in charming cottages and splendid mansions.

Habarana ▸  This small town in north-central Sri Lanka is home to some of the best hotels and resorts we use for guests visiting Dambulla Sigiraya, and Polonnaruwa. Some are built in colonial style, with expansive grounds that attract local wildlife.

Hatton ▸  Not a big star on our map since it is normally daytime stop, Hatton is a charming tea-belt town west of Newara Eliya.

Jaffna ▸  At the northern-most tip of Sri Lanka, Jaffna is a provincial capital and the most Indian of Sri Lankan cities. It's worth visiting for its spectacular architecture, principally major temples built in the style of Madurai and mosques reminiscent of North Africa. Jaffna bears some of the most visible scars of the country's nearly thirty year religious conflict. A Portuguese fort built here three centuries ago remains imposing and a reminder that there are many layers to Jaffna's history. All of these things considered together make Jaffna worthy of a short vist if you have time.

Kandy at night

Kandy ▸  The third most visited place in Sri Lanka, Kandy is the gateway to the hill country. As cities go, Kandy has no rival when it comes to authenticity, beauty, lifestyle, and an abundance of things to do and see. If time is short, it's worth skipping Colombo completely and heading directly to Kandy if you arrive early in the day. Must-sees include the Temple of the Tooth, Kandy Lake, and a walking tour of the town. More importantly, stop for tea and soak up the ambiance. Kandy is also the starting point for the one of the most spectacular rail trips in the world, the ten-hour Kandy to Badulla trip through tea country via Hatton, Nuwara Eliaya and Ella. You do not have to travel the entire route. The Nuwara Eliya to Hatton segment is probably the most popular.

Kurunegala ▸  Once a royal capital, Kurunegala in the late 13th and early 14th centuries, and is home to the world's largest granite Buddha statue in addition to quite a few other historic Buddhist monuments. We may stop to spend some time here on the way from Colombo to Anuradhapura.

Matale ▸  This unspectacular town is surrounded by lovely things to see, including plantations growing rubber, spices of all kinds, vanilla and chilies. North of town is the Aluvihara temple that is hewn from massive rocks that houses a reclining Buddha.

Marissa/Weligama ▸  Marissa is a small fishing town on Weligama Bay. Nearby beaches make it a great place for an overnight break if you are concentrating on Southern Sri Lanka. There is quite a selection of great hotels, including several operated by international chains. It's a popular whale-watching destination, and  boat trips area available July through September.

Negombo ▸  Only 15 minutes from Colombo International Airport is the beach resort community of Negombo. Facing a protected lagoon and fringed with palm trees, Negombo is the perfect stop if you want a little bit of beach time if your stay in Sri Lanka is brief and you don't have time to go farther. If you want to stay busy you can explore the backwaters of Muthurajawela Marsh by boat, visit the Angurukaramulla Buddhist Temple, or historic Saint Mary's Church.

Tea plantations in Sri Lanka

Newara Eliya ▸  Newara Eliya is ground zero for tea production in Sri Lanka. High in the central highlands of the island, this charming colonial town is surrounded by plantations spread across terraced hillsides. This is also a principal stop for the train from Kandy to Ella.

Nilaveli ▸  Nilaveli is one of Eastern Sri Lanika's premier beach resorts. Known for its pure white sand, it's among the cleanest, quietest and most unspoiled beaches in Asia. The water is clear, blue and safe. We like to include a couple of nights in Nilaveli around the half-way point in longer Sri Lanka trips so our guests can chill. There is a great selection of both hotels and local restaurants to pamper adventurers who have found their way to a pristine and off-the-beaten-track seaside paradise.

Polonnaruwa ▸  Polonnaruwa became the capital following the destruction of Anuradhapura.

Ratnapura ▸  Known as the "City of Gems," Ratnapura is the center of Sri Lanka's gem trade, probably because the surrounding area is so rich in minerals. In fact, many farmers are giving up agriculture so that they can mine their land. Sri Lanka is one of the world's most significant source of colored gems. King Solomon is said to have gifted an impressive ruby to the Queen of Sheeba from Ratnapura. The region was also mentioned in in the writings of Marco Polo and If you know your way around colored gemstones you may find some fine sapphires, rubies, sapphires, alexandrites, aquamarines, tourmalines, spinels and topaz. There are also two major Buddhist places of worship, Sri Sankapala Raja Maha Viharaya and Maha Saman Dewalaya, that attract pilgrims from near and far. There is also a gem museum and you can even visit a mine if are are crazy about rocks.

Sigiraya ▸  This immense column of stone thrust upward from the earth might remind you of Mount Popa, Meteora, Taung Kalat or Masada, each of which is topped with a military or religious settlement. There are some beautiful things to be seen if you climb the 1,200 stone steps at Sigiriya. Or, you could just enjoy a cold beer and admire it from afar.

Sri Lanka's National Parks

Tissamaharama ▸  The gateway to Yala National Park, Tissamaharama ("Tissa-maha-RA-ma") was first settled in the third century BC. There is rustic bungalow accommodation available inside the park, but access to conveniences like restaurants is quite limited, so a night in "Tissa" is more convenient for most guests.

Unawatuna ▸  Unawatuna is a popular beach resort town just south of Galle. If you want a short visit to Sri Lanka that mixes beach pleasures with history, you could easily just spend three or four nights in Unawatuna with a sightseeing visits to Galle.

  Wilpatu National Park ▸  Wilpatu has been a wildlife sanctuary since 1904 and a national park since 1938, making it the oldest of Sri Lanka's 26 national parks. Dotted with lakes, Wilpatu is most famous for its leopard population, although there is an abundance of birds, reptiles and mammals, including elephants. The park was closed for sixteen years due to civil unrest, but reopened in 2010. If you want to stay in the park itself there are numerous hotel and glamping options. You can also take organized half-day and full-day safaris.

Yala National Park ▸  The largest and most-visited national park in Sri Lanka, Yala covers 979 square km (378 square miles) and is made up of nine different parks and wildlife sanctuaries straddling two provinces. It's one of the best places to see wild elephants, leopards, black bears, and other animals and birds. Best weather is June through September. If you have time for just one national park, this is probably the most ideal because of its location along the southern ocean. Try to make time for two days here if possible. There are bungalows in the park. Other accommodation in nearby Tissamaharama. We pre-arrange safaris for you within the park using special vehicles driven by guides who are experts on flora and fauna.

Itineraries

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Photos: Glenn Auve