Sri Lanka is well known as an island paradise of long, sandy beaches with a tropical climate, making it a real draw to visitors from across the globe. There is however so much more amazing culture, nature and history to this island nation to explore which is sure to cement memories of any visit here for years to come. Sri Lanka boasts a varied natural climate with hot, sunny coastlines and cool, temperate highlands at the centre making it a smorgasbord for anyone looking to explore its natural beauty.
On the southern coast of Sri Lanka, the town of Mirissa is famous for its sandy beaches and as the starting point of any whale and dolphin adventure. Boats depart daily at approximately 6:30 am from the harbour and take you beyond the horizon and out into the Indian Ocean. This journey lasts around 90 minutes, during which time you’ll normally be provided with a complimentary omelette sandwich and a fruit drink. After this comes the best part – searching for those elusive whales. There are two main types of whales found near Sri Lanka – the sperm whale and the rarer blue whale. Keep your eyes peeled and listen for indications from both other passengers and the crew who will help you find them. On your return journey, you may be lucky enough to see dolphins leaping out of the water in line abreast, following the fishing boats back to port.
Top tip: if you suffer from motion sickness, it is recommended to prepare for this trip in advance by bringing your prevention method (tablets, travel bands etc) with you and use them for maximum effect. Chasing the whales means the boat will change speed and direction regularly which can make you feel uncomfortable if you are prone to sickness. If you do feel unwell, speak to one of the ship’s crew who will be able to provide you with the last resort: an endless supply of sick bags!
World’s End is a high cliff face located near to the centre of the island. Despite its land-locked location, if the weather conditions are good you can see all the way to the coast of Sri Lanka. If the weather is not so good, you’ll have the chance to explore the 4 km loop route on foot within the Horton Plain’s National Park shrouded in mist before reaching World’s End to see the mist roll back and reveal the valley far below.
Top tip: be prepared for wet conditions when visiting here as the weather can be very changeable.
Ella tea plantations
One of Sri Lanka’s most famous exports is tea and the centre of the island is home to multiple famous tea plantations which blanket the valleys in ordered cultivations and provides valuable employment for local villagers. There are a number of tea museums around the Ella area which you can visit to see the tea production process and (obviously!) sample some of the blends for yourself!
Sinharaja Forest Reserve
This UNESCO World Heritage site is the last major rainforest area in Sri Lanka and consequently is subject to significant protection. Your exploration on foot through the rainforest will bring you close to a multitude of different creatures, small and tiny, who occupy the area in often vast scales. Your guide will, on request, also build in an opportunity to swim in the waterfall that flows through the forest, a further highlight of any trip here.
Top tip: having a guide in the rainforest is mandatory to ensure your safety and the protection of the environment. These can be arranged in advance or, often, through your hotel or guest house on arrival.
Yala National Park
Yala is located in the south of the island and home to a wide variety of birds and animals, including deer, elephants, buffalo and the elusive leopard. Safari tours can be arranged through here in advance and typically take place in the morning when the animals are active in search of food and/or drink. For animal lovers, this should appear high on your ‘to do’ list although a high degree of patience will be required as some of the animals (especially the leopard) will try to remain hidden for as long as they can!
The highest peak in Sri Lanka is the site of a Buddhist temple making it a high-priority destination for both pilgrims and travellers. Its steep ascent makes its concrete staircase extremely difficult to traverse in the direct sunlight – most people opt to start in the early hours of the morning (approximately 3 am) to climb up by torchlight and be in place at the summit before sunrise. As it gets extremely hot here very quickly, people will often then hurry to descend again, often reaching their guesthouses in time for breakfast!!
Top tip: Although we didn’t complete this ourselves, this is popular amongst many visitors to Sri Lanka. Check locally for any festivals or similar events planned at the time you intend to go as its religious significance can make it very busy at times which won’t suit everyone.
We visited Sri Lanka with Plan My Gap Year (PMGY) who provide a worldwide selection of voluntary projects covering education and child welfare, animal care, conservation and medical support. In addition, their in-country teams provide volunteers with support to plan a range of activities to see and appreciate the unique characteristics of the host country. Check out PMGY‘s website for more information.