Sri Lanka is one of those tropical islands where you can do nothing at all or enjoy an amazing choice of land- and water-based activities, including…
Explore the lush landscape of Sri Lanka on foot. For some of the best hiking, head to the town of Kitulgale located in the Hill Country, where you can choose from several hikes including Sri Lanka's most sacred mountain, Sri Pada (photo).
Climb the steep stairway up the mountainside – believed to be the longest in the world – to this legendary 2224m-high holy mountain peak known as Sri Pada, or Adam's Peak.
Once you’ve caught your breath, enjoy spectacular views from the summit and don’t miss the enclosed rocky imprint of a foot on the summit’s pinnacle.
A pilgrimage centre for more than 1000 years, pilgrims believe the footprint was made by either Lord Buddha, the God Shiva, St Thomas or Adam after he was expelled from Eden. Sri Pada is located in the beautiful southern Hill Country.
Or hike the beautiful Knuckles Mountain Range near Kandy.
Elsewhere, several national parks such as Pinnawela, Wasgamuwa, Horton Plains, Sinharaja and Uda Walawe offer the opportunity to hike through virgin rainforest and spotting native wildlife such as elephants, leopards, sloth bears, deer, monkeys, wild buffalos and boars, civet cats, jackals, mongoose and loris, which are unique to Sri Lanka.
Follow walking trails through the grassland of this 10,000ha reserve to see native flora and fauna including leopards, sambar, the purple-faced langur, elk, deer, giant squirrel, boar, hare and porcupine.
There is also a variety of migratory and local birds – the Park is home to 95 per cent of the endemic birds of Sri Lanka.
Don’t miss walking to ‘World's End’, a sheer precipice with a 1050m drop. Horton Plains National Park is located at a height of more than 2000m above sea level in the central highlands, around 200km east of Colombo.
Discover Sri Lanka’s highest waterfall, a dramatic 263m-high cascade that plunges down a vertical cliff face into a deep pool.
The waterfall is best appreciated between October and March and is located in a pine forest just 22km from Kalupahana, followed by a short walk.
Discover native flora and fauna on foot or by jeep in a choice of wildlife sanctuaries located in different parts of Sri Lanka.
Spot an amazing variety of local and migrant birds as well as butterflies, elephants, leopards, sloth bear, deer, reptiles and crocodiles in their natural habitat.
Wildlife safaris generally range from one to seven days. Try a leopard safari in one of Sri Lanka's three major national parks – Yala, Uda Walawe and Wilpattu – with more than 250,000ha and a stunning array of wildlife.
Try to spot and photograph some of the 130 different species of birds and animals that inhabit Sri Lanka’s largest park (1259km²), including 35 leopards.
Look out for elephants, sloth bear, spotted deer, barking deer, mouse deer, toque monkey, mongoose and crocodiles living in a diverse landscape of open parkland, jungles, beaches, lakes and rivers.
Yala National Park is located 309km south of Colombo on the southeast of the island.
Choose from an array of easy day trips to challenging six-day cycling tours that take you through mountains, valleys and tropical rainforests, passing ancient cities, beaches and remote villages along the way.
The Sri Lankan Hill Country offers some of the best cycle tracks around Kandy, Nuwera Eliya, Belihuloya and Horton Plains National Park.
The best surf spots in Sri Lanka are located on the south and east coasts, stretching from Hikkaduwa to Arugam Bay and include Unawatuna, Ahangama, Weligama, Mirissa and Yala beaches.
While the main surf season along the south coast lasts from November to April and from May to October on the east coast, it’s still easy to find a good swell outside the official seasons.
Sri Lanka offers exceptional diving opportunities for both advanced divers and beginners along the south and west coasts, with some of the best diving found off Bentota and Hikkaduwa beaches and south of Galle in Unawatuna Bay.
Explore underwater caves, shipwrecks and coral gardens teeming with colourful marine life. PADI open-water courses are available from several recognised instructors.
Hook up a charter in Negombo, Bentota and Unawatuna to chase marlin, sail fish, wahoo, Spanish mackerel, giant trevally, bonito, dorado, queen fish, barracuda and tuna.
The best time to fish around the island is either early morning or late afternoon.
Head to Hikkaduwa’s Bird Lake and the Bentota Lagoon for excellent windsurfing conditions.
Elsewhere, Beruwela, Kalutara and Negombo offer windy conditions more suitable for windsurfers of grade 4 and up, with blustery shore breaks from January to March.
Equipment rental, windsurf lessons and windsurf packages are all locally available.
Negombo’s 5km-long beach offers perfect wind conditions for kite surfing.
The period from January to March is ideal for beginners as the northwest trade winds kick-in, while a wind change during May to August offers more challenging conditions for advanced kite surfers.
Kite surfing equipment is easy to rent, with kite surfing lessons and packages locally available.
Yoga has been practised in Sri Lanka for centuries. This vibrant living tradition is seen as a means to enlightenment and is taught at several yoga and meditation retreats in Hikkaduwa, Unawatuna and Tangalle.
Sri Lanka hosts a smorgasbord of colourful festivals throughout the year, as well as on poya days, which are celebrated monthly on full moon days.
Some of Sri Lanka’s most famous festivals include Kandy’s Esala Perahera Festival in August – a spectacular 12-day pageant of torch bearers, whip crackers, dancers, drummers and elephants parading through the streets, climaxing in a great procession honouring the Sacred Tooth Relic of Kandy.
Another is Colombo’s Duruthu Perahera Festival, celebrated in January to commemorate the first visit of the Buddha to Sri Lanka.
Vesak is another annual celebration worth noting – the most important Buddhist festival of the year, celebrated on the day of the full moon in May to commemorate the birth, death and enlightenment of the Buddha.
Best buys in Sri Lanka include gems, batiks, tea, lacquer ware and handmade silver and brass curios.
Latest update: Things to do in Sri Lanka: 29 April, 2022