For a small, tropical island Sri Lanka is really very diverse and offers so much to see, do and experience that next time I want to come for at least 1 month to spend more time in my favourite destinations and visit more offbeat places in Sri Lanka.
There are so many amazing experiences you can have in Sri Lanka, from exploring the beautiful beaches and surf spots, scenic tea plantations and train rides, ancient temples and colonial architecture to spotting herds of wild elephants on safari in the national parks.
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There are so many tourist sights and attractions in Sri Lanka it would probably take more than 1 visit to see them all, but one of the best things about Sri Lanka is that is isn’t completely crowded with tourists and its still easy to get off the beaten track and feel like you are the only one exploring this beautiful, tropical island.
In this post I want to focus on a few of my favourite experiences in the more offbeat places in Sri Lanka that you might not have heard of before.
Here’s my 3 favourite offbeat experiences and offbeat places in Sri Lanka
Spotting dolphins in Kalpitiya
Kalpitiya is a relatively undeveloped peninsula about 4 hours north of Colombo. Tourism is only just developing here so the beaches are wide and refreshingly empty but there’s still a handful of decent places to stay here and plenty of things to do off the beaten track.
Kalpitiya is actually one of the best places in the world for dolphin watching and kite surfing! The best time to go kitesurfing here is from May to November and there are many kite surfing schools that will teach you the ropes. It looks like so much fun, sadly I didn’t have time to try but now kitesurfing is on my bucket list to try one day. Read more here for recommendations for kite surfing schools in Kalpitiya.
One of the best things to do in Kalpitiya, and one of my favourite experiences in Sri Lanka was dolphin watching! Kalpitiya is located where the continental plates meet close to land, which means there is a high chance of seeing dolphins without having to travel far from the land.
I lost count of how many dolphins we saw but it must have been hundreds! I loved the way that they swam, frolicking and jumping out the water in synchronicity pretty close to the boat. It was a magical experience that I’ll never forget. We were even lucky enough to see a Brydes Whale even though whale watching season is normally in March. You can also go whale watching in Mirrissa in the south of Sri Lanka.
The best time to go dolphin watching in Kalpitiya is from November to May and we arranged our trip through the Blue Whale Resort where we stayed. You need to go early in the morning before the seas get too rough and expect to pay around 25,000 LKR for a boat of 6 people.
There’s also good snorkelling and scuba diving and a Dutch fort in Kalpitiya. It’s also possible to go on a safari in Wilpattu National Park, the largest park in Sri Lanka.
Where to stay: We stayed at the Blue Whale Resort, a lovely cluster of thatched bungalows around a pool on the beachfront.
Hiking in Riverston and having lunch in an unspoilt local village
Sri Lanka offers so much more than just beaches. The island is also blessed with an incredibly scenic hill country; think lush jungles, waterfalls, incredible views and hillsides carpeted with emerald tea plantations. One of my favourite places was Nurwara Eilya, nicknamed ‘Little England’ because of it’s colonial era architecture and the surrounding tea plantations but for a more off the beaten track experience you can’t beat Riverston.
Riverston is part of the UNESCO listed Knuckles Mountain Range which is located around 30 kms from the town of Matale. We had an incredible day with our guide Aravinda from Lankainmotion and didn’t see any other tourists! First, we learned about how important this cloud forest is for biodiversity and saw some unique lizards which are only found in this area.
The short hike to Mini Worlds End had to be the most rewarding 10 minutes hike I’ve ever done. The views over the mountains and lush greenery from the look out point are just mesmerizing as long as you’re not scared of the steep drop below!
Another hike through unspoilt lush green rice terraces and over a gushing river made me feel like I was in Bali, but without the crowds of tourists, and took us to a blissfully authentic remote local village where we were served the best local lunch ever of organic and super fresh rice, veggies, curries and a fresh coconut straight off the tree with timeless views.
We topped off the day with a refreshing swim in the waters of Sera Ella Waterfall. The tour cost 5000 per person and you can get in touch with Aravinda on Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/lankainmotion/
Where to stay: There is limited accommodation in the mountains so we stayed at the Grand Mountain Hotel in Matale, a large, comfortable and plush modern hotel which served one of the most fanciest, and one of my favourite, dinners of the trip.
Watching orphaned baby elephants being fed at the Elephant transit home in Uda Walawe National Park
Elephants are one of the main attractions of Sri Lanka, the island is one of the best places to see wild elephants in the world! There are many ways to get your elephant experience, the most popular is by going on a safari in one of the national parks where the sight of seeing herds of wild elephants is something you will cherish forever. Sadly though there are still some unethical places where elephants are treated badly, chained and ridden by tourists (read here for why you should never ride elephants)
My favourite elephant experience in Sri Lanka was watching the baby orphaned elephants being feed at the Elephant Transit Home in Uda Walawe National Park.
Ok, so this place is not so offbeat, but it was one of my favourite experiences in Sri Lanka and seemed a lot more ethical than some of the more famous elephant orphanages in Sri Lanka like Pinnawala. (I didn’t go there but heard bad reports – read here.)
It was refreshing to see that there was no riding, chains, tricks, bathing, touching or taking selfies with the elephants – we watched the feeding from a shaded stand at a distance and the elephants are being prepared to be released fully back into the wild once they are old enough and strong enough therefore they try to minimise human contact. Watching the baby elephants running delighted to be fed was so cute and just delightful.
Elephant Transit Home is located in Uda Walawe National Park and feeding time is at 9 am, noon, 3 pm, and 6 pm and tickets cost 500 LKR. You could combine your visit with a safari in Uda Walawe but try to visit in the week when there are less crowds. There is accommodation nearby or you could also make a day trip from one of the southern beaches, like Mirissa.
Where to stay: Close to the national park, Eliyanth Udawalawe is a great value for money small resort with a swimming pool and lovely private balconies overlooking the river.
Thanks to Sri Lanka Tourism for organising an amazing trip! I can’t wait to go back and visit more offbeat places in Sri Lanka as soon as I can! I’m planning to start at Arguam Bay and travel North up the East Coast.
Do you have any more recommendations for off the beaten track places in Sri Lanka I can add to my list?