Unique & Offbeat Things To Do In Sri Lanka

Pristine beaches. Lush jungles. Delicious food. Spectacular weather. Endless adventures and possibilities. This is Sri Lanka, one of the most amazing island nations I’ve ever had the pleasure of visiting.

Every year more and more tourists visit Sri Lanka but they always tend to do the same few things. Yala National Park. Temple of the Tooth. Sigiriya. You should visit them also (after all, they are some of the country’s most iconic and impressive destinations) but you should also plan time to do a few unique, quirky and off the beaten path activities as well.

The top offbeat things to do in Sri Lanka  

Palm trees that produce alcohol. The oldest Buddhist temple. Tuk-tuk driving at its finest and more offbeat things to do in Sri Lanka! #travel #srilanka #traveltips #traveldestinations #srilankatravel #srilankatraveltips #offbeattravel #holidaze

Drink Toddy

Toddy is the best alcoholic beverage that you’ve never heard of. It comes from the sap of palm tree flowers and is completely natural, no processing involved.

The tapper crawling up into this tree to bring down some fresh toddy. Trincomalee, Sri Lanka.
The tapper crawling up into the tree to bring down some fresh toddy.

A toddy tapper will climb a palm tree, cut the flower, then collect the sap in a bucket or gourd. As the milky white sap mixes with the air it begins to ferment. Within only a couple hours the drink becomes alcoholic and damn delicious. At this point it is only around 5% alcohol but the longer the toddy is left exposed to the air, the stronger (and more bitter) it becomes.

Drinking fresh toddy in Trincomalee, Sri Lanka....cheers!

Toddy can be found throughout Sri Lanka, just ask. But make sure to do a toddy tour so you can see the toddy tapper in action. That’s what makes it unique and offbeat!

Climb To The Highest Point In Sri Lanka (Kind Of)

Although Mount Kirigalpoththa is really the second highest mountain in Sri Lanka, it’s the highest that is open to the public. With a height of 2,388 metres (7,835 feet) above sea level, Kirigalpoththa is only 130 metres shorter than the tallest mountain, Pidurutalagala. Unfortunately that mountain is off limits because it’s a military base.

Hiking the mountains of Horton Plains National Park in Sri Lanka
Horton Plains National Park

The remote location of Mount Kirigalpoththa is what makes it off the beaten path. The only way to summit it is by three day hike through Horton Plains National Park. It is a must for any avid trekker as the views and wildlife experienced along the way show you a captivating new side of Sri Lanka.

Three days too much? Take a day-trip out to Knuckles Mountain Range, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Hiking through the mountains is definitely refreshing. Trek along a river filled with breathtaking waterfalls and refresh yourself with a dip in the cool cascading water. All the while keep your eyes open for wildlife as this is one of the most bio-diverse areas in all of Sri Lanka.

Visit The Oldest Buddhist Temple In Sri Lanka

Girihadu Seya in Trincomalee, Sri Lanka
Girihadu Seya is the oldest Buddhist temple in all of Sri Lanka

This hilltop temple is called Girihadu Seya, which translates as “the stupa on top of the rocks.” Due to its relatively small size and remote location this 2,500 year old temple is overlooked by all but a small fraction of tourists. It’s located about thirty minutes from Trincomalee and offers spectacular views of the countryside around it.

See More Girihadu Seya, oldest Buddhist temple in Sri Lanka

Go North Into Tamil Territory

Here in Jaffna, Sri Lanka the cows own the streets. They are not scared of anything and when you honk at them they just look at your like "WTF do you want?"
Here in Jaffna the cows own the streets. They are not scared of anything and when you honk at them they just look at your like “WTF do you want?”

For years after the civil war ended the northern portion of Sri Lanka was pretty much off-limits to foreigners. Things eventually began to loosen and when I first visited Sri Lanka in 2014, I was able to get permission to spend five days in this rarely visited region.

The Jaffna train schedule and prices
Jaffna train schedule

Thankfully now the new president has removed all travel restrictions to the north and the old Colombo to Jaffna train line has reopened. However this is all the more reason to visit now, before too many tourists and souvenir vendors arrive.

See More How to visit Jaffna

Learn To Drive A Tuk-Tuk Like A Pro

Derek Drives That! is part of the new HoliDaze travel video series
The next time I’m in your country, you’d damn well better trust me with your keys.

While preparing for my Rickshaw Run last year I learned how to drive a tuk-tuk in Arugam Bay. It was an amazing experience whipping that little three-wheeled go kart around town and one I definitely recommend! When you visit Galle (because let’s be honest here, no trip to Sri Lanka is complete without a stop in Galle) then get in touch with Dilshan. He runs a full day tuk-tuk training course that will put you behind the driver’s wheel at some of Galle’s most iconic sights, like the Galle Fort.

See More Why (Not) To Do The Rickshaw Run

See The Hidden Side Of Sri Lanka

Pssst! I’m going to let you in on four hidden and lesser known spots in Sri Lanka. The best part? All four can be visited in one day.

Sunset view from Pahiyangala Cave in Sri Lanka
Sunset view from Pahiyangala Cave

First off is Pahiyangala Cave, where human remains dating back nearly 7,000 years have been found. Next up is Makeliella, a gorgeous waterfall hidden amongst the forest. The final two spots are in Kalutara, a town that every tourist to Sri Lanka passes through without even realizing it. (It lies along the highway in between Colombo and Galle.) They are Kalutara Temple, the only hollow stupa in the world, and the impressive Richmond Castle.

Of course these are far from the only unique and offbeat things to do in Sri Lanka. There are cooking classes with locals, private custom tours and all sorts of other interesting activities. The hardest part is finding the time to do everything 😉 If you only have a limited time in Sri Lanka check out my friend Jade’s suggestions for squeezing a proper itinerary into just 10 days!

Now it’s your turn.

Any other unique or offbeat Sri Lanka suggestions?

tjeerd nuzzy

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About Derek Freal

"Some people eat, others try therapy. I travel."   Cultural enthusiast. Adrenaline junkie. Eater of strange foods. Chasing unique and offbeat adventures around the world since 2008. Derek loves going to new destinations where he does not speak a word of the local language and must communicate with hand gestures, or places where he is forced to squat awkwardly to poo -- supposedly its healthier and more efficient. For more information (about Derek, not squat pooing) including popular posts and videos, check out his bio.

10 thoughts on “Unique & Offbeat Things To Do In Sri Lanka”

  1. Hi there Holidaze! Just stumbled upon your blog and I just want to shout out to you and your cool traveling adventures. I enjoy reading your blog and best of luck. I am living in Vietnam and trust me, I would love to travel with you. It is not that bad once are with me. lol. Bring your travelers to me, I will give them a great vacation because I have been through some experiences and it makes me so humble that, I would help others , travelers from all walks of life. I can be their guide and I just want to make money by helping people and give them their money worth the traveling time.


    • Thanks! And yes, I definitely recommend returning as tourists! Despite being a relatively small island nation, Sri Lanka is one of those countries that keeps on surprising. There are so many random, unique and overlooked sights/activities to be found when you start interacting with locals and stop worrying about staying on schedule 😉

  2. Hey Derek, Driving 3 wheelers..? You are a man. (My father make me a Software engineer by driving a tuk tuk. For me some of them are real heroes.)
    Thanks mate for expressing my little country’s good things to the world. Come again. We Love you.

    • Thanks Chinathaka, love your country — hope to be able to come back again this year 🙂 And yes, there are some real good, honest, friendly and amazing tuk-tuk drivers that I met during my month there. However there are also so really sketchy ones in Colombo :/

  3. Hey Derek, I love reading your articles. Good Luck!
    My brother and I recently climbed to Pidurutalagala or Mount Pedro as it is known is English. Yeah, it’s heavily guarded because some vital military and broadcasting towers are there.
    Actually, people are allowed to travel the base by vehicle and then a little bit by foot, not that much though.
    The tuk drivers are really warm and nice. A guy there invited us to his home and we met his family and spoke to them like old friends. And yeah, the drivers in Colombo are not that great, I guess because they’re too busy or tense.
    Come again, and write more!

    • Hey Kadi, thanks for the comments and well wishes! So curious to hear more about your Mount Pedro climb — have any photos that you can share?
      I’ve only been to Sri Lanka twice, the first time for a month and the second for a couple of weeks, but I enjoyed every minute of both experiences. (Except for one brief experience in Colombo where the tuk2 driver drove use in circles “to avoid traffic” — he was friendly to chat with and nice but when he told us the price and we looked at the map we realized he was not the most trustworthy of drivers.) But every other person in every other city has been amazing! I learned how to drive a tuk2 in Arugam Bay thanks to a great driver, and it was perfect training for my Rickshaw Run in India a couple of weeks later.
      Anyway, I love Sri Lanka VEEERRRRRYYYY much, and am hoping for a third trip back next year 🙂
      Oh and I am also trying to write more, just been busy recently producing videos…..so thank you again for the kind words and encouragement, much appreciated buddy!

  4. Well, the military officers in Mount Pedro were very warm and welcoming. They showed us around and told us about the place. But the towers kind of spoil the look, with barbed wires and stuff. Maybe you should head Central next year.
    I love reading and writing so it’s nice to go through your blog.
    The tuk driver going in circles in just too much, haha.

    • That is so cool, definitely an awesome adventure and unique experience. Appreciate your kind words as well. Been meaning to make some improvements to the blog but nowadays I focus mainly on videos and haven’t had the time. That’s on my to-do list for November though, so thank you Kadi for both the reminder and the added motivation 😀


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