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 here 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 Sri Lanka’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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
Go North Into Tamil Territory
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.
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
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.
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!