Stunning Sri Lanka: A Photo Tour

PHOTO: Gal Oya National Park, Sri Lanka. (Photo by Lauren Breedlove)
Lauren Breedlove
by Lauren Breedlove
Last updated: 8:00 AM ET, Sat December 21, 2019

Stunning Sri Lanka

Perched in the Indian Ocean, the island of Sri Lanka in South East Asia is a gorgeous beach, impressive ruins and elephant-filled treasure of a destination. Be wowed by the cuisine, friendly people and diverse landscape-so much so that you can hang beachside, chill in the city and venture on a safari or wilderness hike in the highlands all in one day.

Sri Lanka may be small, but packs a big punch in the culinary and adventure realm of travel, all of which is possible in a short time. One of the best ways to uncover everything this incredibly diverse country has to offer is via small group tours where all the essentials are planned and provided for you, complete with an informative guide, authentic cultural experiences, and a healthy dose of active excursions. REI Adventures just rolled out a brand new multi-sport itinerary geared towards under-35 travelers looking to explore Sri Lanka with like-minded travelers.

The 10-day Sri Lanka Explorer: Hike, Bike, Surf, & Safari itinerary (level 3 physical challenge difficulty) is a well-rounded experience with small stays and local guides. The first trip for this itinerary departs in April, with booking open now. Or, if you have bit longer and are looking for something a touch less active, choose to embark on their classic 12-day Discover Sri Lanka: Temples, Tea Trails & Safari itinerary (level 2 physical challenge difficulty).

*The current travel warning in Sri Lanka is at a level 2 (lowered from a 3 earlier this year), meaning visitors planning a trip should exercise some extra caution.


The city of Kandy was once a bustling ancient kingdom (NBD) and offers a ton by way of history and culture. Stroll the lively streets, wander a local market, sample delicious street food (try ulundu vadai, a spicy vegetable donut) and visit the famous Temple of the Tooth. This impressive temple complex houses a relic tooth of Buddha, making it the most visited attraction in the city. Kandy is also one of the bookends to the well-known train ride that spans city to city, from Kandy to Ella.

Beautiful Beaches

Sri Lanka's southern coast is home to gorgeous beaches and abundant surf and yoga camps. As part of the Sri Lanka Explorer itinerary, you'll score a couple of luxurious days to lounge, take surf lessons and indulge in a sunrise yoga sesh. Don't forget sippin' from king coconuts (indigenous to Sri Lanka!)...that too.

Sigiriya Rock

...aka Lion's Rock, is not only awe-inspiring to explore in person, but also one of the most well-known sites in Sri Lanka. Visitors can expect to climb 1,217 steps to reach the top, with sweeping views as the golden reward. That, and the fact that you're standing on a rock fortress (yeah, FORTRESS). Visit this epic site during the Discover Sri Lanka tour and start stretching those legs.

Polonnaruwa Ruins

This UNESCO World Heritage site is filled to the brim with ancient monument ruins ready to be explored. A city dating back to the 11th century, history buffs will be in their element while wandering around the beautifully detailed structures of Polonnaruwa. Spot monkeys, marvel at archaic temples and statues and pretend you're royalty from the 11th century.

*Make sure to bring a scarf or wrap to cover your knees and shoulders when entering the temples.

Galle Fort

The southern coast of Sri Lanka is a beaut, and the port fishing city of Galle is no exception. The structure itself is one of the oldest surviving forts in all of South East Asia. Shop in the main square's market and downtown cobblestone streets, watch local fishermen at work, swim in the sea and stroll the fort wall for fantastic views of the sea and the city. This area is a stop on both the Sri Lanka Explorer and Discover Sri Lanka itineraries.

Tea Highland Exploring

The lush highlands of Sri Lanka are not to be missed. Ceylon tea is a staple within the country's culture, and delicious, to boot. The best way to explore these regions is via bicycle, hiking or epic train ride. Trek Campbell's Lane Forest Preserve to a waterfall and lookout point from Madulkelle Tea Estate, or a set out on a light hike outside the town of Ella. Either way, you'll be gifted with postcard-perfect views.

Cooking Classes

Taking a cooking class is one of the best all-around ways to dive into a cultural experience wherever you travel. The cuisine in Sri Lanka is incredible as is trying your hand at learning the Sinhalese techniques and ingredient mixtures to create fresh, amazing food. Both REI Adventures itineraries include an in-home cooking class with a local family where you get a hands-on lesson and enjoy the fruits of your labor afterward. Curry anyone?

Monkey Encounters

The wildlife in Sri Lanka is abundant, and a monkey encounter is pretty much a guarantee. Their antics are entertaining to watch, just beware of your belongings when there are monkeys full of mischief nearby-they'll try to swipe sunglasses and snacks especially!

Elephant Spotting

The opportunity to view elephants in the wild abounds in Sri Lanka. Whether venturing on an exciting safari in one of the national parks or just cruising along in a tuk-tuk, elephant spotting is always a possibility. Embark on an elusive leopard safari with a side of elephants in Yala National Park or enjoy an early wake-up on a unique sunrise boat safari for the chance to witness elephants in their morning unforgettable experience.

Local Markets

Visiting a local market is a great way to interact with locals and experience a bit of daily culture and a feast for all five senses. Browse for spices to take home (saffron and cinnamon are popular), learn about unique fruit and vegetables and explore the vibrant, lively scene. In Kandy, take some time to stroll the local city market or for a more rural feel, head to the Dambulla market where you'll likely be the only tourists.

Spectacular Sunrises

Taking in a sunrise over the Knuckle Mountain range from the balcony of your glamping tent is quite the start to your day at the Madulkelle Tea and Eco Lodge, one of the stays on the Discover Sri Lanka tour. Overlook tea plantations, gorgeous light hitting the surrounding peaks and valleys and pinch yourself...this is one for the books, folks. Now get to sipping, all that fresh tea isn't going to drink itself.

Palm Tree Swing

Made famous by Instagram, this palm tree swing over the ocean on the south coast lives up to its hype both in fun and scenery. Head to Dalawella Beach for your turn on the thrilling rope swing over the ocean. Small donations go to the local homestay that manages the swing and uses the money for turtle rescue efforts. Totally worth it!

Village to Village Cycling

Grab some wheels and roll along the picturesque countryside roads and paths, cycling village to village to absorb some spectacular scenery. Take a break with a picnic snack in an idyllic setting in between getting smiles and waves from local children, glimpses at everyday village life and spot some colorful birdlife along your ride. Both itineraries include a cycle trip; Sri Lanka Explorer has travelers pedaling around the tea fields skirting the city of Ella, while Discover Sri Lanka cycles explorers just outside the ancient city of Polonnaruwa.

Friendly Locals

Interactions with the people of Sri Lanka will make you feel warmly welcomed all over the country. Taking a tuk-tuk tour, exploring local communities will have you appreciating the artisans and industries like weaving, brick making, pineapple farming and tea harvesting (to name a few). Experience the rich culture amongst friendly locals to enhance your time in Sri Lanka and just try not to smile.

A gorgeous package of diverse landscapes, wildlife, culinary delights and friendly locals awaits.

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Laurence Pinckney

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Agent At Home

Helping leisure selling travel agents successfully manage their at-home business.

Subscribe For Free

Agent Specialization: Group Travel

Laurence Pinckney

Laurence Pinckney

CEO of Zenbiz Travel, LLC

About Me