Unexplored Sri Lanka: avoiding the tourist trail

Take the road less traveled…

In recent years – since the end of Sri Lanka’s 26-year-long civil war in 2009 – Sri Lanka’s popularity as a tourist destination has rocketed upwards, culminating in the island’s international promotion as one of the top travel destinations for 2016. People from all corners of the world have begun to flock to this once little-known island, drawn to its spectacular beaches, awe-inspiring cultural sites and the irresistible hospitality of the people.

Whilst no area of the island has been spoiled by the influx of visitors, the country is beginning to cater increasingly to tourists and in the more popular areas it can feel like an experience of the authentic Sri Lanka is hard to find. However, even in the most-visited parts of the island there are hidden gems tucked away from the main tourist trail – Kaludiya Pokuna, for example, is a captivating ruined monastery completely unknown to most travellers, despite its location in the frequently-explored Cultural Triangle.

As well as the secret sites concealed on the tourist path, there are many areas of Sri Lanka that remain off-the-beaten-track, offering travellers the chance to see the island in its traditional rural splendour. Go walking with the veddas (Sri Lanka’s indigenous people) in remote Gal Oya, or explore the wilderness of Puttalam in the north-west, which is scattered with rock temples and ancient tanks that date back 2,000 years.

Disover the best kept secrets of Sri Lanka in utter tranquillity and at your own pace: the fascinating people you meet and the wondrously untouched places you find will give you an intimate, personal connection to the island that will stay with you forever. Climb to the top of majestic Adam’s Peak; go fishing on Batticaloa Lagoon with a local fisherman; trek through the enchanting Kanneliya Rainforest, and take an art tour with an expert craftsman to Ambalangoda, a largely-ignored area of the island that boasts the temple which houses the longest reclining Buddha statue in Asia.

Read below for some of our favorite ‘off-the-beaten-path’ experiences. For a customised tour that takes you through Sri Lanka’s ‘back of beyond’, visit our website or get in touch with one of our knowledgeable travel consultants today.

Cultural Triangle
Although the Cultural Triangle, with its astonishing ancient ruins, is one of the most popular tourist spots in Sri Lanka, there are some sites that as yet remain undiscovered. The hidden ancient monasteries of Kaludiya Pokuna and Ritigala are immersed in mysterious jungle wilderness and are rarely tackled by those visiting the island. Feeling adventurous?

What to do…

Birding at Kaludiya Pokuna
The allure of Kaludiya Pokuna is its wild, untamed beauty – the 1,200-year-old ruins appear to have been reclaimed by the jungle. Enrapturing, atmospheric and utterly peaceful. Ideal spot for bird-watching.

The 2,000-year-old ruins of Ritigala are dramatic and astounding. Steep steps lead away from a large man-made reservoir up to a meandering stone path which links the major buildings of the monastery.

Where to stay…

Ulagalla Resort
Ulagalla is a luxurious eco-retreat set amidst 58 acres of lush woodland and paddy fields and edged by the Ulagalla Reservoir. Individual chalets with plunge pools offer much privacy. Exquisite spa facilities.


Batticaloa is a town on Sri Lanka’s east coast which is rarely frequented by tourists. Positioned just beneath popular Pasikudah, which boasts one of the longest stretches of shallow coastline in the world, Batticaloa is often overlooked as a travel destination, despite being an excellent site for diving and offering much cultural interest, including a 17th century Dutch Fort. Batticaloa will give you a sense of the ‘real’ Sri Lanka.

What to do…

Batticaloa by Bike
Batticaloa wraps around a picturesque lagoon and has several iconic landmarks, including a Dutch-period Fort. The flat terrain, small village pathways and windswept esplanade are ideal for cycling.

Fishing on the Batticaloa Lagoon
Sail out on the lagoon at sunset with a local fisherman in a catamaran, which is just big enough to squeeze your legs into. Try to copy the fishermen’s expertly-crafted techniques of this iconic livelihood.

Where to stay…

Anilana Passikudah
One of Pasikudah’s most luxurious options, Anilana offers uninterrupted views of the swimming pool and turquoise waters of the Indian Ocean from each room. Relax in the spa and stroll along the beach.

Galle Fort is a distinctive location within the island. It is a microcosmic melting pot of many different religions, nationalities and cultures, which all mingle seamlessly within its walls. A 17th-century UNESCO World Heritage Site, originally built by the Portuguese and then further developed by the Dutch and the British, it covers nearly four sq.km and contains winding streets of quirky shops, fantastic restaurants and beautiful concealed villas. It is a very popular place for those visiting Sri Lanka, but it is still possible to escape the crowds here…

What to do…

Art Tour with a Craftsman
A whistle-stop tour of workshops, where you will meet local artists and try your hand at batik, mask-making and puppetry. The tour finishes with the temple which houses Asia’s largest reclining Buddha.

Kanneliya Rainforest Trek
Your wildlife tracker will lead you through Sri Lanka’s lesser known forest reserve, which boasts diverse range of wildlife, such as snakes, monkeys and chameleons. End with lunch in the shallows of a lake.

Where to stay…

Why House
Why House is a beautiful eight-room hotel with a luscious tropical garden and striking swimming pool just five minutes from the beaches of Galle. Rooms are scattered through the garden offering privacy.

Hill Country
Sri Lanka’s hill country is comprised of rolling tea-covered fields as far as the eye can see, an undulating wave of green broken up by the splashes of colour from sari-enrobed tea pluckers with their baskets perched upon their backs. Since James Taylor opened the first Ceylon tea factory in the 19th century, Sri Lanka’s tea industry has boomed – it is now responsible for the employment of over 1 million Sri Lankan people and places the island as the world’s fourth-largest supplier of tea. With its cool, fresh air and beautiful landscape dotted with waterfalls, hills and mountains, the tea country is a wonderful place for trekking, bird-watching or simply taking in sensational views. Gloriously escapist.

What to do…

Coffee and Chocolates
Although now famed for its tea, it was coffee that used to cover Ceylon’s hills. Tour round an organic farm and learn about the history of coffee in Sri Lanka, then sample the coffee with some chocolates.

Adam’s Peak
A 2,243m-high mountain that is sacred to all four main religious groups in Sri Lanka. Hike up Adam’s Peak at night and reach the top in time to witness one of the most spectacular sunrises in Asia.

Where to stay…

Warwick Gardens
Perched majestically atop a hill overlooking a verdant tea-covered valley near Nuwara Eliya, Warwick Gardens is an imposing, century-old five-bedroom boutique hotel surrounded by colorful gardens.