Sri Lanka is undoubtedly one of the most popular, affordable, and fun places to explore right now. But this oh-so-familiar country has a lot more to offer beyond sandy beaches and Colombo’s famed nightlife. Get away from the chaotic centers and skip the usual spots for an untold Sri Lankan tale.

To make the most of your trip, make sure to take a detour from the same old touristy places  into some of these offbeat destinations that are often overlooked, forgotten and left unexplored.

 

1. Mannar 

Mannar is that part of the country where history meets scenic beauty. This quaint place, perched on a peninsula, is an 8 hour ride from Colombo and has a lot to say about Sri Lanka’s past. For starters, Mannar is an ancient city with several centuries of history dating back to the times of the Portuguese and the Dutch. Standing testimony to this is the landmark Mannar Fort which was built in 1560. The Mannar region is famed for its  old baobab trees. One such baobab is believed to be nearly 700 years old, supposedly planted by Arab traders! 

Apart from its historical charm, Mannar is also an important pilgrimage center with the Shrine of Madhu church and the Ketheeswaram temple bringing in a steady flow of devotees all year round. Adding to this is the village of Thanthirimale, a great place to discover Buddhist temples and sites.

Another unmissable sight in Mannar is the fascinating Adam’s Bridge, also popular as Rama Setu or Rama’s Bridge. Made of limestone shoals, this bridge, according to geologists, was once a land connection between two landmasses. It is also revered for its immense symbolic and mythological value as the link between Sri Lanka’s Mannar Island and India’s very own Rameswaram.

For nature lovers and photographers, Mannar also has a Bird Sanctuary and Nature Reserve where birds like flamingos are seen flocking the region. The lagoons and palmyrah trees of Sri Lanka are home to multitudes of these colourful feathered creatures.

 

2. Haputale 

Picture this – a captivating cloud forest with lush green hills as far as the eye can see, chilly mists and breeze over tea estates, and, most importantly, a perfect cup of hot tea grown locally. Haputale in Badulla district is that picturesque scene from a movie or dream we all wish to live in. Though not amongst the usual list of places to visit in Sri Lanka, Haputale has all the charm that makes it a must visit. 

You can start your day with a spectacular sunrise from Lipton Seat, which offers a to-die-for view of the entire area as the blanket of green turns golden with the first rays of the sun. Try out local Sri Lankan flavours from the eateries nearby, take cooking classes if that’s your thing, or simply explore the many roadside restaurants that overlook the hills.

This place is a real paradise for tea lovers – you can take a stroll in the inviting tea estates and even visit the Dambatenne tea factory. A tour of the factory will allow you to get a firsthand experience of how black tea is made and processed. To get a more authentic experience out of your trip, make sure you visit the organic tea farms and tea centers, where you can go tea tasting and also buy some amazing quality tea as souvenirs or gifts for people back home. 

With tummies warmed by fresh tea, you can then make your way to Sri Lanka’s tallest waterfall – the Bambarakanda Falls. Dropping from a breathtaking height of 863 feet, this waterfall is a mere 17 kilometer ride from Haputale. The majestic sight is perfectly placed in the midst of gorgeous pine forests and valleys which gives it the complete tropical feel. Haputale works as a center from where several day trips can be conveniently made to places like Ella, Diyaluma Waterfall, Horton Plains National Park, and many more.

 

3. Batticaloa 

Located on the eastern edge of the island, Batticaloa is all about sunny beach vibes. The vibrant town and its distinct local culture is just what you need for true Sri Lankan style chilling. Take your own sweet time and roam the town on foot or hop on a bicycle as you pass by colonial buildings, experiencing the daily hustle of local life. For a dose of historical insight, visit the famous Batticaloa Fort that stands heroically amidst lagoons and canals.

The fort with Portugal origins was built and rebuilt several times over the centuries as it passed from one colonial ruler to the next. On similar lines, the Anipandi Sitivigniswara Alayar temple and the St. Mary’s Cathedral bring with them a rich cultural magnificence. 

The standout feature of Batticaloa – its inviting beaches and lagoons. The vast blue lagoon of Batticaloa is fed by small rivers and is an important fishing site for the local fishermen. The Kallady bridge stretches on endlessly across the lagoon and is famous as the home to the mysterious ‘singing fish’. Between the months of April and September, the lagoon waters near Kallady bridge are known to emanate a distinctly guitar-like sound produced by a certain type of marine creature that lives in these waters. The best part about Batticaloa’s refreshing beaches, however, are the many adventure-water sports you can experience here.

For activities like sailing, water skiing, and windsurfing you have the twin shores of Kallkudah and Passikudah, away from the main town’s chaos. Batticaloa is also great for underwater activities like scuba diving and snorkelling. 

 

4. Unawatuna 

The clear blue waters and sandy shores of Unawatuna are unlike any other you’ll come across in the country. Unawatuna Beach, Dalawella Beach, Sahana Beach, Jungle Beach, and the Mihirpenna Beach are some of the most beautiful beaches here that deserve to be on the must-see list. Each of these has its own charm and is loved by travellers for different reasons. Unawatuna beach, for example, is loved for its welcoming landscape and atmosphere.

An ideal place to chill and hang out with friends, it has plenty of dining options so you can treat your tastebuds while you soak in the sea breeze with your buddies. The Dalawella beach is not only great for a romantic time out with your partner but is also popular for its palm swing that can surely bring out the child in you! 

Unawatuna also has some great surfing spots. When visited during the right time, beaches like Sahana can be perfect for riding some waves. If you’re a beginner and would like to get some lessons, you can approach the friendly instructors here who teach surfing on an hourly basis. 

After unwinding at the beach, take a tuk-tuk and head to the mighty Galle Fort. The majestic fort complex was built by the Dutch in 1588 and currently houses a maritime museum as well. Within the complex’s vicinity stands the prominent Galle Lighthouse. You’ll find great views of the sea at different spots in the fort, which is all the more true during sunsets. Once you step out, you’ll find the streets dotted with several small shops you can stop by for some gifts and souvenirs.

The Japanese Peace Pagoda is another important attraction in Unawatuna. Located atop the Rumassala Hill overlooking the sea, the temple stands as a symbol of peace. Built by Japanese Buddhist monks in 2005, the temple is an ideal place for meditation and some quiet time with yourself.

 

5. Bentota 

With pristine beaches and golden shorelines, Bentota has a magical, easy-going vibe that is perfect for a holiday. Thrill seekers are in for a treat with activities like snorkelling, diving, paragliding, parasailing and surfing. The turquoise waters are pleasant on the eyes and appealing to the heart. The beaches are home to a number of aquatic animals and you can catch glimpses of cheerful dolphins swimming by. On a different note, there are plenty of hiking and trekking trails to explore in and around Bentota.

The Madu river here is rich in mangrove forests and is home to a plethora of exotic birds. For a unique experience, you can take a cruise down the river and get a taste of the indigeneous wildlife. In an effort to protect such natural treasures, the Bentota Turtle Hatchery takes care of sea turtles and tortoises. You can watch these serene creatures laying eggs which are then cared for, and protected from predators, until they hatch. To see those little palm-sized turtles take their first swim in the open sea is a sight that will melt your heart and leave you moved. 

After you’ve had a fair share of the saline waters, you can take some time off and unwind with a visit to the Brief Garden. Designed by a well known Sri Lankan artist, this garden is spread over 5 acres and is covered with tropical trees. You can spend some quiet time relaxing under their cool shade and admire the many sculptures in the garden.

 

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