TEN GREAT PLACES TO SEE a Bucket List of Hotspots


Iconic tales spanning millennia such as the Mahāvaṃsa (‘Great Chronicle’) and the Hindu text Vayu Purana referred to Trincomalee as ‘gokanna thittha’ because the shape of its harbour looks like a bull’s horn. Located on the northeastern coast of Sri Lanka, this city is renowned for its fine natural harbour. Trinco’s map is dotted with several sacred places of worship such as the Nallur Kandasamy Temple, which is a kovil situated at the pinnacle of a rocky outcrop. This location also offers a vantage point for blue whale spotting. Trincomalee is famed for its whale watching yacht tours and pristine beaches such as Uppuveli and Nilaveli.


The Pidurangala rock, which lies adjacent to Sigiriya, is another elevated lookout from where to take in the spectacular views of the area. This is a cave com plex that offers a high vantage point from where to enjoy the glory of the rising and setting sun as it bathes the landscape in a canvas of colours. Reaching the summit involves a 40 minute hike along a rocky path; it’s certainly a journey that’s more suitable for the strong-willed. According to historical accounts, King Kashyapa I offered Pidurangala (a.k.a. the ‘Golden Monastery’) to the Buddhist monks who originally occupied Sigiriya since he wished to claim the latter fortress for himself. Monks have travelled the path to Pidurangala for more than a thousand years.


The town of Dambulla is located in the Matale District and 148 kilometres northeast of Colombo. It’s popular for its Rangiri Dambulla cave temple, which is a cavernous monastery that has drawn pilgrims for some 22 centuries. There are five sanctuaries in the monastery and it is Sri Lanka’s largest and most well-preserved temple complexes. The interior shelters 157 statues and is studded with Buddhist murals over an area of 2,100 square metres. This temple is one of iconic grandeur and elegance, and it’s recognised as one of South and Southeast Asia’s most remarkable Buddhist pilgrimage sites.


Synonymous with the Bundala National Park, this township is located 251 kilometres southeast of Colombo close to Hamban tota. Home to an array of fauna, flora and avian life, Bundala was established as a national park in 1993, and a biosphere reserve by UNESCO in 2005. There are seven terrestrial habitats and six wetlands, along with 383 plant species, 32 species of fish and 197 species of birds here. It is recognised as an important avian locale among South Indian and Sri Lankan wetlands as it’s a wintering ground for migratory birds.


Situated in the lush Central Province of Sri Lanka on the northern edge of the Matale hills, Kandalama is famed for its UNESCO World Heritage Sites such as the nearly 2,000-year-old Dambulla cave temple and Sigiriya rock fortress. Sigiriya is a precious historical monument and it’s fondly considered the ‘eighth wonder of the world’ by many locals. The ancient rock fortress echoes the magnificence of a bygone era and is an architectural marvel.


Ocean lovers will find everything they seek in the small coastal town of Mirissa in the Southern Province’s Matara District. Idyllic beaches and hammocks to relax on, exciting nightlife and activities such as whale watching and sea surfing draw tourists in droves to this marine hamlet that’s situated 150 kilometres south of Colombo. A hilltop coconut farm overlooking the turquoise Indian Ocean is one of the most ‘Instagrammed’ spots in the island and offers magical sunset views. Mirissa also has a secret beach, which is secluded because it’s not so easy to reach.


Tangalle is one of the largest towns in the Hambantota District, and yet another coastal haven as well as an important fishing port. Remnants of Dutch architecture echo throughout the township. Dotted with upmarket hotels and villas, Tangalle is now a highly-developed beach destination. Some of its most remarkable attractions include Wewurukannala, which has a 50 metre tall Buddha statue that’s the largest on the island; Mulkirigala Raja Maha Vihara with its seven cave temples; and Kalametiya – a protected wildlife area with coastal lagoons, mangrove swamps and open grasslands. The Hummanaya (an eponymous blowhole) is another interes ting feature located close to Tangalle.


Ohiya is situated in the Badulla District in the Uva Province. This scenic village and trekker’s paradise lies close to the Horton Plains National Park, and is ideal for mountaineers and hikers as well since it’s set in thick green forests, and cocooned in tranquillity and splendour. The Ohiya Railway Station, which is located 1,774 metres above sea level, is the third highest in the country and an important feature of this hill country town. Some of its other must-see spots are Devil’s Staircase, Ohiya Forest that’s adjacent to Udaweriya Estate, and magnificent cascades such as the Lanka Ella and Bambarakanda Falls (Sri Lanka’s highest waterfall).


Dondra lies at the island’s southernmost tip near Matara and overlooks the Indian Ocean. Its most notable land mark, the Dondra Head Lighthouse, stands sentinel at the gateway to the bay of Dondra Peninsula from the eastern side. Known as South Asia’s tallest lighthouse, this building with an octa gonal base is about 50 metres in height. The term ‘Dondra’ is derived from the Sinhala word ‘Devi Nuwara’ (meaning ‘City of the Gods’). Ruins of several Buddhist temples and Hindu shrines are found in close proximity, and there is a small natural seawater pool known as ‘Dragon Mouth’ near the shore.


The beloved beachfront and riverine resort town of Bentota is located on the southwestern coastline of the Galle District and 65 kilometres away from Colombo. Its sandy beaches, which lend credence to the title ‘Paradise Island,’ run adjacent to Bentota’s lagoon. Apart from Bentota beach, there are other sights well worth seeing such as the Kosgoda Turtle Hatchery, which is a community-based operation; the Brief Garden eco-park that spans over two hectares; famous architect Vidya Jyothi Geoffrey Bawa’s country estate – Lunuganga; and the Bentota River and its estuary that promise scenic boat rides, as well as an array of water sports. Ayur veda, spice gardens and toddy (fermented coconut milk) are also characteristics of this town.

Compiled by Azraa Killru

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