Sri Lanka tours

Best tours in Sri Lanka

If you’re looking for Asia’s ultimate island paradise, you’ve arrived. Sri Lanka has miles of golden sands and rich tropical landscapes, capped by a remarkable history.

  1. Colombo Fort and Pettah
  2. Kelani Valley Rail tour
  3. Boat tour of the Muthurajawela Wetlands
  4. Kandy
  5. Hill country and tea factory tour
  6. The Cultural Triangle
  7. Galle Fort
  8. Yala National Park

Sri Lanka is the pearl of the Indian Ocean. Flanked by jaw-dropping beaches, this is a place for laying back and enjoying the good life, but there’s a vibrant array of Sri Lanka tours to choose from, too. Making the most of Sri Lanka’s physical, cultural and ethnic diversity, travellers are in for a treat.

In collaboration with
Rough Guides

1. Colombo Fort and Pettah

You can’t come to the Sri Lankan capital and not tour the heart of old Colombo, taking in the Fort district with its grandiose old colonial buildings and continuing on to the bustling Pettah shopping district. These are atmospheric areas best explored on your own two feet. Start your tour at the Presidential Secretariat building (formerly the parliament) overlooking the northern end of Galle Face Green.

Best for: An introduction to Colombo

While you’re there: The Secretariat building’s neoclassical columns will have architecture nuts squealing with delight.

2. Kelani Valley Rail tour

There’s no denying it: train travel is a romantic way to go. Hop on a locomotive at Colombo Fort Railway Station and head for Homagama: this tour, by quaint passenger train, heads through the cluttered suburbs of Colombo to the verdant paddy fields marking the beginning of Sri Lanka’s lush, rural interior. Sign us up.

Best for: Colonial railway charms

While you’re there: Keep a look out for Maradana station, which has kept its original colonial ambience and railway furniture.

3. Boat tour of the Muthurajawela Wetlands

Test out your sea – OK, water – legs by hopping in a boat and taking a tour of the untamed wetland wilderness of Muthurajawela. There’s plenty of bird life to see, and boats leave throughout the day. There’s a visitor centre where young and knowledgeable guides offer visitors a talk on the ecology of the reserve before loading them into open boats for the trip itself. As well as looking out for fine feathery friends, keep your eyes peeled for toque macaque monkeys, water monitors and even the occasional croc.

Best for: wildlife buffs

While you’re there: Negombo Beach isn’t far away, where you can watch working fishermen mending their nets.

4. Kandy

If history is your thing – or even if it isn’t – Kandy is an unmissable stop on any number of Sri Lanka tours. Laid out around a picture-perfect lake amidst a ring of towering green hills, this historic city was the main seat of royal power in the island for several centuries. It was home to the last independent king of Ceylon until his overthrow by the British in 1815. Any number of tour companies will take you around the city, visiting the Temple of the Tooth, Kandy Lake and the Kandy shopping district. Alternatively, enjoy a ramble around Peradeniya Gardens, striking distance from town. Prepare to be amazed.

Best for: Culture vultures

While you’re there: Peradeniya Gardens are the island’s largest and finest, where flower power is still the name of the game.

5. Hill country and tea factory tour

Pick any route through the tea-clad hillsides of Sri Lanka’s interior, with a visit to the former colonial retreat of Nuwara Eliya, and you’ll not be disappointed. Rich, green lands, dotted with tea-pickers and cloaked in rolling fog, make this a magical region. All that, and a welcome respite from the high temperatures of the coast… we may have turned down the heat, but you can still put the kettle on and settle in. Be sure to visit the Labookellie Tea Factory, where guided tours explain how tea is made, as well as offering a walk through its immaculate tea gardens.

Best for: Learning a thing or two about tea leaves

While you’re there: If you’re dragging along tired feet – just pause at Labookeillie for a cup or two.

6. The Cultural Triangle

Sri Lanka tours invariably include an option to visit the Cultural Triangle: the area between Kandy and the great ruined cities of Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa. This region served as the birthplace of Sri Lankan civilization, and serves up a staggering array of ancient monuments dating back 2500 years. Visit giant stupas, richly decorated cave temples and enormous man-made reservoirs, capped by the unforgettable sight of the great rock citadel of Sigiriya, towering into the sky amidst the arid plains. This is pure heaven for culture vultures.

Best for: Hankering for history

While you’re there: Marvel at the Sigiriya Damsels frescoes: twenty-one beautiful, bare-chested women swathed in cloud from the waist down.

7. Galle Fort

Step back in time with a morning walk around old Galle, the most perfectly preserved colonial town in Sri Lanka. Galle Fort dates back to the period of Dutch rule, who seized Galle from the Portuguese in 1640. Their work remains apparent everywhere, with streets of low-strung colonial villas protected by massive coral bastions and the gentle crash of breaking waves just beyond. Prepare to have your imagination fired.

Best for: Breathing in the atmosphere

While you’re there: For some quirky amusements, make for the Historical Mansion Museum, which has several rooms of random bric-a-brac.

8. Yala National Park

The jewel in Sri Lanka’s wildlife crown, magnificent Yala National Park is a highlight of any tour of Sri Lanka. It provides a memorable showcase of the island’s fauna, with troupes of elephants, gaping crocs and one of the planet’s largest leopard populations, offering an unrivalled opportunity to see this most elusive of big cats in the wild.

Best for: Getting back to nature

While you’re there: There’s a small museum by the park entrance showing the development of the park.

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