In addition to the well-known exotic beaches and lush greenery of the hill country, Sri Lanka has more natural beauty that is incredibly beautiful, yet hidden from the eyes of the traveler. Most of these attractions are located far from the common tourist routes, which means getting there is another adventure in itself. But it is worth the time and effort as you get to experience the real treasure trove of Sri Lanka.
A country like Sri Lanka has an overload of must-see places and top attractions. So, if time is restricted, the discerning traveler would choose visiting Sri Lanka and its hidden gems to get off the beaten path rather than the famous tourist attractions in the country.
In that case, here are our top ten secret places in Sri Lanka that must be explored:
1. Kopi Kade
While tea cafes are a common trend in Colombo, with basic and top-notch outlets located across the city, Kopi Kade offers a good coffee alternative to those who are not tea lovers. A little coffee shop sells the best tea and matcha latte in town and is a must visit if you have an eye for different coffee tastes. They are open from Wednesday through Sunday from noon to 9pm and are pinned on Google Maps on Stratford Avenue, Colombo 06.
2. Delft Island
Sometimes known as Neduntheevu, Delft Island is the name it inherited during the Dutch colonial period in Jaffna. With an area of 50km2, the flat island is encircled by shallow waters and gorgeous beaches of the Palk Strait – a stretch of sea that separates India and Sri Lanka. From the Jaffna port, Delft Island is reachable by a navy boat that departs at 9.30 am every day.
From natural beauty to spectacular colonial heritage, the island has plenty of things to fascinate guests. The houses of residents are roofed with palmyra leaves and fenced with coral stones. Wild horses freely roam around the island, making them an iconic feature of Delft. The Portuguese fort, Banyan trees, Quindah tower, Foot print rock formation, Sarapiddy wells, old stupas, and the Delft Maha Vidyalaya are some of the things to see on Delft Island.
3. The Airforce Museum
Along the southeastern suburbs of Colombo (13kms from city limits), the Sri Lanka Airforce Museum is located just next to the Ratmalana Airport and is the only national museum in Sri Lanka that is dedicated to the field of aviation. This attraction is exciting for families with kids as the museum hosts a collection of antique aero planes and helicopters that are displayed in an open park-like area with clearly laid out walking paths and a chequered patio. Aircraft hangars are also on display and a mini theater has been designed to provide a cabin like environment. For those who are really interested in the field, an aviation research library is available to read more about the same.
Maintained by the Sri Lankan Air Force, the museum has recently been modernized with new exhibits and facilities, making it a highly recommended visit with your family.
4. Lakegala Peak – Meemure
If you are an experienced rock climber, this one is for you! From the small, pretty and remote village of Meemure, you can see the stunning Lakegala mountain and its pointy peak. This hidden treasure is located in the city of Matale, and has a height of about 1370m. The steep angle of the rock is what makes it difficult to reach the peak. But experienced hikers will definitely love this attraction. It is advisable to take a guide along with you as no laid out hiking trails exist. For those who don’t want to climb, just sit back, and relax amidst the mesmerizing landscape of Meemure with a backdrop of the Lakegala Peak.
5. Helga’s Folly Hotel
Located about a 15-minute ride from the Kandy city center, Helga’s Folly was designed in the 1930s and has turned out to be the strangest and most outlandish hotel/restaurant in all of Sri Lanka. Helga Blow was an eccentric artist herself who had her unique perspective of the world. After going through a traumatic divorce, she started painting on the walls of the hotel as therapy. The first room was done in all black, after which colorful murals were painted on all other walls and ceiling spaces of the property.
Schedule a dinner at this hotel and reserve a tuk tuk or vehicle to get there. The murals begin from the minute you walk in. The dining area is the most elaborately painted and decorated. While your meal is being prepared, walk around to explore the hotel and study the paintings in detail – which will depict Helga’s life and what she’s been through. According to the Daily Beast, Helga Blow was born into a rich family and had three marriages by the time she turned 21, out of which she also had three children. She surely must have had a lot to paint about!
6. Madulsima Mountain – Badulla
Madulsima is a beautiful mountainous village in Badulla which is well known amongst local hikers and campers. The Mini World’s End is located here but many tourists are still unaware of this attraction. At an elevation of 383m, the Madulsima Mountain is about 700-1000m above sea level. Getting to the top of this mountain offers pleasant views of endless tea plantations. Roeberry Tea Estate owns the top most part of this mountain and at the end of this estate is where the Mini World’s End is located.
Along tricky roads, getting to this viewpoint is not for beginner hikers. But the view is unmatchable – a heavenly location high above elevation, with mist making you feel like you are walking among the clouds. On a clear day, you can see a vast plain starting from the base of Madulsima and going all the way towards the East Coast.
7. Thalpe Rock Pool Beach in Galle
Thalpe is a beach destination located along the southern coast of Sri Lanka, about 10km from Galle. Although Thalpe is popular for its beaches, what many don’t know about are the lovely Rock Pools, which, at present, are only devoured by locals who like adventurous sea bathing.
The rock pools are cut off from a coral reef, making way for a secluded area where waves are not very strong. Locals believe about 50 years ago, these pools were cut out from corals and used for soaking husks of coconuts to isolate the coir. The beach here is very clean, serene and quiet, and is very easily accessible via the Southern Expressway from Colombo. March and April are the driest season of the southern coast, and early morning hours during this season is the best time to visit. Be mindful of the water levels though and look out for sea urchins that are lurking around in the area.
8. Sembuwatta Lake
Ideal for nature lovers, Sembuwatta is a man-made lake crafted from the natural spring waters at the Elkaduwa plantations of Matale. This hidden paradise sits at an elevation of 1140m above sea level and is bordered by Cambell’s Land Forest Reserve. The scenic green mountains are lined with thick pine forests and lush tea plantations, providing for a gorgeous background for the lake.
The lake has been developed into a travel destination with activities such as zip-lining, swan boat riding and motorboat riding. The depth of the lake is about 9-12m, hence it is not advisable to swim in the lake. But there is a separate swimming pool nearby if you want to swim. The pine forest in the area also provides a good hiking trail. Book a room at a holiday bungalow nearby if you like to stay over and capture some unique shots of this secret jewel in Sri Lanka.
9. Sera Ella Falls
Did you know that Sri Lanka has more than 400 waterfalls across the island?
Sera Ella Falls is a gorgeous hidden gem located in the Knuckles Mountain Ranges and can be seen during your hike to Riverston Peak in Matale. The falls are 10m in height and 15-20m in width (which is wider than the height).
Riverston can be accessed from many cities in central Sri Lanka but is easiest from Kandy or Matale. Kandy is a popular tourist destination so the accommodation options are many. Matale is closer to Riverston and has a few options for accommodation.
There is a flight of steps leading down the road to access Sera Ella Waterfalls. A unique feature of the falls is the natural cave rock located behind the falls. It presents an amazing opportunity to walk into the cave and find yourself standing behind the crumbling water of the falls. It is safe to be in the cave even when the water level at the falls is high. Also, it is quite an adventure to jump into the cool pool and swim near the showers of the fall. Planning a day trip to Sera Ella Falls is highly recommended with a group of friends and family as it is an enjoyable location.
10. Dolukanda – Kurunegala
If you are looking for an unexploited area with dramatic geography, visit the Dolukanda Mountain Range. With a height of 600m, the Dolukanda Mountain is known as a herbal paradise and has significant historical and archaeological value. The epic Ramayana Trail is linked to this destination. There is also a Buddhist Temple and a forest cave at the top of Dolukanda, which was where the monks lived and meditated. The trekking route begins from the Dolukanda Temple and don’t forget to inform the guardian monk there about your trek as it is quite a strenuous route. Your efforts will be paid off once you get to the panoramic scenes at the top. Keep your camera in hand for some of the best Instagram shots in Sri Lanka!