Discover Sri Lanka’s Secrets: Off the Beaten Path Travel Tips

by | Mar 30, 2024

“Normality is a paved road: It’s comfortable to walk, but no flowers grow on it.” – Vincent van Gogh. 

There’s a whole hidden Sri Lanka beyond the spotlight-stealing attractions. While Sigiriya, Galle, Colombo and Anuradhapura top the list, the less-visited destinations flourish as best-kept secrets. Whether you are an audacious traveller, a solo trekker, or love winging it, off-the-beaten-path travel on the island is full of surprises. From northern islands to the Tea Country you have never heard of, traverse the territories only known to the intrepid traveller. So, how do you prepare for travel outside the touristy circuit? And where are the best off-the-beaten adventures?

What is off-the-beaten-track travel?

Venturing off the beaten path offers travellers a unique opportunity to explore hidden gems outside tourist hotspots. It seeks out lesser-known or remote locations for more authentic and immersive experiences. There’s more room to engage with and learn about local cultures meaningfully. It inspires spontaneity, curiosity, and a willingness to step outside one’s comfort zone. It is travel that offers a deeper understanding of places outside mainstream attractions and tourist crowds.

Why off-the-beaten-track travel?

Local flavours – every dish has a regional flair on the island. And, sometimes, certain foods are hyper-local or seasonal. Sample some palmyrah tubers or buffalo curd with coconut treacle. Discover diverse fruits and vegetables you may not see on the menu often, like wood apple, jackfruit, breadfruit, cassava, purple yams, various green leaves and endemic berries. Try authentic herbal drinks that cool your body and replenish you. On less trodden ways, the cuisine is original, unpretentious and eclectic.

Peaceful retreats – perched on clifftops, remote hills, verdant jungles and secluded beaches are some of the most serene retreats in Sri Lanka. They reconnect you with nature and help you unwind in exquisite peace. These boutique hotels, eco-lodges and holistic resorts accommodate only a few guests but offer expanses of great outdoors and superior amenities to relax and decompress. You will have meals prepared with organic produce grown locally and restorative pampering with genuine Ayurveda therapy. Leave civilisation behind for reflection and self-discovery.

The Unexpected – one of the joys of off-the-beaten-track travel is the element of surprise. Venturing into lesser-explored corners of Sri Lanka opens up a world of unexpected encounters. You will stumble upon dramatic landscapes you didn’t think existed on the island, ancient ruins swallowed by a jungle, a hidden waterfall no one told you about or a mystic ritual venerating a local god. These surprises can create lasting memories and enhance the experience of travel.

Personal connection – foster meaningful connections with ordinary people. Meeting locals in their everyday lives allows for authentic cultural exchanges. Interact with villagers and street vendors, learn traditional crafts from local artisans, or participate in age-old customs and rituals. Gain insights into their way of life, values, and traditions uncontrived.

Packing as an Offbeat Traveller (Guide for Adventure Essentials)

Versatile clothing

Sri Lanka has a warm climate, so clothes should be lightweight. Cotton is best for most travel around the country. However, when travelling to hilly parts of the country, you need a jacket, jumper or hoodie. Choose wicking fabric and waterproof jackets. These are lighter to pack. Take stoles, shawls, and wrap skirts to cover up when visiting temples. Gentlemen should consider long trousers and sleeved shirts for such locations. Don’t forget your hats and sunglasses for sunny parts and beanies for chilly hills.

Sturdy footwear

Sturdy sandals and slippers make walking more comfortable, but it’s hiking boots when you venture into the forests and onto slippery rocks.

Reusable water bottle

Let’s keep your carbon footprint small. Reusable water bottles minimise plastic waste. You can top up filtered water along the way at hotels and restaurants. Staying hydrated is an essential part of healthy travel.

First Aid Kit

Medical items like antiseptic solutions, povidone-iodine, plasters, anti-bacterial wipes, hand sanitisers and anti-histamines can provide quick and preventive solutions. Do not forget your medications and prescriptions.

Lightweight backpack

Choose a lightweight backpack. You do not need the additional weight of a heavy bag weighing you down. Canvas, Cordura, nylon and polyester make excellent lightweight materials for backpacks. Choose waterproof ones whenever you can.

Off the Beaten Track Travel Tips

Pack light

Prioritise essentials and versatile clothing items to keep your backpack light and manageable, especially when navigating rugged terrain or using public transportation. It helps you stay agile and flexible during your travels. Opt for lightweight, versatile clothing and essential gear.

Talk to locals

Most Sri Lankans will understand some English. Engage with locals to gain insider knowledge. Whether it is the best way to reach your destination, a place to eat or fill up your water bottle, directions for the train station, bus routes, ATM for cash or local apps, they can offer information. Sri Lankans are friendly and will do their best to help you out.

Do your research like a pro!

There’s a wealth of information on the internet about Sri Lanka, Sri Lankan travel and attractions on the island. Use the information and insight. Read travel blogs and recommendations by other travellers. Use keywords like off-the-beaten-track travel. Pssst! We have loads of articles on our site. The more you know, the better prepared you are.

Ask your network

Yes! There’s always somebody who’s been to Sri Lanka or from Sri Lanka in your circles. Use their knowledge and firsthand insights. Tell them exactly how you want to experience Sri Lanka and what you like to discover.

Travel in the off-season!

May to August is Sri Lanka’s off-season, and April and September to October are the shoulder seasons. The low season is great for avoiding crowds. It is also the best time to visit the north and east of the island and the Cultural Triangle. During this time, the southwest monsoon soaks the south and west of the island.

April is the height of the cultural scene in Sri Lanka, coinciding with the Sinhala and Tamil New Year. It is the summer season in the Central Hills. Locals travel to the hills for holidaying and around the country, visiting relatives and friends. However, it is quieter in sights like Sigiriya.

May to June is the lantern season in Sri Lanka, with Vesak and Poson falling on the full moon days of the two months. July to August sees the colourful Esela Perahara take to the streets in Kandy, a legendary procession that dates back hundreds of years. Jaffna, in the north, is the host of the vibrant Nallur Festival every August. September to August brings hundreds of elephants to the Great Gathering at Minneriya National Park.

The power of like-minded travellers

Connect with fellow travellers and locals through online communities, travel forums, and social networking platforms. Share your interests, itinerary, and desire for off-the-beaten-path experiences in Sri Lanka to receive valuable tips, recommendations and travel companions.

Use maps

Study maps of Sri Lanka to identify remote villages, hidden waterfalls, secluded beaches, and other off-the-beaten-path destinations. These are useful for determining the distances, identifying road networks and deciding remoteness.

Use public transport

Embrace Sri Lanka’s public transport network, the popular mode of travel for most locals. Use buses, trains, and tuk-tuks. The rail is one of the best ways to travel to the Highlands. The Highland rail journey is one of the most scenic in the world. Public transport also provides unique insight into ordinary life, and you can manage spontaneous detours.

Travel with Blue Lanka Tours 

We have a specialised off-the-beaten-track itinerary that we personalise for you. Our experts are familiar with the unfamiliar territories. They ensure you get to experience remote travel like a pro.

Top off-the-beaten locations in Sri Lanka


It is the largest island in Sri Lanka, situated off the northwestern coast and linked to the mainland by a causeway and a bridge. Positioned at the eastern end of the Adam’s Bridge, it is 50 square miles in size. The Adam’s Bridge is a series of limestone shoals connecting the Gulf of Mannar to the Indian mainland. This iconic geological formation plays a crucial role in the Indian epic Ramayana. It is 30 miles long and separates the Gulf of Mannar from the Palk Strait. The waters here are home to the rare and elusive dugongs.

The baobab trees on the island were brought from Africa by Arab merchants centuries ago, an uncommon sight in this part of the world. Mannar is within the Central Asian Flyway, a popular route used by migratory birds flying south during winter in the Northern Hemisphere. Mannar Bird Sanctuary is a wetland ecosystem consisting of mangroves, salt marshes, lagoons, waterholes, and grasslands. You will see greater flamingos, northern pintails, Eurasian wigeons, peregrine falcons, green sea turtles, saltwater crocodiles and more here.

The port of Mannar used to have a ferry service to India before a storm destroyed the port. There are two lighthouses at the port, an old iron one and a newer lighthouse built in 1915. The old Portuguese Fort, later controlled and fortified by the Dutch and the British, used to monitor Talaimannar, a vital maritime Silk and Spice route. Walk along the hanging bridge over Malwathu Oya and go wildlife spotting at the Giant Tank (Yoda Wewa), an ancient reservoir built by King Dhatusena in the 5th Century.

Thirukketheeswaram Hindu Temple, dedicated to the supreme god Siva, dates back millennia. The Temple has been restored several times by various royals and devotees throughout history.

Knuckles Mountain Range

Spanning the districts of Matale and Kandy, this densely forested 34 recumbent peaks have critical watersheds and a high degree of biodiversity. 30% of the watershed forest of the Mahaweli River catchment, Sri Lanka’s longest river and largest drainage basin, is within the Knuckles Range. Most of the peaks are over 1000 metres high. Its Sinhala name, Dumbara Kanduvetiya, gets its moniker from the mist-veiled peaks. The five highest peaks resemble folded knuckles, which gives it its name. They are the most isolated cloud forests in Sri Lanka.

Communities have cohabitated on the edge of the mountains for centuries in harmony. The UNESCO-designated mountain range contains endemic flora and fauna found nowhere else on Earth. Sights of stunning waterfalls, wildlife, trees, plants, wildflowers and moss greet your sights as you venture deeper into the forests. As significant and extraordinary as the mountains are, it is not a hotspot for tourists. Only a few discerning travellers and spirited hikers embark on this exceptional trek.


The far northern tip of the island is the heartland of Hindu culture in Sri Lanka. Its tumultuous past kept it shrouded in mystery to outsiders. However, today, this resilient city manages to captivate those who visit. You will encounter truly iconic tradition, art, culture and cuisine. The Casuarina lined beach, the unusual 60 coral-stone stupas of Kadurugoda, Keerimalai Sacred Water Spring, the ornate Nallur Kovil, the ruins of the colonial stronghold of the north and the classic architecture of Jaffna Library are standout attractions.

Dambakola Patuna, the historic port that played a role in the arrival of Buddhism to Sri Lanka and Nainativu, believed to have been graced by the Buddha, are holy sites. Point Pedro, the northernmost point of the island and Delft Island, with its wild horses and Baobab trees, are other attractions not to miss in Jaffna. Jaffna cuisine famously seduces taste buds, so try them all.

Arugam Bay

The country’s top surf spot is laid-back and off-the-beaten path. Located in a small sleepy town on the southeast coast, the nearby Lahugala and Kumana National Parks and the rock hermitage at Kudumbigala give it strategic importance. Lahugala is Sri Lanka’s smallest national park and one of the least visited. However, it is a vital habitat for elephants and numerous bird species. Kumana, or Yala East, is Sri Lanka’s apex bird paradise and a less-visited national park. It is home to migratory, endemic and rare species of birds. Near Kumana is Sri Lanka’s most remote forest hermitage. Covered in a thick jungle, the rocky outcrop and natural drip-ledge caves still offer monastic monks a sanctuary.


It is the ocean resort you have never heard of before. And, the city of singing fish. The mysterious sound of Batticaloa Lagoon, especially on a full moon day, is well-recorded. This eastern coastal city is less explored but full of hidden gems. Pasikudah Beach is one of those. The bay is famous for its flat, sandy bed extending 150–200m into the ocean. Its old Dutch Fort, built by the Portuguese, reminds you that it once was a bastion of the east. Snorkel and dive in its coral-rich waters, view the lighthouse, take a boat ride on the lagoon, hunt for bargains at the Bridge Market and stroll through the Mahatma Gandhi Park.


Did you know that Haputale is just as pretty as Nuwara Eliya? It is a tea-growing, high-altitude, hilly country bordering the central hills. Haputale was named Asia’s most overlooked destination by CNN. The Adisham Benedictine Monastery was once a tea planter’s English-style country cottage. The gardens and orchards are full of sweet-smelling flowers, fruits and herbs. It is one of only 18 Sylvestrine Congregation monasteries, a Benedictine suborder. Buy guava jam or soursop cordial to take home from your travels. Take the trail from the monastery to Thangamale Bird Sanctuary. This highland forest has a pleasant ridge-top walking trail.

Haputale is also the home of the Lipton Seat, one of Sri Lanka’s most panoramic viewpoints. It was tea baron Thomas Lipton’s favourite lookout. The view extends across hills and tea estates spanning seven different provinces. The Dambetenne Tea Factory, built in 1890 by Sir Thomas Lipton, is one of the oldest in the country. Watch tea fermentation, rolling, drying, cutting, sieving and grading. Then, treat yourself to an aromatic, ruby-red cuppa made with freshly processed tea.


Situated in the lower Central Hills, Badulla stuns with its lush tea groves, misty mountains, verdant valleys, cascading waterfalls, mysterious caves, secret shrines, meandering rivers and dense forests. While the postcard-pretty Ella takes the attention of most, the off-the-beaten-track traveller can find a treasure trove of other attractions here. These include the Dunhinda Falls, Dhowa Rock Temple, Bogoda Wooden Bridge, St. Mark’s Church, Badulla Kataragama Devalaya and Ravana Ella Caves.


Bandarawela in Badulla is another less-known scenic hill country destination with mountains, tea estates, waterfalls, rivers and viewpoints. It is popular among locals, but foreign tourists have yet to discover its gorgeous scenery and cool climes. Pilkington Point, Ellatota Ella, Kinigama Falls and Porawagala Viewpoint are worth the trek and hikes.

Off-the-beaten-path travel in Sri Lanka with Blue Lanka Tours

The journey of discovery on less-travelled paths unravels the hidden beauty of Sri Lanka. Although the island has been renowned as an exotic holiday spot for centuries, there is still much to discover by the intrepid traveller. So, venture into the remote outposts, sights hidden in plain sight and deeper into the wilderness.

Off-the-beaten-track travel by Blue Lanka Tours takes you beyond the known and seen. From ancient temple ruins to secret hillside retreats, we offer unique, tailormade tours that unveil the secret Sri Lanka. Our personalised services with an intimate touch ensure your holiday is about what makes you happy. We use firsthand insights, expertise and modern facilities to curate itineraries for the ultimate tropical getaways. Blue Lanka Tours promotes sustainable and responsible travel to safeguard ecosystems, local communities and pristine wildernesses. Would you like to discover what is on off-the-beaten-path?