Hidden Places in Sri Lanka
A diverse island with many experiences to offer both locals and visitors, it’s quite hard to believe that this tiny island still has many gems to be discovered. Rising as a favorite of tourists, Sri Lanka offers a variety of tour options from wildlife safaris to romantic getaways. As the country’s popularity increases, famous attractions are filled with tourists which might get a bit overwhelming. How about if we tell you that there are still some untouched locations where you can connect with Sri Lankan nature or observe the rich history without the crowds? For those who like to wander off the beaten path, continue reading and you will find out about some scenic, cultural and breathtaking locations that can easily make an appearance in your bucket list.
Due to the war that lasted for three decades, Jaffna has been untouched by travelers who visit Sri Lanka. Being the home of a large percentage of Tamils one can encounter vibrantly decorated Kovils (Hindu temples) along with other signs of Tamil identity dotting the city. Ruins of the war and many memorials are also visible throughout the recuperating Jaffna. It is also a boat ride away from many unspoilt islands that boast some of the best scenery. While in Jaffna, make sure to visit these attractions for a complete experience of its diverse personalities. Why not sink your teeth into the island’s most delicious mango, the Jaffna Mango or Karutha Colamban? If you can handle street food, enjoy some mango snacks sprinkled with chili, salt and sugar from a street vendor or buy them from the Jaffna market and eat it at your hotel. It also used to be the home to one of Asia’s largest libraries that was burned in 1981. Although the library has been reconstructed it lacks the massive collection it had prior to be being burnt down. Take a walk in the chilly morning weather, observe the sunset with a steaming cup of milk tea and connect with the friendly natives. It could be the best thing you ever did and something simple, yet special that you might share with the locals. As it is still excluded from the tourist route you might come across some unusual things.
Elephant Pass War Memorial
If visiting Jaffna by car, you will definitely drive through the Elephant Pass which is a lengthy chunk of land that links the Jaffna peninsula with the mainland. As a memorial of the lengthy war a massive army tank has been placed to pay homage to all the fighting that took place. If you like to know more about the civil war, then this is one stop you should definitely make.
The famous fortress that was built by the Portuguese and later conquered by the Dutch, it has been the heart of numerous battles. It is currently in a state of restoration and its location overlooking the water makes it a perfect visit during sunset.
Nallur Kandaswamy Kovil
The most significant of all Hindu temples in Jaffna, the Nallur Kovil was built in 948 AD and has been reconstructed around 4 times. The clay colored carvings that adorn the top of the Kovil are beautifully complemented with the intricate roof painted in vibrant colors of red, yellow and green. Women are expected to cover their legs and shoulders, whereas men are required to take off their shirts to gain entry. Shoes should be strictly left outside and no photography should be taken inside as a show of respect.
The peninsula of Jaffna has a string of islands that can be easily accessed by ferry or car. Although most islands have still not been visited by many, they are teeming with interesting sites and beautiful sceneries. The largest of them all, Nainativu island is home to the Naga clan, a community of ancient snake worshippers. The Nainativu Kovil is the island’s chief Hindu Temple and the Buddhist Nagadipa Purana Vihara are both vibrant photography subjects.
Second in size after Nainativu Islands, delft island is a three-hour boat ride away from Jaffna. Also known as Nedunvitu Island, it is teeming with ancient colonial structures in various levels of ruin. The white beach landscapes are dotted with towering baobab trees and various other greenery that create a serene atmosphere.
Being a mere 21 kilometers in length hasn’t prevented it from being labelled as a natural UNESCO World Heritage Site. Sinharaja (Lion King) is the last untouched rainforest in Sri Lanka occupying a good share of wetlands and is blessed with a diversely rich ecosystem. Entry is only allowed by foot and you need to be accompanied by either a park ranger (from the park entrance) or a freelance guide (through local hotels) throughout your hike. Entrance tickets have to be purchased from the main forest department office at Deodawa and Kudawa. Bordered by the Gin Ganga in the south and the Koskulana Ganga in the north, the jungle is cloaked by numerous rain clouds that restore the soil with water. During a walk through the forest you will encounter species of animals that are endemic to the forest. Feast your eyes on breathtaking waterfalls and rocky trails. Bird lovers will be elated as the forest is home to more than 147 species of birds.
Jathika Namal Uyana (Ironwood Forest)
Not many are aware that Sri Lanka is home to a rose quartz mountain range and that too the largest pink quartz mountain range in Asia. Located 7 kilometers from the Madatugama Junction off Colombo-Anuradhapura highway, this pink quartz mountain range is situated amidst a large forest of endemic ironwood trees. You will enjoy a memorable hike along a well-maintained walking path shaded with a thick leafy canopy that filters all sunlight. The pathway eventually leads to the base of the quartz mountain which can be climbed. Don’t be deceived by its dull appearance, the mountain is full of quartz. Make sure to wear comfortable walking shoes to climb the mountain. The climb is quite short and not tiring. The scenery from the summit is spectacular with miles and miles of verdant greenery dotted by lakes and fields.
To reach the Waulpane cave also known as the Legendary Rock Cave, drive off Ratnapura. The prehistoric limestone cave is proof of a ten-thousand-year old civilization. The cave is infested with bats and the cave floor covered with bat droppings. You are asked to wear a raincoat to make your way through it and eventually you will arrive at a waterfall which will make your journey wading through bats and bat poo all the more worth it.
Shark Point Reef
Inexperienced snorkelers, shark point reef a few meters off Nillaveli beach is the place for you to spot blacktip reef sharks. Visiting Shark point will guarantee sightings of this peaceful shark species that don’t attack humans in the water. The ideal snorkeling conditions for this site is within the end of March to late October. Abundance of colorful corals and species of fish create a breathtaking underwater background.
Pidurangala is the less famous brother of Sigiriya and is situated few kilometers to the north. The rock formation is home to a monastery during the same period as Sigiriya. Ancient lore implies that the women painted in the Sigiriya frescoes are goddesses on their way to the Pidurangala rock temple to offering flowers. There is a stupa that was built by King Kassapa and the ruins are visible to this day. The climb to the summit is not as easy as Sigiriya because of the steep steps. Don’t be demotivated by the exhaustive climb as the view on top is priceless.
Knuckles Mountain Range
Named after the shape of the mountain range, trekking the range is something that should not be missed when visiting Sri Lanka. The Knuckles Mountain Range is one of Sri Lanka’s major biodiversity spots with many hidden treasures that uncover as you keep exploring. Imagine verdant mountains with misty summits and breathtaking views all around. There is also a monastery and a hermit who has been residing in the area for over twenty years. Camping under the stars will give you views of an unpolluted sky and a mesmerizing sunrise.
Sometimes it’s better to venture away from the commonly travelled paths and experience the hidden treasures. That way you can avoid the crowds and truly connect with Sri Lanka’s nature, culture and the hospitable locals.