Hanging like a tear drop just South of India, Sri Lanka is a small island country enviably located in the turquoise waters of the Indian Ocean. Since the end of its 30-year civil war, it has staked its claim on many a traveler’s bucket list – and with good reason.
Sri Lanka boasts a wide range of activities sure to please every traveler but this paradisiac destination comes at a price; many of these attractions can be quite expensive, quickly burning a hole in your pocket. But, fear not, following are a few free things to do in Sri Lanka to relieve your wallet.
1) Climb Adam’s Peak
Adam’s Peak, locally known as Sri Prada, is located in the foothill town of Nallathanniya. Sri Prada translates to “sacred footprint” which is believed to be imprinted at the top of this massive rock formation. This sacred footprint is attributed to different beings depending on one’s faith. Hindus believe it to be Shiva’s, Buddhists believe it to be Buddha’s and Muslims and Christians believe it to be Adam’s (hence the name in English).
The busiest months are from December to April when thousands of Buddhist Sri Lankans make the climb up as part of a pilgrimage. During this time, candles are lit along the way illuminating the dark stairs but it can also get very crowded adding significant time to your climb consisting of about 5,200 stairs! It’s highly recommended to start your climb in the early morning hours to make it to the top in time to see the sunrise (and also to beat the heat).
The climb is arduous and very steep at times but the good news is that you can rest as often as you like. There are a few rest areas along the way offering benches and selling hot beverages and snacks. Your legs are sure to get a workout but you’ll be rewarded with the most spectacular panoramic views at the top!
My top tips:
– Allow at least 3 hours for the climb (less to go down)
– Bring lots of water & snacks
– Wear a warm sweater or jacket
– Bring a headlamp
– Don’t forget your sunglasses & sunscreen!
– Wear comfortable shoes (no flip flops!)
– Bring a few rupees (to purchase stuff at rest areas)
– Adam’s Peak is a sacred place – please be respectful
2) Hike to Pidurangala Rock
Most people visiting Sri Lanka will add Sigiriya to their list of must-do’s but the entrance fee of $30 is quite steep especially for budget-minded travelers. For an equally satisfying experience opt for Pidurangala Rock instead. This isn’t completely free but the minimal entrance fee of $1 is negligible.
Pidurangala Rock has been occupied intermittently by Buddhist monks living in surrounding caves for the past 2500 years. Along the way, you can see remnants of prayer cubicles and a large reclining Buddha made with ochre-colored bricks.
The path is rugged but the climb isn’t nearly as strenuous as Adam’s Peak. Nearing the top you’ll need to clamber over and hoist yourself up (sometimes with the help of someone) several huge boulders which can be tricky. Once you reach the summit, you can relax and take in the breathtaking views of rural Sri Lanka including Sigiriya in the near distance. Make sure to spot a plaque encrusted in the rock indicating the center of Sri Lanka!
My top tips:
– Less than one hour to climb
– There are no facilities or shops along the way – bring everything you need
– Wear comfortable shoes, sunglasses and sunscreen
– Bring lots of water
3) Go to a local market
Local markets are always so vibrant and lively making them the best places to truly immerse yourself in the culture. Here you can interact with locals and discover (and taste) different foods the country has to offer at ridiculously low prices.
When in Colombo, head to Manning Market (right next to the main bus station) for a display of chaos and colorful fruits and vegetables. Another market not to be missed is the Kandy Municipal Central Market located in proximity to the central train/bus station in the town of Kandy. Here you’ll encounter vendors enthusiastically selling their wares while waving friendly hellos at passers-by. On the upper level you can find more tourist-orientated products including teas (though not the best) and hippie-esque clothing.
4) Stroll around Galle Face Green
Join in the local pastime by simply strolling around on Galle Face Green – a happening promenade lining the Indian Ocean in the capital city of Colombo. This is where many city-dwellers go to escape the unbearable heat of the big city and to gather with friends and family. If you’re feeling hungry, you can eat at one of the many improvised food stalls serving local delicacies. The best times to go are after sunset or on weekends.
5) Photograph fishermen on stilts
These fishermen have unwittingly become an unofficial symbol of Sri Lanka. You can find them sitting patiently on rudimentary wooden stilts jutting out of the water. Many of them are lining the shores of beaches along the road from Welligama to Unawatuna. Though technically this is free, you might be asked to hand over a few rupees for taking photos. Since tourism has boomed in Sri Lanka, these fishermen apparently make more money from tips than from selling their catch!
This is a guest post by Lydia Nasso.
So far Lydia has traveled to 35 countries across 5 continents, but she still doesn’t know how to whistle. Her creative mind enjoys reveling in architecture, rummaging through textiles and discovering local design trends while scoping the globe. If you can teach her to while, find her at Life Un(t)traveled, Facebook, Instagram or Pinterest.