An aerial view of Sri Lanka's Yala National Park. Image: Facebook

With a tropical climate, stunning natural beauty spots, and a fascinating capital, the reasons for Sri Lanka’s growing popularity as a tourist destination are numerous.

In fact, with so much to see and experience, choosing where to visit can be difficult. To help you piece together your Sri Lanka itinerary we’ve compiled a list of places not to be missed.

However, the first step to preparing for your Sri Lanka adventure is to check out the visa policy. If you’re traveling from the US, you’ll need to get a Sri Lanka visa for US citizens by applying for the ETA.

You can get the Electronic Travel Authorization in advance using the easy-to-navigate electronic system, the application process is fully online and you can fill out the form in just a few minutes. 

Once you receive approval, you’re almost ready to set off on your trip of a lifetime.

Spot wildlife at Yala National Park

Yala National Park is one of Sri Lanka’s finest natural attractions. Home to a vast range of wildlife including leopards, elephants, and aquatic birds, it’s easy to see why Yala is the most visited national park in Sri Lanka.

Visit Yala National Park and you’ll also get the chance to explore the atmospheric caves, you’ll almost be able to imagine the ancient residents.

Bound by the sea in the southeast, Yala National Park offers unspoiled beaches and stunning sand dunes. Yala is the place to go to enjoy some of the best sea views in Sri Lanka and to spot seaside animals and birdlife.

The town of Tissamaharama in the Hambantota district is a good base from which to visit Yala National Park.

Climb Sigiriya, the Famous ‘Lion Rock’

Sigiriya, also known as Lion Rock, is a must-see on your trip to Sri Lanka. This rock fortress is located in the Matale district, close to the town of Dambulla in the central province.

This landmark has a fascinating history. It is said that the site was selected to be the new capital by King Kashyapa in the mid 5th century AD. Kashyapa built his palace on top of the rock and painted the sides with decorative frescoes. The name Lion’s Rock is derived from the gateway that was built mid-way up the rock in the form of a lion.

After the death of King Kashyapa, the palace was abandoned and the site was used as a Buddhist monastery up until the 14th century. Sigiriya was made a World Heritage Site in 1982.

It’s a long, and sometimes steep, walk to the top but trust us, it’s worth it!

Columbo, the Vibrant Sri Lankan Capital

It goes without saying that during your time in Sri Lanka you should dedicate some time to Colombo, the capital city. To get a true sense of the city, start by exploring on foot. Consider signing up for a walking tour through the city’s historic Fort and Pettah districts, stopping to pick up some souvenirs at Pettah floating market

The National Museum is also well worth visiting. It is the largest museum in Sri Lanka and is surrounded by a lovely green park. Inside the museum, you’ll find exhibitions and artifacts including statues, carvings, and masks which together tell the story of Sri Lanka’s ancient past.

Other popular tourist attractions in the capital include Gangaramaya Temple, Independence Memorial Hall, and Jami Ul-Alfar Mosque. You can even spend some time at the beach: Arugam Bay Beach is a stunning place to relax and take a break from the busy city.

Tea plantations in Nuwara Eliya

Visiting Sri Lanka’s tea plantations is an experience you won’t want to miss, it will certainly make you think differently about your morning brew.

Of particular interest to tourists is the city of Nuwara Eliya, in the central Hill Country. Commonly known as Little England, Nuwara Eliya features many colonial buildings, including the Queen’s Cottage and General’s House surviving from the days of British control.

This area is jam-packed with natural beauty spots such as waterfalls, hills, and even the highest mountain in Sri Lanka, Pidurutalagala. What most people come to see, however, are the famous tea plantations which you can visit at the Pedro Tea Estate. Take a guided tour and enjoy a cup of Ceylon tea at the onsite cafe.

Take time to relax in Mirissa

Mirissa is the perfect place to take some time out after a few busy days of sightseeing. Mirissa beach is something quite special, lie back on the white sand and take a dip in the clear waters, a true slice of paradise!

If you’re feeling adventurous, you have the opportunity to try out some watersports. There are places to hire surfboards and snorkeling gear.

Head to Sri Lanka between October and May and you’ll be just in time for some whale watching. Tourists from throughout Sri Lanka and across the world go to Mirissa during the whale watching season, spotting at least one whale and the occasional pod of dolphins is almost guaranteed.