13 Unusual Things to Do in Sri Lanka: From the Sensational to the Downright Scary
Want to know where to see over 300 elephants or check out the Garden of Eden? We’ll tell you where to look with our guide to the most unusual things to do in Sri Lanka.
The teardrop of India, as it’s sometimes referred to, has a world of secrets to tell. From the amazing to the macabre, the most unusual things to do in Sri Lanka need to be explored to be believed.
Sri Lanka is one of the most incredible countries in the world. Many of us flood back there every year for a tropical break on the warm golden sands.
However, in this blog we’ll take a look at some of the stranger things you can do, see and experience there. These 13 activities will raise more than just an eyebrow.
What Are the 13 Most Unusual Things to Do in Sri Lanka?
- Pahiyangala Cave
- Temple of the Tooth
- “The Gathering” at Minneriya National Park
- Kandy Esala Perahera
- Adam’s Peak
- The Red Mosque
- Pettah Floating Market
- Wewurukannala Vihara
- Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi
- Borella Kanatte General Cemetery
- Gangaramaya Vihara Temple
- Sea Tigers Submarine Yard
1. Pahiyangala Cave
We’re starting this countdown of unusual things to do in Sri Lanka as we mean to go on. Pahiyangala Cave in Kalutara is one of the largest caves in all Asia. But there’s more going on here than just an aircraft hangar-style cavern.
Fa Hien Cave, as it’s also known, is home to the skeletal remains of a 37,000-year-old prehistoric civilization. We’re talking bones, tools, weapons, the lot. As if that wasn’t enough, there’s a 40-foot long statue of the reclining Buddha chilling at the entrance.
Told you it was a good start!
2. Temple of the Tooth
Also known as the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic, this gilded shrine is housed in Kandy’s royal palace complex. But, as we all know, it’s what’s on the inside that counts. And what’s inside this temple is said to be a tooth from the mouth of Lord Buddha himself.
Coming straight from the Buddha’s mandible, the tooth is ensconced in a golden stupa with jewels and precious stones for company. It was said that whoever had the relic held the governance of the country.
3. “The Gathering” at Minneriya National Park
One for the animal lovers now. If you’re a fan of an elephant, then prepare yourself. Because if you time your trip to Sri Lanka in the dry season (July–October) and get down to Minneriya National Park, you’ll be able to spy a gathering of over 300 Asian elephants.
The majestic beasts converge on the park from across the country to grab a drink from the Minneriya reservoir.
4. Kandy Esala Perahera
Just moving back to the Temple of the Tooth for a moment. Esala Perahera, also known as The Festival of the Tooth, is a huge street festival. The grand procession consists of fire dancers, Kanyan drummers, singing, dancing, and brightly clothed elephants.
5. Adam’s Peak
This lofty perch is also one of the best things to do in Sri Lanka. Sitting at a whopping 7,360 feet above sea level, in the middle ages it was believed to be the location of the Garden of Eden. When you climb the thousands of steps up to Adam’s Peak you’ll find unforgettable views. But you’ll also find an ancient relic.
At the summit there lies a fossilised footprint known as the Sri Pada or “sacred footprint”. Christian and Muslim adventurers believe this imprint to have been left by Adam. Whereas, Hindhus believe it’s the footprint of Shiva, meanwhile Buddhists claim it’s Buddha’s print.
All we know is, the views are incredible and well worth a look. That is, of course, if you can handle the journey up.
6. The Red Mosque or Jami Ul-Alfar Masjid
Although it sounds like it should be adorning one of the grand squares in Moscow. The Red Mosque’s exterior actually looks like something you’d find at the end of the line aboard the Polar Express.
Either way, we can agree that the candy cane coloured struture is certainly an unusual thing to see towering over the streets of Pettah in Colombo. Built in the 1900s it’s believed to have been a key landmark for sailors seeking to enter the bustling port city.
7. Pettah Floating Market
Staying with great things to do in Colombo‘s Pettah District for the time-being. The floating market here is a must-see. The vision of young architect Thushari Kariyawasam, the floating market was added as part of a series of beautification projects across the area.
Now you can float along the serene water and pick up anything from clothes, souvenirs and food to electricals and jewelery from the red pagodas lining the water’s edge. The peaceful scene also makes for a nice photo opp too.
8. Wewurukannala Vihara
A temple which houses the country’s largest Buddha statue may already be on your list of unusual things to do in Sri Lanka. However, there’s more to this supersized sculpture than meets the eye.
In order to get to the huge Buddha at Wewurukannala Vihara, one has to pass through the Tunnel of Hell. Similar to the Hell Gardens we covered off in our guide to the weirdest activities in Thailand. The nightmarish tunnel shows figures depicting the punishments awaiting sinners who’ve strayed from the path to enlightenment.
9. Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi
As the oldest cultivated tree in the world, the Jaya Sri Maha Bodi has quite the story to tell – anyone else picturing the old woman from Titanic? No, just us…
This venerated fig tree was presented to the king of Sri Lanka back in 236BC. That ruler eventually planted it where it stands in Anuradhapura in 288BC.
Since then monks and kings alike have protected the tree from everything including terrorists & vandals through to storms and even errant elephants.
But what makes this tree so special?
Well, to answer that we have to hop back about 2,600 years ago. It’s said that Lord Gautama Buddha first discovered enlightenment sitting at the foot of such a tree, on the banks of the Neranjana River in Bodhgaya, India. After that the trees were renamed Bodhi Trees and a branch of that very specimen was the present given to the king of Sri Lanka in 236BC by the Buddhist nun Sanghamitta Maha Theri.
10. Borella Kanatte General Cemetary
As the main cemetary for the city of Colombo since 1866, Borella Kanatte has become the final resting place for many a soul. From those who lost their lives in both World Wars to Tsunami victims and even the odd celeb. In fact, the author of “2001: A Space Odyssey”, Sir Aurthor C. Clarke is buried here.
The cemetary is spread across a whopping 48-acre plot and houses the dead of several religions in specialist sections. But, as you might imagine from a massive burial ground, there’s been more than a couple of reports of mysterious happenings taking place at the site.
Some have reported seeing ghostly meetings happening at the centre point of four roads in the cemetary.
From one burial ground to another. Stories about Kantharodai are rife, the site itself consists of around 20 small stupas. It is believed to be the burial site of 60 Tamil monks and people have found ancient Roman and Chinese artefacts at the site. But that’s about all we know for sure.
Some of the rumours surrounding the collection of stone domes include that there are great treasures lying underneath them. In fact, we still don’t know how old the stupas are, some place their age at around 2,000 years, while other believe them to be much younger. Adding to the mystery, a sign at the site also claims that Buddha himself once stopped by.
12. Gangaramaya Vihara Temple
The penultimate stop on our tour of the most unusual things to do in Sri Lanka brings us to another temple. But, as with the other sacred sites in this round-up, there’s something a little different about this place.
Basically Gangaramaya Vihara can’t decide whether it’s a temple or a museum. While the site is filled with buddhist iconography, including a sacred tree and a lock of Lord Buddha’s hair, it also houses some altogether unreligious items.
Some of the “exhibits” on show include a vintage Rolls Royce, stereos, cameras, a cannon and two taxidermied elephants, as well as a handful of statues with Chinese heritage. Make sense of that!
13. Sea Tigers Submarine Yard
Bringing a close to our countdown is something altogether more sinister. This clearing in the dunes on Sri Lanka’s north east coast plays host to a stark reminder of the Sri Lankan Civil War.
Rusting here in the dunes are the remnants of several rudimentary submarine vessels used by the Tamil Tigers or Liberation Tigers Tamil Eelam (LTTE) during the 26-year conflict.
First discovered by the Sri Lankan army as they chased the Tigers further into the jungle towards the end of the war. The boatyards display submarine and suicide boats similar to those used by the infamous group’s naval division, the Sea Tigers, throughout the trouble.
Set Your Sights On Sri Lanka
As you can probably tell from all those strange and diverse sites, there’s something for everyone in this awesome land.
But to start getting out and exploring them all, you’re going to need a place to stay. Luckily, we’ve put together a list of 6 beachfront hotels which are perfectly placed to allow you to start uncovering more of Sri Lanka.
Click the button below now to check out these five-star stunners.