Cycling, rock scrambling, rafting and snorkelling… you don’t necessarily think of all these activities when you start planning your travels in Sri Lanka. You’re more likely to conjure up images of ancient temples, lush tea plantations and stretches of long sandy beaches. And yes, there’s plenty of that.
But if you’re worried that all of that curry and rice will leave you little heavier, don’t. There are plenty of super fun ways to stay active without it feeling like hardcore exercise. Here are our favourite nine:
1. Cycle around ancient sites
The best way to get around the ancient UNESCO cities of Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa is by bicycle. Sure, you could hire a tuk tuk driver or sit in an air-conditioned car, but pushing those pedals is the best way to take it all in. You’ll cycle past the greenest rice fields, weave through ruins on your bike and wave to friendly locals. Just be prepared to get sweaty.
2. Climb Sigiriya Rock
Standing nearly 200 metres tall, the massive rock known as Sigiriya just isn’t worth visiting unless you make the climb up the 1200 or so steps to the top. Sure, it’s completely awe-inspiring to look up at from the ground, but what waits at the top is truly rewarding. King Kasyapa, who lived between AD 477 – 399, built a city on the flat surface of the summit and ruled his kingdom from there. The ruins are wonderful to wander through and the smooth surface of the king’s old throne provides the perfect vantage point to a stunning view. It’s a slightly unnerving ascent, particularly if you have an issue with heights, but climbing via water gardens, caves and frescoes is a must.
If you have time (and energy) following Sigiriya, rehydrate, hop in a tuk tuk and head down the road to Pidurangala. Another giant rock, Pidurangala is remarkably free of tourists. After another steep climb and a tough rock scramble at the end, you’ll have the most brilliant view of Sigiriya in the south from the top. And you’ll pretty much have the place to yourself.
3. Snorkel at Pigeon Island
Pigeon Island National Park may well be the smallest national park you’ll ever visit. Located just one kilometre off the coast of Nilaveli, the island takes up a space of just 4.61 square kilometres and is home to some of the best-preserved coral reefs in Sri Lanka, making it a stellar spot for a bit of snorkelling. You could explore for hours in this underwater paradise – spotting blacktip reef sharks, various species of sea turtles and around 300 types of coral reef fish.
4. Surf at Arugam Bay
On the east coast of Sri Lanka, Arugam Bay is pretty much the best spot to surf in the country. Those not quite ready to hit the one to two metre waves can join a surf camp and learn how to tackle the breaks gently. The moon-shaped bay is super laid back and is perfect for a few lazy days in a hammock.
5. Hike in the highlands
There is no other word to describe Sri Lanka’s highlands – they are simply beautiful. Tea grows in every last corner of the towering mountains dotted with workers picking the bright green leaves. It’s the perfect landscape for hiking, as the climate is cooler and less humid. Top hikes include the pilgrimage to Adam’s Peak (soaring at 2243 metres), or Little Adam’s Peak for those who’d rather take it a bit easier, but get equally rewarding views. The lookout from Lipton’s Seat points south all the way out to the sea, and a super early wake up call to Horton’s Plains National Park will see you doing a 10 kilometre hike that includes the famous – and breathtaking – World’s End view.
6. Swim at Mirissa
Mirissa is one of Sri Lanka’s most beautiful beaches; swaying palm trees, soft white sand, gentle waves, water that’s the perfect temperature… After all that hiking, biking, surfing and snorkelling, you deserve some chill time, and Mirissa is just the place to do it. After taking a dip, relax on the beach with a good book and a fresh-cut coconut – you’ve earned it.
7. White water raft at Kitulgala
Kitulgala pulls in the adrenaline junkies with some major rapids in the Kelaniya River. White water rafting through lush rainforest for a couple of hours is a seriously fun way to exercise. And if you chicken out at the last minute, cooling off in one of the many scenic watering holes will leave you without any regrets.
8. Stroll around Galle Fort
There’s not much reason to leave the 36-hectare fort in Sri Lanka’s most charming city. Built by the Dutch in 1663, Galle Fort is the perfect place to wander aimlessly through delightful little streets lined with gorgeous colonial buildings. As the sun settles nearer the horizon, take to the perimeter of the fort and walk all the way around its ancient walls. It’s not a bad way to spend the latter part of an afternoon.
9. Jump in on a game of cricket
It’s no secret that Sri Lankans are obsessed with cricket. You see groups of kids playing casual games everywhere, especially around Galle. And they just love it when a foreigner jumps in on the game. They’ll probably bowl you out on the first couple of balls, so start practising now. Howzat!
Inspired to get out there and get fit? Check out Intrepid’s itineraries in Sri Lanka and start planning your next physical adventure.
Feature image by Ryan Bolton