Out & About
Venturing off the beach, the South coast of Sri Lanka offers colour, culture, flora and fauna and fun adventures for all ages. Here are a few of our favourite excursions, in alphabetical order, together with travelling times from On Houses.
The picturesque landmark Dondra Head Lighthouse provides an exclamation mark to the southernmost point of Sri Lanka. As you look out to sea, it is quite exciting to think that the next body of land is Antarctica! Visitors are not currently permitted to enter the lighthouse or climb up it, but the views and ocean-side setting are still inspiring.
Distance: 50 minutes
The beautiful Galle Fort is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and was built by the Dutch in 1663. The fort is filled with historic houses, museums, churches, mosques, temples and old colonial buildings. Totally unique in Sri Lanka, we highly recommend visiting Galle, even just to walk around and explore. You’ll also find a great selection of boutique shops, cafes, hotels, restaurants and artists’ galleries. It is an especially good place to buy jewellery and precious stones, as well as souvenirs, clothes and home accessories.
The fort is surrounded on three sides by the ocean and we recommend walking along the top of the old fort walls to watch the sun set from Flag Rock, at the southernmost end of the Fort.
For our restaurant recommendations in Galle, you have a lovely book in your living room that provide all the details.
HUNDUNGODA TEA ESTATE
Hidden in the hills above Koggala, this lowland tea plantation produces one of the world’s most expensive teas, Virgin White Tea, which pound for pound is worth more than silver.
On the free hour-long guided tour, you’ll learn about the plantation and enjoy a cup of tea and a piece of cake in the old colonial plantation house. You’ll then be guided into the factory where it’s fascinating to learn the various stages of the tea making process. The factory is a living and working museum, where some of the machines are almost 150 years old and were made in places as far away as Belfast, Northern Ireland. You’ll learn how these, as well as a state-of-the-art laser sorting machine each play their part in the journey from bush to teacup.
After you’ve become an expert, you can visit the shop where you get to sample and buy more than 25 varieties of Sri Lanka’s most famous export.
Distance: 25 minutes
KOGGALA LAKE, KOGGALA
One of the largest natural lakes in Sri Lanka, Koggala Lake is dotted with small islands and is home to a wide variety of birdlife (hawks, herons, egrets etc.) as well as crocodiles and monitor lizards. Boat trips that stop at all the main sights, including a small island village, can easily be arranged and normally last around 90 minutes.
Two historical sites in Matara are worth visiting. The small Star Fort was built by the Dutch in 1765 and is surrounded by a moat and accessed via a drawbridge. A short walk from the fort, near the bus stop by the waterfront, is the Buddhist island temple Paravi Duwa, which you reach via a pedestrian footbridge.
Udawalawe National Park
Udawalawe National Park is one of the world’s best places to see wild elephants. Largely comprised of grasslands and bush forest, it’s also one of the best national parks in Sri Lanka for game spotting. Elephants are Udawalawe’s key attraction, with around 600 in the park in herds of up to 50. You might also see water buffalo, peacocks, crocodiles, monkeys and many types of bird.
Udawalawe is about 2.5 hours’ drive from On Houses, so can be done as a day trip with a packed lunch, and you can be home in time for dinner.
Distance: 2 hrs 30 mins
Yala National Park
Yala is Sri Lanka’s most famous national park. Forming a total area of 1268 sq km of scrub, light forest, grassy plains and brackish lagoons, it’s rich in wildlife and you’re virtually certain to encounter elephants, crocodiles, buffaloes, monkeys and peacocks. Yala is also one of the best places in Sri Lanka to spot a leopard, the best time being February to June.
Yala is about 3.5-4 hours’ drive from On Houses, so it is advisable to spend a night there as it’s a little far to do by the day. Be warned however, Yala is a very popular park, and can be extremely crowded with tourists, so be prepared to be in one of many vehicles and sometimes there are queues to get into the park.
Distance: 3 hrs 30 mins
SINHARAJA FOREST RESERVE
Inland from On Houses, Sinharaja Forest Reserve is the last major undisturbed area of rainforest in Sri Lanka and one of the island’s eight UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The reserve is home to a wealth of stunning plant, bird and animal life and the only way to get around is on foot with a compulsory guide, who will lead you along the walking trails. The drier months (August and September and January to April) are the best times to visit and beware of leeches. As a day trip from On Houses, we can arrange transport and send you with a packed lunch, which you’ll be sure to work up an appetite for.
Distance: 2 hrs 30 mins
Temples are found everywhere in Sri Lanka, from the humble to the spectacular and are very important to the country’s cultural community. Religion has been the cause of much division in Sri Lanka, but the often overlooked truth is that Sri Lanka’s many religions mix openly. You are welcome to visit any temple, large or small. Here are our recommendations for those to visit in the area around On Houses. Please remember to always be respectful, knees and shoulders must be covered, and shoes must be removed before entering.
TURTLE HATCHERY, HABARADUWA
There are two turtle hatcheries in Habaraduwa (both are recommended) founded to help reverse the sad decline in Sri Lankan sea turtle numbers. Eggs are collected and incubated in the sand to protect them from poachers and increase their chances of survival. The new-born turtles are then cared for by the volunteer staff before being returned to the beach to make their way to the ocean. Injured turtles are also taken in and cared for by the centre.
Go in the evening time and if you are lucky enough to be there on a day when babies are ready for release, for a small donation you can release your own into the ocean. A very special experience, and especially good for children.
tel: +94 71 373 1328