Sri Lanka beyond the beach

While well known for its sparkling shores, Sri Lanka is so much more than sipping on king coconuts to the sound of the sea. Avid ramblers can take on the 22-day, 300km Pekoe Trail from Kandy to Nuwara Eliya, while wildlife enthusiasts can explore the island’s national parks, replete with leopard sightings and relaxing boat safaris. From spa retreats and hitting the links in the Central Highlands to exploring the interior’s many temples and caves, Sri Lanka has boatloads to offer beyond the beach.

Here are the best things to do in Sri Lanka, beyond the beach:

Slow travel

Last year, Sri Lanka unveiled its first long-distance nature loop—the Pekoe Trail, 300 kilometres curated by adventurer Miguel Cunat. A 22-day walking, hiking and trekking route through highland tea gardens and forests, the trail includes regular stops from its starting point (Hanthana, Kandy), to the end (Kandapola, Nuwara Eliya). Stage 1 will suit hiking greenhorns but Stage 2 onwards the terrain becomes more difficult. The beauty here is that you can plan as you go, choosing to stop to enjoy the majestic Horton Plains or speed through the lush villages of Hali Ela.

Wild wonders

There are nearly 25 national parks on this small island. Elephants and leopards are common in the southern forests of Yala (home to the eco-retreat Wild Coast Tented Lodge) and Udawalawe. There is also Sinharaja Forest Reserve, a UNESCO– recognised tropical zone in the southeast, a prime birding and leopard spotting zone. The Rainforest Ecolodge has a five-hour excursion into these woods. In the east’s less-explored Gal Oya National Park, boat safaris are the best option to see animals.

A tee tour

The mountain mist trundling over golf greens will improve your spirit, if not your game. Both Kandy and Nuwara Eliya in the Central Highlands are historic golf grounds: the Victoria Golf Club in Kandy, where chalets are available to stay, is a 6,933-yard, 18-hole challenge with gorgeous scenes all around; the Nuwara Eliya Golf Course is an 1889 green, founded by the British planters of the region. Only members can stay but visitors can pay 5,000 to play 10 holes.

A to Z of tea

Tourism in highland hill towns, Nuwara Eliya, Kandy and Ella, runs on tea tastings but some experiences go deeper. At Amba Estate, in Uva, 30 minutes from Ella, a two-day course teaches you how to pluck, dry and roll your own black tea. For a more active sprint through the tea gardens, Ceylon Tea Trails in Hatton and Heritance Tea Factory in Nuwara Eliya have cycling tours. Ceylon Tea Museum in Hanthana is an excellent time capsule on how the brew flourished in these parts over the years. History goes down smooth here with a fine selection of teas available at its third-floor café.

Yoga and the farm

Sri Lanka has a way of balancing the modern spa and its countryside as witnessed in places such as Jim’s Farm Villas, where Ayurveda massages go hand-in-hand with lessons in coconut farming, or the exclusive Santani Wellness Kandy, where birdsong in the jungle blends with “Om” chants during personalised yoga sessions. Sustainable travel has also picked up with many tours offering immersions in village life. For a more rural flavour, try the agro-luxury stay Jetwing Kaduruketha in Wellawaya, where you can live among paddy fields and interact with the growers.

Back to old country

The island’s most compelling relics and monuments are in its cultural triangle, from the Sigiriya rock fortress, whose flat-top gardens defy imagination, and the caves of Dambulla to Anuradhapura, an ancient capital in the north with royal temples such as Isurumuniya Vihara and Ruwanwelisaya. At Water Garden Sigiriya resort, see Sigiriya fortress through a telescope, while Uga Ulagalla is the only luxury pool villa in the entire triangle.