Southern Sri Lanka: A Guide To Yoga, Wellness & Adventure
Sri Lanka has such a special place in my heart. I traveled solo to the Southern Province of Sri Lanka to complete my 300-hour yoga teacher training and host my own yoga retreat at Talalla Yoga & Surf. It was the dreamiest 6 weeks of my life, and I most definitely left a piece of my heart behind.
Situated just above of the equator, south of India and northeast of Maldives, Sri Lanka is a unique tropical paradise with fascinating history and culture, amazing wildlife, and world class yoga and surfing.
From 1983 to 2009, Sri Lanka and its people were involved in a brutal civil war, making the country virtually untravelled to. Since the end of the war, though, tourism has grown 10% every year, and travelers from all corners of the globe are flocking to this hidden gem. My suggestion: Go now before it is becomes more overrun by tourism- people who were there 5 years ago have noted its many changes in a short amount of time.
The Best Things To Do in Southern Sri Lanka
Go On A Safari
Forget African safaris, Sri Lanka is where it’s at! (I only somewhat mean that, traveling Africa and a big 5 safari are still very high at the top of my bucket list). But in all seriousness, my experience at Udawalawe National Park was nothing short of amazing. We saw elephants, water buffalo, peacocks, deer, and so many species of huge birds that live in symbiotic relationships with the mammals in the park. It was an unforgettable day!
We chose to go to Udawalawe because it is less crowded than the more popular Yala National Park. Word has it you have a higher chance to see leopards at Yala!
Built around a beautiful 16th century fort, Galle is a major city in southern Sri Lanka. The Dutch Colonial influence makes for an adorable town full of beautiful architecture, charming cafes and endless shopping for spices, authentic clothing, and handcrafted goods.
The fort of Galle is one of 8 UNESCO Heritage sites in Sri Lanka, and the lighthouse at the point of the city was the first built in the country. Plan to take your time in Galle, walk around, cafe hop, and take lots of photos!
Snorkel in Unawatuna
Just a few miles south of the city of Galle is Unawatuna, which boasts a gorgeous sandy beach and some of the most intricate and beautiful coral reefs in the country. To swim with the famous sea turtles, however, you’ll want to snorkel at Hikkaduwa or Polhena Beach.
Surf & Chill in Hiriketiya
Hiriketiya is the cutest and sleepiest little beach town, and it reminded me so much of Ocean Beach here in San Diego that it immediately felt like home. I visited with a group on my first day off from teacher training to surf and lounge on the beach for the day, and it ended up being the spot I kept coming back to during my 6-week trip.
Rent a surfboard on the beach or even get a professional lesson from a local. There’s a rocky point break that entertains the more advanced surfers, and most of us enjoyed the gentle warm waves of the horseshoe shaped beach. Sip a fresh coconut, and then head to Beach House for a massage.
Be sure to pop into Grove and Dots for a little shopping, and then take an afternoon yoga class and grab dinner at Salthouse. If you’re in town on a Saturday, chances are one of these 3 venues will have live music to head back to for the evening!
Wewurukannala Vihara is a temple about 2 miles away from all of the action in Hiriketiya, and is home to the largest buddha in Sri Lanka, standing at 160 ft tall! The temple itself dates back to the 18th century, but the larger than life Buddha statue was added in the 1960s.
To get to the Buddha, visitors must pass through the Tunnel Of Hell, which depicts what happens to those who submit to too many earthly temptations on their path to enlightenment.
Mulkirigala Rock Temple
Located about an hour drive inland, as the name suggests, Mulkirigala is a temple built into massive rock formations in the jungle. It’s about 500 steps to the top, where there’s several caves and ornate statues and carvings woven right into the tapestry of the earth. The original Buddhist temple is some 2,000 years old, but most of it has been retouched to preserve it for visitors. There is also a school for young monks nearby.
At the top you’ll be treated to an almost 360 degree view of the surrounding dense forest. A perfect meditation spot. It’s a small fee to enter, and worth spending the morning for cultural appreciation and some outdoor exercise. It’s important to note that
The food in Sri Lanka is next level. From fresh tropical fruits like papaya and passionfruit to colorful spices and loads of vegetables, it is a vegan’s dream. One of my favorite evenings was a cooking demonstration where we got to learn all about the most popular ingredients in Sri Lankan dishes like turmeric, cardamom, and cinnamon, and also how to prepare traditional curry with lentil and pumpkin. I set this up through my stay at Talalla Surf & Yoga, but there’s a number of options in Galle as well as it is a bigger city!
Ayurvedic Detox at Underneath The Mango Tree
Ayurveda is the term for traditional Hindu medicine based on one’s dosha type, and provides a holistic blueprint for balanced and healthy living. Dubbed the sister science of yoga, the two go hand in hand.
My yoga teacher training was hosted at Underneath The Mango Tree (UTMT), and lucky for us, it is one of the best ayurvedic spas in all of southern Sri Lanka! You can try a 3-day detox package (for less than $250!) or opt for one of their longer programs. When in Sri Lanka!
The Madu Ganga
I’m not afraid to admit that I 100% messed up by not going to the Madu Ganga, I’m just sad about it. North of Galle, the Madu Ganga River is a complex inlet from the ocean and a mangrove ecosystem with over 500 species of thriving plants and animals. Look for a Madu Ganga Boat Tour to enjoy one of the most unique and local experiences in Sri Lanka.
Where To Stay in Southern Sri Lanka
Verse was one of the best surprises of my time in Sri Lanka. It was the overflow accommodation for our yoga teacher training at UTMT, and the last 8 of us who signed up stayed there! At first I was worried about a commute every morning before 7am, but Verse was a little retreat in itself away from the training.
Owned and operated by a lovely South African couple (hi Peni and Jeremy!), Verse opened its doors in late 2017. The building is an old colonial house converted into a hostel, coworking space, cafe, surf shop and social aesthetic. I loved it so very much.
Upon checking in and after 40 hours of travel, I was greeted with a fresh mango juice and shown to my private dorm with a small open air garden area. I got unpacked and went for an afternoon swim at the beach right out front, and enjoyed a delicious and hearty dinner at the cafe. I wouldn’t find out until my first day off from training that Verse also has the best coffee in the Southern Province.
Do yourself a favor and make this your home base for at least a good portion of your trip! Not only was the space itself great, but the people who stay here make the experience even better. I met loads of inspiring and creative people from all over the world, and still keep in touch today!
Talalla Surf & Yoga
One of the best ways to experience Southern Sri Lanka can be to stay at a retreat center. Talalla Surf & Yoga is located on one of the most quiet and pristine beaches in Sri Lanka, and their programming is unparalleled if you ask me. Daily yoga classes + surf lessons with awesome guides.
The grounds are beautifully kept and the open-air rooms are bright with bamboo blinds. The food is insanely good, and with the yoga package, classes are offered twice daily at one of the three yoga shalas onsite. And I was obsessed with this outdoor shower in the jungle in my open-air bathroom!
I hosted a week long yoga retreat at Talalla, and would recommend it to anyone looking to keep yoga at the forefront of their travels!
Marco Polo visited Sri Lanka in the 14th century and called it “undoubtedly the finest island in the world”. While it’s a bold statement, I’d say it’s a valid one. Go see it for yourself and let me know if you agree!