an Instagram guide to Sri Lanka: 16 of the most epic photo spots across the country

When looking for Instagrammable spots in Sri Lanka, you’ll find yourself spoiled for choice. The country is absolutely stunning. There’s no shortage of photogenic scenery or Instagram spots on this island. As a matter of fact, Sri Lanka is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been.

With lush mountains covered in jungle, pristine beaches lined with palm trees, and busy-but-beautiful cultural landmarks, Sri Lanka seemed to tick all the boxes, especially for nature-loving, adventure-seeking shutterbugs like me.

Note: These are the most photo-worthy spots on that are near or on the main tourist route around the country. There is plenty to photograph in Jaffna, Argum Bay, and all the little spots in between.


READ ON FOR 16 OF SRI LANKA’S MOST EPIC PHOTO SPOTS!


AN INSTAGRAM GUIDE TO SRI LANKA
AN INSTAGRAM GUIDE TO SRI LANKA

  1. lion ROCK- SIGiRIYA

Despite the early morning start, Sigiriya brought the heat as soon as the sun rose. I’m not sure the view from the top of Sigiriya’s Lion Rock is as “WOW” as Pidurangala Rock, but the ancient ruins and history that lies at the top had me in awe. Go as soon as the ticket gates open to insure you get good photos. Yeah, the light is a little harsh, but you will not want to fight the midday crowds. I got there at opening, and on my hike down noticed tourists were already out in droves.

ADMISSION: USD $30

OPENING HOURS: 7:00 AM - 5:30 PM, last admission is at 5:00 PM {this isn’t really enough time to hike to the top and back down}

HOW TO GET THERE: You can grab a local bus for less than USD $2 to head out to Sigiriya. Us slow travelers like to make bases places so that we have ample time to see as many things as possible. Thus, I was based for a few nights in Habarana, Sri Lanka and stayed at the Habarana Villas owned by Cinnamon Hotels. From the villas, my travel companions and I booked a car to take us to both Lion Rock and Pidurangala {see below}. While this wasn’t the cheapest option, it was the simplest and most comfortable in the extreme heat. Many travelers on a budget opt to cycle to Lion Rock or rent a motorbike.

AN INSTAGRAM GUIDE TO SRI LANKA

2. PIDURANGALA ROCK

The cheaper alternative to the UNESCO Heritage hike, Lion Rock, is Pidurangala Rock. Since its 1/10 of the cost, hiking up Pidurangala in Sigiriya is a popular option amongst budget travelers looking for views. Honestly, the views at the top are very different, so I suggest doing both if your wallet will allow it!

ADMISSION: USD $3

OPENING HOURS: 5 AM - 4 PM

HOW TO GET THERE: From Lion Rock, Pidurangala is just a short bicycle ride. Alternatively, you can get here by tuk-tuk from Lion Rock or take the local bus from Sigiriya.

READ MY GUIDE TO SIGIRIYA VERSUS PIDURANGALA HERE.


3. Polonnaruwa ancient city- sigiriya

While you’re in and around Sigiriya, you’ll want to make a stop off at Polonnaruwa to gaze on the ancient ruins. The ancient ruins are incredibly spread out, which makes getting around them and to them a pain in the bum. However, once you do manage to get there, the historic and sacred grounds feel like they are well worth the effort of the journey.

ADMISSION: USD $25

OPENING HOURS: Times are conflicting online, however the museum {where you purchase your ticket} opens at 7:30 AM

HOW TO GET THERE: You will need to get around the ancient ruins via hired driver, bicycle or motorbike. If you decide to pedal your way around, make sure you have suncream and heaps of water.

AN INSTAGRAM GUIDE TO SRI LANKA
An Instagram Guide to Sri Lanka

4. Bahirawakanda Vihara Buddha Statue- kandy

A picture on the steps leading up to the Bahirawakanda Vihara Buddha Statue is pretty quintessentially “Kandy”, however, there is way more to photograph here. The views of the city below are worth looking at through your lens and there is a great viewpoint if you climb up the stairs at the back of the giant Buddha. Make sure this spot is on your itinerary while in Kandy so that you can see for yourself how huge the statue is.

ADMISSION: 20 LKR

OPENING HOURS: 7:00 AM - late

HOW TO GET THERE: You can easily walk from the city center to the Buddha statue, but keep in mind the heat and the incline {i.e. bring water and wear good shoes}. Most tourists barter for a tuk-tuk to the top and walk down, but I think the walk around sunset is a nice way to cap the day.

AN INSTAGRAM GUIDE TO SRI LANKA
An Instagram Guide to Sri Lanka

5. ROYAL BOTANICAL GARDENS- KANDY

Not far from the city center, the Royal Botanical Gardens provide an oasis for visitors needing an escape from chaotic streets and honking tuk-tuks. While most people rave about the rows of palm trees that line multiple walkways at the gardens {including me, seriously, they are so aesthetically pleasing}, it was the orchid house that really made me marvel!

ADMISSION: 150 LKR

OPENING HOURS: Sunday through Friday 8: AM - 6:00 PM. Saturdays 8:00 AM - 7:00 PM

HOW TO GET THERE: It’s recommended by everyone I talked to prior to my arrival in Kandy that you take a tuk-tuk to the gardens since they are a bit out of the way. So, that’s exactly what I did. From Sevana City Hotel in the heart and center of Kandy, the ride cost 40 LKR. If you were splitting it between a number of people, it’d be a very cheap and easy way to see the florals and botanicals.

AN INSTAGRAM GUIDE TO SRI LANKA
AN INSTAGRAM GUIDE TO SRI LANKA

6. TRAIN FROM KANDY TO ELLA

The train ride from Kandy and Ella is regarded as one of the most scenic rides in the world and, after having done it myself, I can totally see why. I was not surprised by the number of people with their cameras out on the train ride, however, I was shocked by the number of those people hogging the doorways and lacking awareness and courtesy that everyone should have when sharing public spaces. Don’t be a jerk. Take your photos, offer to take the photos of those who wait, and remember that everyone only have a finite amount of train time.

I cannot recommend breaking up the journey from Kandy to Ella with a stop on Nuwara Eliya enough!

ADMISSION: Train fares vary depending on journey length and your seat class.

HOW TO GET THERE: You can buy your train ticket at the Kandy train station.

READ MY FULL GUIDE TO THE FAMOUS TRAIN RIDE HERE.

AN INSTAGRAM GUIDE TO SRI LANKA
AN INSTAGRAM GUIDE TO SRI LANKA

7. damro tea plantation- nuwara eliya

One of the best decisions we made in Sri Lanka was breaking up the long train ride from Kandy to Ella with a stop in Nuwara Eliya. The sprawling tea plantations in the area were like nothing I’d ever seen before. Throw in the cooler temperatures thanks to the higher elevation and I was giddy. I got especially photo-happy during our free tour of the Damro Tea Plantation. The tea fields go on for what seems like forever. Honestly, photos do it no justice, but that doesn’t mean you should try to do your best behind the lens.

ADMISSION: free

OPENING HOURS: 8:30 AM - 6:30 PM daily

HOW TO GET THERE: You can get to Nuwara Eliya by train from Kandy. To get to the Damro Tea Plantations, hire a motorbike or negotiate with a tuk-tuk driver. There is not easy or safe way to walk there.

READ MY BUDGET-FRIENDLY GUIDE TO NUWARA ELIYA HERE.

INSTAGRAM SPOTS IN SRI LANKA
INSTAGRAM SPOTS IN SRI LANKA

8. NINE ARCHES BRIDGE- ELLA

Admittedly, I’ve been to my fair share of “photo spots” that have not at all lived up the their hype. The editing skills involved in getting those shots is impeccable, however, and I commend a job well done in Lightroom, always. Nine Arches Bridge is not one of those places. As soon as I walked up on it, I was kind of overcome with emotion. It was a real “I’m in Sri Lanka” moment for me. The giant structure with its massive arches poking up from lush greenery was as impressive as what you see online. The size of the bridge is what actually surprised me. Sitting on the edge of it, I couldn’t believe how far up it towers above the ground beneath it.

ADMISSION: free

OPENING HOURS: open 24 hours daily

HOW TO GET THERE: If you are based anywhere near the center of Ella, you can easily walk to the bridge. Navigate your way with a phone app like Maps.Me or Google Maps, or keep your eyes on the lookout for the marked paths. If traveling by foot isn’t really your thing, consider booking your bus from Kandy passed the Ella Station stop so that you do over the bridge via train!

AN INSTAGRAM GUIDE TO SRI LANKA

9. DIYALUMA FALLS- ELLA

The second highest waterfalls in Sri Lanka make for an outstanding photo. The staggering drop, crystal clear water, and impressive natural pools will have nature photographers clicking away an entire afternoon. Exercise caution when sitting at the top— no photo is ever worth your safety. I got really good at sitting on the edges of steep drop offs while in Sri Lanka.

ADMISSION: free

OPENING HOURS: open 24 hours daily

HOW TO GET THERE: You can get to Diyaluma Falls by car or rent a motorbike and drive there yourself. I suggest the latter, but only if you have experience driving a motorbike in Asia.

READ MY GUIDE TO HIKING DIYALUMA FALLS HERE.

VIEW FROM THE TOP OF LITTLE ADAM’S PEAK IN ELLA, SRI LANKA

VIEW FROM THE TOP OF LITTLE ADAM’S PEAK IN ELLA, SRI LANKA

AN INSTAGRAM GUIDE TO SRI LANKA

10. LITTLE ADAM’S PEAK - ELLA

Even though Little Adam’s Peak wasn’t much of a hike, it was beautiful. Little Adam’s Peak had views of the valley, cute puppies to keep ya company, and more room at the top than Ella Rock’s summit. Overall, it was a picture perfect way to kick start a morning in Ella.

ADMISSION: free

OPENING HOURS: open 24 hours daily

HOW TO GET THERE: Little Adam’s Peak is well-marked. This roundtrip stroll takes all of about 40 minutes. Walk there, there is zero reason to pay money for a tuk-tuk to the start. It’s 10 minutes from the main road to the start of the “trail”.

AN INSTAGRAM GUIDE TO SRI LANKA
AN INSTAGRAM GUIDE TO SRI LANKA

11. ELLA ROCK- ELLA

The 3-4 hours it takes you to hike up Ella Rock is time well spent. The beautiful views alone beg for photos to be taken, but the cool viewpoint at the top also is a nice spot to inject yourself into the picture. Be aware of the steep drop at the top and practice safety if you take a photo from the edge.

ADMISSION: free

OPENING HOURS: open 24 hours daily

HOW TO GET THERE: Hike up Ella Rock by walking along the train tracks and then following the signage on the trail.

READ MY GUIDE TO HIKING ELLA ROCK WITHOUt A GUIDE HERE.

UDAWALAWE SAFARI
AN INSTAGRAM GUIDE TO SRI LANKA

12. SAFARI- UDAWALAWE NATIONAL PARK

Safaris offer the ultimate photo opportunities if you’re lucky enough to see wild animals in their natural habitat. There is nothing more stunning than seeing exotic animals where they belong— in their own space. One of the animals might even make a cameo for you the way a male elephant did for me! Remember that it isn’t allowed to get outside of your safari vehicle unless the guide instructs you to do so.

ADMISSION: Varies depending on your safari company.

HOW TO GET THERE: Once you book your safari experience, your guide will almost always pick you up from your accommodation and then drive you to the park. No logistical planning necessary!

READ MY ULTIMATE GUIDE TO BOOKING YOUR SAFARI HERE.

AN INSTAGRAM GUIDE TO SRI LANKA
AN INSTAGRAM GUIDE TO SRI LANKA

13. COCONUT TREE HILL- MIRISSA

Some of my favourite photos from my time in Sri Lanka were taken on an early morning after about a 20-minute stroll from MY Hostel Mirissa, where I was staying during my time in the coastal town. The hill dotted with tall coconut trees is an ideal spot to catch the sunrise or the sunset. While my morning there went quickly from misty to full-blown sunshine, I can imagine a sunset on the mound of earth overlooking the ocean would be appealing to every person with a camera.

ADMISSION: free

OPENING HOURS: open 24 hours daily

HOW TO GET THERE: You can easily walk to Coconut Tree Hill from most places in town, but you have to be ready to take on heat and either walk along the sand or on the busy main road in town. While I managed this early in the day just fine, I would recommend those visiting in the afternoon to take a tuk-tuk down Coconut Tree Hill Road and walk about 4 minutes from there.

INSTAGRAM GUIDE TO SRI LANKA
AN INSTAGRAM GUIDE TO SRI LANKA

14. colourful walls + MURALS- MIRISSA

The little beach town of Mirissa has no shortage of colourful walls, vibrant murals, and spectacular street art to keep any individual with a camera happy. The tricky bit is getting the good lighting, since the sun is so bright nearly the entire day. The most popular piece of art to grab a picture in front of is the Palm Villa Peacock mural, but there is another peacock mural that is off the main road at Mister Hostel that doesn’t require dodging traffic. Don’t limit yourself to the typical tourist peacock photo! In my opinion, there are so many beautiful murals in Mirissa, you’d be silly to only take photos of the most well-known of them.

ADMISSION: free

OPENING HOURS: open 24 hours daily

HOW TO GET THERE: The best way to get to the many murals in Mirissa is to walk around the town and stumble upon them. I’ve created a guide to the street art in Mirissa with a map if strolling isn’t your thing.

READ MY STREET ART GUIDE TO MIRISSA HERE.

INSTAGRAM SPOTS IN SRI LANKA
AN INSTAGRAM GUIDE TO SRI LANKA

15. GALLE DUTCH FORT- GALLE

The Dutch Fort is photo-famous for its white lighthouse, but don’t limit yourself just to the lighthouse for photos. Some of my favourite photos from Galle were those I got around the Dutch Fort’s many stone streets. The dilapidated buildings and the fruit stands, the beautiful churches and the water— there really is so much to see and photograph at the fort.

ADMISSION: free

OPENING HOURS: open 24 hours daily

HOW TO GET THERE: Many people visit Galle from Colombo, Mirissa, and Unawatuna by train or local bus. Both options are affordable. I got to Galle from Unawatuna on a bus that took around 8-minutes and cost me less than USD $0.10.

READ MY QUICK GUIDE TO GALLE HERE.

AN INSTAGRAM GUIDE TO SRI LANKA
AN INSTAGRAM GUIDE TO SRI LANKA

16. RED MASJID- COLOMBO

As soon as I heard about the “candy cane” mosque in Colombo, I knew I had to see it for myself. Located within quick walking distance from the bus station in Colombo, the Red Masjid rendered me speechless. It sat so quietly in the middle of absurd traffic, overpowering incense, and pedestrian mayhem. After a quick visit to the mosque and an encounter with a young man who helped me find a robe that would fit so that I could enter, I was truly stunned at how the mosque remained almost silent inside. If you’re in Colombo and haven’t visited this beauty, please do so respectfully, and come with your camera ready.

ADMISSION: free

OPENING HOURS: 9:00 AM - 5:00 PM, but be respectful of prayer times

HOW TO GET THERE: The Red Masjid is a 10-minute walk from the Colombo bus station.

AN INSTAGRAM GUIDE TO SRI LANKA

why i didn’t include the palm tree swings- unawatuna

I walked through Unawatuna, down the beach, to the hostel that is home to the most famous of the palm tree swings. Despite making it to the most well-known of the swings, I almost didn’t it in this post for two reasons.

1. The hostel charges 500 LKR for 3 measly swings, which isn’t terribly expensive, but isn’t a good deal either. On the evening I went, the idea of paying to have a bunch of drunk guys watch me swing from a tree felt less appealing than just watching the sunset on the beach with my travel companion. Maybe it’s heaps of fun? Maybe I was just feeling lazy? Probably, I just know myself well enough to know I didn’t want the attention of an entire hostel’s drunken backyard.

2. I learned while I was in Colombo that, apparently, over time, the large number of tourists swinging from the trees has started to pull them out of the sand {thus the ropes holding them bracing the palms}. Meaning the crowds of people wanting their shot have actually been slowly uprooting trees. I’m not sure if I believe it, since I can’t find anything online about it, but if it is true, I didn’t feel right adding them to this list.


PSSST…HEY YOU! I’VE PINNED ALL THESE SPOTS ON THE MAP!


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AN INSTAGRAM GUIDE TO SRI LANKA: THE MOST EPIC PLACES FOR PICS ACROSS THE COUNTRY
an Instagram guide to Sri Lanka: 16 of the most epic photo spots across the country
an instagram guide to sri lanka: the most epic photo spots across the country