Sri Lanka Travel Guide
"Sri Lanka has absolutely everything" cited as the 2nd best place to visit in the world by National Geographic channel and some popular travel guides around the world, Sri Lanka is the Ultimate Adventure of Asia as it offers everything Asia has to offer. From relaxing by the beach, trekking through the rain forests, rafting on gushing streams, great wildlife offerings such as Leopards, Elephants, Whales and birds, ancient civilisation, cultural tapestry to delectable food. But there are some tips, guides and things you should know before visiting Sri Lanka for better planning and knowledge purposes. So that you are in a better seat to decide when to come, how many days to stay, which places to visit, do's and don'ts, visa process, which routes for the flights in Sri Lanka. So we have compiled the following Sri Lanka Travel Guide for your convenience.
Practical Travel Information on Sri Lanka
There are also a lot of man-made attractions in Sri Lanka. It has a history that dates back more than two thousand years, and the magnificent accomplishments of the early Sinhalese civilisation may still be seen in the abandoned towns and enormous religious structures that dot the northern plains.
While Sri Lanka's historical position as the world's oldest center of Theravada Buddhism gives it a distinct cultural identity, the splendors of this early Buddhist civilisation continue to serve as a source of national pride. However, Sri Lanka is home to more people than simply Buddhists. It was exposed to a particularly broad spectrum of influences due to its location at one of the most significant staging areas for commerce in the Indian Ocean. The culture, architecture, and food of this region have been significantly altered by generations of Arab, Malay, Portuguese, Dutch, and British residents. A thriving Hindu culture has developed among the long-established Tamil people in the North, which is more descended from India than from the Sinhalese south.
Despite Sri Lanka's typically low-key tourism, the tropical island has recently grown more popular with adventurous tourists. Sri Lanka is becoming a popular travel destination thanks to the remarkable personality of the nation, which is demonstrated in its diverse landscapes and unique culture.
Sri Lanka travel facts
- Languages: English, Tamil, and Sinhala are all recognized official languages.
- Health: The average lifespan in Sri Lanka is 77 years. However, it also has one of the highest rates of suicide and snakebite-related deaths in the world.
- Politics: In 1972, Sri Lanka officially renounced its colonial name of Ceylon after gaining independence from Britain in 1948. Since gaining independence, the nation has maintained a functional democracy, and in 1960, the first female prime minister in history was chosen.
- Religions: The population of Sri Lanka is made up of several ethnic and religious groupings. There are numerous Christians and Muslims in addition to the two major ethnic groups, the predominately Hindu Tamils and the primarily Buddhist Sinhalese.
- Size and location: Sri Lanka, which lies a few degrees north of the equator, is a bit bigger than Ireland and a little smaller than West Virginia in the United States.
- Currency: Sri Lankan Rupee (LKR).
- Education: The literacy rate in Sri Lanka is about 93%.
- Exports: Clothing and tea are the primary exports of the nation. Additionally significant are coconuts, precious stones, and rubber.
Where to go in Sri Lanka
It everything exists in Sri Lanka. Hike through the hill region to green tea plantations, spot whales off palm-fringed beaches, and hunt for leopards in tropical woods. By climbing up colonial forts, seeing Buddhist shrines, and savoring the island's very flavorful food, you may gain an understanding of its culture. Though its relatively small size allows you to see a lot in a single trip, Sri Lanka's abundance of attractions might make choose where to go a challenge.
To find the top spots in Sri Lanka, both well-known and off the beaten path, we've traveled the length and width of the country.
West coast of Sri Lanka
The international airport outside of Colombo, the island's capital and by far its largest city, is where all visits to Sri Lanka presently start. It's a huge city whose many neighborhoods provide an engrossing introduction to Sri Lanka's many cultures and complex history.
Many tourists immediately travel to one of the west coast's beaches, where countless resort hotels continue to fuel the nation's tourism sector. The package resorts of Negombo and Beruwala, the more upscale Bentota, and the former hippy hangout of Hikkaduwa are among the destinations.
South coast of Sri Lanka
The south shore is considerably less developed after Hikkaduwa. The magnificent ancient Dutch city of Galle, Sri Lanka's best colonial town, serves as the region's entry point. There are other beautiful beaches beyond. These include the vibrant provincial capital of Matara, which is home to more Dutch relics, as well as the ever-expanding settlement of Unawatuna and the calmer sections of shore at Weligama, Mirissa, and Tangalla. Tissamaharama, located east of here, is a good starting point for seeing the magnificent Yala and Bundala national parks as well as the intriguing temple village of Kataragama.
The Hill Country
The lush hills of the hill country rise inland from Colombo and are covered in tea plantations, which were initially developed by the British and are now very important to the island's economy. Kandy, the second-largest city in Sri Lanka and the Sinhalese people's cultural center, serves as the area's symbolic center. The renowned Temple of the Tooth and the spectacular Esala Perahera, Sri Lanka's most colorful festival, are symbols of its vibrant traditions.
The historic British town of Nuwara Eliya, which serves as the country's tea industry's hub and a handy starting place for excursions to the breathtaking Horton Plains National Park, is located south of here, not far from the island's highest point. Along the southern border of the hill region, a series of towns and villages called Ella, Haputale, and Bandarawela provide an alluring combination of breathtaking vistas, fantastic treks, and vintage British colonial charm. Another important pilgrimage destination on the island is the lofty top of Adam's Peak, which lies close to the southwestern tip of the hill area. The finest place to begin a trip to the endangered tropical rainforest of Sinharaja and the rare elephant-rich Udawalawe National Park is the gem-mining hub of Ratnapura in the south.
The Cultural Triangle
The hill country descends into the flat plains of the northern dry zone to the north of Kandy. The first great civilisation in Sri Lanka flourished in this region, known as the Cultural Triangle, and the remarkable dispersion of abandoned palaces, temples, and dagobas there still vividly recalls that illustrious history. Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa, the magnificent cave temples of Dambulla, the hilltop shrines and dagobas of Mihintale, and the spectacular rock castle of Sigiriya are among the most intriguing of these.
Minneriya National Park, one of Sri Lanka's most well-known and fascinating wildlife reserves, is situated in the area and on the path taken by the hundreds of elephants that travel between other parks every year.
The East and the North
Trincomalee is a charming but war-torn city that serves as the eastern gateway. With the exception of the tranquil communities of Nilaveli and Uppuveli, located just north of Trinco, and the surfing hotspot of Arugam Bay, located near the eastern coast's southernmost point, the vast stretch of unspoiled coastline in the east remains almost entirely undeveloped. However, it may change once a sizable new resort is built at Passikudah.
After years of civil strife, the north of Sri Lanka is slowly becoming a more popular destination for tourists. More and more tourists are making the lengthy trek to the fascinating city of Jaffna, and a side excursion to isolated Mannar, which is closer to India than Colombo, is another exciting option.
National parks and reserves in Sri Lanka
National parks and reserves make up over 15% of the island. They span a variety of terrain, are home to an abundance of species, and many are located in breathtakingly beautiful regions. Sri Lanka's rich wildlife is helping to promote ecotourism on the island, and wonderful eco-lodges and hotels are starting to pop up.
The top 8 national parks and reserves in Sri Lanka are:
- Yala National Park : Elephants, crocodiles, and the world's largest density of leopards may be found in the southern part of the island, which borders the Indian Ocean.
- Udawalawe National Park : The primary draw is elephants nearby Horton Plains (home to around 600). Buffaloes, spotted and sambhur deer, crocodiles, macaque and langur monkeys, and other animals are also found there.
- Wilpattu National Park : The longest in Sri Lanka, however it was closed for a long time because of the civil conflict. Although the situation is gradually getting better, poaching has decreased the number of animal species. more tranquil than the more well-known parks, such Yala. Previously well-known for its leopards and sloth bears, but now harder to find.
- Minneriya National Park : Given its size, an extremely large variety of fauna. The biggest draw here are the elephants (highly visible at certain times of the year during migration between various parks – numbers peak in August and September when they come to drink from the reservoir). Other species includes the very elusive leopards, which number only around 20, macaque and purple-faced langur monkeys, sloth bears, and monkeys.
- Bundala National Park : A nice alternative for avoiding the throng, located nearby Yala. has fewer types of fauna than Yala, but is nevertheless a treat for birdwatchers. also home to other animals including turtles, crocodiles, and elephants.
- Horton Plains National Park : At a height of more than 2,000 meters, in the middle highlands, there is a breathtaking landscape of meadows and cloud forest. At World's End, the cliffs drop precipitously to the lowlands below.
- Kaudulla National Park : Elephants use this area of their migration path as well. August through December is the ideal time to go; the busiest months are September and October
- Sinharaja Forest Reserve : A patch of unaltered tropical rainforest that is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site is home to a wide variety of jungle fauna.
Best time to travel to Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka's climate
Due to the country's two distinct monsoons, you may typically avoid the rain by traveling to Sri Lanka because it will almost certainly be dry someplace on the island. The sun shines in the east and northeast when the southwest ("Yala") monsoon strikes the west and southwest from April or May to September, and the opposite is true for the east. The northeast ("maha") monsoon, however, tends to be less intense. The island has stormy weather in the months of October and November, right before the maha monsoon. This implies that wherever you go, you might experience a rain or a thunderstorm.
Keep in mind that the basic weather trend might change, so no two years will likely be exactly alike. However, it's a good chance that the temperature will remain quite steady. On the seaside and in the lowlands, you can count on an average temperature of 26 to 30 (sometimes higher), which falls as you ascend. As a result, temperatures in Kandy can range from 18 to 22 degrees, but only 14 to 16 degrees in hill country areas like Nuwara Eliya. Additionally, the hills may see nighttime lows of almost zero degrees, so be sure to bring additional clothing.
Generally speaking, from December to March is the ideal season to travel to Sri Lanka's west and southwest, including the hill area, in terms of weather. The ideal weather is from April or May through September if your schedule is more focused on the eastern half of the island.
Find out more about the climate of Sri Lanka, including a chart of average temperatures and rainfall.
Festivals in Sri Lanka
There's a good possibility that when you visit Sri Lanka, a festival will already be underway or be getting ready to start. These festivities can be hard to avoid because the island is home to four main religions, each of which has its own festival calendar and a large number of observed official holidays. If you want to experience Sri Lanka's true spirit, you may be arranging your schedule to avoid the major events that appear to bring the island to a stop. Alternatively, you may want to be right in the middle of it all.
Just three of the significant holidays and festivals that occur each year are listed below:
- Sinhala and Tamil New Year : The Lunar New Year is celebrated with a large family-oriented festivity (usually in April). Businesses are closed while the island celebrates with games, food, and celebrations.
- Vesak Festival : A significant Buddhist holiday honoring the birth, enlightenment, and demise of Buddha that takes place in May. Colorful lanterns are hung outside of houses, and pandals (panels showing scenes from Buddha's life) are on exhibit all around Sri Lanka.
- Kandy Perahera : The longest and most lavish holiday in Sri Lanka, it lasts 10 days and commemorates both the arrival of the Tooth Relic and the Buddha's first sermon. With vibrant, stunning processions of elephants, drummers, dancers, and acrobats, Kandy comes to life. Depending on the lunar calendar, the time is often around late July or early August.
How to get to Sri Lanka
The only method to get to Sri Lanka is via flying into Bandaranaike International Airport (BMI), which is located in Katunayake, close to the north of Colombo, unless you're arriving on a cruise ship. The best approach to get a decent bargain on the price of a flight is to book as far in advance as you can, but prices are often quite stable throughout the year.
Getting around Sri Lanka
With the long-overdue upgrading to the Expressway and upgrades to the train, moving across Sri Lanka is, on the overall, quicker and easier than it used to be.
However, traveling outside of major train and highway routes might be sluggish and uncomfortable if you're on a bus.
Getting around by Bus
As a general rule, buses are both more affordable and faster than railroads for getting across Sri Lanka. Although it may be a bit of a bumpy ride, with drivers careering around bends and the older buses delivering a bit of a bone-shaking experience, it is the primary mode of transportation for reaching those remote areas of the island.
Getting around by Train
When traveling by train, you may take your time and enjoy the scenery, especially on the intercity trains that go through the hill area on the way from Colombo to Kandy and Badulla. They have a unique carriage, or observation vehicle, with huge panoramic windows that provide 360-degree views.
The island-wide train network has been improved, and intercity lines now offer cozy air-conditioned cars. However, moving across the hill region is still excruciatingly slow.
Getting around by Plane
Domestic aviation services are remarkable in their own right and offer a quick alternative to lengthy road or train excursions. They usually feature spectacular aerial views of the island.
Getting around by Car
Although you can drive alone, it's not the most enjoyable method to get throughout Sri Lanka.
Although roads are generally in reasonable condition, the numerous hazards they present, including crowded pedestrians, unpredictable cyclists, irrational bus drivers, and suicidal dogs, to name a few, make driving difficult in many areas of the island. This is in addition to the very idiosyncratic set of road rules that Sri Lankan drivers adhere to.
You might rent a car with a driver for the most freedom and at a low cost. Remember that many drivers receive commission from hotels, restaurants, and other businesses of this nature. As a result, they could be rather eager on delivering you to locations where they will receive payment. The best option is to work with a reputable business since they give their drivers a living wage and eliminate their need for commission.
Getting around by Rickshaw
In Sri Lanka, rickshaws are a handy and entertaining mode of transportation for short distances, albeit the way they weave in and out of driving traffic can make the rides very nerve-wracking. Before you leave, make sure to agree on a fare with the driver.
10 best places in Sri Lanka
- Jaffna : There is nowhere else in Sri Lanka like Jaffna. This bustling northern town provides a window into Sri Lankan Tamil culture and extensively documents its colonial and civil war past. Visit the islands off the Jaffna Peninsula's tip while on your vacation. Secluded beaches, historic forts, and far-flung Hindu temples may be found at Kayts, Karaitivu, Nainativy, and Delft.
- Arugam Bay : The most attractive and laid-back beach hangout on the east coast is Arugam Bay. It's a terrific starting place for excursions into the breathtaking nearby countryside and offers quirky cabanas, mangrove-fringed lagoons, and world-class surfing.
- Dambulla : With shrines, gorgeous paintings, and more than a hundred Buddha statues, the captivating Dambulla network of caverns are a veritable treasure trove of Sinhalese Buddhist art. Due to its location inside the Cultural Triangle, the caverns are a great place to stop on your trip to or from Sigiriya.
- Sigiriya : The most notable royal capital and castle in Sri Lanka were located at Sigiriya ("Lion Rock"), a stunning rock outcrop. It had elaborate water gardens, murals of heavenly nymphs, and graffiti that dates back 1,300 years. It takes a fair amount of effort to reach the summit of the Sigiriya Rock, and some of the ascent demands a good head for heights.
- Colombo : Every imaginable kind of commerce can be found in Colombo's captivating bazaar district, with each street specializing in different goods like jewelry, Ayurvedic medicines, or vibrant textiles. The Pettah's congested streets can only be navigated carefully, and the continual commotion of shoppers, sellers, and porters making their way through can be overwhelming to the senses. But all of this is a part of the singular experience; you won't find anything exactly like it in Sri Lanka.
- Sinharaja : This distinct area of unaltered tropical rainforest is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a global plant treasure trove. Sinharaja is exactly what you picture a rainforest to look like: very humid, a cacophony of animal and bug sounds, lush vegetation, and enormous trees.
- Yala National Park : With stunning landscape and an abundance of species, Yala National Park is Sri Lanka's most rewarding wildlife reserve. Elephants are a given, and there's a good chance you'll see a leopard as well, as the park is home to the highest number of these wild cats in the whole world. Crocodiles, as well as macaque and langur monkeys, are other species that are quite amazing. Yala is a special place for birdwatchers; if you go there between October and March, you'll observe tens of thousands of birds finishing their northward trek.
- Mirissa : Exhilarating boat cruises to observe blue whales, one of Sri Lanka's most popular attractions, depart from Mirissa's gorgeous harbor. On an outing between December and April, you'll almost likely see one of these spectacular animals, and you could even encounter spinner dolphins in addition to sperm and blue whales.
- Galle : The colonial townscape in Sri Lanka with the best preservation is Galle's old Dutch district. The fort's retro lanes are lined with old Dutch colonial homes that are shielded by fortifying fortifications. Take a stroll around the moody streets and walls to take in the relaxed atmosphere.
- Adam's Peak : The traditional Sri Lankan pilgrimage is to ascend Adam's Peak, one of the island's most impressive mountains, to observe the Sacred Footprint. The Muslim version claims it originated from Adam, whereas Buddhism believes it is the footprint of Buddha and Hinduism thinks it is Shiva's. Make the trip at night for a chance to enjoy breathtaking vistas from the peak at daybreak. Additionally, the road is illuminated and there are tiny tea shops open late if you visit during the pilgrimage season, which runs from December to May. Since the trek is difficult, refueling could just give you the strength you need to reach the summit.
Sri Lanka travel itineraries
What's on your list of things to see and do will determine how you plan your schedule for your trip to Sri Lanka. You may fulfill all of your travel wishes, from leisurely beach vacations to action-packed wildlife excursions.
The Grand Tour is the best option if you have two to three weeks to see both the popular landmarks and some of the less-frequented ones. Some of the greatest natural sights on the island are included in our itinerary for wildlife and nature. Even while a fortnight would offer you more time to explore and even allow you to visit some of the locations on the Grand Tour agenda, it can be crammed into a week. The schedule for Buddhism and beaches steers clear of the obvious crowd-pleasers in favor of integrating religion with culture and wildlife.
Food and drink in Sri Lanka
Sri Lankan cuisine is a gastronomic joy that reflects the country's geographic location, native traditions mixed with colonial influences, as well as locally cultivated tropical fruit and excellent fish. A variety of spices, found in everything from curries to sambols and chutneys, contribute to the complex flavors, while coconut, in a variety of forms, is a common ingredient in most cuisines.
Try these seven dishes while visiting Sri Lanka:
- Rice and curry : The national dish of Sri Lanka, similar to the curries of South Asia and India. frequently contains "Maldive fish" (a strong-flavoured pinch of sun-dried tuna). Dahl is frequently served with a meat- or fish-based curry; other common side dishes include curried pineapple and dishes made with sweet potato, garlic, and jackfruit. A typical side dish is pol sambol (coconut sambol), which is made with onion, Maldivian fish, chili powder, and salt.
- Hopper (appa) : Small, bowl-shaped pancakes with varied fillings in the centre (often cooked with a batter composed of coconut milk and palm toddy) (egg hopper). Frequently consumed with dahl or curry for breakfast.
- Kottu Rotty : A traditional street snack that is common on the island. Basically, stir-fried veggies, meat, or eggs with chopped rotty (or roti), a fine, doughy pancake.
- String Hopper (idiappa) : Nests of steamed rice vermicelli noodles known as string hoppers are typically consumed at breakfast with dahl or curry.
- Pittu : A steamed dish that resembles coarse couscous and is made from a mixture of flour and shredded coconut. might be savory, such with mutton curry, or sweet (served with ghee and sugar).
- Lamprais : Rice is cooked in a plantain leaf with chicken or a boiled egg, vegetables, and pickles as toppings.
- Vadai (wadai) : A well-liked spicy doughnut made with deep-fried lentils. The hawker's yell of "vadai-vadai-vadai!" may be heard on trains and buses.
Drinking in Sri Lanka
The primary alcoholic beverages on the island are lager and arrack, with Lion Lager being the most popular kind. Arrack, which is prepared by distilling toddy, a beverage made by fermenting the sap from the coconut blossom and sold clandestinely in rural areas across the nation, has an extremely high alcohol concentration.
Bottled Water, Sodas, Tea and Coffee
Best to stay away from tap water. The typical soft drinks, such Coca-Cola and similar brands, are offered. Locally brewed ginger beer and cream soda are other popular choices, while coconut water is generally accessible.
Tea has traditionally taken second place to coffee, despite the fact that most tea served there is rather bland given that it is the country's national beverage.
Elephants of Sri Lanka
Few other nations provide as many opportunities to observe elephants in captivity and in the wild, and no animal is more intimately associated with Sri Lanka than the elephant. They were used by the monarchs of Anuradhapura to destroy the foundations of the enormous holy structures in their city, and by the emperors of Kandy to tramp captives to death. Even today, trained elephants are employed to transport big goods in locations that are difficult to machines. During the Dutch era, they assisted in towing barges and moving heavy weaponry. Under the British, they started clearing land for tea plantations. Elephants continue to be revered creatures and play a significant part in many of the island's religious celebrations. In fact, killing an elephant used to be a capital offense, and the passing of the legendary Maligawa Tusker Raja in 1998 prompted the government to declare a day of national mourning.
Sri Lankan Buddhism
In Sri Lanka, Buddhism is deeply ingrained. In 247 BC, the island was among the first areas to embrace the faith, and it has since maintained an unwavering devotion. As a result, Sri Lanka is frequently cited as the world's first Buddhist nation, and the majority of the island's Sinhalese people continue to incorporate Buddhism into both their daily lives and their spiritual practices.
Buddhist temples are widespread and frequently beautifully ornamented with sculptures, paintings, and shrines. Sri Lanka's orange-robed monks are one of the island's most iconic images. The revered "footprint" of the Buddha at Adam's Peak, the Temple of the Tooth in Kandy, and the Sri Maha Bodhi in Anuradhapura are all important Buddhist sites of pilgrimage. The national calendar is also punctuated by religious holidays and celebrations, ranging from the monthly full-moon poya days to more elaborate annual celebrations. These celebrations frequently take the form of enormous processions (peraheras), during which locals parade through the street.