Sri Lanka is an island country in the Indian Ocean, south of India and east of the Maldives. Be it a group of friends, adrenaline junkies, shopaholics, foodies, hopeless romantic couples and honeymooners, or a family with kids, Sri Lanka never lets a traveler down. 

Sri Lanka Travel Guide

As a popular holiday destination, Sri Lanka is well known for its natural beauty, stunning beaches along the coastline, diverse wildlife and rich culture and heritage dating back several millennia.

Interestingly, many believe that Sri Lanka has been occupied for around 125,000 years. Furthermore, archaeologists have unearthed fascinating details about the prehistoric life in Sri Lanka, including several archeological dig sites.

Photo: Where high rise and Buddhist statues fit in perfectly, Sri Lanka/ CCo

Top Cities in Sri Lanka

  • Colombo — the commercial capital of Sri Lanka
  • Kandy — the spiritual heart of the country, home to a tooth of the Buddha
  • Nuwara Eliya — has the coolest climate in Sri Lanka and mountains covered with Tea plants
  • Anuradhapura — ruins of ancient capitals (partially restored)
  • Polonnaruwa — ruins of ancient capitals (partially restored)
  • Batticaloa — the main town in eastern region- Called land of singing fish.
  • Jaffna — the northern Capital of Sri Lanka
  • Galle — a home for a Dutch fort, and a gathering point for travelers from the nearby beach resort villages
  • Ratnapura — City Of Gems, nothing much for tourists

Photo: A street in Galle / CCo

Top Attractions in Sri Lanka

  • Negombo – Dutch and Portuguese colonial remains
  • Sigiriya – The right spot to climb the beautiful Sigiriya rock.
  • Kitulgala – Pristine wet zone rain forest, white water rafting for adventure seekers- 4 hours from Colombo
  • Adam’s Peak‎ – Pilgrimage mountain towering an impressive landscape, only reachable by foot
  • Ella – Small yet vibrant village in the beautiful Midlands. Visit now, before concrete hotels start to appear.
  • Haputale – Small hill town in the cool highlands
  • Horton’s Plains and World’s End
  • Hatton – Hatton is a town in the Nuwara Eliya District of Central Province, Sri Lanka governed by the Hatton-Dickoya Urban Council.
  • Dickoya -Dickoya is a town in Nuwara Eliya District in the Central Province of Sri Lanka. Dickoya forms Hatton-Dickoya urban council with Hatton.
  • Bolgoda -Bolgoda Lake is situated in the South West of Sri Lanka, 19 kilometers from Colombo.

Photo: The worlds end at Sri Lanka / CCo

Beach towns in Sri Lanka

  • Pasikuda– excellent beaches along East Coast for swimming, snorkel, and dive.
  • Dikwella – Dikwella and Kudawella beaches have crystal clear waters, nearby Hiriketiya Bay is popular with surfers.
  • Tangalle – Palm tree lined beach with white soft sand and turquoise water
  • Mirissa – Small beach village on the south coast close to Matara with two good surfing spots
  • Unawatuna – Beach resort on the south coast very close to Galle.
  • Ahangama – Wide stretched small coastal town in Sri Lanka’s South Coast with beautiful beaches and surf spots.
  • Trincomalee – Beaches along the east coast like Nilaveli, Kuchchaveli, Uppuveli.
  • Kalpitiya – Peninsula with isolated remote beaches like Alankuda, Kandakuliya public beach and Kudawa on the west coast. Kalpitiya lagoon is a popular spot for wind & kite surfing.
  • Arugam Bay – Southeast coast beach town with several top surfing spots for the summer season
  • Hikkaduwa – Highly popular beach village on the southwest coast
  • Weligama – Popular tourist beach on the south coast with several boutique hotels
  • Balapitiya – Balapitiya is a coastal town located in southwest Sri Lanka, Balapitiya beach is uncrowded and has golden soft sand.
  • Bentota – Popular beach resort town on the southwest coast, nearby Induruwa beach is one of the best beaches in Sri Lanka

Photo: Surfing at Arugam Bay / CCo

Wildlife Sanctuaries in Sri Lanka

  • Wilpattu National Park – The largest national park in Sri Lanka. Known for natural lakes, wildlife including a wide variety of birds
  • Yala National Park – Known for its Wildlife Jeep Safari
  • Udawalawe National Park – One of the best place to see wild elephants in Sri Lanka, with also an Elephant transit home next door
  • Sinharaja Rainforest – A world Heritage nature reserve

Photo: Leopard at Yala National Park / CCo

Things To Do In Sri Lanka

World Heritage Sites

With a recorded history of more than 2,500 years, Sri Lanka has a rich cultural and natural heritage. Its World Heritage Sites are among the absolute highlights in the country. It has 8 recognized entries, and currently has the second greatest number of listed World Heritage Sites in South Asia (behind India with 30).

The most recent addition is the vast Central Highlands (including three highland parks: Horton Plains National Park, Knuckles Mountain Range, and the Peak Wilderness Protected Area), which were inscribed in 2010.

Sri Lanka also has identified two prospective World Heritage Sites: Seruwila Mangala Raja Maha Vihara and Seruwila to Sri Pada (Sacred Foot Print Shrine), an ancient pilgrim route along the Mahaweli river in Sri Lanka.

Photo: Seruwila Mangala Raja Maha Vihara / CCo

Temples in Sri Lanka

Go see the ancient temples in Anuradhapura, Dambulla, and Polonnaruwa which are very beautiful.

Visit the beautiful villages which look like England in Nuwara Eliya. There are many tea estates and Hakgala gardens too.

Whale Spotting

Sri Lanka’s southern tip nudges the depths of the continental shelf. It’s an area favored by blue whales. Nowhere else does the world’s biggest creature swim so close to land!

Dondra Head is your jumping off point. From January to April, blue whales pass here on their route from the Bay of Bengal to the western Indian Ocean. They fill their bellies on the krill and squid that thrive in these waters, enriched by the outfall of Sri Lanka’s 103 rivers.

Photo: Whale spotting in Sri Lanka / CCo

Elephant bathing

You’ll see elephants everywhere you go in Sri Lanka: working on a tea plantation, running wild in national parks, and leading the Esala Peraha parade in Kandy in all their bejeweled and sequined glory.

Uda Walawe National Park offers you your best chance of seeing elephants roaming free. It was created to protect the watershed of the enormous Uda Walawe Reservoir. This park is home to around 400 pachyderms and has extensive stretches of grassland as well as scrub jungle and riverine forest. It is one of the best places to go birdwatching in Sri Lanka too.

Photo: Elephants are common in Sri Lanka/ The Art of Travel Partners 

Adventure Activities in Sri Lanka

  • Surfing – from November to April you can surf on the western and southern coast. Best place for the beginners is Weligama on the southern coast. You can rent a board for cheap. Lessons are also available and prices are open to bargain.
  • Kite/windsurfing – from April to September you can kitesurf on the eastern coast. Best place for the beginners is Kalpitiya (Sethawadi and Kappaladi lagoons), where you can find kite schools and the best conditions for kite flying.
  • Snorkeling – off the coral a sanctuary near Hikkaduwa is a popular spot to see turtles.
  • Hiking – Horton Plains National Park offers a nice hiking opportunity to the spectacular view at World’s End.
  • Rock climbing – Sri Lanka has rocky mountains throughout the highlands suitable for climbing, Popular spots are located in Bambarakanda, Ella, Habarana, Buttala, Pidurangala etc.
  • Hot air ballooning Hot air ballooning is available in the Dambulla area. It is seasonal, from November to April. Sri-Lankan-certified pilots operate them during the morning time.
  • Diving – Scuba Diving can be carried out in Sri Lanka’s Southern coast from Nov – April, and April till October in the East coast. There are many diving stations and schools that offer equipment to hire and lessons. Divers can explore many sites with shipwrecks, marine life, coral garden, and caves.
  • White water rafting – White water rafting in scenic flowing waters of Kelani River in Kitulgala rain forests is suitable for adventurous adults and is not recommended for younger kids.

Photo: Try some rafting at  Kitulgala / CCo

Culture of Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka is an ethnically diverse country. Sinhalese is the primary ethnicity in the country. Tamils are the second largest ethnic group. Hinduism and Buddhism are the main religions that have influenced Sri Lankan culture. The major languages are Sinhala and Tamil. Around 10% of the population speaks English.

In addition to cultural diversity, there are various foods and festivals native to the Sri Lankan population. As a result, cuisines like rice and curry, Kiribati, roti, kottu, and hoppers are an absolute delicacy. You must try them when you visit Sri Lanka!

Local Cuisine of Sri Lanka

Sri Lankan food is generally spicy. But you can always ask for less spicy options when you are ordering your food.

A typical list of the best Sri Lankan dishes usually includes items like Gotu Kola Mallum Sambola, Fish Ambul Thiyal, Kukul Mas Curry, Lamprais, Sri Lankan Egg Hoppers, and more.

Being an island country, seafood is definitely delicious. Jaffna Crab Curry is regarded as the best in the world, especially when sampled at the source where chefs take their time to grind the coconut, making the paste toasty and rich. In the south, seek out Squid Curry, cooked quickly in coconut cream and lime juice.

Kottu (Kothu) Roti (a medley of chopped roti, vegetables and your choice of meat) is a must-have for anyone – tourist or otherwise – in Sri Lanka. It is uniquely Sri Lankan and tastes best when made fresh by street vendors. However, several kottu roti restaurants have been closed down due to their use of stale and old roti, which made some patrons sick. Use caution, and even better, talk with the locals to figure out where the best kottu roti restaurants are.

Photo: Seafood is a must try when in Sri Lanka / CCo

Shop at

Pettah Floating Markets

Not many are aware of the sprawling floating market of Pettah, which is why one of the most unusual things to do in Sri Lanka is to visit this pretty little market. When here, one can buy a variety of knick-knacks like clothes, footwear, bags, accessories, jewelry, electronics, to even fruits and vegetables.

Located on a bridge located above the bustling Beira Lake, this fascinating market is a must-visit for everyone on their trip to Sri Lanka.

Photo: Floating Market at Pettah / CCo

Kandy and Colombo

While Kandy is famous for lavish showrooms selling the best of gems and jewels in the world, Colombo is a hub of creative handicrafts that can make good home decor or gift items. Handcrafted elephants, demon masks, treasure boxes, clothes with Batik prints, wooden items, bags, footwear, mats, wall hangings, to souvenirs, Colombo has everything to satisfy the shopaholic in you!

Photo: Kandy Market/ CCo

Where To Stay

Sri Lanka is a huge region so it depends on where you are and what attraction you are visiting as to which accommodation will be best.  Here are some of the top places you can stay at

Currency and Money

The currency is Sri Lanka Rupee. 1 US Dollar is approximately equal to 150 Rupees. Currency exchange is available at authorized exchanges, banks, and hotels. The import and export of the local currency are limited to Rp5000. Also, the import of Indian and Pakistan notes is restricted.

You can use MasterCard and Visa credit cards. However, it may be dangerous, due to the high risk of card fraud. Major cities have ATMs, but not many of them accept international cards. Traveler’s cheques may also be hard to pay with or exchange.

Getting Around

Car hire service is available from several agencies. You can also rent a minibus or a motorized rickshaw. However, you need to be over 18 to do that. Cars drive on the left side of the road in Sri Lanka.

Also, driving can be rather erratic here, so tourists prefer to use public transport or hire a car with a driver. In addition, this option would be less expensive.

Electricity

As for electricity, Sri Lanka uses types D, M and G sockets. You need to bring a travel adapter to fit the proper socket type. Check out the above-linked page to see the photos and other useful information. The standard voltage is 230 V.  Many of your devices may need a step-up transformer to match the electrical voltage.

How Safe Is Sri Lanka

Use your best judgment when talking with locals and be careful when talking about sensitive subjects such as religion, politics etc.

Don’t get into drunken arguments with local strangers. During an emergency: use emergency hot-line numbers 119 or 118

Using Drone to film government buildings and architectural monuments without securing permission is prohibited. So is the use of certain fishing gears like a spear gun.

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June 11, 2016 12:00 am Published by 2 Comments

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