Sri Lanka Travel Guide
Draped in the mesmerizing blues of the Indian Ocean, Sri Lanka is a tear-drop shaped island that hides a universe of wonders within its compact landscape. From ancient ruins and diverse wildlife to sprawling tea plantations and pristine beaches, this island nation offers a harmonious blend of natural beauty and rich culture.
Sri Lanka has a timeless quality to it, where age-old traditions merge seamlessly with modern vibes, allowing every traveler to experience an intoxicating fusion of the past, present, and future. Welcome to our travel guide, where we unravel the mystique of Sri Lanka, showcasing the very best of what this enchanting land has to offer.
Capital cities: Colombo is the executive and judicial capital. Sri Jayewardenepura Kotte, a suburb of Colombo, is the legislative capital.
Currency: Sri Lankan Rupee (SLR) – 1 USD = 322 SLR
Electricity: Power voltage is 230 Volts. Power sockets type D and G.
Languages: The two official languages are Sinhala (mostly in the southern, western, and central parts of the country) and Tamil (mostly spoken in the northern and eastern parts of the country).
10 Handpicked Highlights of Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka, often dubbed as the ‘Pearl of the Indian Ocean’, boasts an array of attractions that cater to every type of traveler. Nature enthusiasts, history buffs, or beach lovers, this nation ensures memories that last a lifetime.
Sigiriya Rock Fortress
Dominating the cultural heartland of Sri Lanka, Sigiriya Rock Fortress stands as a colossal testament to the island’s ancient engineering and artistic skills. The rock plateau, formed from magma, rises dramatically from the forested plains below.
Its sides are adorned with frescoes, and at its summit lie the ruins of an ancient civilization. The climb, although daunting, rewards with panoramic views and an unforgettable immersion into history.
Yala National Park
Yala National Park provides a haven for wildlife enthusiasts. It’s home to a significant population of Sri Lankan leopards, making it one of the best places globally for leopard sightings. As you venture deeper, you might encounter elephants, crocodiles, and a plethora of bird species, making every safari an unpredictable yet thrilling experience.
Tea Plantations in Nuwara Eliya
Nestled amidst the misty Sri Lankan highlands, Nuwara Eliya is the epicenter of the country’s tea production. Walk through verdant tea estates, witness the tea-plucking process, and indulge in fresh brews. The cool climate and colonial architecture add to the region’s allure, often giving it the nickname ‘Little England’.
Sacred City of Anuradhapura
Anuradhapura, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, was the first ancient capital of Sri Lanka. Here, you’ll find majestic stupas, ancient temples, and the sacred Bodhi tree, believed to be a sapling from the very tree under which Buddha attained enlightenment. Walking through its ruins is like taking a journey back in time.
Mirissa’s Whale Watching
Mirissa, a coastal town, offers a breathtaking experience: the sight of the largest creature on Earth, the blue whale. Between November and April, the ocean here becomes a playground for these gentle giants. Embark on an early morning boat ride and witness not just blue whales but also sperm whales, orcas, and playful dolphins.
Galle Dutch Fort
Standing as an emblem of colonial history, the Galle Dutch Fort combines European architectural styles with South Asian traditions. Wander through its cobbled streets, explore the ramparts, and take in the sunset views over the Indian Ocean. The fort’s charm lies in its preserved heritage amidst the bustle of modern-day life.
Dambulla Cave Temples
The Dambulla Cave Temples, a series of five caverns, house a stunning collection of Buddhist murals and statues. These caves, dating back to the 1st century BC, offer a serene environment, with their rock walls echoing tales of devotion and spirituality. The golden temple at the base serves as a grand entrance to this sacred site.
Ella’s Scenic Train Ride
Ella offers one of the world’s most scenic train journeys. Winding through lush green mountains, cascading waterfalls, and cloud-kissed peaks, the ride from Kandy to Ella is an experience in itself. The slow chug of the train and the mesmerizing landscapes outside make it a must-do activity in Sri Lanka.
Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage
Dedicated to the care and protection of orphaned elephants, Pinnawala offers a unique opportunity to see these majestic creatures up close. Watch them bathe and play in the river or simply roam around. It’s heartwarming to see the dedicated efforts of the sanctuary in ensuring these giants are well-taken care of.
Polonnaruwa Ancient City
As the second oldest kingdom in Sri Lanka, Polonnaruwa houses ruins that tell tales of a flourishing civilization from the past. Explore the archaeological treasures, including royal palaces, rock inscriptions, and ornate statues, all reflecting the island’s rich history and craftsmanship.
Sri Lanka's Geography & Landscapes
Sri Lanka, an island nation in the Indian Ocean, boasts an incredibly diverse topography for its size. The vivid tapestry of its landscapes ranges from sun-kissed beaches to dense rainforests and misty mountains, all interwoven with rich cultural landmarks. The island’s compact nature means travelers can experience these diverse landscapes within just a few days.
Coastal Plains: These are characterized by golden sandy beaches that wrap around the island, making coastal towns like Negombo, Galle, and Trincomalee popular tourist spots.
Central Highlands: Dominating the heart of Sri Lanka, these mountains include the picturesque regions of Nuwara Eliya, Kandy, and Ella. The terraced tea plantations, waterfalls, and cooler climate provide a stark contrast to the tropical beaches.
Rainforests: Sinharaja is the most famous rainforest in the country. It’s a biodiversity hotspot teeming with endemic species and offers a surreal experience of Sri Lanka’s rich ecology.
Dry Zone Plains: Covering the northern and eastern parts of the island, these plains house ancient cities, tanks (reservoirs), and wildlife sanctuaries like Yala and Minneriya.
Cultural Triangle: This region includes Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa, and Dambulla, showcasing Sri Lanka’s ancient heritage through temple ruins, rock fortresses, and Buddhist relics.
Best Time To Go To Sri Lanka
The beauty of Sri Lanka’s tropical climate is that it’s always a good time to visit some part of the island. However, the country has two main monsoon seasons which affect different parts of the island at different times.
Southwest Monsoon (Yala): This affects the western, southern, and central parts of the island from May to August.
Northeast Monsoon (Maha): This impacts the northern and eastern parts of the island between October and January.
Inter-Monsoon Seasons: Occurring between the main monsoons, these periods (March-April and September-October) can be unpredictable, with sporadic rainfall across the island.
Considering the monsoonal patterns, the best time to visit:
Western and Southern Coasts: December to March is ideal as the weather is dry and sunny.
Eastern and Northern Coasts: May to September is the recommended period with clear skies and calm seas.
Central Highlands: Although it can be visited year-round, December to April offers clearer skies and less rainfall.
In conclusion, while Sri Lanka can be enjoyed all year round, it’s best to plan your trip based on the specific regions you’re keen on exploring and the activities you’d like to pursue. Whether it’s beach lounging, wildlife spotting, or trekking, Sri Lanka offers something special every month of the year.
Traveling in Sri Lanka
While Sri Lanka is generally considered a safe destination for travelers, being informed and vigilant can ensure a hassle-free journey. Below are some safety tips for those exploring the Pearl of the Indian Ocean:
Respect Local Customs: Dress modestly when visiting religious sites. It’s customary to remove shoes and hats when entering temples.
Beware of Wild Animals: While engaging in safaris or visiting national parks, always follow the guidelines provided by guides or park officials.
Avoid Unlit Areas: It’s advisable to steer clear of poorly lit areas during nighttime, especially when in unfamiliar regions.
Stay Updated on Weather: The island’s weather, especially during monsoon seasons, can be unpredictable. Check forecasts and avoid risky activities during heavy rains.
Stay Hydrated: The tropical climate can be intense. Carry water, wear sunscreen, and dress in breathable fabrics.
Secure Belongings: Petty thefts can occur in busy areas. Use lockable bags and avoid displaying wealth.
Be Wary of Touts: In popular tourist spots, you might encounter touts. Always research and use reputable companies for services.
Mind the Waves: Not all beaches are suitable for swimming. Look for warning signs and always adhere to them.
Travel Insurance: Ensure you have comprehensive travel insurance covering medical emergencies and other potential risks.
Local Cuisine: While Sri Lankan food is a treat, ensure you consume street food from popular stalls and drink bottled water.
Getting to & Around Sri Lanka
Airports: Bandaranaike International Airport in Colombo is the main gateway, with Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport in Hambantota serving as a secondary entry point.
Domestic Flights: Cinnamon Air and Helitours operate domestic flights connecting popular destinations.
Trains: The scenic train journeys, especially between Kandy and Ella, are popular. Trains connect most major cities, but tickets for popular routes should be booked in advance.
Buses: An extensive network of buses, both government and private, covers the island. Luxury buses for long-distance routes offer a more comfortable ride.
Taxis & Tuk-Tuks: These are widely available and are an affordable way to travel short distances. Apps like PickMe and Uber are available in cities.
Ferries: Limited ferry services operate between Jaffna and the nearby islands.
Sri Lanka offers a wide range of accommodation options catering to all budgets. From beachfront resorts in Mirissa to colonial tea bungalows in the hill country, and from budget hostels in Colombo to luxurious villas in Galle, choices are diverse. Prices can vary significantly depending on the region and the season. It’s advisable to book in advance during peak tourist seasons.
Many establishments, especially in the mid-range to luxury segments, incorporate the country’s rich architecture and culture, ensuring an immersive stay experience. Homestays and guesthouses, popular in places like Sigiriya and Kandy, offer an intimate glimpse into the local way of life.