Known as the 'Pearl of the Indian Ocean', this paradise island nation has a little bit of everything to offer for the keen traveller. Whether it's in the bustling metropolis of Colombo or up in the quaint hills of the Central Highlands, there's something to catch everyone's fancy.
Being under British rule for approximately a century and a half, it's no surprise that Sri Lanka still consists of structures that vividly remind one of a bygone colonial era. The most famous ones are found in Colombo itself, such as the Racecourse and Independence Arcade. Being a horse racing arena back in the day, the Racecourse now features shops and fine dining establishments. The Independence Arcade is also a hot spot for shopping and dining.
More buildings have been re-purposed to cater to today's public as prime localities for relaxation and entertainment, such as the Old Dutch Hospital. Ideal for a cup of coffee or buying souvenirs for loved ones, feel free to take a walk down this precinct and then move over to Galle Face Green, for spectacular views of the Colombo Harbour and the Indian Ocean. Also, don't forget to have an isso wade, a much loved Sri Lankan delicacy that serves prawns over a fried, savoury crust, along the way!
For a more insightful experience, the Colombo National Museum is located at the epicentre of the city. Featuring artefacts over a wide range of subjects (from history to marine life), there's much to explore in this once again post-colonial building in Colombo 7.
Surrounded by the Indian Ocean, a peaceful horizon is never too far away in Sri Lanka. The stretch of beaches down the Southern coast is by far the most popular option, such as Galle, Unawatuna and Mirissa. What's more, some of these destinations can be covered within just one day, from Colombo.
Going towards the East will introduce you to the Batticaloa district, where beaches such as Kalkudah and Passekudah are renowned for their clear waters and sporting activities. Or, head up North to Trincomalee to witness an all natural harbour, along with cultural sites such as the Koneswaram Kovil.
Kandy is one of Sri Lanka's major cities, being the last capital before Colombo. The city centre boasts of an illustrious heritage, owing to the Dalada Maligawa, which is the temple of the sacred tooth of Lord Buddha. A small fee can give you an entry pass into the temple for a glance at the intricate architecture that surrounds the shrine.
Another prime tourist attraction is Nuwara Eliya. Known as the 'model English village', this town became popular amongst British colonialists during the 19th century for its cool and pleasant climate. Several interesting buildings with classic British architecture await the eyes of the traveller who's curious about witnessing Sri Lanka's colonial past.
Home to a variety of terrain, the confluence of a post colonial heritage from the Portuguese, Dutch and the British now pay homage to a variety of sites attractive to tourists. Starting off from the city of Colombo, major structures which were abandoned post colonialism have now been repurposed to offer incredible shopping, dining and entertainment facilities.
The Racecourse, Independence Arcade and Old Dutch Hospital are a few structures from a bygone era. Located in line with the Independence Arcade is the Independence Square, a memorial dedicated to Sri Lanka’s independence from the British. Apart from high-end boutiques, restaurants, pubs and cafes, these vicinities are ideal for a stroll or to simply sit, gaze and enjoy some peace and quiet.
To witness the country in its natural glory, visiting Sri Lanka’s many waterfalls is a great idea. Bambarakanda, Sri Lanka’s tallest waterfall is easily accessible from the Colombo – Bandarawela Road. Other falls include the Diyaluma, Sri Lanka’s second tallest waterfall that can be seen cascading down under a bridge of the Beragala – Wellawaya road. The Dunhinda fall is also popular, located in the Badulla district with a smaller waterfall known as the ‘Kuda Dunhinda’ that can be seen en route.
If you’re interested in exotic marine life, head to Dondra Point down south for a boat ride. Known to be the southernmost point in Sri Lanka, the sea off Dondra Point is home to several species of whales such as the blue whale and sperm whale, including the spinner dolphin.
With Sri Lanka being immensely sought for because of its beaches, water sporting activities are undoubtedly the go-to option for those interested in a rush of adrenaline. Take a scuba dive in Unawatuna or Mirissa, and experience scenic underwater beauty by snorkelling in Pigeon Island. Mirissa is also renowned for surfing. If you’re new and would like to take a lesson, there are several stalls by the beach that provide guides to do so.
For jet skiing and the banana boat, visit Bentota for an unforgettable experience. Kitesurfing is also a preferred pastime here for visitors, and there are numerous water sporting centres that can assist you in the sport of your choice, complete with equipment and personal guidance.
With Sri Lanka’s history dating back to about 2500 years, remnants of the country in its former glory are still visible today. The North Central province, namely Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa are prime sites to witness ancient ruins such as stupas. Regarded as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, the city of Anuradhapura is home to the Sri Maha Bodhi tree, the oldest living tree in recorded history. Stupas such as the Ruwanwelisaya and Thuparamaya form important aspects of Buddhism.
Polonnaruwa is home to the Vatadage, an ancient structure that was constructed to hold the sacred tooth relic or alms bowl of Lord Buddha. The Parakrama Samudra, a man-made reservoir at the heart of Polonnaruwa is also a must-visit to marvel on the impressive stance of engineering and workmanship of an ancient time.
Going further inland, get ready to experience spectacular mountains and plush landscapes, some of which are untouched by man. Starting off with sites that are frequented by most visitors, Sigiriya features several unique sights as you ascend, with the ruins of an ancient rock citadel at the summit being the highlight.
Horton Plains is also home to numerous points of attraction, such as Baker’s Falls which appears en route to World’s End. The hike takes about four hours altogether, but the views from World’s End make it worthwhile.
For the ultimate hiking experience, trek through the famous Nine Arches bridge from the Demodara railway station. Approximately 2km long, this hike isn’t too time consuming and will give you panoramic views of the surrounding hills unlike any other.
A cuisine that consists of coconut as a staple ingredient in most of its dishes, Sri Lankan food has also been influenced by its colonial heritage, with a few delicacies inspired by Portuguese and Dutch culture.
For an authentic Sri Lankan breakfast, try Kiribath, which is a rice dish made from coconut milk, or string hoppers with traditional curry. The Lamprais, a Dutch Burgher influenced rice dish that is wrapped in a banana leaf is a popular option for lunch. Other dishes such as hoppers (a pancake-like dish that sometimes comes with an egg or two in the centre) and pittu, another rice-based dish that contains scraped coconut, are light yet delicious options for dinner.
Looking to take home a memento to place on your living room shelf, or to gift family and friends? A plethora of trinkets will leave you spoilt for choice from this sunny island nation! Take your pick from postcards that are available at most book stores, or visit a souvenir store that specialises in exclusive items such as handlooms and handicrafts.
The Yaka mask, literally translated into English as ‘devil’s mask’ is a popular ornament here in Sri Lanka and it’s commonplace to see them on the walls of homes, shops and even offices. With textiles being a commodity that is mass produced and exported from Sri Lanka, take your pick from varieties of colourful garments and linen on display.
Being a country that welcomes tourists day in and day out, accommodation options are wide and varied throughout Sri Lanka. From luxury 5-star hotels to modest bed and breakfast lodges, there's something to suit any budget.
Most leading hotel booking engines will offer a diverse range of options, depending on your specific requirements. Hostels are also a popular option for those who are looking to backpack and meet people from other parts of the world while on their journey.
Airbnb is also a mainstream source of accommodation in Sri Lanka, thereby opening up more choices for a homely and pleasant stay anywhere in the country.
Public transport is easily accessible in Sri Lanka. Three-wheelers (commonly known as tuk-tuks) are the most convenient form of private transport. You can even hail one by simply waving a hand while on the road. Just make sure it has a metre system for calculating the fare, to avoid unwanted haggling. Taxi apps such as Uber and PickMe are also popular here.
For longer distances, trains are your best bet. The Colombo Fort station is the railway hub of Colombo, and routes to most locations throughout the country operate from here. For some areas you may need to use a combination of train and bus travel to reach your final destination.
As for buses, it's recommended that you ask someone who has knowledge on routes for guidance. Since bus timetables aren't available in Sri Lanka, getting the help of someone local can give you information on which bus you can board to reach your destination of choice. Don't forget to carry loose change to pay for your fare, while travelling!
Tourist visas for visitors from most countries are offered on arrival for 30 days. This can be extended for another 60 days (subject to the discretion of Sri Lanka Immigration), if desired. To check whether you are eligible for a 30 day on-arrival visa, please contact the Sri Lankan diplomatic mission in your country.
However before you arrive in Sri Lanka, you will require an Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA) issued by Sri Lanka Immigration. This can be applied for online, via www.eta.gov.lk. If you hold a passport from Maldives, Seychelles or Singapore, you do not require an ETA prior to visiting Sri Lanka.