Sri Lanka has never really been on my bucket list of countries to see. However, I was recently invited to a destination wedding in this country and decided to take the opportunity to discover the island and what it has to offer. Improved train services make it easy to travel throughout the country, and I was wowed by the cuisine and fascinated with the history. Sri Lanka truly has something for everyone, from its laid-back beach towns, to historical ruins, to tea estates to hiking up mountain peaks. Voted top country for travel in 2019 by Lonely Planet, go before the tourism surge. Here are ten reasons to visit Sri Lanka.
1. Beaches and Surfing – Sri Lanka’s southern coast is filled with nothing but beaches and coconuts. This makes it the ideal location to spend a few days in one of the coastal towns such as Mirissa. This beach has crystal clear warm waters and the north end of the beach is a surfers paradise. There’s also plenty of other beach towns such as Bentota, Weligama, Unawatuna, Dickwella, Hikkaduwa and Galle.
2. Cultural Heritage – Sri Lanka boasts a cultural heritage thousands of years old. This small island has eight UNESCO World Heritage sites including Galle with its famous fort from the Dutch colonial era, Kandy, Sigiriya and the ancient cities of Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa, Dambulla cave temple, the Sinharaja Forest Reserve and the Central Highlands.
3. Wildlife – Sri Lanka is also a haven for wildlife lovers. If you’re interested in whales, whale watching expeditions in the south and north are popular depending on the month you are visiting and the island is teeming with elephants waiting to be discovered at national parks such as Yala and Minneriya. As 13% of the island is conserved as national parks or sanctuaries, the biodiversity is stunning. Sri Lanka has 14 national parks and a wildlife safari through one of these parks is a must. I visited the popular Yala National Park to see the leopard but you can also spot elephants, sloth bears, spotted deer, hog, wild boars, giant squirrels, monkeys, jaguars, civet cats, loris etc. The island is an ornithologist’s paradise as it has over 233 species.
4. Adventure – Sri Lanka boats 1,600 km of coastline and is popular for wind-surfing, water-skiing, surfing, and scuba diving. There are also plenty of opportunities for kayaking and canoeing while the Kelani Ganga near Kitulgala has rapids that are great for white-water rafting. Hiking in the cloud-forests of Horton Plains, Adam’s Peak, the Knuckles, and Hakgala Strict Natural Reserve offer wonderful opportunities to experience nature.
5. Hotels – I’m a fan of hotel properties with views and infinity pools. Sri Lanka has plenty of beautiful hotels overlooking stunning scenery. The coastal areas have resort hotels, several of which are designed by the famed architect Geoffrey Bawa. There are also a number of lovely boutique hotels on the west and south coast while hill towns such as Kandy, Ella and Nuwara Eliya feature charming colonial era hotels or tea plantation buildings. Homestays are also very popular and perfect for the budget conscious traveler.
6. Spas – Sri Lanka is very popular for spas as well as ayurvedic treatment centers. Ayurveda is the 2000 year old Indian medicine and many visitors continue to seek two or three week stays in the treatment centers while others indulge in massages, meditation and yoga offered at many of the hotels.
7. People – The people of Sri Lanka touched me with their kind, gentle demeanor. The main languages spoken are Sinhalese and Tamil, both originating from India. Sri Lanka has a mix of cultures and the hospitality of the Sri Lankan people is worth experiencing.
8. Festivals – Sri Lanka has many colorful festivals such as the Aluth Avurudda – the Hindu and Buddhist New Year’s festival in April. This festival is all about music, food, and fireworks. The Vesak festival that takes place in May is an important festival for Buddhists, and marks the first month of the Buddhist calendar year. Roads and houses are decorated with lanterns and provide stunning photo opportunities. The Kandy festival in July/August allows travelers to immerse themselves in Sri Lanka’s medieval past including the ancient costumes, vibrant dances, music, and decorated elephants.
9. The Food – Sri Lanka has some amazing food and I would go back to that country in a heartbeat just to immerse myself in its cuisine. Traditional dishes like the Kottu is Sri Lanka’s hamburger – fast, greasy and fun! It’s made with a type of roti known as godamba and served with a spicy sauce. Fish ambul thiyal (sour fish curry), is a dry curry fish and is best eaten with rice. The famous hoppers are delicious for breakfast and typically eaten with a coconut-based curry. Kiribath with lunu miris is not to be missed and it’s a special type of rice, cooked with thick coconut milk and served in mostly auspicious occasions although you can find it at any hotel. Pol Sambol (coconut relish), is one of my favorites and a blend of grated coconut, chillies, lime juice, salt and red onions and it’s a garnish for rice, roti or hoppers.
10. Trains – Yes I say trains because some of the most scenic train journeys you can experience are in Sri Lanka. Take a train ride through the hill country through old pine forests shrouded in mist with glimpses of foggy tea estates and you will never want to get off the train. The Eastern train route takes you from Kandy to Nanu Oya on to Ella. The train ride across the Demodara nine arch bridge is one of the most picturesque, and the train ride from Colombo to Anuradhapura traverses different types of terrain.
Plan your trip to Sri Lanka today, and experience all this country has to offer for yourself!