Sri Lanka is the island country in the Indian Ocean. This green, exotic island is also known as Ceylon until 1972 when the country became a republic and got its present name: Sri Lanka.
We visited it in March this year, in the organization of the Manga trip agency.
Since when we get off the plane, we were surrounded by the eruption of sounds, colors, smells, and heat. Well, we didn’t know where to look and what to do first! After the first shock, we relaxed and began enjoying our fantastic journey.
And Sri Lanka has so much to offer: the amazing nature, ancient cities, religious sites, delicious spicy food, wild animals, endless tea plantations, long beaches with golden sand, and the waves.
So, what can you ask more from this teardrop-shaped island?
Where is and how to get to Sri Lanka?
Sri Lanka Island is located on the southern tip of the Indian subcontinent.
It can be reached by plane. The National airline carrier is SriLankan Airlines (flight code UL), with the hub in Bandaranayake International Airport, close to Colombo. It is also the main airport in the country.
Flights are available from cities throughout Europe, Southeast Asia, Australia, China, Japan, the Middle East, India, Pakistan, and nearby destinations. They have a connection with KLM, Turkish Airlines, Emirates Airlines, Etihad Airways, Qatar Airways, Air Asia, Singapore Airlines, Oman Air, Ukraine International Airlines, etc.
Going around the island
Sri Lanka is a left-driving country. That is not very unusual, but…
First, we were shocked by the traffic on the island: instead of two lanes, there are three or four… It seems impossible, but the local population uses all parts of the roads or streets, even the road surrounding the area. Usually, the drivers take the middle of the road, while other vehicles go around it, on the left or on the right, depending on a situation.
Buses are also a very popular and cheap way of transportation. Sometimes they can be very crowded and uncomfortable. They move all the time and slow down only when people want to get on or get off. Actually, they jumping on and off the bus! The privately-owned buses are painted in different colors. Some of them have displays with local music and colorful lights.
Also, you can rent a car, and rented cars often come with their drivers. Some of them are government-licensed and have knowledge about history and culture. It is very convenient if you are planning your journey solo.
Except for cars and buses, you can most often see tuk-tuks.
It is a little three-wheeled vehicle, and only two or three persons can be placed behind the driver. You have to try it because it is an unbelievable experience. Especially when tuk-tuk vehicles are racing who will come the first to the hotel in the hill, in the overcrowded Kandy city in the evening! And you are in one of them 🙂
They all take part in the traffic, passing one another, moving from the road, honking car horns… Totally crazy driving on roads and streets! However, we had fantastic drivers, and after a few days, we got used to this unusual traffic.
Trains are also a very popular way of transportation. They are very cheap and punctual, but slow and crowded. They became the tourist attraction, especially when going through the beautiful landscapes of the island and tea plantations.
The capital, the population, the language, and the religion
The official name of the country is the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka.
Sri Jayewardenepura Kotte is the administrative capital. But Colombo is the commercial and financial capital, and also the largest city in the country.
Two official languages of Sri Lanka are Sinhalese and Tamil, and English is used in commercial and education.
Today about 22 million inhabitants live on the island, on the area of 65.610 km2.
Sinhalese people are the largest ethnic group in Sri Lanka with about 16 million people or 75% of the total population. Their native language is Sinhalese and they are Buddhists.
Sri Lankan Tamils are the second ethnic group (18% of the population). They speak the Tamil language and belong to the Hindu religion.
The rest of the population are small ethnic groups such as Moors (descendants of Arab traders), Indian Tamils, Burghers (mixed European descent), Malays, Chinese, and the indigenous Vedda people.
Sri Lankan people are warm and friendly. They will give you a shy smile and greet you by waving their hands. And the children are adorable, dressed in their uniforms while going to school or playing around.
The best time to visit Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka has a tropical and monsoonal climate because it is just north of the equator. So it means a lot of rains, warm days and high humidity during the whole year.
There are two rainy seasons. The high season is December – March, for the west and south coast and the Hill country. From May to August is low season for these parts, which means that the weather is best in the north and east coast. The monsoon rains are heavy, usually with thunderstorms in the afternoon or in the evening. Last day of our vacation, after a sunny morning, we had the opportunity to experience the monsoon rain with a thunderstorm. The locals said to us that monsoon time came a little bit earlier and that the climate was changing fast.
The average temperatures are usually from 22 to 34 degrees, except for the mountainous part and Nuwara Eliya area. With 1,900 meters above sea level, here the temperatures until 23 degrees are very pleasant, but it could be lower temperatures during the winter.
You can find more information about the average temperatures and precipitation here.
However, the sea is warm all year round in Sri Lanka. The average temperatures are from 27 to 30 degrees! Perfect for those who are not fans of the cold water, just like me 🙂
But, you have to be careful because waves are huge and the ocean currents are very strong.
What to see in Sri Lanka
There are so many interesting places to visit in Sri Lanka. It is impossible to see them all for two or three weeks. So you have to focus on what is important for you to visit when you are planning your trip to Sri Lanka.
I will tell you what we saw and visited during our two weeks in this amazing country.
Our first base was Kandy city, and then we moved to the Hikkaduwa coast. Well, it is a perfect mix of sightseeing and chill-out pleasure on the beach…
The ancient cities and religious sites
The culture of Sri Lanka is very rich and dates back over 2500 years. It is a mix of Buddhism and Hinduism religions, and the story about the Sinhalese and Tamil people. Although it is a small country, there are eight sites of Sri Lanka that are inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage list.
When we are talking about the cultural sites in Sri Lanka, we usually mean the Cultural Triangle. It consists of the area from Kandy town to Polonnaruwa, and to Anuradhapura.
Anuradhapura was the first capital of Sri Lanka, founded in the 5th century BC. Even in the present, it is a very religious place. Today the ruins consist of dagobas (bell-shaped masses of masonry), monastic buildings, and pokunas (bathing-tanks or tanks for the supply of drinking water). We didn’t visit Anuradhapura, but we visited Polonnaruwa and Kandy.
The ancient city of Polonnaruwa
Polonnaruwa was the second capital of Sri Lanka’s ancient kingdom. Polonnaruwa was established in the 10th century by the Chola dynasty, and then conquered by King Vijayabahu I. Today it is a huge complex that consists of the ruins of the palaces, buildings, baths, parks, Buddha statues, temples… and of course, the monkeys are everywhere in Polonnaruwa!
Kandy is the capital of the Central Province in Sri Lanka. And it is the second-largest city on the island. It has developed into a small valley, surrounded by the green hills. In the middle is a lake. It is a vibrant city, crowded day and night.
Kandy is a place with the holiest shrine in the Buddhist world because of the Tooth Relic of the Buddha. According to tradition, it is believed that the Tooth has magical power, and the one who possesses it, has a divine right to rule the land. So first the Tooth was in Anuradhapura, and then it is brought to Polonnaruwa. At the beginning of the 18th century, it was transferred to Kandy city. In the evening the Temple of the Tooth (Sri Dalada Maligawa) is crowded with pilgrims, monks, as well as tourists. The entire complex includes smaller temples, shrines, and museums.
One more special place to visit in Kandy is Peradeniya Botanic Gardens.
Made for the Royal family around 1750, these fantastic gardens cover 60 hectares of the land. There are more than 4000 species of plants, colorful flowers, the palm trees… You can stay here all day wandering the gardens and enjoying the greenery, colors, and different shapes.
Dambulla caves and Sigiriya rock
These two sites are definitely must-see places in Sri Lanka: Dambulla caves and Sigiriya rock.
Dambulla caves are the largest cave temple complex in Sri Lanka.
It is the Buddhist temple from the 1st century BC, carved in the huge rock. There are more than 80 caves in this area. But the most important are five caves with 153 Buddha statues and different paintings.
More about Dambulla caves you can read here.
On the Internet, you can many photos of Sigiriya as a landmark of Sri Lanka. Located in the jungle, on the 200 meters high rock, there are the ruins of the former Royal palace built during the rule of King Kasyapa (477 – 495 CE).
You have to climb to the top. It takes between 1 to 3 hours, depending on your physical condition and crowd. But when you get there, you forget the heat, the humidity, and pain in your legs. It is an amazing feeling standing there with a 360-degree view of the beautiful landscape of Sri Lanka!
More about Sigiriya rock you can read here.
A few very important TIPS when you visit religious sites:
*do not touch the face or other parts of Buddha statues, do not sit close to or climb on them, it is not allowed;
*do not turn your back to Buddha when taking a photo, especially do not take selfies, it is a huge sign of disrespect;
*also, do not take a pose while you taking photos near the Buddha statues;
*dress properly: cover your shoulders and knees, it applies to both women and man;
*remove your hat, sunglasses, and shoes when you entering the temples or sacred areas;
*ask permission before taking pictures, because taking photos is strictly forbidden for some sights are;
*switch off your mobile phone or switch it to silent mode during the visits.
Galle Fort is a part of the city Galle, located on the southwestern tip.
It is the administrative capital of the Southern Province of Sri Lanka and the capital of the Galle District.
The Old town of Galle and fort first was built by the Portuguese in 1584, and then by the Dutch in 1684.
It is quite different from the other cities in Sri Lanka. Take a walk around the fortress, the lighthouse, and wander around small streets that are full of shops, boutiques, bars, restaurants, historic hotels.
Food and drinks in Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka is known for the production of rice, coconut, spices, such as cinnamon, pepper, cardamom, cloves, nutmeg, curry, chili peppers…
The food is very spicy and mostly vegetarian, with a lot of rice, vegetables, and fish. Try the local drinks: beer Lion, ginger beer and Arrak, an alcoholic drink made from coconut flowers.
And fruit… king coconut, passion fruit, mango, pineapple, papaya, jackfruit, green, yellow and red bananas, rambutan… You don’t need any desserts, only these delicious fruits!
Sri Lanka is famous for tea production as well. It is the fourth-largest producer of tea in the world.
Here you can find green, black and white tea, which is the most expensive. The endless areas covered by the tea plants are breathtaking! And everything around is so green…
Wildlife in Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka is home to many animals, such as elephants, leopards, monkeys, snakes, birds, peacocks, whales, dolphins… You can see some of them in the Nationals parks or in orphanages, and some of them live in the jungle.
More about Pinnawala elephant orphanage you can read here.
Sometimes you can see wild elephants crossing the roads.
But the monkeys… you can see them almost everywhere, including on your terrace!
Best beaches in Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka’s coastline is 1.340 km long. Well, there are kilometers of fantastic, sandy beaches, surrounded by palm trees and different plants. Almost everywhere you can see the incredible views of blue and emerald water, with surfing waves!
The best of them are located in the south and west south part of the island.
Of course, it is not possible to see all of them during the limited time of your vacation. But some of them are really fantastic, such as Hikkaduwa, Unawatuna, Mirissa, Bentota…
Hikkaduwa is a long and wide beach on the southwest side of the island, about 100 kilometers from Colombo. It is a popular spot if you want to take the first surfing classes, take long walks or just chill out in many bars and restaurants along the beach. The waves are big, so pay attention when entering the ocean and coming back to the beach.
Mirissa is a small beach in the village of the same name, located on the Southern tip of Sri Lanka. It is a very nice and popular beach with bars and restaurants. In the evening, when the sun goes down, it is very pleasant to have dinner in restaurants on the beach, with candles on the tables, enjoying “catch of the day fish”.
Unawatuna is a small town located in Galle district. Actually, it is about 5 kilometers from Galle town. It is a very popular tourist location, known for its beach, corals, a great variety of fish, turtles, and endemic birds. Unawatuna is one of the busiest beaches with a lot of restaurants and accommodations for different budgets.
Bentota is located 65 kilometers south of Colombo, in the Southern Province, in the same small town. It is a long, wide, and sandy beach, perfect for relaxation and calm vacation.
Close to the beach is the Bentota river where river safari is organized. Also, a few kilometers from the beach are two interesting places: Brief garden and Lunuganga garden.
Visit Sri Lanka
Before my journey, I heard that Sri Lanka is a very interesting country. But I have to say that my expectations were exceeded, despite the fact that the country is still recovering from its 25-year civil war and the devastating 2004 tsunami caused by an earthquake in the Indian Ocean.
So, stay tuned for more tips, stories, and details about the interesting places from this amazing island.
I am sure that the beautiful nature, sacred temples, food, animals, beaches, palms, and plants in Sri Lanka will impress you as they impressed me.