Sri Lanka is well deserving its nickname of the Pearl of the Indian Ocean, with so many beautiful places to see and unique things to experience. Not only that the nature of Sri Lanka is fabulous, with both mountains and seaside, but the people are kind and friendly, the food is delicious and in general the touristic experience is at high standards.
In this article I am going to tell you everything you need to know about the country, from how to get the visa to which are the most popular tourist attractions in Sri Lanka. Have you booked your flight to Sri Lanka yet?
Visa Requirments for Sri Lanka
First of all, you should check if you need a visa in order to enter Sri Lanka. I visited in August last year and I had to apply for the Sri Lanka visa a couple of weeks before my trip. Since then, Sri Lanka has introduced a visa free program for citizens of 36 countries, valid for 6 months. In January this year, Sri Lanka has extended the program to run until March. After this period ends, the visa fee will be reintroduced.
If you are traveling to the country for less than 30 days, then it makes sense to apply for the ETA Sri Lanka. You can easily apply for it online and avoid the queues at the airport. Once your ETA is approved, remember to have the following documents with you when you enter Sri Lanka: a return flight, a passport with more than 6 months of remaining validity and proof that you can support yourself during your trip to Sri Lanka (a bank statement is enough).
Is It Safe to Travel to Sri Lanka?
This is the question that comes to everyone’s mind, after the unfortunate events that took place a year ago, on Easter Day. Back then a lot of people cancelled their travel plans to Sri Lanka or changed their minds about visiting and chose to spend their holiday elsewhere. This didn’t only hurt the economy of Sri Lanka, but also the people who worked in the tourism industry to make an income, such as small restaurant owners, tuk tuk drivers, souvenir makers and all the small businesses which relied on tourists to survive.
I have travelled to Sri Lanka relatively soon after the attacks and I found a country with very few tourists and high security. The hotels have hired guards who check all the cars that enter the premises, and installed metal detectors and luggage scanners at the doors. It is common to see armed military on the streets, stopping cars for routine checks.
I did not feel unsafe during my 10 days trip to Sri Lanka, on the contrary. I have seen how many efforts the country is doing to raise its security and prevent unfortunately events such as what happened on Easter Day 2019.
Also, you should know that Foreign Offices around the world have downgraded their travel warnings for traveling to Sri Lanka.
Best Time to Visit Sri Lanka
If you are wondering when to go to Sri Lanka, it simply depends on which part of the island you want to visit. Sri Lanka has two monsoon seasons: the South-West one brings rain from May until September in the SW part of the island, and the North-East one which brings bad weather from October to January in the NE.
September and October and considered to be the low season in Sri Lanka, whilst December to March is the peak, when most of the tourists are visiting the island. If you are traveling off season, you can expect much lower prices than usual and less tourists around.
I travelled to Sri Lanka in August and, trying to avoid the monsoon, my 10-day itinerary included mostly the East and the Central part of the country. I chose to spend my beach time near Trincomalee, and the weather couldn’t have been more perfect: sunny, warm, and a beautiful, calm sea. Negombo on the other hand, where I spent my last night before flying back home, was rainy, with a very rough sea. It was nice to look at the waves crashing on the shore, from the beach, but it was not a good idea to get into the ocean.
In the highlands of Sri Lanka, the weather was rainy and cold but hey, this area it is called Little England because of the similar meteorological conditions, so it was expected.
Cash or Card? Money in Sri Lanka
The currency of Sri Lanka is the Sri Lankan rupee, which at the moment has a value of 100LKR= 0.42GBP. Besides Colombo, the capital, most of the country is still developing, so it is advisable to have cash with you, especially if you plan on eating at local restaurants or buying things from the market.
There are however plenty of ATMs around, so you don’t need to carry large amounts of cash with you.
You will be able to pay by card at hotels, bigger supermarkets, silk and fabric shops, and some restaurants. In Colombo it is much easier to pay by card than in the countryside.
How to Travel Around Sri Lanka
The easiest way to travel around Sri Lanka is by hiring a private driver, who, besides driving you around, can also be an excellent guide. By hiring a private driver, you have the freedom of stopping wherever you want and customise your itinerary based on what each day brings. I went to Sri Lanka on a bespoke tour through Jetwing, which I highly recommend.
If you are on a budget, you can also travel by train, another very reliable way of moving around Sri Lanka. The local buses are slow and take a long time to reach their destinations. And, to be honest, they didn’t look very safe to me, especially because of the metal bars they have around the windows. If something happens, how would you get out?
For scenic views however, I recommend taking the train, especially between Kandy and Ella where you can admire the never-ending tea plantations spread over rolling hills.
If you don’t want to hire a driver for the entire duration of your trip, check out the Pick Me App, through which you can hire a car with a driver to go from city to city. It seems to work best in bigger cities, such as Kandy and Colombo. Uber is also another good choice for rides, especially with their Intercity Service.
Where to Stay in Sri Lanka
One great thing about Sri Lanka is that you can book luxury hotels for the price of a two stars establishment. I couldn’t believe how a four stars hotel would only cost 70$/night. I can barely book a B&B in England for that money, if I am lucky.
Traveling to Sri Lanka also means that you can treat yourself with luxury that maybe you can’t afford back home.
Of course, there are options for each type of budget, from hostels, where you can meet other travellers to guesthouses, from modest hotels to mountain and beach resorts.
Food in Sri Lanka
The Sri Lankan food is colourful and full of flavours, spices being very important in the cooking process. The most popular dishes in the Sri Lankan cuisine are rice and curry. On this tiny island, everything can be made into curry, not just fish or chicken – the most popular ones. Some of the curries that stood out for me were made with jackfruit, cashew nuts and pumpkin as main ingredients.
Dhal is another popular dish in Sri Lanka which can be eaten at any time of the day: breakfast, lunch or dinner. And, you can’t miss the hoppers, bowl-shaped pancakes filled with eggs and eaten with spicy pol sambol.
One thing you should know about the Sri Lankan cuisine is that it is very spicy, especially when we talk about fish curry or dhal.
Tourist Attractions in Sri Lanka
There are so many different things that you can see and do in Sri Lanka, depending on what type of traveller you are. Some of the most popular tourist attractions in Sri Lanka include:
Go On an Elephant Safari:
One of the amazing things that you can do in Sri Lanka is go on an elephant safari in one of the national parks on the island: Minneriya, Yala, Udawalawe or Kaudulla. Sri Lanka has the highest density of wild elephants worldwide, with hundreds of them gathering at watering holes, especially in June/July.
The only way you should ever interact with wildlife is by going on a safari and observing it from a distance.
Discover the Beaches:
Being an island, Sri Lanka is home to some pretty amazing beaches. No matter which time of the year you visit, there will be a sunny part of the island where you can enjoy some warm days by the beach. In the North East, check out the beaches around Trincomalee and the beautiful Pigeon Island with its stunning underwater habitat which you can explore through snorkelling. In the West, Negombo has a wonderful sandy beach that stretch for miles. In the South, you shouldn’t skip Mirissa, Gale or Hikkaduwa.
Climb the Sigiriya Rock:
Sigiriya Rock has been declared by UNESCO the 8th Wonder of the World, and it is as old as the 1st century! It’s almost impossible to imagine that back then people have climbed the rock and built a fortress on top. Looking at the shape of the rock and noticing that there are no signs of ancient stairs, it is a mystery how people would go up and down. The only remains of what it is thought to have been the entrance to the fortress and two giant lion paws, mid-way up.
At Sigiriya you can also admire the oldest ancient landscaped gardens in the world, with pools, ponds and irrigation systems that are still working!
Visit the Famous Golden Temple from Dambulla:
The Golden Temple from Dambulla is built inside several caves with an area of over 2,100 square meters that is painted with natural colours. It is a perfect example of ancient painting techniques, which have lasted for centuries on the ceiling and on the walls of the caves.
Drink Tea on a Tea Estate:
You can’t go to Sri Lanka and not stop by a tea estate, to sample the most popular drink in the world and to see the process a tea leaf goes through, from the plant to the cup. There are numerous tea plantations that you can visit once you reach the highlands of Sri Lanka, some of the most famous ones being Lipton and Dilmah.
If you want to learn more about tea, you can choose to even stay in one of the luxury chalets some of the plantations, such as Dilmah, own.
Ride the Blue Train from Kandy to Ella:
When talking about Sri Lanka, probably the most iconic thing that comes into everyone’s mind is the famous blue train from Kandy to Ella. The journey is so beautiful, passing through tea estates and waterfalls, crossing the most amazing scenery in Sri Lanka’s highlands.
I hope I have answered all your questions about what you should know about visiting Sri Lanka, in this article. If you have any other questions, related to the visa process, other things to see or anything else that I might have forgotten, please do ask in the comments below and I will be happy to reply.
Disclaimer: This is a collaborative paid article. Please note that I visited Sri Lanka as a guest of the Sri Lankan Tourism Board. However, all the opinions in this article are my own and I would not recommend anything that I wouldn’t have enjoyed myself doing or think it was a great place to visit.
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