21 Awesome Reasons To Visit Sri Lanka On Your Next Trip Away
There are a whole host of reasons as to why you should visit Sri Lanka. Known also as the “Pearl of the Indian Ocean“, this teardrop shaped island is gem-like in more ways than just its moniker.
Fringed with golden sands, the beaches of Sri Lanka offer that ‘escape to paradise’ feeling. Move further into the interior of the island and you enter tea country; where misty mountains and verdant landscape take centre stage.
Sri Lanka is a magical land, full of ancient cities, UNESCO World Heritage sites, elephants and monkeys galore and the most welcoming of locals; an enchanting mix that implores you to come and explore its shores.
Why visit Sri Lanka? Read on to discover why and by the end of this post, be 100% convinced that you should travel to Sri Lanka on your next trip away!
1. It has ancient cities to get lost in
Sri Lanka has a deep, rich cultural heritage and the area towards the north of the island, known as the ‘Cultural Triangle’ is home to the two ancient, ruined cities of Polonnaruwa and Anuradhapura.
The rise and fall of both cities follow a similar story.
Founded all the way back in the 5th century BC, Anuradhapura was the Sinhalese capital of Sri Lanka from the 4th – 11th century AD. Polonnaruwa, meanwhile, took over as the medieval capital of Sri Lanka between the 11th – 13th centuries AD. In terms of engineering, Polonnaruwa was far ahead of its time, even becoming self-sufficient through the design of its own irrigation system.
Both cities eventually succumbed to the same fate; attacks by forces from India (Polonnaruwa from Malaysian Barbarians too) which led to the cities being torn asunder, abandoned and reclaimed by the surrounding jungle.
They were both eventually rediscovered in the 19th century and are fascinating locations in which to ruminate on and get lost in ancient civilizations.
2. It is home to ancient cave temples
High on a hill over the dusty chaos of the sprawling town of Dambulla below are the Dambulla Cave Temples. Reached by climbing a set of approximately 350, well-trodden steps, the cave temples are a series of five dazzling Buddhist temples that have been carved deep within the rock of the hilltop.
These caves have been occupied since the 3rd century BC and have been added to and developed over time, resulting in the most stunning collection of shrines and statues located in an exceptionally unique location. Without a shadow of a doubt, one of the most serene, unique and memorable sights I’ve had the pleasure of visiting.
An extremely compelling reason to visit Sri Lanka.
3. The warmth and hospitality of the Sri Lankan people
The people of Sri Lanka are genuinely one of the most welcoming, friendly and kind set of people that I have encountered on my travels. Whether it’s just to smile and say hello, to stop and ask you where you are from, or to impart their knowledge about Sri Lanka to you, Sri lankan's are generous with their time and expect nothing in return.
They are proud custodians of their fantastic country and its cultural heritage, and are very happy to show it off. They are also extremely keen to ensure that you are enjoying your time in their country and often go out of their way to be helpful.
I know it’s a statement that gets thrown around a lot, but the Sri lankan's really do rise to the top if you were to make a list of the nicest nationalities in the world.
4. It’s a brilliant place to buy bespoke jewelry and gemstones
Not something that immediately comes to mind, but Sri Lanka is renowned for its gemstones. Jewellers are plentiful in Sri Lanka and it is a wonderful location in which to have a bespoke piece of jewelry made for you.
A beautiful stone that is unique to the island is the star sapphire, a gorgeous light blue stone that reflects back a milky star shape when it catches the light. When visiting Sri Lanka with my mother, I had a small star sapphire mounted in a silver band while my mum had a couple rings made too.
It was a relatively straightforward and very enjoyable process – we called into a store, chose our gemstones and bands and then popped back round to pick them up at the end of the next day, together with certificates of authenticity for the gemstones. We had ours made at Gamini Gems in Dambulla and can highly recommend them – they even sent birthday cards to us later in the year (there’s that Sri Lankan warmth for you!)
If you’re interested in purchasing gemstones in Sri Lanka, you can check out this book for further information.
5. Sri Lanka has oodles of pesky monkeys
I reference wildlife separately in this list, but the monkeys of Sri Lanka deserve a category of their very own. In the northern part of the island, the monkeys reign supreme and their amusing antics follow you wherever you go.
I wouldn’t get too close, however, as they are rather territorial and are prone to antagonizing the gentle, stray dogs of the area. I witnessed a pack of monkeys attack a group of stray dogs on the way up to the Dambulla Cave Temples and they were only broken apart when some locals sprayed them with a hose!
So while these little creatures may be exceptionally cute, remember that they are still wild animals and should be approached (or rather, not approached) as thus. As someone coming from a place where there are no wild monkeys, however, I find them fascinating to watch as they go about their business.
6. It’s home to a palace in the clouds
Another exceptionally unique tourist attraction in Sri Lanka is Lion’s Rock at Sigiriya. In what almost seems like an unfathomable concept, the top of the giant rock at Sigiriya once housed a great palace and gardens, the ruins of which you can climb to see today.
The development of this palace is attributed to King Kasyapa, who was a rather colourful character. Kasyapa wanted to create his version of an earthly paradise, drawing his inspiration from the mythological Buddhist city of Alakamanda, which was said to be the richest and most beautiful city imaginable, built among the clouds.
In order to obtain this effect, he painted the face of the rock white and created a spectacular multi-colored tapestry, which is now known as the Sigiriya Frescoes. He built a giant gatehouse and staircase, the Lion Staircase, to guard the entrance to his sky palace, which sat at the very top of the rock.
Climbing the rock and Lion Staircase is an absolute must on any visit to Sri Lanka.
7. Sri Lankan cuisine is absolutely delicious
Food in Sri Lanka is colourful and characterful! If you were to compare it to anything, it is sort of like the food found in neighboring India, but really – the Sri lankan's have a cuisine of their own that is unique to their island.
Dishes include a lot of spice that really pack a punch (generally more so than Indian cuisine). Expect lots of rice and curries, with the native cinnamon featuring in a lot of Sri Lankan spice blends. Coconut and seafood also play an important role, as these are ubiquitous to the island.
A popular breakfast dish is that of egg hoppers, which is comparable to a savoury crepe (made with coconut milk and rice flour) and includes a soft boiled egg in the middle.
8. Sri Lanka is an incredibly affordable luxury travel destination
As a luxury traveller, I was blown away firstly by the sheer choice of luxury properties available in Sri Lanka. Be they colonial grand dames, eco-retreats, modern design hotels or cosy tea plantation bungalows (as a small sample) there are hotels and properties across Sri Lanka that satisfy endless requirements.
What is even more amazing about these places to stay in Sri Lanka, is that relative to the quality of service and standard of these properties available, they offer very good value. The standard of accommodation, particularly for what you get at the EUR100-200 a night mark is exceptional, especially when compared to counterpart hotels elsewhere in the world.
Luxury travellers and mid-range travellers looking for an affordable luxury escape – you are in for a treat if you visit Sri Lanka.
9. Learn how tea is produced in Sri Lanka
As you enter the interior of the island, moving away from the fringes of Sri Lanka’s beach-lined shores, the Sri Lankan landscape begins to change. Temperatures that were hot, sticky and humid become cool and refreshing as you climb upwards to more elevated heights. Here, the sloping hills are a riot of green tea leaves, dotted throughout by the colourful clothing of the Hill Country’s tea pickers.
Sri Lanka is famous for its tea, and there is no better a place than here to immerse yourself in the process of tea picking and learn how tea is made. Many factories offer tours, which is an extremely memorable experience to add to any Sri Lanka itinerary.
10. It’s a wonderful location to receive Ayurvedic therapy
Ayurveda is an ancient medical system that is rooted in India, dating back as far as 5,000 years. More than just a system of herbal medicine, it combines the use of herbs, therapies and yoga as a form of treatment.
Ayurveda means the “the knowledge of life” and it recognizes that the mind and the body are inextricably linked. Focussing more on prevention rather than cure, Ayurvedic medicine aims to provide guidance regarding food and lifestyle, in order to lead to a healthy and long life.
For those who wish to bring their mind and body into balance, Sri Lanka is a wonderful location in which to undertake an Ayurvedic retreat or detox. Offering a chance to switch off and unwind, surrounded by the most incredibly beautiful natural surroundings, you’ll be sure to feel a million miles better on returning home!
11. Diverse wildlife and easy access to safaris
Sri Lanka is one of the best places in the world to go on safari. It boasts an abundance of national parks (26 to be exact), especially when taken alongside its relatively small size. Going on a safari in Sri Lanka is relatively easy too. There is widespread access to its national parks and it’s a relatively easy task to just ‘pop in’ to a national park for an afternoon drive.
Sri Lanka’s premier safari destination is Yala National Park, which is located on the south-east of the island and is bordered by tropical beaches. The main prize that it offers intrepid explorers is the sighting of a Sri Lankan leopard, but the park is home to sloth bears too.
Minneriya National Park is also popular, and is located in the centre of the Cultural Triangle towards the north of the island. When I visited in April, I was lucky enough to see dozens of elephants as they moved towards the water, a privilege I won’t forget for a very long time.
12. Paradisiacal beaches on which to soak up the sunset
Surrounded by the deep blue waters of the Indian Ocean and a nearby neighbor to the Maldives, the entire island of Sri Lanka is fringed by gorgeous, tropical beaches. This makes it a haven for those who long to feel the sand between their toes and have their faces tickled by a warm sea breeze.
The beaches of Sri Lanka’s west coast are closest to its capital city, Colombo, and are amongst its busiest. Some of its most beautiful include Bentota, Hikkadua and Negombo. In the south, the pace of life slows and some wonderful beaches on which to catch some zzz’s and some waves include Tangalle, Hiriketiya, Mirissa and Unawatuna.
Head east to discover some of Sri Lanka’s most unspoilt and remote beaches, although this is slowly changing. Here, you’ll find the popular Trincomalee and Arugam Bay. For a more unspoilt experience that’s off the beaten track head to Uppuveli.
13. The inspiring resilience of the Sri Lankan people
I’ve mentioned the Sri Lankan people already, but one thing that really stuck out to me when speaking to any Sri Lankan is their sheer resilience and positive attitude. In more modern times, they have had to deal with three large-scale, globally reported events – namely, almost three decades of civil war (which ended in 2009) the 2004 tsunami and the recent Colombo bombings of 2019.
After each, they seem to have collectively picked themselves up, dusted themselves off and gotten on with things. They are very open in talking about their experiences too, whether that be to recount how they had hidden behind concrete blockades when the airport was bombed during the Civil War, or to impart that their father had been lost in the tsunami. They are sincere, good-hearted and thoroughly inspiring people.
14. Majestic, misty mountain ranges
The central and southern lands of Sri Lanka are home to jaw-dropping mountain ranges – the kind that are shrouded in mist and bursting with verdant greenery. The central part of these elevated lands is known colloquially as “Hill Country”, with much of this part of the country home to Sri Lanka’s tea plantations.
There is plenty for the outdoor explorer to enjoy in this part of Sri Lanka. The hill station town of Nuwara Eliya is the highest town in Sri Lanka, located deep within the central highlands of the island amidst dramatic scenery of lofty peaks diced by sloping valleys. Horton Plains is located close by and is the highest plateau in Sri Lanka.
An extremely popular undertaking is to hike to the summit of Adam’s Peak, which rises to an altitude of 2,243 meters and is a famous Sri Lankan pilgrimage. Slightly less taxing, is to take in tea plantations along the way to Little Adam’s Peak, which still offers stupendous views from its summit.
Further south, then, are the Knuckles Mountain Range, located in the Matale region and known as thus as they comprise 5 peaks that resemble a closed fist. The area houses a plethora of flora and fauna that is indiginous to the Indian subcontinent, making it a must-see in Sri Lanka for nature and outdoor lovers.
15. The chance to stay at a tea plantation bungalow
Sri Lanka is home to a very unique and particular type of accommodation; that of the tea plantation bungalow. Often former homes on many of the great tea estates of Sri Lanka, they present a one-of-a-kind opportunity to stay right in the heart of a tea plantation estate.
The service at most tea plantation bungalows in Sri Lanka is sublime. The properties tend to be small, often with only a handful of rooms, so service is extremely intimate and personal. There are often cooks on-site, so you can guarantee delicious meals during your stay, including Sri Lankan cuisine.
I stayed at two tea plantation bungalows when visiting Sri Lanka. The first was Mountbatten Bungalow on the hills a little outside of the city of Kandy and which offered a stunning infinity pool that hung over the valley and jungle below. The second was the gorgeous Ceylon Tea Bungalows, located in Bandarawela which is an area close to Ella. Situated amidst blooming gardens and on 30 acres of a private tea estate, it was almost like being in another world!
The tea plantation bungalows played a big part in encouraging me to visit Sri Lanka, and the experience did not disappoint!
16. The city of Kandy houses one of Buddha’s teeth
The Sri Lankan city of Kandy can be hailed as the country’s main spiritual centre, holding a revered position in Sri Lankan culture as a major pilgrimage centre. Located in the centre of the country and surrounded by hills and tea plantations, at the centre of Kandy is a resplendent, glistening, man-made lake which was built in 1807 by King Sri Wickrama Rajasinghe.
What draws both pilgrims and tourists to Kandy alike, is the Temple of the Tooth, a buddhist temple that is housed within the complex of the former palaces of the kingdom of Kandy. The temple, although busy, is a quiet, serene place of worship that is absolutely revered by visiting Buddhists and is said to house a portion of the Buddha’s tooth.
Each year, in July or August, the Esala Perahera procession takes place, where the tooth caskets that house the relic are paraded through the city atop a decorated elephant. The city of Kandy too is a buzzing, life-filled metropolis and is home to the sprawling Royal Botanic Gardens of Peradeniya, making it well worth a stop on any visit to Sri Lanka.
17. It is a fascinating place where cultures converge
While the island is predominantly Buddhist in terms of religion, Sri Lanka is a melting pot of cultures and external influences. This makes it a fascinating place to visit.
While throughout the country, many of its more famous monuments and temples are rooted in Buddhism (the Temple of the Tooth and Dambulla Cave Temples examples of this), as I made my way through the country I was struck by the diversity that it contained.
While making our way from Dambulla to Kandy, we stopped in Matale to take in the glorious Sri Muthumariamman Temple, a soaring Hindu edifice of gold and glorious technicolour. Closely, we passed through another town where the most pristine white burkas glided by as children made their way home from school.
On top of all this, too, are the inextricable links to its colonial past; Dutch, Portuguese and British. Evidence of these bygone eras are to be seen all around the island, be they the British tea estates, colonial institutions like the Galle Face Hotel (which is fantastic, by the way) or the Portuguese influences imparted on the seaside fort town of Galle.
18. There is incredible fresh fruit everywhere in Sri Lanka
As a tropical island, there is fruit in abundance in Sri Lanka. Each morning while there I gorged on platters of fresh fruit, which would keep me going until well into the afternoon. It is super fresh and has an explosion of flavours that unfortunately, fruit just doesn’t retain by the time it gets to us in Europe.
Standout for me was the simple banana – much smaller and sweeter than the ones at home, I actually used to hate bananas…until I went to Sri Lanka that was! There are also heaps of jackfruit and its smaller cousin, the breadfruit, at the multitude of fresh fruit stalls dotted along the roadsides.
You can also expect to find delicious mango, papaya, mangosteen – a big, long list of a whole range of fruits, really, many of which I’ve never heard of before. Your taste buds are in for a treat if you decide upon a trip to Sri Lanka!
19. Home to one of the most iconic train rides in the world
You might not have realized that it’s Sri Lanka, but images of an old, blue train set against flashes of emerald green tea estates and forestry is an iconic one world wide. This is the famous blue train of Sri Lanka, which follows a number of routes that offer incomparable scenery and an unforgettable experience as the train weaves its way across some of Sri Lanka’s most outstanding landscape, including the famous Nine Arches Bridge.
Many choose to ride the train from Kandy to Ella, or Nuwara Eliya. Booking the train can be difficult, with the only means of booking tickets online in advance right now through the website 12Go Asia. Otherwise, you can buy your tickets at train stations in Sri Lanka, but beware, as these might sell out. If stuffing luggage onto a packed train is an issue, you can hire a driver who will spirit your things to your destination, so you can enjoy the train without worrying about your luggage.
20. Sri Lanka is wonderful yoga retreat destination
Its proximity to India and strong ties to Ayurvedic medicine means that the practice of yoga is widespread in Sri Lanka. Drop in classes are becoming more and more common around the island, but those searching for a yoga retreat somewhere a little different should give Sri Lanka a chance as their yoga retreat destination.
Whether you wish to practice yoga to the sounds of lapping waves or against the surreal backdrop of mist-shrouded mountains (or a combination of both!), the landscape of Sri Lanka offers you an opportunity to get completely zen and deepen your practice in often other-worldly surroundings.
21. Sri Lanka offers a host of water-based activities to visitors
Water babies, rejoice! As an island, the fact that Sri Lanka is surrounded by water sort of speaks for itself. With all this access to water, however, comes a wide range of water sports and other water-based activities for those who don’t mind getting their feet a little bit wet.
There are many great spots around Sri Lanka to go scuba-diving, with the most famous diving location located in southern Sri Lanka at Hikkaduwa. Sri Lanka is also an extremely popular destination amongst surfers, with its best waves located around Hikkaduwa too. For chilled out, surfer vibes against a backdrop of dense jungle, Hiriketiya is fast becoming a firm favourite among surfers and digital nomads.
Outside of water sports, Sri Lanka is also one of the best locations in the world to go whale-watching. An annual migration of blue and sperm whales takes place between the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea, which passes by Sri Lanka.