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First things first- where do I get off calling these the most amazing Sri Lanka travel tips EVER?
I’ve been telling you guys my own personal Sri Lanka travel tips for ages (and I think they’re pretty good! I mean, I did spend three months exploring the island from top to bottom, after all.)
But just in case you want more than my humble opinion, I went out and picked the brains of some super awesome travel experts and got their best Sri Lanka travel tips to share with you.
Spoiler alert: Sri Lanka is amazing and you’re going to want to pack your bags and go as soon as you finish reading this.
But first, on to the expert advice!
Sri Lanka Travel Tips from: Anwesha Guha, Going Places with Anwesha
Anwesha is a travel blogger living in my very favorite Indian city, Bangalore. (So jealous, Anwesha!) Here’s what she has to say about travel in Sri Lanka:
“Once you are in Sri Lanka, you should head out to the Southern coastal towns of Koggala, Kathaluwa and Ahangama to view an interesting fishing technique called Stilt Fishing. Stilt fishing became popular around the time of World War II primarily due to food shortages and overcrowded fishing spots. Fishermen sit on a cross bar called a petta tied to a vertical pole set into the sand a little away from the shores.
Sitting on a precarious position helps the fishermen to bring in a decent catch of spotted herrings and small mackerels from the shallow waters of the sea or the river. They collect the catch in a bag tied to their waist or to the lower part of the pole. Although the practice looks easy and comfortable, it requires much skill and balance.
The tsunami that devastated much of the Indian Ocean coastline forever in 2004 altered the Sri Lankan shoreline and reduced access to fishes using this technique. By each passing day, the catches are dwindling for these fishermen making this practice hard to survive for long other than as a tourist attraction.”
Sri Lanka Travel Tips from: Carolyn Scott-Hamilton, The Healthy Voyager
Carolyn, AKA The Healthy Voyager, is a TV host and media personality, healthy/adventure/luxury/sustainable travel expert, holistic nutritionist, plant based foods chef, and best-selling cookbook author. So basically I think she’s an expert in everything. Here’s her Sri Lanka can’t-miss top five:
- Sigiriya – the Lion Rock
- Passikudah Beach – not touristy, yet
- Kandy – Last royal city with an incredible temple
- Hatton – Beautiful tea country
- Polonnaruwa – Ancient city ruins
Also, if one of the reasons you love traveling so much is because you love sampling cuisine from around the world, check out Carolyn’s cookbook of plant-based recipes from around the world.
Sri Lanka Travel Tips from: Alina, The Happy Kid
Alina and her husband are traveling the world with their young son, on a mission to make sure he has a happy (and well traveled!) childhood. How cool is that? Also, Alina, please adopt me.
Here’s what Alina has to say about travel in Sri Lanka:
“You can’t visit Sri Lanka without taking a safari in a national park. There’s plenty of options to choose from, as the island hosts 26 national parks, which represent more than 8% of its total surface. One of the best places to see elephants in Sri Lanka is Udawalawe National Park. Just 165 km away from Colombo, this is the third most visited park in the country. Around 250 Sri Lankan elephants permanently live in the area, attracted by the Udawalawe reservoir.
Since the park is quite small, it is almost a guarantee to see the large mammals during a safari here. The best option is to spend the night in the area and go in the park early morning. You will avoid the heat and see the animals during their most active time frame. Apart from the elephants, the park hosts several other mammal and birds endemic to Sri Lanka.”
Check out The Happy Kid for more tips, especially if you’re traveling with children.
Sri Lanka Travel Tips from: Julie Leventhal, Director of Public Relations, JG Black Book
“A lesser known surf destination, Sri Lanka is an excellent destination for surfers wanting to catch a wave and improve their skills. Experiential travel specialist, PELORUS, creates a custom week-long itinerary and connects you with an expert surf partner who will take you to the most secret and secluded spots to implement an intense personalized coaching program.
During your trip, which consists of at least five days of surfing, you’ll focus on individual skills and work on developing all facets of your technique. You will also experience a helicopter flight to Udawalawe National Park, home to over 500 elephants; a dinner within the grand fort walls in Galle, taking part in turtle conservation and tracking blue whales on a speed boat from Mirissa. This itinerary is aimed at intermediate to advanced surfers.”
Sri Lanka Travel Tips from: Lotte Eschbach, Phenomenal Globe Travel Blog
Lotte is the creator of Phenomenal Globe, and I absolutely love her Sri Lanka travel tip:
“The one thing in Sri Lanka everybody must do is rent a scooter in Jaffna and explore the beautiful islands Velanai and Karainagar. They are connected by bridges and ferries. You will pass through now sleepy villages still bearing the scars of the civil war.”
I couldn’t agree more. Hardly anyone makes it as far north as Jaffna and they’re really missing out. I spent weeks in Jaffna and never saw another Western tourist at all.
If you’re keen to read more about Jaffna and the undiscovered north, check out this article I wrote for Intrepid Travel: Why Northern Sri Lanka Should Be on Your Travel Radar
Sri Lanka Travel Tips from: Ellis Veen, Backpack Adventures
Ellis is a cultural anthropologist and travel blogger from the Netherlands who has visited over 50 countries in the last 20 years. Here’s why she thinks you really need to go cycling in Polonnaruwa while you’re in Sri Lanka:
“Sri Lanka’s cultural triangle is full of history and the main reason why every traveller in Sri Lanka must visit this beautiful area. One of the highlights of Sri Lanka’s cultural triangle is the ancient city of Polonnaruwa where ancient buddhist statues are scattered throughout tick forests and jungle teeming with wildlife. The ruins continue even in the middle of the current town.
Because of the distances between the ancient statues and temples they are best explored on a bicycle. The main section lies in the forest where it is easy to spot monkeys, deers and squirrels as well. It’s an interesting combination of historical sightseeing with wildlife spotting. The place is full of ruins and some of the statues are very impressive.
More statues can be found in the village itself where you will have a change of scenery. It’s a pleasure to cycle around Polonnaruwa with its scenic rice paddies. It provides an insight into the history of Sri Lanka and today’s daily life in the countryside. Therefore it is among the top things to do in Sri Lanka.”
Sri Lanka Travel Tips from: Matt, Founder, Hostelgeeks
Not your average booking site, Hostelgeeks is an independent travel brand awarding 5 Star Hostels. Here’s what Matt had to say about traveling in Sri Lanka:
“I spent 4 weeks in Sri Lanka. My best experience off the beaten path was diving with huge turtles near Nilaveli and Trincomalee. There’s several dive schools, and I went only with 2 more divers. We saw many very big turtles, corrals and more. Amazing experience.”
Sri Lanka Travel Tips from: STA Travel
STA Travel is the world’s largest student and youth travel company, successfully enabling young adults to explore the world since 1979 by creating experiences filled with adventure, discovery and personal growth.
Here’s what two of STA Travel’s experts had to say about Sri Lanka:
“Sri Lanka was an experience all on its own. From the stunning waters to the sun-soaked smiles of its people, it captivates its adventurer. My most memorable experience was taking the train through the Kaudulla National Park. I hung on to the open doorway as I watched this enriched countryside pass around me. I was also lucky enough to visit the Temple of Tooth, with its gilded walls and ornate frescos. It situated in the center of Kandy next to a lake and houses a sacred tooth relic. There something so peaceful with wandering through the halls and watching men and woman silently praying to their god.”
-Amanda Leyvas, Groups Travel Expert
“Finding a cold beer while visiting Sigiriya Rock can be a challenge, but if you find the right local they will provide loose directions to what can only be described as a prison-yard bottle shop. An iron barred counter secures the server safely from the patron at this local boozer, to which workers flock in the late afternoon when the day is done. It took two hours of riding scooters down random, unmarked roads to unearth its location but the crisp cold refreshment of that first sip, shared with good local people, made the adventure all the worthwhile!”
-Max Markey, Land Product Manager
Oh, Max. I, too, can relate to the pleasure of that first sip of an ice cold Lion Beer after an arduous search in the Sri Lankan sun. It really is a treat.
Sri Lanka Travel Tips from: Varini de Silva, Owner & Operator, Ceylon Express International
Ceylon Express International is a tour company that specializes in the Asia-Pacific region and Sri Lanka in particular. Here’s what Varini had to say about visiting Sri Lanka:
“Sri Lanka is a small universe endowed with a myriad variations of history, culture, nature, wild life and climate as compared to some of the much larger countries in the world. My favorite place to visit is Sigiriya Rock Fortress, to view the sunset! Sigiriya dates back to the 5th Century AD and it is a 600 foot monolith. It was the vision of a patricidal king name Kasyapa who built his palace on the top of the rock so he could observe advancing enemies. I start the climb in the late afternoon, to view the frescoes of celestial maidens which are located about half way up.
These frescoes are similar to the paintings found in the Ajanta caves in India. The colors are still vibrant as natural vegetable paint was used to create these ethereal figures.
Then proceed to climb the many steps to the summit accompanied by the curious monkeys that inhabit the rock fortress. Do not engage the monkeys as they are fierce and bold. Reach the top in time for the sunset that comes up like a ball of fire over the horizon and observe the setting sun as it fades away leaving a glow of orange in the sky…………… An experience of a life time!”
Sri Lanka Travel Tips from: Maya and Sari, Chasing Lenscapes
Chasing Lenscapes is a blog/travel magazine collaboration between two globetrotting sisters with a passion for local culture and photography.
Maya and Sari think that Sri Lanka’s tea plantations are the number one thing you need to add to your itinerary:
“Sri Lanka has so much to offer from history and culture to gorgeous landscapes and wild animals but if you want our advice, then Sri Lanka’s tea plantations should be your number one item on your bucket list. Tea was first brought to Sri Lanka by James Tailor, a British citizen. Who knew that this would have such a great influence on the local culture and contribute considerably to the local economy, turning this little island to one of the biggest tea producers and exporters in the world.
When we visited Nuwara Eliya we were mesmerized by the endless rows of tea plantations in the area. Rows and Rows of leafy bushes and endless hues of greens. Hiking through the fields, we got to interact with the local tea pickers and learned more about their daily routines and then we visited a local tea factory where we learned more about the process of producing tea. We also gained a new appreciation for the hard work that is involved in producing one little tea bag. It was one of our favorite parts of our trip since we love nature and culture, and a visit to Sri Lanka’s tea plantations combines them both, so don’t forget to add it to your itinerary!”
Sri Lanka Travel Tips from: Kindle and Kompass
Kindle and Kompass is a travel and literary blog with a heavy emphasis on Asian travel. Here’s what they recommend for your Sri Lanka trip:
“If Sigiriya, Dambulla and Kandy reflects the beauty of culture and religion in Srilanka, the Yala National Park is a treasure trove for nature lovers.
Yala is the go-to place for Leopard spotting. The national park is divided in 5 zones and zone 1 is populated with around 25 leopards. This is the most explored and the dense jungles end in pristine beaches.
The zone 1 was devastated during the 2004 Tsunami and killed over a few 100 animals and park staff. However, it is now recovered and fully functional with tourists activities round the year. Yala national park is diversified with a vast spread of dense forest, thorny bushes, grasslands, wet marshlands , water-bodies, sandy beaches, rocky mountains. Apart from leopards, deer and elephants, herons, pelicans, ibises and vultures make up the living creatures in the park. Precisely, a bird -watcher’s paradise.
Book your safari through trusted operators. Most of the resorts offer Safari tours. A 4-wheel drive vehicle with good ground clearance is a must for entering the national park. Entrance tickets are to be purchased at the counter and the earlier you reach the park, the earlier you enter. Advisable time to reach the park is 5 in the morning. Visitors are not permitted to walk. However, a few sections of the Yala national park beach are safe to explore by walk. Carry your packed breakfast as the safari will extend from 4-6 hours and carry ample amount of water to keep yourself hydrated. Get your binoculars and those zoom lenses to capture the once-in-a lifetime moment. The best seasons to visit are from February- August. June-August are the dry months and more chances to spot the elusive beast.”
My Own Tips
My own Sri Lanka travel tips could fill an entire guidebook, but if you read nothing else, keep these top tips in mind:
- Get off the well-trodden tourist circuit for at least a day or two. It’s a pretty small island but most tourists only see a tiny percentage of it while going where all the other tourists go.
- Take the monsoon seasons into account when planning your trip. Sri Lanka conveniently has two monsoon seasons, so when it’s stormy on the south coast, the north is sunny and dry, and vice versa.
- Ride the trains, they’re magical. Hang out the open doors with the wind in your hair at least once.
- If you happen to stumble upon a local celebration like the monthly poya full moon day, join in. Sri Lankans love sharing their culture with respectful visitors.
Sri Lanka is one of the most affordable travel destinations I’ve ever visited. To prove it, I put together this list of over 200 things you can buy/see/experience in the country for under $5 US. Over half of them are completely free!
Looking for luxury without breaking the bank? Check out this two week Sri Lanka itinerary that shows you how to replicate a $10,000 luxury trip for $2,200.
Do you know why you need to bring rubbing alcohol, dryer sheets, and safety pins to Sri Lanka? Don’t pack your bags until you read my Ultimate Sri Lanka Packing List for the lowdown on all the things you won’t think to bring with you but you’ll wish you had.
Think 30 days won’t be enough time to enjoy Sri Lanka? (You’re totally right.) You can extend your Sri Lanka tourist visa up to 90 days, but there are a few hoops to jump through. Check out my step-by-step guide here to make it smooth sailing.
Sri Lankans are some of the nicest people you’ll meet anywhere in the world and most of them will never correct you if you inadvertently say or do something offensive. Read up on my list of what NOT to do in Sri Lanka before you go so you can have an amazing trip without horrifying the locals.
Do you have your own Sri Lanka travel tips to share? Let me know in the comments!