Sri Lanka At a Glance
Sri Lanka Quick Information
Visa: Most nationalities who visit Sri Lanka have to get an electronic visa beforehand. This is easily available on their government website and is usually processed right away. An ETA gives you a chance to stay in Sri Lanka for 30 days. Residents from the Maldives, Singapore, and Seychelles are exempt from getting an ETA. The fee varies depending on where you are from but generally speaking, it can cost around $30-35.
Safety: Despite going through a horrific 25-year civil war, the Sri Lankan people are very calm in nature with virtually little violent crimes recorded against foreigners. Although having said that, it is still advisable to always be cautious, especially when using public transport late at night. Dengue Fever is slowly becoming a big problem, especially in big cities like Colombo so apply those mosquito repellants liberally.
Language: Sinhala and Tamil are the two main languages in Sri Lanka. Sinhala is spoken by the large majority (about 70% of the population) while Tamil is spoken mainly in the Northern and Eastern part of the country. While most people spoke conversational English, in some remote places we went to, we had a hard time communicating. However, with that being said, a smile is universal and Sri Lankans would happily help you out through a game of charades is necessary.
Festivals and Celebrations: Due to the fact that Sri Lanka has four major religions, they have a lot of religious festivals and celebrations throughout the year. In a nutshell, the Sinhala-Tamil New Year festival held every April is one of the most important cultural festivals in the country. Apart from that, the Poya Day or Vesak celebrated every May and the Esala festivals in Kandy and Kataragama in August are also a sight to see.
Sri Lanka Trip Planning
Best Time to Go
Despite generally being a small country, the weather patterns in Sri Lanka are pretty complex as it always has two monsoons. The low season (May-Aug) is called the Yala monsoon and brings rain to the South and West coast. During this time, places in the North and the East have the best weather but generally speaking, the prices are a lot lower during this period. The shoulder season runs from (April-September) and is generally a good time to visit as the temperatures are not too hot. Peak season runs from (Dec-March) and is when the southern coast is the busiest.
So in a nutshell, the best time to visit the west and south coasts and hill country is from December to March, while the best weather on the east coast is from April/May to September.
What to Pack for Traveling Sri Lanka
As with most places that you will go to, what to pack will largely depend on what you will be doing in that country. Due to the fact that Sri Lanka is located near the equator, the general climate is warm. However, once you go up to the highlights like Nuwara Eliya Ella or Ella, the climate begins cooling down a bit so taking a light rain jacket with you is definitely advisable. During my last trip there, I had a small hand-carry sized luggage with a few quick-dry t-shirts, one pair of trekking pants, some leggings, and some loose elephant pants. I would also recommend bringing a light sarong to take with you in case you see any temples or places of worship that you would like to visit.
It is also ideal to remember that although Sri Lanka gets a lot of tourists, the people are still fairly conservative so you have to make sure that you cover up and that you don’t offend anybody.
Best Things to Do in Sri Lanka
Drive a Tuk-Tuk
Naturally, the first on my list on one of the best things to do in Sri Lanka is to drive a tuk-tuk over 1000km similar to what we did. While you can easily rent one on your own, after experiencing this event first hand, I have to say that if you’re only going to do this once in your life, then you might as well join the Lanka Challenge. This epic 10-day tuk-tuk challenge organized by the guys over at Large Minority happens twice a year and has routes taking you through the North and the South. Not only do you have to navigate the entire thing using just maps, you also have to complete a few challenges along the way. Despite the fact that my partner and I travel and do cool stuff all the time for a living, the Lanka Challenge has seriously been one of the best things we’ve ever done.
Go on a Safari
Another highlight and must-do in Sri Lanka is to go on a safari. Blessed with an incredibly diverse landscape, Sri Lanka is an ideal place to go to if you’re a fan of wildlife and safaris. During our time there, we went on an incredible glamping safari and had an incredible time. Our two game drives through the park allowed us to spot wild elephants, a lot of deer, monkeys, and last but not the least, a fairly large female leopard (which was obviously, the highlight of our time there!)
Go on a Scenic Train Ride
Hands down, one of the best things to do in Sri Lanka (and the cheapest too) is to go on a scenic train ride. We did the journey between Nuwara Eliya Ella to Ella and had the time of our lives. Imagine sitting by the train door as you see endless tea plantation hills, gorgeous mountaintops, and valleys all around you. When we went, we bought 2nd class tickets and completely didn’t bother getting seats and rushed straight towards the door where we could fully hang out and enjoy the incredible views.
Relax by the Beach
With a coastline spread throughout the country, Sri Lanka has many seaside beach towns to relax in. From the sandy shores of Unawatuna, Bentota, Induruwa, Arugam Bay, Trincomalee, to Marissa, there is no shortage of places to relax and unwind. If you’re looking for adventurous things to do in Sri Lanka, you can also look at taking up surfing or kitesurfing while you’re in town.
See Historic Sights and Monuments
Whether you decide to take a trip down the cultural triangle, or simply travel around the country in search of ancient sights and monuments, Sri Lanka is an ideal place to go to. From the ancient city and ruins of Sigiriya, the Dambulla Cave Temple, or the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic in Kandy, there are heaps of history and culture waiting to be discovered.
What to Eat in Sri Lanka
Given its large Indian influence, there are a lot of similar food staples. However, unlike the typical Indian curries, Sri Lanka offers its own rendition of this popular food staple. While we were there, during long bus and train rides, I gorged on so many local snacks that I don’t even know where to begin to describe my top recommendations on what to eat in Sri Lanka. From samosas to kottu, Sri Lankan food was a cuisine that I pleasantly enjoyed.
Sri Lankan Fish Curry: Unlike traditional curries, the Sri Lankan fish curry isn’t made with coconut milk. Instead, it has a mild sour taste making it an unusual yet delicious meal. When you order this, it usually is served with heaps of other vegetable side dishes and rice. We knocked on a local’s house and asked them to show us how to make this particular dish (alongside with a few other Sri Lankan staples) and got to see first hand how they made it. It really can’t get better than that!
Appa: Similar to pancake batter, Sri Lankans ladle it to a wok and swirl it around, making it either a sweet or savory dish. You can order it plain, or with an egg in the middle. The egg hoppers are then served with a spicy sambal sauce to add flavor and is usually eaten with a side of daal curry.
Pol Roti and Daal: Made from coconut flour, pol roti is usually served as a side snack all times of the day and can be eaten with almost anything. For breakfast, it is served with a small plate of daal as a dipping sauce or in more Western places, with some jam and butter. For lunch or dinner, it is served with some sambal, dhal, or other types of curry dishes.
Kottu Rotti: kottu is made up of shredded roti and is fried with lots of vegetables or meat and is the closest thing you will get to a friend noodle or vegetable dish. It is absolutely delicious and is one of my favorite dishes in Sri Lanka.