Travelling to Sri Lanka? Start from here

If you are about to visit Sri Lanka or even just thinking about it, you have probably already started to research about Sri Lanka, its places of interests, things to do and so on…

There are really so many aspects of Sri Lanka that makes this country such a wonderful destination and it’s no surprise that in the past few years, Sri Lanka has been one of the top destinations for holidays.

Well in this post we would like to share with you few particular notions about Sri Lanka, keeping in consideration a bit of history, culture, interesting facts and few useful aspects for travellers, hoping that you find them interesting and that they could provide you inspiration for your travel.

There is so much to write about, so if you feel like we could add something else, please do leave a comment and we will update the article.

#1 – Multiculturality: languages, religions and ethnicities

Sri Lanka cultures
Sri Lanka is a multicultural country with 4 main religions and 3 languages

Sri Lanka has a population of about 20 million people with few different ethnic groups and 4 main religions, Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity and Islam, that drive the island’s culture.

The largest ethnic group is constituted by the Sinhalese population (about 75%). Because of this predominant majority, Sri Lankan people are often called Sinhalese, a diffused misconception.

The second largest community are Sri Lankan Tamils (about 11%), followed by the Sri Lankan Moors (about 9%) who adopt as main language Tamil. In the years there has been a debate of whether Sri Lankan moors are Arab settlers’ descendants or Sri Lankan Tamils that converted to Islam between the 8th and the 15th century.

There are also small percentages of Indian Tamils whom were brought to Sri Lanka by the British during the colonization period to make them work in the Tea fields and Burghers, who are descendents of Europeans and Malays, and a small indigenous population called Veddas.

The official languages are Sinhalese (Indo-European family), Tamil (Dravidian) and English.

#2 – Previous Colonies

Sri Lanka has been colonized by the Portoguese, Dutch and British rulers
Sri Lanka has been colonized by the Portoguese, Dutch and British rulers

Sri Lanka has been colonized by the Portoguese Empire from 1505 to 1658, the Dutch East India Company from 1640 to 1796 and the British Empire from 1802 to 1948.

Each of these colonies influence are still visible somehow through infrastructures such as the Galle Dutch Fort, which was actually built by the Portuguese and later on enhanced by the Dutch. Another example of the colonization influence is the city of Nuwara Eliya, a city at the center of the island, famous for its surrounding tea plantation and known as well as Little England due to the presence of buildings in old Victorian architectural style and reminding of the old British influence on this particular town.

Many Sinhalese citizens also carry names that are clearly of Portuguese origin such as Da Silva, Fonseka or Perera.

#3 – Old names

Before making official the current name of “Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka” (1978), the country had several different names from ancient times: Tambapanni, Taprobane, Serendib and Ceylon. This last was the English version adopted by the British rulers of Ceilão which was the name given by the Portoguese.

Tea lovers will definitely recall the terms “Ceylon Tea” often used to indicate Sri Lankan tea.

#4 – Unesco sites

Sri Lanka hosts 8 Unesco World Heritage sites of which 6 are cultural sites and 2 natural: Sri Dalada Maligawa known as The Temple of the Sacred Tooth of Buddha and the Sacred City of Kandy, home of the Temple; the Ancient city of Sigiriya, a fortress built on a rock built around the 5th Century; the Sacred city of Anuradhapura, built in the 4th century and nowadays one of the most important archeological sites of the island and the world; Polonnaruwa, the second most ancient home of a Sri Lankan kindgdom; and the last cultural site, the Dambulla Cave Temple, over 80 caves that served as temples and which host several statues of the Buddha, ancient kings, Gods and Goddesses (including Hindu’s).

Sigiriya - Unesco World Heritage site
Sigiriya is one of Sri Lanka’s Unesco World Heritage sites

The 2 natural Unesco sites are the Sinharaja Forest Reserve who earned the title mostly to due the preservation of its large variety of endemic species and the Central Highlands which include the Horton plains national park, the Knuckles Conservation Forest and the Peak Wilderness Protected Area. This last earned its title thanks to its biodiversity.

#5 – National Parks

One of the most common animals in Sri Lanka is the elephant
One of the most common animals in Sri Lanka is the elephant

There are a numerous national parks in Sri Lanka for a total of 27 national parks that cover 573.400 hectares of land all over Sri Lanka. Most of them are famous for their specific species of animals such as leopards and elephants and a large variety of birds

In such terms, the elephants in Sri Lanka would be the most outstanding ones. In certain areas throughout the nation these elephants are well maintained and controlled by the government in such manners where they would not danger human lives.

Guides are available in all Sri Lankan national parks to help and guide tourists to the right places in order for them to admire all of the wonders of these parks.

Some of the most famous are: Yala National Park, Sinharaja Forest Reserve, Wilpattu National ParkWasgamuwa National Park, Kaudulla National Park.

#6 – Gems

Sri Lankan Blue Sapphire
A great number of precious stones can be found in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka has a long and colorful history for its gems where the country itself was once known as “Ratna-Dweepa” which means Gem Island. It is known that most of the gems in Sri Lanka are found in Ratnapura, the city of gems.

The Blue Sapphire found in Sri Lanka is unique comparing to the ones found in others parts of the world for its astonishing color and clarity. Out of about 200 gemstones available in the word, around 75 varieties have been found in Sri Lanka.

As a curiosity, the largest Blue Sapphire in the world was found in Ratnapura, Sri Lanka, weighing 1404.49 carats at the beginning of 2016. It is said to be worth of $300 million USD. The “Blue Belle” is another amazing Blue Sapphire that adorns the British Queen’s crown.


#7 – War

Sri Lanka has been affected for about 3 decades due to an internal war. The conflict naturally brought many economically and financially issues yet the country did not collapse and tourism was still one of the main factors for Sri Lanka’s economic.

During the war time, the most visited areas were the South-West coast, thanks to its magnificent beach sides and the possibility to enjoy activities such as snorkeling, surfing, diving or whale watching and the so called Cultural Triangle (central area).

Once the war ended, the Northern and and East side of the island too has become popular  among tourists mostly thanks to seaside based cities such as Arugam Bay, Batticaloa, Trincomalee, Nilaveli, Uppuveli and Pigeon Island which have been basically untouched by tourism for the previous thirty years.

#8 – Fauna & Flora

Peradeniya garden
Peradeniya Garden includes more than 4000 species of plants, including orchids, spices, medicinal plants and palms

Sri Lanka is known as the paradise of Fauna and Flora. The island holds over 90 species of mammals, hundreds of butterflies, over 80 snake species and about 435 species of birds.

Among the 435 recorded bird species, 251 are resident and no less than 21 are endemic to the island. It is exactly thanks to this condition that tourists can enjoy activities such as birdwatching or safaris in one of the several protected parks.

A very interesting place to admire some of these species is the Peradeniya Botanical Garden located in Kandy.

#9 – Tea & Spices

During the colonization, in 1842, the British brought from China the first plant of tea to Sri Lanka for non-commercial purposes. It was few years later a British man named James Taylor that introduced the plantation of Tea for commercial purposes starting in Kandy. After over 150 years, the production and exportation of Tea has become one of the main revenue sources for Sri Lanka and its Tea is considered to be one of the best qualities in the world.

spices in Sri Lanka
Spices are an essential part of Sri Lankan food

Sri Lanka also produces a large variety of spices which are used both in the local community as vital ingredients for the Sri Lankan cuisine as well as for exportation. Among these spices you will be able to find Pepper, Cinnamon, Cardamom, Cloves, Nutmeg, Vanilla, Turmeric and many others.

When you travel to Sri Lanka, don’t miss the opportunity to visit a tea plantation and the processing factories. Almost every plantation offer guided tours and free tasting of their tea and they ofter have a shop where you can buy some original Sri Lankan tea. The same goes for spices: there are many Spice gardens throughout the island where you will be able to see the plants and eventually purchase some spices to bring back home.

#10 – Orphans & Orphanages

Orphanages in Sri Lanka
During your travel visit an orphanage and help by donating stationery, food, toys or cloths. You will not forget these kids’ smiles

A series of factors contributed to one of the negatives aspects of Sri Lanka: the abundance of orphans and orphanages. Some of the main factors as you may imagine are poverty and the thirty years war.

The famous tsunami that hit most of South Asia in 2004 contributed as well.

Why do we bring this up? There are many orphanages in Sri Lanka run both by foreign NGOs and local private and government organization. We would like to invite anyone visiting Sri Lanka to include a visit to one or more orphanages in the itinerary and offer help. As per help, we do not say that you should donate money, however with few dollars you can buy stationery, clothes, toys or food, these are all items that these children always need.

Most of all, even just a few minutes visit from a foreigner would bring a smile to these kids and we can assure you that there aren’t many things that can fill your heart of joy as the smile of these kids who had a very unlucky life and terrible experiences.

#11 – Shopping & Bargaining

This is something for shopping lovers and “negotiators”: in many shops you can negotiate on the price of a goods or services they provide. Not in every shop, but mostly this is possible throughout the nation, for example you can’t bargain in supermarkets with fixed prices on labels, however in small shops such as souvenir shops you won’t have a problem to negotiate.

Since Sri Lanka is famous for batiks and hand-made goods such as art crafts and wooden elephants, these can be found in many places around the country at different prices, yet it is highly possible to bring down the price of that product by bargaining to a price which you would have never thought of.

Don’t expect to be able to bargain in big brand shops.

#12 – Ayurveda

Basically, Ayurveda means “Science of Life”. This is an ancient medical technique being followed up-to- date. Sri Lankans often rely on modern medicine which is what we usually consume these days, but there are people who still use Ayurveda treatments.

Ayurveda in Sri Lanka
Ayurveda is a traditional Sri Lankan science of natural healing

Ayurveda treatment is mostly using herbs, spices and hand treatments. This can be also a way of relaxing our body as Ayurvedic oil massages can be really stress relieving.

Sri Lanka has many outsiders visiting the island just for these Ayurveda Treatments or even to learn about Ayurveda.

#13 – Veddhas

The Veddhas are an indigenous people in Sri Lanka. They are a tribe situated in just some parts of the island such as Mahiyangane and Ratnapura. These tribes are said to be descendants of Prince Vijaya who ruled in the 5th and 6th century. Their population last calculated in 2002 was 2,500 and it is said to be that the Vedda origina language has become extinct and therefore the remaining Veddas adopted Tamil and Sinhala as language.

#14 – Monsoons

If you are planning to travel to Sri Lanka, you definitely want to be prepared and know a bit about the climate in Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka has a tropical climate with temperatures rarely going under 15° C and this happens only on the mountain areas at the center of the island while in the rest of the island the temperatures are always between 25°-35° C.

What actually you should know is about the monsoons. During these periods you can expect rain showers and frequent thunderstorms and you might not want be in the affected areas.

Each monsoon affects a specific area during a specific timeframe of the year, although in the past few years the beginning and ending of monsoon seasons has a bit changed.

Here is the list of the monsoons:

  • First Inter-Monsoon Season – March – April
  • South-west Monsoon Season – May – September
  • Second Inter-Monsoon Season – October – November
  • North-east Monsoon Season – December – February

15# – Transportation

Sri Lanka offers several means of transportation:

  • Buses
  • Three-wheelers (tuk-tuks)
  • Car/Mini-bus rentals
  • Trains
  • Flights

Buses are cheaper compared to other countries and they cover up almost every place throughout the island. It’s a good option to travel with buses if you are on a budget trip. The buses have almost always English boards as well. Bus services are offered both by goverment owned company (CTB) which are always red and do not have A/C and private owners which offer non A/C buses for short travels and A/C buses for long distance travels.

Trains do not reach every part of the country yet it is obviously faster than buses. The ticket prices are relatively cheap and for certain routes there is the possibility to get a 1st class ticket with really few bucks and get a seat on a fully air conditioned wagon. Many tourists often opt for the train when travelling to the central hill areas, the most exciting trip is from Kandy to Nuwara Eliya thanks to the wonderful sights that you can admire during the journey.

tuk tuks in Sri Lanka
Tuk tuks are a good option for short distance travels in Sri Lanka

Three-wheelers are ideal to travel short distances as it would expensive to travel far places. The price varies according to the distance. Although Sri Lanka is quite safe, tourists may still end up into scams which often involves three-wheelers therefore before getting one, do ask the price for the journey and in case of doubt choose a three-wheeler that uses the meter to calculate the travelling distance. The first KM is charged 50 Rupees(approx. $0.35), additional KM costs 30 Rs (approx. $ 0.20)

You can also rent Cars or Minibuses, with or without driver. Naturally these costs more but they are ideal if you are travelling in group. One thing that you should know is that Sri Lanka is a left-driving country, therefore if you are not used to it, it’s better to not drive by yourself.

There are domestic flights as well available connecting the main cities such as Colombo, Kandy, Nuwara Eliya, Galle, Trincomalee or Jaffna. Usually they are small aircrafts such as 8 passengers Cessnas. This is also another option that have a higher price. Unless you are in a rush though, land trips are recommended. You definitely do not want to miss the sights you can get while travelling through land.

One last note: when travelling in Sri Lanka with cars, buses or tuk-tuks, you can easily get into traffic jams. Also, the roads are not always large and sometimes it can be dangerous due to excessive speed and risky overtakes…so be prepared for this.


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We would like to regularly update this post with extra information, so if you have any question or you would like us to add something more about a specific topic, please do leave a comment.

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