Sri Lanka has everything you need for almost any kind of holiday – luxury beach getaway, active trekking trip in the mountains, safari adventure, culinary quest – you name it.
And because it’s such a small country (slightly smaller than Ireland) you can cram all of these holidays into one visit.
I visited Lanka recently to see in the New Year and I didn’t regret making the trip.
Here’s 10 reasons to make Sri Lanka your next holiday destination…
Sri Lanka is completely surrounded by beautiful beaches. The most popular beaches are down south – Hikkaduwa, Unawatuna and Tangalle to name a few – but whichever coast you’re on you’ll find perfect patches of sand. The east coast beaches are rarely visited by tourists and are renowned for their tranquility and lack of development. With so many to choose from why not hop between a few?
Back when Sri Lanka was a British colony (Ceylon) in the 1800s extensive railway tracks were laid to transport tea around the country. Nowadays locals and tourists cram into the crowded trains to get from the capital Colombo to the southern beaches or central mountains.
Prices can be as low as £1 for a 3 hour journey and while the train from Colombo to Galle feels like getting on the central line during rush hour the train from Ella to Kandy is absolutely amazing. It takes roughly 7 hours to trundle around tea plantations, through cloud forests and past cliff faces at altitudes ranging from 1,000 – 2,000 metres.
Definitely one for the checklist (make sure you book a reserved seat!).
With 24 dedicated wildlife reserves Sri Lanka is one of the best places in Asia to go on safari. We only had time for one safari trip so we chose Uda Walawe National Park as it was on the way from the south coast to Ella.
It’s considered one of the best places to see wild Asian elephants and we were not disappointed – we even had one sniffing around inside our jeep trying to get some of my wife’s scampi fries. Apparently Yala National Park is the best place to see the elusive Sri Lankan leopard.
There are more tuk tuks on the roads in Sri Lanka than any other type of vehicle. Basically a moped with the shell of a small car on top, they’re not going to break any land speed records but they’re loads of fun and cheap to get around in.
Decoration seems to be a point of real pride for the drivers – massive stickers, badges and colourful paint jobs are standard.
Head inland from the coast and you’ll quickly climb in altitude. Although the weather isn’t as nice up in the hill country – in late December it was 34c and sunny on the coast but more like 25c and rainy in the mountains – there’s some great trekking to be done and the mild weather makes it much easier!
The most renowned hike in the country is up to Adam’s Peak, a 7km, 3 hour climb to a 2,200metre summit. We settled for ‘Little Adam’s Peak’, a much gentler hike just outside of Ella with great views over the mountains.
Sri Lankan food is quite different to Indian food – for a start most curries are made with coconut milk so tend to be creamier and milder than Indian curries.
There are also loads of local specialities. My favourite was kottu, thin roti bread chopped up into little pieces and fried with vegetables and either meat or egg and cheese. Simple and tasty. A great way to try local snacks is to visit one of the many bakeries and food stalls you will see around town. Often you will find an amazing samosa or other deep fried treat for less than 25p.
Tea was first introduced to the island by the British but the locals have taken it to another level. Tea shops and bars are everywhere and sell dozens of different flavours and varieties.
We went on a tour of the Halpewatte tea factory near Ella and learnt about the tea making process. If you go before lunch you can even watch the tea being processed from the production line, no safety gear required!
It’s a travel cliché but the Sri Lankan people are unbelievably friendly. Every time we got on a bus locals would try their best to help us get to our destination even if they didn’t speak much English.
Kids shouted “hello!” at us from across the street and literally everyone smiled at us. It’s like being a celeb!
Whether you’re on a train winding through the hills, trekking up a 2km mountain, staying in one of the many awesome scenic lodges or generally just crossing the street you can’t escape the incredible scenery in Sri Lanka.
Tea plantations blanket hillsides, palm trees are dotted throughout the landscape and the hill country is covered in mist and fog. Definitely one of the most photogenic countries I have been to, don’t forget your camera.
Seventy per cent of Sri Lankans are Buddhist so while there are some cool Hindu temples and Islamic mosques, most of the temples in Sri Lanka are Buddhist with pagodas and lots of Buddha statues.
One of the most famous temples in the country is the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic in Kandy. Said to contain one of Buddha’s teeth, this temple is a World Heritage Site and sits in the middle of the royal palace complex. Well worth checking out for a couple of hours, especially when a ceremony is taking place and the locals cram in to pay their respects.