What makes Sri Lanka such a unique destination?
Sri Lanka is one of the most exciting holiday destinations in the world. Whether you are wowed by landscape, wildlife, culture, or simply seek adventure – Sri Lanka is likely to be the perfect destination for you!
It’s home to pristine, warm-water beaches, gorgeously green landscapes, historic temples, spicy culinary traditions, amazing wildlife, colourful festivals, and architectural feats. It has what’s needed to wow even the most adventurous traveller, and impress even the most jaded photographers!
An island with an oversized punch
Moreover, Sri Lanka is able to boast of all this diversity and abundance of adventure while being just one relatively small island. Nowhere else in the world is so much brilliance and excitement packed into such a small space!
For instance, within the space of just a week, you can:
- surf the waves, jet ski and snorkel
- explore the vibrant city of Colombo
- head into the forested hills and go white-water rafting
- climb rocks and mountains to visit fortresses and temples
- attend street festivals and eat exciting foods
- explore the historic city of Kandy
- go on safari and see some of the world’s most illustrious large game
- and more!
You don’t need to give up a single day to just to travel – your next adventure is always only a hop and a skip away!
So we encourage you to make Sri Lanka your next holiday and let its beauty and charms blow you away …
“It was my most active holiday yet, from exploring Sigiriya’s natural beauty, the charm of Kandy, or the beaches surrounding the stunning Galle Fort – there was so much to experience.” Brent Bell
We’ve put together a showstopper multi-location itinerary for Sri Lanka. Explore the hidden gems of this beautiful country, either on our example tour, or on a completely bespoke adventure. The island is your oyster!
In 1972, the name Sri Lanka was adopted in place of Ceylon. The word sri means “blessed” in Sinhalese, and Lanka is the name of the island.
We answer your questions …
Below you’ll find answers to commonly asked questions about Sri Lanka.
What to expect
- What is the culture like in Sri Lanka?
- What is the architecture like in Sri Lanka?
- What festivals are there in Sri Lanka?
- What can I expect from Sri Lanka’s landscape?
- What are the beaches like in Sri Lanka?
- What wildlife will I see in Sri Lanka?
- What is Sri Lankan food like?
- What languages do they speak in Sri Lanka?
- What currency is used in Sri Lanka?
- What is the climate like in Sri Lanka?
- What is transport like in Sri Lanka?
- Is it safe in Sri Lanka?
- How do I apply for a Sri Lankan visa?
Travel with us
What is the culture like in Sri Lanka?
Sri Lanka is a multicultural nation that’s well-known for its regional diversity. Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam and Christianity are key influencers in Sri Lankan culture, though Buddhism is by far most dominant.
The island nation also has been heavily influenced by India, with whom there is much shared history and heritage. In more recent centuries, Portugal, the Netherlands and Great Britain played a role in influencing the culture as each colonised the nation in turn.
Sri Lanka gained its independence in 1942, and became a republic in 1972. This is as well as the influence from outside the country; from India and other kingdoms in southeast Asia.
Sri Lanka is home to two main ethnic groups: the Sinhalese (centred in the ancient cities of Kandy and Anuradhapura) and the Tamil (centred in the city of Jaffna).
The Tamils live in the north and east of the country and have a culture that is unique to them and is heavily influenced by Hinduism. The Sinhalese live in most areas of the country and are heavily influenced by Buddhism.
In more urban areas you’re likely to find a melting pot of ethnicities, religions and customs. The largest cities in the country are Colombo, Dehiwala-Mount Lavinia, Moratuwa and Jaffna. Six of the seven largest cities are in the Western Province.
What is the architecture like in Sri Lanka?
The buildings, homes, towers, temples, forts and more in Sri Lanka are as varied as they come! This is thanks to a myriad influences. Sri Lanka has always had strong ties with the Indian mainland. It’s also been colonised by the Portuguese, Dutch and British. And the priorities of its Buddhist and Hindu followers have influenced construction greatly. Let’s not then forget the weather and importance of the ocean.
From the moment you land in Sri Lanka, you’ll witness this glorious mixture. The capital city of Colombo contains modern structures like the famous Lotus Tower, as well as historic icons like the Red Mosque.
The more rural you go, the more you can expect to leave the modern behind and witness many beautiful historic buildings that showcase the country’s fascinating regional differences.
The Jami Ul-Alfar Masjid (or Red Mosque) in Colombo is a well-known structure that’s a favourite among visitors to the city.
The most sacred site in the country is arguably the well-known Temple of the Tooth at the former capital, Kandy, where the tooth still remains to this day and is venerated. The colourful festival known as Esela Perahera sets off from this site during summer.
Given the millennia-old history of Sri Lanka, it won’t surprise you that there’s a great wealth of ancient buildings, fortresses and temples to visit on the island.
The ancient structures at Anuradhapura, Sigiriya, Dambulla Cave and Polonnaruwa in the so-called Cultural Triangle are examples of how advanced and diverse Sri Lanka architecture has always been.
Sigiriya Rock Fortress
Possibly the most popular of these ancient constructions is Sigiriya Rock Fortress in central Sri Lanka. This fascinating complex was built atop a giant rock that juts out of the landscape. A series of steep steps leads you to the top, where the views of incredible, and the rich history surrounding you will blow your mind!
What festivals are there in Sri Lanka?
Sri Lanka has one of the busiest festival calendars in the world! With four major religions on the island and 25 public holidays throughout the year, there’s always a celebration to be experienced.
Most of the festivals are religious in nature and abide by the lunar calendar, with every full moon signalling the start of a new month. (Every two or three years an extra month is added to keep the solar and lunar calendars in alignment.)
Traditionally, the island’s most important Buddhist festivals are each celebrated with an enormous perahera (procession). You can expect to see decorated elephants, drummers and dancers at these processions.
Full moon poya day
The full moon poya day that coincides with Vesak in the month of May is a very important religious celebration in Sri Lanka. Buddhists celebrate the nativity, enlightenment and passing away of Lord Buddha with many celebrations.
Sri Lankans of every religion crowd the roads to enjoy Vesak decorations which include white paper lanterns that are lit up at night. Many set up makeshift alms houses that line the roads and offer every food item from beverages to main meals and desserts – for free! If you happen to be driving down the road on poya day, it’s not uncommon to be flagged down and treated to some snacks and drinks by the locals!
Esala Poya Perahera
Another huge celebration in Sri Lanka is the Esala Poya Perahera in the interior city of Kandy. Esala Poya is the day that celebrates the arrival of the Buddha’s tooth to the famous, Temple of the Tooth. On this day families visit the many temples situated around the island to offer flowers and pay homage to Lord Buddha.
But nothing quite compares to the week-long celebrations in Kandy during Esala Poya. It really is an unforgettable spectacle, and we can take you there! Speak to us about combining a night celebrating the Esala Poya Perahera into your Sri Lanka itinerary.
What can I expect from the landscape?
Just southeast of the southernmost tip of India, the tropical island of Sri Lanka is commonly called the Pearl of the Indian Ocean.
The island consists mostly of flat to rolling coastal plains, and a hilly and mountainous south-central region. Both the shoreline and mountainous interior of Sri Lanka are incredibly beautiful. Roughly 40% of the island is forested. The highest point in the country is Pidurutalagala (or Mt Pedro), which rises 2,524 m (8,281 ft) above sea level.
The island nation nation also comprises roughly 50 smaller islands, many of which are wonderful places to visit.
There are also many wonderful caves to explore, some of which were long ago turned into temples. The most famous is Dambulla Cave Temple, which we highly recommend visiting! We include it in our suggested Hidden Gems of Sri Lanka itinerary.
“I am amazed at the vast array of geographic topography in Sri Lanka as well as the beauty each one possesses. It would be difficult for me to identify a favourite since all were distinct and wonderful in their own right!” Eric Johnson
Epic train journeys!
Nothing encapsulates the scenic diversity of Sri Lanka as much as a journey by road or rail from the coast to the hill region. On the journey you pass through dense rainforest, rolling hills, sprawling savannah, colonial towns, tea plantations, and vast plains.
The train ride from Ella to Kandy through Sri Lanka’s hills and mountains is possibly the most beautiful rail journey in the world!
Did you know? There is evidence of a natural land bridge that once connected Sri Lanka with India. This vanished causeway lies only a few metres below sea level, and is known as Adam’s Bridge.
Sri Lanka was a British colony between 1815 and 1948. Tea became a staple crop, and still today you can see beautiful tea-growing fields across the interior. Visiting a tea plantation is a wonderful way to engage with an important part of Sri Lanka’s industry and culture. You’ll see women – often in brightly coloured traditional clothing – dotted through the plantations as they harvest the tea leaves.
Ceylon tea comes from Sri Lanka, as the island was known as Ceylon under British rule.
What are the beaches like?
Sri Lanka is famous for its beautiful beaches. Whether you prefer to brave the waves or watch others do it while you sip a cold coconut drink, the beaches in Sri Lanka have never been more inviting.
With nearly 1,600 km of palm fringed coastline, you’ll never get tired of spending time on the pristine shorelines of the island. And because monsoon season hits the island from one side at a time, taking a dip in the Indian Ocean is possible all year round.
Where to head in different seasons
From November to March, the southwest coast is sunny and calm. And from April to October, the place to be is in the east. Sri Lanka’s warm climate is sure to have you running back toward the coastal areas after exploring the interior — especially to the gorgeous beaches in the south.
Fun beach activities
No matter what you’re looking to do on the beach, the great thing about Sri Lanka is that there’s sandy shores everywhere that are perfect for just about anyone and any activity.
- go kite-surfing on the windy shores of Kalpitiya
- party on the west coast of Hikkaduwa
- admire dolphins and whales in Mirissa
- surf the waves of Aragum Bay
- relax on the pristine sands of Batticoloa
- swim with sharks in the turquoise waters of Trincomalee
And these are just the well-known beaches! There are countless hidden beaches that you won’t find in the guidebooks. We can take you to them on our bespoke tours.
What wildlife will I see in Sri Lanka?
Leopards, elephants, spotted deer, whales, tropical birds – Sri Lanka is a wildlife lover’s paradise. It’s known for being one of the best places in Asia for seeing wildlife. And wherever you are on the island, there’s usually a national park or forest reserve close by to visit!
That said, the wildlife isn’t limited to the parks. You’re often likely to see an elephant or more crossing the road in the southern town of Udawalawe. And you could well spot large bats flying above your head in the city of Colombo! So keep your eyes peeled. 👀
Did you know? The Sri Lankan elephant is a symbol of national heritage and of prosperity, both for its long association with wealth and royalty, and for its association with Ganesh, the elephant-headed Hindu god of wealth.
The island’s isolation from the mainland, its varying altitudes and the heavy rainfall it receives from the two monsoon seasons have given Sri Lanka a variation in climate and biodiversity normally found only across an entire continent.
Furthermore, Sri Lanka is the easiest place in the world to see the blue whale, the world’s largest animal.
Sri Lanka’s national parks
National parks make up 10% of the island’s total area. The parks are home to herds of elephants, solitary leopards, beautiful spotted and sambar deer, crocodiles, and many species of resident and migratory birds, among others.
Sri Lanka is a small country, yet it has 26 national parks spread out over its area, including a couple on its smaller islands.
Best national parks for a safari
The two most popular national parks for safari in Sri Lanka are:
- Udawalawe National Park in the south
- Yala National Park on the southeastern coast
Both parks have large elephant populations, as well as leopards, the two most sought-after animals on safari. Both also have diverse and absolutely beautiful landscapes, including forests and grasslands.
Yala National Park is the larger and busier park, and jeeps often crowd around animal sightings. It has the highest leopard population in the country, so your chances of spotting one – while not guaranteed – are higher here. The best time to visit is June to September.
Udawalawe National Park is a quieter park, and its central reservoir offers a gorgeous backdrop to photographs of the thirsty animals that congregate there. The best time to visit is from October to January (the dry season) for large elephant sightings, and November to March for migrant birds.
“Sri Lanka is such a varied destination that really surpassed my expectations when it came to the variety of adventure, culture – and amazing food! I really wanted to see the elephants and get close to nature – the elephant safari was my fave!” Sarah-Jane Paden
What is Sri Lankan food like?
With recipes and spices brought to the island over the centuries by Indians, Arabs, Malays, Portuguese, Dutch and English, Sri Lanka boasts a fascinating culinary heritage. Fused together with local produce, including fruit, such as coconut and jackfruit, seafood and an arsenal of spices, Sri Lankan cooking delivers an abundance of incredible dishes. The island’s signature dish is the famous rice and curry, the staple food of almost every Sri Lankan man, woman and child, served up in just about every café and restaurant across the land.
Eating with your hands
Eating with your hands is customary when in Sri Lanka; the locals say that using cutlery means you can’t properly enjoy the flavours and textures of food.
That said, Sri Lankans are extremely accommodating and tourists are almost always provided with cutlery by default.
Popular local dishes
So what are some of the foods you can look forward to trying in Sri Lanka? Here are some classic dishes we would recommend having a taste of on your visit to Sri Lanka:
As you’d expect from an island in the Indian Ocean, seafood plays an important role in Sri Lankan cuisine. Ambul thiyal (sour fish curry) is one of the most beloved varieties of the many different fish curries available.
Kottu is the Sri Lankan hamburger, and everybody’s favourite go-to fast food when craving something tasty and greasy. It resembles fried rice, except, instead of rice, it’s made with a type of roti known as godamba roti (a flat, crispy bread).
Over the traffic and noise at a Sri Lankan market, you’ll likely hear the clanking of metal on metal and know kottu isn’t far away.
Hoppers are the Sri Lankan answer to the pancake. The batter is made from a slightly fermented concoction of rice flour, coconut milk, coconut water (optional), and a hint of sugar. Sooo tasty! 🤤
In a country in which the coconut is of supreme importance, there’s one Sri Lankan side dish that pays fitting tribute: pol samabl. This dish, which could be translated as ‘fresh coconut relish’, is a simple blend of finely grated coconut, red onions, dried whole chillies (or chilli powder), lime juice, salt and Maldive fish (if available).
The ingredients are diced or ground, then combined in a bowl. In Sri Lanka, pol sambal is used as a garnish or side dish for just about everything and anything.
What languages do they speak?
The three main languages in Sri Lanka are:
Sinhalese is the national language of Sri Lanka as well as the native language of the Sinhalese people, who total about 16 million (or roughly 70% of the population). An additional four million people speak Sinhalese as a second language.
The oldest record of the Sinhalese dates back to the sixth century BC! Modern Sinhala is thought to have developed in the twelfth century AD.
Here are some handy phrases in Sinhalese:
|How are you?||Kohomadha?|
|What’s your name?||Oyāgē nama mokakda?|
|My name is …||Magē nama …|
|How much is this?||Meyka keeyada?|
Tamil is Sri Lanka’s other official language. It’s the mother tongue of about five million people (or 15% of the population). It’s almost exclusively spoken in the northern and eastern parts of the country.
Tamil was brought to the island centuries ago by traders, invaders, immigrants and others coming from southern India.
English is widely spoken and it’s the language with which Sri Lanka communicates with the outside world.
Despite being the language of the former colonial power, English is nowadays a politically neutral language. Most of the people you’re likely to encounter in shops, hotels, restaurants and when travelling on public transport are likely to speak enough English for you to get by. Taxi drivers usually speak some English, and bus and railway personnel are usually quite fluent.
In the countryside, English is less widely spoken, though it’s rare to find yourself completely unable to communicate.
Sri Lankan English is similar to British English, but with lots of local words infused. Also, foreigners might need to listen closely at first to understand the accent.
What currency is used in Sri Lanka?
The official and only currency used in the country is the Sri Lankan rupee (LKR). Wait until you arrive in Sri Lanka to get the bulk of your money changed.
Money exchange offices in Sri Lanka can change British pounds or any other currency into Sri Lankan rupees. You can bring up to LKR 5,000 to Sri Lanka from abroad, which is approximately £25, or you can bring up to the British pound equivalent of USD $5,000.
How should I change or withdraw money in Sri Lanka?
You can either get your money changed at exchange offices, or withdraw money from an ATM.
There are exchange offices at the Colombo and Hambantota airports – open 24/7 – that actually offer rates that compete with what you can get on the street. So either get your cash changed here, or go to a licensed money changer such as jewellers and designated exchange offices.
It’s important to note that the exchange rate may change depending on the denominations you want to change. For example, you may be able to get a better rate exchanging £50 notes compared with £10 notes.
If you can, avoid changing money at your hotel. Hotels usually offer a worse rate than banks and dedicated money changers, and a commission may also be applied to the transaction.
The second option is to withdraw cash from an ATM. Cash withdrawals are subject to the Visa or Mastercard foreign exchange rate. The downside to going this route is the fee for using an international ATM. A local ATM operator fee and international ATM fee will apply (some banks don’t charge a fee).
We would recommend using any of these banks for money exchanges:
- Commercial Bank
- National Bank
- Standard Chartered Bank
Sri Lankan banknotes come in the following denominatinos:
- 20 rupees
- 50 rupees
- 100 rupees
- 500 rupees
- 1,000 rupees
- 5,000 rupees
Not only are the banknotes very colourful, but each one also showcases a local bird. What a wonderful decision!
“Booking through Follow Alice made our 12-day trip to Sri Lanka feel like a relaxing three weeks.” Cathy Hicks
What is the climate like in Sri Lanka?
The climate is tropical and warm, due to the moderating effects of ocean winds, which makes Sri Lanka such a popular beach holiday destination. For a small country, Sri Lanka’s climate can be rather complicated, and there is a lot of confusion around when the best time to visit is. This is due to the fact that the island is affected by two separate monsoons, though this also means that there is usually good weather somewhere on the island, at most times of the year. Sri Lanka is therefore a perfect year-round destination.
And though the weather doesn’t run like clockwork here, there will rarely be weather so dramatic that it will stand in the way of a brilliant holiday with plenty of warm weather and sunshine.
Best time visit Sri Lanka
In practical terms and as a rough guide, the best time to visit the west and south coasts and hill country is from December to March. The best weather on the east coast is from April or May to September.
Sri Lanka’s position close to the Equator means that temperatures remain fairly constant year-round.
- Coastal and lowland areas enjoy average daytime temperatures of around 26 to 30 °C (often climbing well above 30° C during the hottest part of the day).
- Things are pleasantly mild during the day in the hill country of the interior. Days are often between 14 to 22 °C (57 to 72 °F). Nights can be quite chilly, with temperatures sometimes dropping to near freezing.
Humidity is high everywhere, rising to a sweltering 90% at times in the southwest, and averaging 60 to 80% across the rest of the island.
What is transport like?
In Sri Lanka you can travel by car, taxi, tuk-tuk, bus or train.
Private car with driver
Hiring a private car and driver is one of the most popular ways to see Sri Lanka. It can also be done at a very reasonable price. You can hire a car for self-drive for the length of your stay, or just hire one for the day through an app such as PickMe.
On a Follow Alice Sri Lanka trips, we have you explore this exotic island in a private AC vehicle, and provide a driver and dedicated tour manager. You travel with like-minded travellers whilst retaining an intimate and personalised feel. Having your own private vehicle means you can stop when and where you like, and go at your own pace.
Sri Lankan taxis are common in all sizeable towns. Only some are metered (mostly in Colombo), but over longer distances their prices are comparable to those of three-wheelers, and they provide more comfort and security. You can count on most taxi rides costing around LKR 60 to 100 per kilometre.
Hotels and restaurants can usually get you a ride for a modest cost. In Colombo you can count on taxis dispatched via apps such as Uber and PickMe.
Three-wheelers, known in other parts of Asia as tuk-tuks, bajajs or auto-rickshaws, are waiting on nearly every corner in Sri Lanka. A general rule of thumb is to only get in three-wheelers that are metered, but this is easier in the cities.
In some areas you may need to bargain and agree on the fare before you get in the three-wheeler. Three-wheelers and taxis waiting outside hotels and tourist sights expect higher-than-usual fares. Walk a few hundred metres to get a better deal or find one with a meter. You can also order tuk-tuks on the mobile app PickMe.
Local buses go to most places, including villages outside of main towns. Fares tend to range from LKR 10 to 50.
In Sri Lanka, the trains are not only superior to buses in terms of comfort and luggage options, but they’re also a tourist attraction in themselves! The Colombo–Kandy–Nuwara–Eliya–Badulla line takes you through three of the most scenic stretches of the country. This trip is a highlight of any Sri Lankan tour. Be sure to get yourself a seat by the window and get your camera ready!
Is it safe in Sri Lanka?
Sri Lanka is a remarkably safe place to travel in, and violent crime against foreigners is virtually nil. The only thing to be wary of are scams and touting.
The vast majority of Sri Lankans who approach you will be perfectly honest, and simply keen to have a chat. At its simplest, you’ll encounter low-level hassle from people who want you to visit their shop, stay in their guesthouse or be your guide (or, alternatively, who want to take you to a shop or guesthouse where they’ll receive a commission).
A new day
The decades-long Sri Lankan Civil War ended in May 2009. Since then, the entire island has been at peace and almost all travel restrictions have been lifted. Sri Lankans have embraced tourism and are proud to show off the beauty and mysteries of their nation.
How do I apply for a Sri Lankan visa?
In order to enter Sri Lanka, you need to purchase an electronic travel authorisation (ETA) visa before travelling there. Head over to the visa issuing website to nab yourself one. Don’t worry – it doesn’t take long at all!
This tourist visa gives you 30 days to explore the Pearl of the Indian Ocean. Print off the visa, or you can show the immigration officer the visa on your phone at the airport.
Follow Alice to Sri Lanka
Our bespoke trips to Sri Lanka take you through the best of the country. We take you to not just the big tourists destinations like Kandy, Galle and Ella, but also to lesser-known (yet equally fascinating) places such as Kalpitiya Beach, the small , pretty town of Deniyaya, and Knuckles Mountain Range.
In fact, our bespoke tours are all about these lesser-known places that bring you face to face with the heart and soul of Sri Lanka. Be prepared to embrace a wealth of new experiences. There will be new landscapes every day, an incredible variety of wildlife, and lots of adventure!
“Based on our suggested destinations, Follow Alice planned a practical route to follow and I feel we got to see pretty much everything. They suggested amazing accommodation to suit our budget and taste.” Rosalind Eleazar
Meet Dinesh, our Sri Lanka local leader
Leading the tour will be Dinesh Perera, our local leader who speaks both English and Sinhalese. Born and raised in Sri Lanka, Dinesh has exceptional knowledge about the culture and peoples of the island. Wherever you travel with him, you’ll be in safe hands!
“Our guide was respectful, honest, funny, kind and knew the island like the back of his hand. I got the royal treatment wherever we went. All the details were perfect and, and on a couple of occasions he changed plans because he knew I wouldn’t like the plans that had been made.” Eric Johnson