Top 10 Reasons to Visit Sri Lanka
What makes Sri Lanka attractive is the heady mix of British colonial past, beautiful scenery and the incredible hospitality and warmth of the locals. But now the country is experiencing something of a tourist boom after a protracted 26-year civil war, and their numbers are increasing every year.
We’ve put together 10 tips for those just planning their trip.
1. There’s no rush here
Although the infrastructure is improving every year, providing more and more diversity in transportation, navigating Sri Lanka’s winding roads is still a challenge. Which, of course, has an impact on your travel time – no matter what you choose a tuk-tuk, bus or train, you will still arrive late. If time is short and budget allows, it’s best to rent a car with a driver.
2. … and have fun at night.
Outside of Colombo and a few popular beach towns, hostels are almost nowhere to be found, all because apartments designed for families are much more popular. This makes life much more difficult for those traveling alone.
Sri Lanka is better known as a destination for honeymooners rather than those looking for a hangout. There is no alternative to Bangkok’s Khao San Road: resort towns in Arugam Bay on the east coast and in the west, Hikkaduwa is still only a faint semblance.
3. Treat Yourself
If you’ve prepared for your trip and have a big budget, Sri Lanka has a lot of swanky hotels and resorts where everything you brought with you can be thoroughly spent.
Aman, Shangri-La, Uga Escapes, Resplendent Ceylon are the best examples of luxury hotels.
If you can not afford it don’t worry, there are a lot of budget boutique hotels here. It is better to look for them on the spot, you will see what you pay for with your own eyes and, most likely, it will be cheaper than online.
4. If you want to avoid the tourist crowds go to the north.
The northern provinces of Sri Lanka are a great option for those who want to avoid the beaten tourist crowds. The number and quality of hotels is a little different from the southern region, but hardly anything compares to the local pristine beaches, empty temples and cozy colonial port towns.
5. Try new things.
Sri Lankan cuisine is delicious, so make the most of it. Rice flour pancakes, curried rice and kottu rotty (pancakes with egg and vegetables) are a must. If you’ve been to Asia before, you may be surprised that there is not a very developed system with street stalls, but take a closer look at the small cafes in the hostels.
6. Get to Colombo
Colombo, with its jazz clubs, rooftop bars, designer boutiques and world-famous restaurants, is definitely worth a visit. In addition to the sights that tell the history of the country and the city, you can see how the locals live.
Head to Galle Face Green at sunset to see families flying kites, cheer for one of the local teams at the R Premadas stadium, or just watch grandmothers wrapped in colorful saris in one of the local markets.
7. Watch the weather.
Monsoon rains are unlikely to spoil the experience of the trip, of course, but be prepared that the experience does vary from season to season. If, for example, you have plans to climb Adam’s Peak, keep in mind that the best time to do so is from December to May. If you climb at any other time, you will find yourself surrounded by only tourists and closed stores.
8. Stay Active
Sri Lanka is famous for its beaches and tea plantations, but beyond that it has a lot to offer to those who like to be more active. Master surfing in Arugam Bay, hiking in the Nakles Range, or rafting in the Kelaniya Ganga. Bike rides around the country are also becoming more and more popular by the day.
9. Pay more attention to your money.
By Western standards, Sri Lanka can still be called an inexpensive country, but prices are rising every year. For example, the ticket to a show in Kandy has doubled in the last year alone. As for the essentials, it’s better to buy them in major supermarkets, but if you do not have at hand, pay attention to the packaging, it should be printed on the price in rupees (sign “Rs”). This is the surest proof that you are not paying too much.
10. Feel the culture
Though only 30 kilometers separate Sri Lanka from India at a certain point, these countries are not at all similar to each other. The pace of life is much calmer here than there, which makes Sri Lanka an ideal destination for those who are interested in India, but a little scared. The locals are used to tourists, but are very appreciative when you show respect for their traditions and culture (think of that when you go to some temple).
What to see in Sri Lanka: Top 10 Sights
What to see in Sri Lanka? In this article we’ve collected the best Sri Lankan sights, which you should definitely visit during your holidays on the island: photos, video and description , as well as a map with their location.
Excursions or self-guided visits?
Most of the sights of the island of Sri Lanka can be seen as part of a tour or on your own.
If you have time, it’s more convenient to rent a car and go around all the interesting places in Sri Lanka on your own. If you come to rest on a tour for 5-14 days, then you have to choose only a few of their available places, because it’s impossible to visit them all in a short period of time.
How to find cheap airline tickets? They are easy to find through the search engine Aviasales. It is best to look for tickets in advance and consider different departure dates.
What to visit in Sri Lanka: Top 10 interesting places
Bodhi Tree in Anuradhapura
Anuradhapura, the first capital of ancient Ceylon, is located 200 km northeast of Colombo. From the capital can be reached by bus, which is a journey of 6 hours. There are train connections between the cities, the train takes 5 hours.
All the attractions are concentrated in the old town of Anuradhapura. Entrance to tourists everywhere is paid, but you can buy a single ticket for 3700 rupees. With the ticket you can visit the Abhayagiri complex.
All the monuments can be seen in two days. Because of the heat it is recommended to see the sights from some kind of transport: a bus or a rented car. A parking space costs about 25 rupees.
Separately, the Bodhi tree, sacred to Buddhists, is worth a visit. This ancient ficus grew from a scion taken from the tree under which the Buddha became enlightened. Therefore, the Bodhi tree is the most sacred and the oldest tree in Sri Lanka.
The tour of the sacred tree will cost the tourist 200 rupees.
Video about the attractions of the city of Anuradhapura:
What you can see nearby:
- Fifty meters away from the Bodhi tree is the Bronze Palace. It was built before our era and has lost its original appearance. It is forbidden to enter the palace.
- You can see the largest stupa made of brick, Jethawana, for free. This large structure was erected in the third century AD. It is located 300 meters from the tree.
- At a distance of one kilometer from Bodhi is the palace of Isurumuniya, carved into the rock. It was built before our era. Admission is paid and costs 200 rupees.
- The stupas of Ruvanvelisiya and Mirisaveti can be seen for free. Both structures are 200 meters from the tree.
- In the northern part of the city is the Abhayagiri complex. On its territory is the second tallest stupa in the city of Anuradhapura, there are statues of the Buddha, a museum, a pond and two lakes.
- You can visit the caves Vessagiriya, the royal palace of King Vijayabahu and artificial ponds for free.
- A visit to the Folk Art Museum will cost Rs. 300.
Gal Viharaja in Polonnaruwa
The monuments in Polonnaruwa are not only available for viewing with group tours, but they are quite possible to visit on your own and see them in 2 days.
In Polonnaruwa, a must-see is the Temple in the Rock or GalViharaya with its huge Buddha statues. This temple has no analogues and is located on the territory of a huge Archaeological Park. There is a fee to enter the park, with a ticket price of 3,250 rupees.
Tickets must be purchased in advance at the Polonnaruwa Museum. The territory of the park is huge, and it is recommended to move through it by car, motorcycle or bicycle.
There are several temples and monasteries, a stupa, and a royal palace complex within the park. There are also artificial ponds and stupas.
Photo and description: Gal Viharaya © vasse nicolas,antoine / flickr.com
- Polonnaruwa is 200 km east of Colombo. It is very inexpensive and convenient to go to Polonnaruwa by train. There are two flights: one train departs early in the morning and arrives at noon. The second departs at 7 pm and arrives in Polonnaruwa at midnight. The ticket costs from 185 to 600 rupees.
- The second option is the bus service. Because of the heat it is better to leave on the earliest flight. The trip from Colombo to Polonnaruwa lasts 6 hours and the ticket costs 160 rupees.
Attractions in Sri Lanka nearby:
- Naypena Vihara Hindu Complex;
- King Nissankamalla’s Palace;
- The ruins of the library and the statue of King Parakramabahu 2.5 kilometers from the park;
- Near the ruins of the library, you can see the Parakrama Sea, a lake created by the king’s order.
One of the most famous attractions in Sri Lanka according to TripAdvisor rating is Sigiriya (Lion Mountain). It is a cliff 370 m high with a complex of cultural monuments inside and on top. It is the subject of many hiking trails and is protected by UNESCO.
Tickets for the visit cost 3,900 rupees. The price includes a visit to the museum, where the history of all the structures will be told.
Panorama view of the Lion’s Rock:
- You can take buses No. 48 and 49 from Pettah Bus Station in Colombo to the Inamaluwa stop. There you will change to bus No 490/1 from Dambulla to Sigiriya. The full journey time will be 6 hours.
- From Colombo, buses to Lion Mountain leave every 30 minutes.
What to see near Sigiriya:
- Pidrunagala Cave Temple, located 1.5 km north of Sigiriya, entrance tickets cost 200 rupees;
- The town of Dambula and the cave temple;
- City of Polonaruwa with sights.
Temple of the Sacred Tooth of Buddha in Kandy
Kandy is the second most populous city and is literally in the center of Sri Lanka.
The city is famous for its Temple of the Sacred Tooth of Buddha, which is the main Buddhist temple of Sri Lanka. It is located on the shore of a man-made lake. The temple itself has preserved its original architecture, which can be seen from the outside and inside. There is a fee to enter the temple, 1500 rupees.
Photo: Buddha’s Tooth Temple – Kandy’s main attraction © Jorge Lascar / flickr.com
- To get to Kandy from Colombo you have to drive 120 km going straight east by bus No1, departing from Pettah bus station. The journey time will be 4 hours.
- It is even quicker to get from Colombo to Kandy by train, only 2,5 hours.
Besides this Buddhist shrine, there are other sights to see in Kandy:
- Asia’s largest botanical garden is 12 kilometers from the city.
- The Elephant Nursery, where baby elephants left without their mothers are raised.
- A stone’s throw from the Temple of the Sacred Tooth is the Kandy National Museum. It occupies part of the royal palace and houses the royal regalia and other historical artifacts. The cost of a ticket is 500 rupees. The International Museum of Buddhism is also located here in the palace. Admission to the museum costs Rs. 500.
- Not far from the Temple of the Buddha’s Tooth are four Hindu temples. There are Hindu temples outside Kandy as well.
- Within the city is an amazing reserve Udawattakele – forbidden forest, a piece of wildlife of Sri Lanka. It is a must visit to understand what the real nature of the island looks like.
Wilpattu National Park
Wilpattu Park is located 180 km north of Colombo and 30 km west of Anuradhapura. Within its boundaries are six dozen lakes. In terms of size Wilpattu Park is the largest in the world. It is also the oldest park on earth.
To see more sights in the park, it is worth renting a car. Admission costs 2,300 rupees.
There are a huge number of local and visiting birds. The Bengal ram, a large and active predator, is seen. You can also see the local swamp crocodiles, which reach 4 meters in length.
The park is home to deer and monkeys as well as elephants and leopards.
Photo: Leopard in Wilpattu National Park © Shashin Wijenayake / flickr.com
- You can get here by bus from Colombo and other cities. The driver must be warned in advance to stop at Wilpattu Park.
What to see nearby:
- Anuradhapura sights;
- Mihintale Temple.
Golden Temple in Dambulla
The Golden Temple is located in the small town of Dambulla and is part of an entire temple complex consisting of six temples and caves. The town is located near the rock of Sigiriya. You can see everything in 1 day.
The complex was built in the first century BC. In the twelfth century there were more than 70 statues of Buddha covered with gilding.
Very close to the Golden Temple is the Museum of Buddhism. There are also ticket booths where you can buy tickets to the temple, which cost about 1,500 rupees.
There are many paintings on the earthly life of the Buddha, as well as water that defies gravity and flows upward.
Panorama from the mountainside where the temple is located:
- Dambula can be reached from almost any city by bus. They arrive at the town station, from where you can walk to the temple in 20 minutes or take a tuk-tuk for 100 rupees.
The sights of Sri Lanka are close by:
- If you step 100 meters away from the temple, you can see the Museum of Buddhism. Here is a collection of samples of paintings on the rocks. The ticket there costs 250 rupees.
- You can see the stupa Somavati. It is located at the foot of a small mountain on which the complex is located.
- Tourists will be interesting to visit and market Dambula, which is located near the bus station.
Unique Sinharaj Park
In Sinharaja Park, you can see what the rain forests of Sri Lanka looked like. Rare plants and animals exist in the small area of the park. Sri Lanka’s last wild elephants, leopards, monkeys, three species of endemic deer, reptiles and many insects are still found here.
The tour of the park is a walking tour. The flora of the rain forest is very widely represented here. Many plants are now found only in this park. It is not uncommon to encounter a tree 50 meters tall. There are beautiful waterfalls.
Entrance to the park is paid and costs 500 rupees. If you could not arrive early, you can stay overnight in a special camp, which is at each entrance, to go on a tour in the morning. A four-hour guided walk will cost 1,600 rupees and an eight-hour walk will cost 3,200 rupees.
Photo and description: Sinharaja Park © Stefan Krasowski / flickr.com
- From Colombo, Sinharaja Park can be reached by bus. The forest is very close to the city of Galle.
The nearest attractions are in the town of Unawatuna:
- Japanese Pagoda, admission is free;
- Unawatuna Temple, admission is also free;
- Yatagala Temple on the outskirts of Unawatuna;
- Turtle Farm, admission is 400 rupees.
One of the most beautiful places in Sri Lanka is Adama Peak. It is a mountain of 2243 m, the top of which can be climbed as part of the tour.
At the top is a depression that resembles a giant footprint. This is the “sacred footprint” of Buddha. For followers of Hinduism, it is the footprint of the supreme deity Shiva. And Christians consider this footprint the footprint of the Apostle Thomas. A temple is built over the footprint.
To get up to the temple, you have to overcome more than 5000 steps. The length of the stairs is 8 km. After every 150 meters of the stairs are made platforms where you can rest, buy water and food.
Many people start climbing at night to reach the top by dawn. The stairs are well lit. At the top of the peak is always windy and cold, and you need to bring warm clothes.
The ascent takes anywhere from 3 to 5 hours, and the descent takes no more than an hour and a half. Admission to the stairs for ascent is free.
Photo: Adam’s Peak view at dawn © Manu Praba / flickr.com
- Adam’s Peak can be reached from Colombo by bus from Pettah bus station to Hutton. You can also come here by train.
What to visit in Sri Lanka nearby:
- Badulla town and attractions;
- Sinharaja Rain Forest;
- Elephant Nursery in Pinavelle.
At the foot of Adam’s Peak is the town of Ratnapura. From Colombo you can come here by bus or train. The journey is 100 km long.
This is the center of Lankan gems mining. The largest sapphires in the world are found here. There are no modern high-rise buildings or entertainment venues in the town. There are strange huts that cover the entrances to the gemstone mining sites.
Tourists who come here with a tour will see how they are mined. The most daring ones can go down into the mines, go underground, and look at the structure of the mines.
The labor of the gem miners is very primitive. The rock is extracted with a pick and shovel, and then washed in the local river. The sludge of the larger fractions is picked by hand. The tour will continue to the factory where the mined gems are processed.
Photo and description: gem mining in Ratnapura © hassage / flickr.com
What to see in Ratnapura:
- Ratnapura has a state museum with collections of jewelry made from local gems, tools from Sri Lanka’s most primitive tribe, the Veddas, and the remains of prehistoric animals.
- Near the city is a very revered temple of Maha Saman Dewal.
- The local market, which is located right in the center of town. This market is what many people visit Ratnapura for. Here you can buy gems very cheaply.
Peradeniya Botanical Garden
The Botanical Garden of Sri Lanka is one of the best in the world.
The largest river in Sri Lanka, the Mahaweli, runs through the park. Here it forms a loop. The park was created on the site of the old royal gardens, which were laid out back in the 13th century.
There are collections of heat-loving conifers, ebonite trees, palms, bamboos, ficuses, ferns. The main treasure of the park is a collection of ornamental and species orchids.
There are corners devoted to the design of gardens and parks. These include a suspension bridge, a Japanese garden, a flower garden, alleys of different palms, a spice garden, and its own waterfall.
The garden has name trees planted by famous people from around the globe. Including trees planted by Nicholas II and Yuri Gagarin.
There is a fee to enter the garden. The cost of admission is 1500 rupees.
Photo: Peradeniya Garden © Buddhika Rangebandara / flickr.com
- From Colombo, you can take a bus to Kandy. In Kandy, take buses No644 and No 652 to the stop called “Botanicgarden”.
What sights to see nearby:
- Temple of the Buddha’s Tooth;
- Royal Palace of Kandy;
Sri Lanka has beautiful beaches with the clearest ocean water. Hikkaduwa is a resort located on the south coast of Sri Lanka about 100 km from Colombo. If you drive from Bandaranaike Airport, a cab will cost about 9,000 rupees.
The beaches here are large with a wide strip of excellent clean sand. There are beaches open to all winds with a real ocean wave, and there are indoor beaches where the wave is not felt at all.
There is a coral reef. It was severely damaged by the 2004 tsunami waves. You can see swimming in shallow water sea turtles and a variety of fish.
Hikkaduwa Coral Garden is one of the most popular attractions in Sri Lanka.
Photo: Sri Lankan coast near Hikkaduwa © Amila Tennakoon / flickr.com
What else to see in Hikkaduwa:
- National Park;
- Gemstone Mines;
- Monument to the victims of the tsunami;
- Mask Museum 10 kilometers from Hikaduwa.
Sri Lanka sights on the map
On the map below you will find the location of all attractions in Sri Lanka in Russian.
To display only the objects you want on the map, click on the menu icon in the upper left corner and uncheck all categories except “points of interest”.
Useful information about Sri Lanka
Which Sri Lanka sights are must see in your opinion?