Since the end of the civil war in 2009, Sri Lanka’s tourist arrival numbers have more than tripled over the past decade, and this trend is bound to continue to soar over the next few years – for good reason too.
While Sri Lanka has been “up-and-coming” for a few years, this beautiful island has been thrust into the spotlight and recently made it onto tons of “Top Travel Destinations” lists including this one by the Lonely Planet. This trend hasn’t gone unnoticed by the hotel industry, with a plethora of luxury properties opening left, right and center to cater to the nearly 2 million tourist arrivals that land on the island’s sandy shores each year.
Are you wondering to yourself, “why visit Sri Lanka?” Let me tell you exactly why: Sri Lanka has something to offer for every type of traveler: Love the great outdoors? Sri Lanka has beautiful hiking trails in UNESCO-listed mountain ranges with sweeping views of tea plantations and waterfalls. More of a “chill by the pool” kind of traveler? Sri Lanka has world-class luxury and boutique hotels across the country with beautiful spas and pools. Are you an avid surfer? Perfect – there are beautiful, uncrowded surf breaks up and down the coast.
My own love affair with Sri Lanka began in February 2015 when I decided, spur-of-the-moment, that I was going to fulfill my lifelong dream to learn how to surf, and no one and nothing was going to get in my way. Here’s the catch. I am extremely geographically challenged, and I made this impulsive decision in a sleep-deprived state at 3 am. I had no idea, quite frankly, where exactly Sri Lanka was and how I was going to get there from Hong Kong. Luckily, it all worked out and I hopped on a direct flight from Hong Kong to Colombo with Cathay Pacific.
Since then, I’ve been back to Sri Lanka dozens of times (I may or may not have met a surf coach and since gotten hitched!) and am always itching to see more of what the country has to offer beyond the obvious top tourist destinations. Not yet convinced? Here are 10 reasons why Sri Lanka needs to be on your list of travel destinations!
1. Surf and yoga paradise
The Sri Lankan coast is home to dreamy surf breaks for beginners, and pumping waves and reef breaks for advanced surfers. The best part? The lineup is still relatively uncrowded so you can catch wave…after wave…after wave. Not to mention, the water is delightfully warm for the majority of the year so you can leave your wet suit at home. The surf season in south Sri Lanka runs from about November to April (though you can still find great surf spots outside of this season) and the surf season in Arugam Bay in eastern Sri Lanka runs from about May to October.
Over the past few years, I’ve learned how to paddle, catch green waves, turn and attempt to carve from some of the best surf coaches in the world at Talalla Surf in southern Sri Lanka.
This world-class surf camp in Sri Lanka offers small group sizes with experienced coaches, and your daily surf sessions are filmed so that your coach can review your technique and progress with you after every surf. If you’re looking to learn, this is the place to be to learn how to be more confident on a surfboard and have boatloads of fun.
Not into surfing? Sri Lanka is also a hot spot for kite-surfing (mostly on the northwest coast in Kalpitiya), water skiing and SUP-ing.
Yoga lovers rejoice! Sri Lanka is a wonderful destination to deepen your practice, with a plethora of yoga retreats available for any budget, or head to a drop-in class at one of the dozens of yoga studios around Sri Lanka.
Head to Talalla Retreat (same location as Talalla Surf) on the south coast for twice daily drop-in classes or a multi-day Yoga retreat, or you can also practice in the mountains at Rukgala Retreat near Kandy in the Cultural Triangle. Immerse yourself in nature and your Yoga practice in Sri Lanka!
2. Beautiful produce and food
Sri Lanka cuisine is typically wholesome, relatively healthy, and features a wealth of spices and flavours – like its neighbour, India, quintessential Sri Lankan meals consist of colourful curries (in general, milder than Indian curries), rice and roti, but also string hoppers (steamed rice noodles), kottu (a carb-heavy diced roti dish, often served with veggies, eggs or chicken), tons of fresh seafood from the Indian Ocean and an abundance of wonderful tropical fruit.
3. Wildlife biodiversity
Sri Lanka possesses a very high degree of biodiversity and is considered one of the top biodiversity hotspots in the world. You can’t visit Sri Lanka without visiting one of the many national parks to try to catch a glimpse of an elusive spotted leopard or see elephants, bears, deer, monkeys, mongoose, wild boar, water buffalo, peacocks and many other beautiful species in their natural habitat. It also happens to be one of the best places to see Asian elephants in the wild, click here for where to see elephants in Sri Lanka.
4. Incredible sights and cultural heritage
Sri Lanka boasts a vibrant and unique cultural heritage with 8 UNESCO World Heritage Sites scattered around the country and many colourful religious festivals hosted throughout the year. The ruins of ancient empires in Sri Lanka are preserved by the country’s Central Cultural Fund, and you can spend days exploring the country’s vibrant ancient temples, palaces and forts.
Sri Lanka has a diverse and rich cultural history and was a Dutch, Portugese and British colony from the early 1800s to 1900s, so expect splashes of European influence to be reflected in the architecture, food and drink and passion for cricket.
Spend some time strolling through Galle Fort in southern Sri Lanka and admire the beautiful architecture, and take a walk along the fort wall for panoramic coastal views. Read on for some of the best places to visit in Sri Lanka, including some places you’ve probably never heard of!
Read on for my travel guide to Sigiriya, one of Sri Lanka’s many UNESCO World Heritage Sites
5. Travel convenience
Sri Lanka’s international airport, Bandaranaike International Airport, is approximately 40 minutes away from Colombo by car. While there aren’t many direct flights to Colombo from Europe, Australia or the U.S., the good news is that most of the U.A.E airlines fly to Sri Lanka via Doha or Abu Dhabi, and there are direct flights from major layover hub airports including Hong Kong, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok. The airport is pretty much at max capacity, but a second terminal is being constructed as we speak.
Ready to plan your trip to Sri Lanka? Click here for accommodation options and current rates so you can get to booking!
Most visitors will need to apply for a visa (except for nationals of Singapore, Maldives and Seychelles) but this is easily done online.
Once you’re in Sri Lanka, there are a multitude of transportation options – train, bus, private cars, domestic flights. The most scenic way to travel is by train, but bear in mind that trains can often be delayed or cancelled. If you’re short on time, the most efficient way to get around is by hiring a private car/van and driver for long-distance drives. Fares are reasonable but do not expect them to be dirt cheap: expect to pay approximately US$120 for a 3-hour-long car ride. More here and here on getting around in Sri Lanka.
Seeing Sri Lanka’s tea country by train is an unmissable experience. Read on for more Sri Lanka train travel tips!
Sri Lanka is a tropical country so expect lots of blissful sunshine and blue skies practically year-round, except for monsoon season (in general, during the summer months in the south, winter months in the east) when it can get a little more humid and rainy. That being said, the weather is fairly consistent if you plan ahead, and the country offers some of the most beautiful sunsets I’ve ever seen.
The central part of the southern half of the island (tea country!) tends to be cooler than the coastal regions, so pack accordingly if this is where you’re headed. You might even find yourself needing thick socks and a warm jacket to keep you toasty.
7. Language and ease of communication
Sinhalese and Tamil are the two primary languages spoken in Sri Lanka, but I’ve personally found that many people also speak or understand basic English. Most people who work in, or live around, major tourist destination cities like Galle, Mirissa, Weligama, Unawatuna, Colombo and Kandy will be able to communicate in conversational English.
8. Wide assortment of accommodation options
There are rooms for every type of traveler and for every type of budget – Sri Lanka has it sorted. There are not only beautiful five-star hotels like the Anantara Tangalle Peace Haven Hotel, Shangri-La’s Hambantota Resort, Anantara Kalutara and Cape Weligama, but also boutique hotels, converted colonial houses, eco-lodges and luxury tents for “glamping” (like Madulkelle Tea & Eco Lodge in Kandy) – basically, anything your heart desires.
I’m passionate about promoting unique and boutique travel experiences, and personally look for comfort, beautiful decor and warm hospitality when I travel. Click here for some of the best boutique and luxury hotels to stay at in Sri Lanka!
Planning a trip to Sri Lanka? Click here for more accommodation options!
9. Pristine beaches
Every beach I’ve been to in Sri Lanka looks like it has jumped straight out of a postcard. Take it from someone who once swam into a diaper (used) – it’s wonderful to not have to worry about finding tons of litter along the shoreline and swimming into all sorts of gross rubbish. The water is crystal clear, and I once surfed alongside a sea turtle! The sand is extremely fine and powdery, because who likes pebbly and rocky beaches, am I right?
Many of the best beaches in Sri Lanka are located along the south coast. Read on for my ultimate guide to southern Sri Lanka!
Some beaches are busier than others, but the amazing thing about Sri Lanka is that even its most crowded beaches are nowhere near as densely-packed than those elsewhere around the world. There are also tons of unnamed, secret beaches in Sri Lanka waiting to be claimed all to yourself for a balmy afternoon swim and snooze. Click here to read more about my favourite beaches in south Sri Lanka!
10. Uncrowded…for now
Unlike other popular tropical destinations, Sri Lanka remains relatively pure, untouched and unspoiled. Yes, there are massive tourist destinations and slightly shady beach parties, but you won’t find anywhere like Kuta, Patpong or Patong in Sri Lanka. With tourism rates projected to explode over the next few years, now is the perfect time to visit!
These are some of the top reasons to visit Sri Lanka, but you’ll have to experience this paradise island for yourself to fully understand why it is so captivating. Have you visited Sri Lanka? Comment below and share your experience!
Planning a trip to Sri Lanka? You’ll want to read these guides:
- Don’t miss my two week itinerary for the Pearl of the Indian Ocean…
- …or this list of 12 essential things to know before you travel to Sri Lanka
- And definitely avoid making these typical Sri Lanka travel mistakes
- Need more trip inspiration? Check out these top destinations to visit in Sri Lanka
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