In recent years, Sri Lanka’s gorgeous beaches, historical monuments, cultural attractions, natural beauties, and delicious food, has been the reason the island has featured on the world’s hottest travel destinations.
That being said, a unique way to discover Sri Lanka is like a local. Here are some ideas on how to experience real Sri Lanka.
Use public transport
Although first-class train tickets would be a tempting option, it’s not as much fun as traveling on a third-class carriage and mingling with local commuters. We, locals, prefer to sit with our legs dangling out the door while long grass lashes against our feet as we listen to the sound of carriages creaking and clanging, while the train cuts its way through absolutely luscious greenery. Observe how vendors walk up and down the train carriages trying to sell some snacks while a group of friends gather at the entranceway and create a music band with upbeat Sri Lankan songs.
Public buses are also a fun way to get to know the daily routines of how locals travel to work, how bus conductors make their day, and how bus drivers compete to get to the next halt faster to grab more customers!
Take time to dine with local families
As you pass through every town in Sri Lanka, you will see how entrepreneurial families have made restaurants just in front of their homes. Look out for these spots to enjoy authentic dining experiences. These restaurants are usually named after the man of the house and the owners are always genuinely excited to have customers from across the world. Rohan’s Place in Negombo and Duminda Hotel in Dambulla are just a couple of examples of how they name their outlets. While lunch specialties are rice and 3-4 curry varieties including a meat option, dinner favorites are hoppers and kottu roti.
Visit local markets
One of the best ways to get the real feel of a holiday destination is to visit local markets. For example, if you have Negombo and Mirissa in your tour itinerary, don’t miss out on the local fish markets. Walk around the stalls and identify the wide range of seafood available; including prawns, blue swimmer crabs, barracuda parrotfish, swordfish, and squid. What happens backstage is when the men bring in their catch, women are waiting to gut and skin the fish, salt them and store them in drums. The fish are later washed very well, spread on the beach for a few days to dry out and are then transported across the island for sales.
Opt for a catamaran ride along the Dutch canal in Negombo and you will realize this is a great way to see traditional life. On this ride, you come across women washing clothes on the banks, children bathing, toddy tappers doing their thing, and shirtless fishermen trying to fix their nets. More observations include cows grazing, water monitor lizards swimming beside your boat, and a variety of birds flying around you.
Try Traditional Ayurveda
Ayurveda, a form of medicine that is an alternative to western pharmaceuticals, has been practiced in Sri Lanka for centuries. Cinnamon leaves, aloe vera, green oil, sandalwood, and turmeric are a few natural substances that are used to cure various problems such as blood circulation, insomnia, wrinkles, hair fall and more. Several Ayurveda clinics and spas are available across the country for you to drop by and try out some treatment options. Many luxury hotels in Sri Lanka also have spa facilities that offer exclusive Ayurvedic treatments.
In the 1860s, tea was introduced to Sri Lanka. Today, the country produces almost one-third of the world’s supply of tea. Nuwara Eliya, Kandy, Ella, Haputale and Bandarawela are some popular locations where luscious tea estates are found. Visit one of the tea factories if you are on a hill country tour and try your hand at tea plucking, learn about the tea manufacturing process and sip on a cup of freshly brewed tea.
Brush up on your gemstones
Marco Polo once said that ‘the best sapphires, topaz, and amethysts in the world’ come from Sri Lanka. Ratnapura is the ‘city of gems’, so head on out there to learn about the island’s ancient, opulent gem industry and maybe you could buy yourself some world-class gems! For those who are very much into the jewels industry, Blue Lanka Tours offers an exclusive gem tour of Sri Lanka; an itinerary that you might like to have a look at.
Discover Sri Lankan handcrafts
Sri Lanka’s local markets are abundant with handcrafts. The traditional hand-carved masks, Laksha – wood carved pieces polished with bright wax, handloom items, lace items, and handmade drums are just a few varieties that you can find here. Not only can you see the finished products but there are also places like Ariyapala Mask Museum in Ambalangoda to learn the mask making process and Beeralu lacemakers in Galle who can teach you their weaving talents.