Tags such as “Paradise Island” and “Pearl of the Indian Ocean” associate with a country for a good reason! But yes, you will need to visit Sri Lanka yourself to know why the island nation is given attractive nicknames such as these. Read this travel guide for some inspiration and some getting to know one of the most gorgeous countries in the world!
Formerly known as ‘Ceylon’, whether you have 1, 2 or 3 weeks to tour Sri Lanka, there are a wide range of activities and attractions that you can cover. Blue Lanka Tours presents you with an all-new travel guide for basic information about travelling to Sri Lanka, some of the must-visit destinations and what to expect during you Sri Lanka tour.
- General Information
- How to Get to Sri Lanka?
- Visa Requirements
- Why go to Sri Lanka?
- What to Expect in Sri Lanka?
- Where to start in Sri Lanka?
- Transport in Sri Lanka
- Top Places to Visit in Sri Lanka
- Accommodation in Sri Lanka
General Information – Sri Lanka
The Capital city of Sri Lanka is Colombo, and other main cities include Kandy, Galle, Trincomalee and Jaffna. The Sri Lankan Rupee is the currency you will be using and the national languages are Sinhalese and Tamil, though you can get around easily by conversing in English. The country has a population of 22 million, and an area of 65’610 square kilometers. The common electricity voltage used across the country is 230 Voltz at 50Hz. If your appliances are 110 Volt, be sure to use a voltage adaptor in order to avoid burning out the cables. The electricity sockets are usually type D (three round pins) or type G (three rectangular pins). A travel adaptor will fit the purpose of different sockets being used for your devices.
How to get to Sri Lanka
By air is the only way to get to Sri Lanka. Direct flights are available from several popular destinations such as London, Paris, Frankfurt, Dubai, Doha, Kuwait, Oman, Dammam, Jakarta, Karachi, Lahore, Melbourne, Sydney, Tokyo, Guanghzou, Seoul, Shanghai, Male, Chennai, Hyderabad, Mumbai, New Delhi, Dhaka, Kaula Lumpur and more.
The main airport that offers most of the flight connections is Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) in Katunayake. Colombo, Jaffna, Hambantota and Batticaloa are destinations where international airports are present but offer very restricted flight options and poor road connections.
Visa Requirements for Sri Lanka
To enter Sri Lanka, visas can be obtained in advance via the Electronic Travel Authorization (ETA) system by going through the following link: https://eta.gov.lk/slvisa/
The ETA is initially valid for 30 days but can be extended for up to 6 months. A 2-day transit visa is given free for all applicants. Apart from that, the visa fees vary from $20-$55 depending on the purpose of your visit, duration of visa and number of entries required. If you are unable to obtain the ETA in advance, visa on arrival is possible at the airport. At present, citizens of Singapore, Maldives and Seychelles are exempted from obtaining an ETA/visa to visit Sri Lanka.
Why visit Sri Lanka?
From a very rough past, Sri Lanka has rapidly developed over the last decade, giving the country a fresh start and making it easily accessible to tourists from across the world. From perfect surf breaks to pristine beaches aligned with coconut palms, scenic hill country, wide variety of wildlife, and its rich historical culture, the fame is for good reason indeed! Not to forget the warm smiles and delicious food! The people of Sri Lanka have been classified by tourists as the friendliest you will come across in most of your travels.
What to expect in Sri Lanka?
If you are travelling to Sri Lanka for the first time, you probably may not know what to expect. There are several things that are different to a standard situation in your home county. However, to put it simply, there are two main things you need to know about in Sri Lanka.
The weather – being a tropical country located on the lines of the equator, high levels of humidity, frequent monsoon rains, and thunderstorms are common in all random parts of Sri Lanka. If you are particular about which coast you’d like to spend most time on, study the monsoons and pick the right time to go to Sri Lanka. From December to April is the peak season for the south and west coast while May to October is peak season on the east coast. Off-season rain should also be expected on random days, but be aware that these won’t last for more than a few hours and are always a welcome cooling solution for hot and humid days.
The roads – compared to other similar Asian countries, Sri Lanka has a good road network and the standards of the roads are especially good – more so on certain routes such as Negombo, Anuradhapura, Trincomalee, Jaffna. And the scenic views of the hills are of course unmatchable!
Where to start in Sri Lanka?
The bright lights in the capital city of Colombo is a good place to start. Its waves of fragrant spices clashing against the hot waves of the Indian Ocean make it an ideal place to begin exploring the country that was previously known as ‘Ceylon’. Colombo is currently the trading capital and the most developed part of Sri Lanka – with malls, restaurants, cinemas, markets and much more! Visit the heart of the country and truly understand what Sri Lanka is about.
There is a certain charm about Colombo with its mix of old and new architecture, pushing to the edge of the Indian Ocean. Once you’ve crossed the shore, notice trains full of commuters going up and down the coastline while the waves crash below the rail tracks. Grab a trishaw to the Fort area where colonial infrastructure is prominent – and a popular attraction. Pettah is Colombo’s “bazaar” – a market that is bustling throughout the day and into the late night – where literally everything can be bought, sold or repaired.
Cinnamon Gardens is a more stylish and sophisticated area as compared to Pettah. As the name suggests, it was once an orchard of cinnamon, but today, it is more buildings than cinnamon plants. The National Museum is a must visit for an insight into the country’s history and to understand what Sri Lanka is all about. Galle Face Green is a long, beautiful stretch of green grass parallel to the ocean shore. Every evening it gets crowded with locals looking to catch some fresh air and spend some leisure time with their kids. You will see games of cricket, kites being flown, and children playing catch, as the sun sets low into the Indian Ocean. Stalls of Sri Lankan Street food are lined up along the shore to give locals and foreigners an authentic experience of Sri Lankan food.
Transport in Sri Lanka
The road network in Sri Lanka is quite easy, and although compared to India and Nepal they are relatively quiet, the road rules can get hectic to guests travelling from well developed countries.
Trains are a good way of getting around to popular cities like Colombo, Kandy and Galle – but do expect trains to be crowded up to the doors!
Tuk tuks are available at every nook and corner but be sure to pre determine the price or make sure the meters are working fine before you get into one!
Top Places to Visit in Sri Lanka
Discovering Rich Heritage
With multiple cities being appointed as the capital of Sri Lanka, a strong history has been developed, and many well-preserved ruins are World Heritage Sites.
- Dambulla: while being the epicenter to temples such as the Dambulla Cave Temples (incredible structures dating back to the first century BC), it is also one of the busiest trade centers for fruits and vegetables – crucial to the local economy.
- Habarana is a small town, yet a good place to base yourself if you are planning on exploring Sigiriya Lion’s Rock (a fortress built on the top of a rock, with two giant lion’s feet at its base), Dambulla Cave Temples, as well as National Parks in Kaudulla and Minneriya.
- Between Kurunegala and Anuradhapura is the beautiful granite structure that was once known as the Yapahuwa Rock Fortress in the 13th
- The ancient towns of Polonnaruwa and Anuradhapura are marked as UNESCO World Heritage Sites as they display several well-preserved ancient ruins scattered in parts of the towns. The Quadrangles, Abhayagiri Dagoba, Stupas, Sri Maha Bodhi and Buddha Statues are some of the highlights that should not be missed.
Exploring Exotic Beaches
- If you are considering the south coast, the beaches of Bentota, Hikkaduwa, Galle, Unawatuna, Weligama, Mirissa, Hiriketiya and Tangalle are amongst the best.
- Along the west coast, the best that Sri Lanka has got is Kalpitiya (known for kitesurfing and dolphin watching), and the golden sands of Negombo.
- The East coasts boasts some of the best beaches in Asia – swim safe clear waters of Trincomalee and Passikuda, as well as the surfer’s paradise of Arugam Bay are a must visit!
- The North coast of Jaffna, Mannar Island and Delft Island have also got postcard perfect beaches and are the best coast to visit if you want an off-the-beaten path experience.
Indulge in Scenic Views of the Hills
Nuwara Eliya, Ella, Kandy, Hatton, Badulla, Haputale, Bandarawela, and Koslanda are some of the most scenic hill country destinations – offering panoramic views of lush tea plantations, cascading waterfalls, mountains, valleys, and much more! While Kandy and Hatton are closer to Colombo and are a good option if you have got restricted time in your hands, Nuwara Eliya, Ella and Haputale offer more pleasant weather conditions as well as unending views that take your breath away! In these parts of the country, one can engage in activities such as trekking, mountain climbing, nature trails, white water rafting, scenic train rides and more.
Wildlife Encounters in Sri Lanka
From over 26 National Parks in Sri Lanka, popular ones such as Yala, Wilpattu, Minneriya and Udawalawe offer camping experiences for guests to get a real feel of what it is like to be in the wild. In addition to that, each of these parks offer jeep safari services that take you into the jungles in search of animals such as elephants, water buffalo, spotted dear, sloth bear, jackals, crocodiles, and much more! These safari’s last for about 3 hours and are best done during the early morning hours or late afternoon / early evening hours. Don’t forget to carry some water, binoculars and of course, a camera.
Accommodation in Sri Lanka
With tourism being one of the most significant and continuously booming industries in Sri Lanka for several decades, accommodation options are plenty. Budgeted hotels and guesthouses, and 4 and 5 star hotels are available in all corners of the country. For those looking for additional luxury, boutique hotels are a preferred option. If you are touring the country with a group of 10-15 family and friends, private boutique bungalows are also available in popular tourist destinations. Then there are also exclusive properties such as Anantara Tangalle, Wild Coast Tented Loge in Yala, and Ceylon Tea Trails that offer unmatchable, all-inclusive holiday experiences. A lot of wellness resorts that focus on sustainable living, environmentally friendly surroundings and encouraging guests to blend with nature are also up and coming in several parts of Sri Lanka. These resorts also offer Yoga sessions as well as Ayurvedic therapy to relax and rejuvenate mind, body and soul.
Things to keep in mind
- While the people of Sri Lanka are very warm, welcoming and friendly and may offer to accommodate you in their homes, if you do encounter any trouble, do get in touch with relevant consulates and embassies located in Colombo.
- Do not trust anyone with your belongings such as your passport, camera gear and money.
- Be sure to pack breathable shirts, shorts/skirts that cover the knees, swim wear, hat, hiking shoes, flip flops, sunscreen, necessary toiletries, and a mosquito repellent.
- When entering a temple, you will be asked to remove your shoes and hat, cover your shoulders and knees.
- Make sure you have travel insurance before you leave your home country and you are aware of how to contact your insurance service provider in case of an emergency.