Sri Lanka is a combination of so many spectacular aspects that its visitors return time and time again. This is a country that has everything from vast stretches of coastline to rolling tea plantations and dense rainforest to ancient relics. Here, you can embark on a journey guided by locals who will open your eyes to their culture and share their heritage with you.
Where is Sri Lanka?
The tear drop-shaped island of Sri Lanka is located in the heart of the Indian Ocean and is separated from the south-east coast of India by the Gulf of Munnar and the Palk Strait. Check out our best time to visit guide to find out when to travel to Sri Lanka.
It’s often Sri Lanka’s beaches that first spring to mind… this little island does have some magnificent stretches of golden sand. The south-west coast is especially popular, with resorts such as Negombo and Bentota providing an excellent choice of beautiful hotels from old colonial favourites to modern resorts with extensive facilities. The district of Trincomalee and the resort town of Passikudah on the east coast provide a quieter option, slightly off the tourist trail. The sloping beaches and largely sheltered bays make the east coast an excellent choice for families, while the handful of luxury properties makes it an unbeatable honeymoon setting.
History - the Cultural Triangle
If it’s the history of Sri Lanka that draws you in, an exploration of central Sri Lanka’s Cultural Triangle is a must. One of the country’s most famous sights is Sigiriya, which is also known as Lion Rock. This monument of stone rises up from plains that are scattered with the remnants of an ancient city. The two lion paws at the foot of the rock mark the entrance to the steps that lead to the summit, where a royal palace once stood. The climb is a bit of a challenge; however the views when you reach the top are well worth the effort. Nearby you’ll find the Golden Temple of Dambulla, a series of caves which play host to a large collection of Buddhist paintings and statues. Marking the northern and eastern points of the Cultural Triangle are the ruined cities of Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa which were Sri Lanka’s first and second capital cities.
The city of Kandy marks the southern point of the triangle. Sitting in the country’s verdant Hill Country, this former capital of the country’s last remaining Kingdom is one of the real gems in the country’s crown. A mix of Kandyan and colonial architecture sit side by side on the slopes of mist covered hills, and the city is home to one of the world’s most sacred Buddhist sites – the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic. The rolling countryside that surrounds Kandy is covered by tea plantations, and a visit to one of these is an unmissable Sri Lankan experience.
From Wilpattu in the northwest and Minneriya in central Sri Lanka to world-famous Yala on the south-east coast, Sri Lanka’s National Parks are rich in flora and fauna, providing you with the opportunity to experience the island’s wild side. We love how close Minneriya is to the major sights of the Cultural Triangle – it means that you can get a good balance of heritage, history and nature in just one region. It is particularly known for the vast numbers of elephants that pass through the park as they make their way along the elephant corridor between Kaudulla and Wasgomuwa National Parks. If you are more of a big cat fan then head to southern Sri Lanka’s Yala National Park, which has the world’s highest concentrations of leopards. Although the island has quickly grown in popularity, there are still parts of Sri Lanka that have an off-the-beaten-track feel. As a Tamil Tiger stronghold during the civil war, much of the north of the country was isolated until only recently. Less than a decade ago, travellers had yet to return to the town of Jaffna and its beautiful surroundings, today however, it has become one of the best destinations for adventurous travellers looking for a different side to Sri Lanka. Visit the beautiful local temples, take in the views from the city’s fort and try some locally-produced ice-cream; an unexpected Jaffna delicacy.
Car and driver Our car and driver option is ideal if you’re looking to create your own itinerary, to see what you want to see, when you want to see it. It’s flexible, so though your driver/guide will pick you up each morning and follow your itinerary before dropping you off at your chosen accommodation, you can choose to amend your itinerary at any time, as long as you still make it to your next hotel. Exploring Sri Lanka with a car and driver is getting more and more popular as the Sri Lankan government pushes ahead with building highways to speed up land transfers between their most popular regions. With a highway already in place from the airport down the west coast, there are also plans to link Colombo with the Cultural Triangle and the east coast.
Cinnamon Air If you’re looking for a luxurious experience, avoid the roads entirely and fly to your chosen destination. Cinnamon Air offers daily domestic flights from Colombo Bandaranaike International Airport to a selection of Sri Lanka’s most popular destinations. The flights have been synchronized to coincide with the arrival and departure schedules of international airlines. This means connecting your flights is easy and convenient with minimum time spent waiting around. You can of course add domestic flights at any point during your itinerary and there is even the possibility to charter flights to suit your own itinerary.
Diving & snorkelling
Sri Lanka’s 1000-mile coastline is dotted with fantastic dive sites, in particular a number of wrecks that are rich in marine life. The warm waters are inviting and the visibility ranges from 10 to 25 metres at its best. The island’s varied climate means the weather and sea conditions on one side of the island can often be very different from the other. The diving season on the south and west coast typically runs from November to April while on the east coast it’s from May to October.
A few of the most popular sites include the Gorgonian Garden off the coast of Colombo, the wreck of a British Merchant Navy vessel and the HMS Hermes aircraft carrier, the world’s first purpose-built aircraft carrier. This one-of-a-kind dive is located off the east coast and is only accessible to those with technical diver qualifications due to its depth.
GMT +5½ hours
Sri Lankan rupee
Colombo 10¾ hours
Sinhalese. Tamil and English are also widely spoken, and newspapers are printed in all three languages.
All foreign nationals staying in Sri Lanka must have an ETA (Electronic Travel Authorisation).
The ETA is issued online and no passport copies or photographs are required. To apply please visit www.eta.gov.lk.
The ETA is only valid for six months from the date of issue so please do not apply too early.
The cost to obtain an ETA is US$35 for tourists staying up to 30 days. This fee is payable online using Visa, MasterCard or American Express. A minimum of 24 hours prior notice is required.
Transit passengers and children under 12 do not need to apply for a visa.
Should you be travelling on honeymoon, the name you arrange your ETA in must match the name on the valid passport you are travelling on.
Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism and Christianity.
Tipping is usually around 10-15% and a service charge (approx. 12%) is often included in the bill, even in markets. As a general guide, tip around Rs 1500-2300 per day for driver guides, Rs 200-400 for waiters and porters and Rs 1000 for housekeeping.