During a recent conversation with a friend about where to travel to next, she replied in a hushed tone, “Sri Lanka! It’s a recently discovered gem; soon everyone will be heading there!”
In the aftermath of a devastating war and tsunami, Sri Lanka is opening its doors once again to tourists. With everything from crystal blue waters to flawless plains supporting a variety of flora and fauna, its quickly climbing the list of must-go places for many travellers.
Some are dubbing Sri Lanka as the new Maldives, and while there are similarities, we’d like to share 10 things that makes Sri Lanka unique and why you should take a trip there if you can!
1. Beach resorts
As an island located in south of India, you'll be floored by the white sandy beaches that line the coast of Sri Lanka. Arugam Bay, Bentota, Tangalla, Mirissa - where there are beaches, there's an array of heavenly beach resorts that allow you to relax and breathe in whiffs of salt water from the Indian Ocean.
Beach-goers will love the beachside cafes while animal-lovers will enjoy the search for blue whales ? Honeymooners will fall hard for the endless stretch of glorious sand alongside mystical blue waters just overlooking the boutique hotels - perfect for long romantic walks on the beach!
You’d want to wake up to the cool sea breeze and palm trees right outside your room ? The beach resorts of Sri Lanka, with terrace balconies and breathtaking views of the open sea, will make leaving the island that much harder!
[P.S If you're still hoping for a Maldives dream getaway, these 5 Muslim-friendly resorts are perfect for the budget traveller!]
Off the coast of Sri Lanka lies a plethora of islands that are just as, if not more, beautiful than the mainland of Sri Lanka. Islands like Pigeon Island, reachable from Nilaveli of eastern Sri Lanka, are one of two national parks in Sri Lanka known for its gorgeous coral reefs and aquatic animals ?
For a location rich in history and marine life, head to Delft Island off the coast of Jaffna city. Just a ferry trip away, you'll be able to view preserved forts, towers and historical buildings that reflect Sri Lanka’s colonial heritage which involved the Portuguese, Dutch and British. Take in the sights by cycling or hire a three-wheeler for an off-the-beaten-track experience you’ll never forget!
3. Halal Sri Lankan food
Being the third largest religion in Sri Lanka, Islam is practised by close to 10% of the population. With a bustling Muslim community, especially in Dharga Town, it also means you’ll be able to feast on halal options when visiting Sri Lanka!
Restaurants like Eastern Wok in Colombo have mee goreng (fried noodles) and other eastern delicacies. For American-inspired burgers, hot dogs and steaks, make a beeline for the Sandwich Factory’s diner-styled restaurant, and for local and Pakistani cuisines, the Al Maas Family Restaurant has got you covered.
The Maldives may be paradise on earth but their beautiful villas do come with a heavy price tag. In Sri Lanka, you can find budget accommodations from SGD20. Prices for higher-end hotels, with a pool and breakfast, start from a reasonable SGD50.
And may we add, food in Sri Lanka is cheap! A local kottu dish of bread, vegetable, egg and spices can cost SGD2, while a cup of cappuccino can go for SGD3. A vegetarian samosa-like dish is a mere 40 rupees (a couple of cents) and costs about the same as a 1.5 litre bottle of water ?
As for transportation, a train ride between cities can cost less than SGD2 and buses are, of course, even cheaper, while tuktuk prices aren’t expensive either, and often negotiable. Budget travellers will definitely get their money’s worth in Sri Lanka ?
5. Jami Ul Alfar MosqueAlthough Colombo has a number of striking mosques, Jami Ul-Alfar Mosque is one of the oldest mosques and is famously known as the Red Mosque.
6. Scenic train rides
When traveling in a country rich in plantations and lush greenery, a must-do for travellers is experiencing one of the most scenic routes across Sri Lanka. Grab a window seat, stand by the doors or simply hang out by the train's window for a breathtaking view of the countryside.
Moving from Kandy, the big city to Ella, the tourist hotspot, the journey between these two towns is about 7 hours passing through the town of Nuwara Eliya.
This amazing train ride goes through rustic landscapes and captures the local faces of tea-pickers in the fields.
7. Tea Trails
Speaking of tea, the railway was originally built by the British to transport tea from Hill Country to Colombo. Today, you can go on tea trails in the hilly regions of Sri Lanka in Nuwara Eliya where tea factories like Mackwoods are located ?
Similarly in Ella, you can find Uva Halpewatte Tea Factory. They will give you a rundown on all things tea-related from the growth of tea leaves to the packaging of tea bags ☕️ Yes, tea-tasting's included!
You’ll love this peaceful time spent in the mountains learning about one of Sri Lanka’s best export products: their famous Ceylon tea. And if you’re looking for a luxury experience in the mountains, you can even book yourself a one-of-a-kind stay at a colonial bungalow on the Ceylon Trails - a place to relax in, after all that tea-appreciation ?
8. Stilt Fishermen
If this is the first time you’ve heard about stilt fishing, fret not. This fishing style that’s unique to Sri Lanka is a simple method of catching fish that has fishermen hanging off a vertical pole several metres from shore. The pole is cemented firmly into the sand and upon throwing a line, they then wait patiently for the fish to bite ?
Between the towns of Unawatuna and Weligama lies this tradition of fishing and though post-tsunami in 2004 saw a fall in the number of fishermen using this method, its still an iconic scene, especially at sunset. You can even take the opportunity to try it out yourself!
9. Spa treatments
If you're looking for some rest and relaxation, the spas here will not disappoint. After a long day of traveling around the city, take some time to rejuvenate your body and revitalise your senses in the country that’s known for their Aryuvedic treatments.
Whether you're dipping in herbal baths, indulging in beauty treatments, or just lying down for a comforting massage, you can experience spa bliss right here in Sri Lanka.
And with spas like Santani in the local town of Kandy boasting an infinity pool with a view of the mountains, relaxation doesn’t get any better than this ?
10. Water/Adventure sports galore
If you’re done relaxing and is ready for some adventure, you can join the many hikers and trekkers who flock to Sri Lanka to explore the forests, mountains and tea plains, and mingle with the local folks. Climbing enthusiasts can also enjoy the thrill of climbing waterfalls on the face of Bambarakanda waterfall.
Water-babies can go surfing, white-water rafting or dive completely into the world of coral reefs on the eastern and western coasts of Sri Lanka, where shipwrecks and exotic marine creatures take centre stage. And of course, with the country being a prime location for whale and dolphin migration from December to April, you’ll be able to see different species of these aquatic mammals right in front of your eyes ?
[P.S Tick these 10 other epic Muslim-friendly destinations off your bucket list as well!]
We’re ecstatic that Sri Lanka is rebuilding its tourism industry and allowing us to get a taste of its rich traditions and beauty. It has a little something for every type of traveller! If you’ve experienced Sri Lanka, or thinking of heading there, leave a comment below. We’d love to hear your thoughts ?