Sri Lanka Guide
Five Things First Time Travellers To Sri Lanka Should Know
- You need a special license to rent a car. Unlike other destinations in the world, you need an International Driving Permit to drive in the country. You'll need to apply for one in your home country and make sure Sri Lanka is in the document.
- Don't drink the tap water. Instead, you'll have to stay hydrated by buying bottles of the country's reverse osmosis water. It also may be a good idea to skip salads as the vegetables are usually rinsed in tap water.
- Sri Lanka has a public holiday called Poya every full moon. The dates change every year and commemorate key events in Buddhism. Check to see if your holiday falls on Poya and get ready to join in on the fun.
- The two official languages are Sinhalese and Tamil. But you'll find that people in major tourist destinations will be able to communicate in conversational English.
- Bring lots of sunscreen. If you're planning on sunbathing at Sri Lanka's beaches, look after your skin by bringing your own protection. It's hard to find anything over SPF 30 in Sri Lanka, and local shops sell what they have at exorbitant prices.
Best Time To Visit Sri Lanka
Despite its size, Sri Lanka's climate is varied with the two distinct monsoon seasons. To make sure your holiday isn't ruined by bad weather, you just need to know which side of the island to visit in any given month.
While Sri Lanka has sunshine pretty much year around, the most popular time to visit is from December to March. It's dry season in the south, and the weather is perfect for visiting the beaches in Galle, Hikkaduwa and Weligama.
But like other destinations in Southeast Asia, it's also the busiest time of year. Expect to find higher hotel rates, expensive flights and hordes of other sun worshippers.
If you want the best of both worlds, travel to Sri Lanka during its shoulder season. The months of April and November are between the monsoon seasons and have great weather, lower prices and fewer crowds.
From May to October, you'll need to travel to the north or east to escape the rain. Jaffna and Trincomalee are good options even though they aren't as popular as the southern destinations. Prices are also at their lowest, making it the ideal time of year for budget travellers to visit.
Sri Lanka Cities
Colombo is the capital city of Sri Lanka. It's the largest city on the island and is teeming with a rich history and diversity.
Wander through the streets lined with colonial buildings and ancient trees, visit the National History Museum and learn about how you can protect sea turtles at the Turtle Conservation Villa.
Colombo is a city that offers something for everyone and is well worth a visit to experience Sri Lanka's melting pot of cultures.
Kandy is Sri Lanka's most sacred city. Located 100km from Colombo, it's a UNESCO World Heritage Site full of traditional culture.
Its most famous site is the Temple of the Tooth. A structure that dates back to the 16th century and is a significant site in the Buddhist faith.
Other equally ancient and beautiful temples include Ambekka, Lankathilaka and Gadaladeniya. If you can, visit Kandy in August for the Esala Perahera festival, one of Sri Lanka's biggest religious celebrations.
Once the former capital city of Sri Lanka, Anuradhapura is over 2,500 years old. It's the oldest city in the Cultural Triangle region and one of the country's eight UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Visit the 3rd-century Jethawanaramaya stupa, marvel at the oldest documented tree in the world and learn more about its past at the Archaeological Museum.
Trincomalee has a lot to offer the intrepid traveller. Located on the northern edges of Sri Lanka, it boasts plenty of historical sites and scenic natural beauty.
Explore the beautiful Koneswaram Temple, one of the best places to spot blue whales in the world; relax on the picturesque beaches or visit the largest Dutch fort in the country.
Top Attractions in Sri Lanka
Sigiriya is an ancient fortress built on top of a 660-foot rock. Located in the central Matale district, it's a UNESCO World Heritage Site that's been a cultural centrepiece for centuries.
Home to King Kashyapa nearly 2,000 years ago and later used as a Buddhist monastery, Sigiriya is one of the best-preserved examples of ancient urban planning.
The palace's entrance is flanked by giant lion paws, and the ruins are full of colourful frescoes and beautiful gardens. While the walk up may look intense, the view from the top makes it worth every step. Plus, it's one of the best places in Sri Lanka to watch the sunset.
Dambulla Cave Temple
Dambulla Cave Temple has been a sacred place for Buddhists for more than 22 centuries. The complex is home to beautiful caves featuring colourful murals and over 150 statues of Lord Buddha and Bodhisattvas.
Over the years, various Sri Lankan kings have contributed to its opulence. The most notable is King Nissanka Malla who had the interior gilded in gold, earning it the name Golden Temple of Dambulla.
Today, it's a UNESCO World Heritage Site and Sri Lanka's largest cave temple. Visit Dambulla for stunning views of the countryside and an in-depth look into the country's affluent past.
Wewurukannala Vihara is over 250 years old and dates back to the reign of King Rajadhi. Located in the town of Dikwella is Sri Lanka's largest Buddha.
Sitting at 160 feet high, you'll need to pass the Tunnel of Hell. The hall is full of life-sized models of demons and sinners. It's meant to show pilgrims what will happen if they succumb to temptations on the way to the path of enlightenment.
There are also steps to climb to the top of the statue. On your way, you'll pass 500 images depicting the various reincarnations of Buddha. The temple also has an on-site museum which is well worth a visit. Entrance is only LKR 200, and it's a fascinating look into Sri Lanka's history.
Yala National Park
Yala National Park is the best place to go for a glimpse of the country's exotic wildlife. It's home to a diverse collection of animals from elephants to monkeys and boasts the highest density of leopards anywhere in the world.
Declared a national park in 1938, over 215 bird species and 44 different mammals roam through the lush vegetation. With such excellent opportunities for animal sightings, it's the most visited park in Sri Lanka.
The best time to visit Yala for a safari is either in the early morning or late evening. Guided safari tours are organised by most guesthouses or hotels and entrance into the park costs LKR 3,700.
Galle Dutch Fort
No trip to the city of Galle would be complete without visiting the Dutch Fort. Built by the Portuguese in the 16th century, it's considered one of the most extraordinary archaeological sites in the world.
Only two hours from Colombo, it's the perfect day trip to explore this fascinating part of Sri Lanka's past.
Wander through the cobblestone roads, explore the ancient churches and visit the museums. Its old buildings have been restored and are now home to an array of shops and delicious restaurants. If you can, plan your visit to the fort around one of the many art and literary festivals.
Major International Airports in Sri Lanka
- Bandaranaike International Airport
- Ratmalana Airport
- Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport